the ghetto

mcpenguin


The Siren Song of the Anti-Bears

[ The Life and Times of an Antarctic Moron ]


The Wandering Accountant
couchman
mcpenguin
I remember the warehouse now; squat and ugly, two-story, of crumbling brick and dirty glass on a simple blacktop lot empty of cars and surrounded by trees. In my memories of those years everything - our house, the tiny concrete highway down the steep hill, the small lake where we sometimes went swimming - all were surrounded by trees, as maybe they were in the late sixties in rural Rhode Island.

Dad parked his ponderous orange pickup truck in the lot and I climbed out, listening to the knocks of the old engine as it ran on long past the time he pulled a key from his faded jeans and let us into an office. Just another office, like the one in the garage that smelled of fuel and sweat and oil, or in the hairdresser’s down the street where I played with scissors when no one was looking, or in the appliance store or the one behind the bar where all the old men in floppy hats smoked all afternoon and stared at me with sad, tired eyes. He went from office to office on the weekends when he wasn’t at the Dairy, doing accounting work on the side to help cover the bills when sales were slow. He would bring me along with him once in a while, to help Mom who had her hands full at home with my older brother and sister.

One time we passed a forest fire and I sat in the orange pickup watching the fire burn while Dad ran out to help the volunteers put it out. I was told to sit still, but couldn’t. I wandered through the blackened forest as firefighters ran back and forth dragging hoses and spraying water at the burning trees, my father among them somewhere. Another time I disappeared for a whole summer day riding my tricycle as far as my chubby legs would go, trying to find the lake where we went swimming. I came home late in the afternoon to find the yard around our old white farmhouse swarming with police and firefighters and strangers, wandering in and out of the forest, down towards the river behind the house. I climbed the low stone wall next to Old Lady Wilson’s house and ran to the river where a man in a gray jacket told me that they were searching the river for a little boy that had gone missing. I wished him luck and went home to a loving and enthusiastic spanking.

In the office, Dad would sit at a strange desk and stare at papers, clicking numbers into the adding machine and pulling the lever that would tally everything together. He'd screw up his face and grunt if it wasn't right and do it over again, pushing thick glasses back on his prominent nose. I didn't know what he was doing, but I liked the noises, the click click click of the buttons and especially the satisfying crunch when he pulled the lever, over and over again. I grew frustrated when he would scribble with his pencil for a while, rubbing the eraser on his tattered orange sweatshirt to clean it.
I liked the adding machine.

It looked fun and I wanted to try it. When he inevitably walked to the big gray filing cabinet, or box of folders, or shelf in the corner, I saw my opening and bolted onto his chair. I’d push the big buttons, enjoying the clicks and the crunches when I pulled the lever until he would swoop over and pull me away with a shout and a firm slap on my bottom, to be sure that I understood. Only he could play with the buttons. He’d tell me to sit, put me onto a chair or a couch or the floor to resume his work.

I sat a lot.

I sat and stared at the office, looking out the small window into the dark and cavernous space of the warehouse, and behind Dad, where an open door revealed a staircase that went up to somewhere wonderful. I looked at Dad, who was staring at some paper. I sat. I looked at the stairs.

 I sat and sat. I sat until I couldn’t anymore.

I don't remember getting out of my chair, or leaving the office, or climbing the stairs. I do remember the light coming in through the windows, brilliant shafts of light highlighting the dust floating in the air, and leaving perfect grid patterns on the heavy wooden floor. Tall gray shelves, to me as tall as the trees outside, and covered with incomprehensible metal items of impossible shapes and sizes stretched on forever into the darkness, broken only by the brilliant light coming through the windows.

I ran from window to window, certain that I was safe in the bright light. I ran up and down the aisles screaming with the joy of freedom, but avoiding the darkness of the shelves. After some time, measured in the light clapping of my tiny shoes on the heavy wooden floor, the light from the window faded, the brilliant shafts disappearing as clouds covered up the sun. The windows began to all look the same, and the shelves with their incomprehensible metal bits were indistinguishable, the darkness filling the vast room.
I walked from aisle to aisle, window to window, seeing only the tops of the trees waving in the increasing wind. I knew that there were stairs somewhere, but I couldn't find them. Time passed and the sky grew darker, and the shadows grew. The shelves towered over me menacingly, as if they were going to dump their parts on me as I passed them by. It started to get cold.

I went to a window, and grabbed the still-warm brick of the sill, pulled myself up to have a look outside. The black surface of the parking lot was empty. Dad's familiar orange pickup was gone. I hung there for as long as I could, sure that he would come back for me at any moment. I tasted thick dust and flies that covered the filthy windowsill as I breathed in, only lowering myself when my arms wouldn't hold me any longer.

I sat. I ran. I stood motionless, unsure of where to go. I ran again, in and out of the maze of gray racks, spitting out dust and crying quietly to myself. I ran, my white leather shoes scuffed and dirty making little pat pat pat sounds on the heavy floor, no longer sure where I was going, just running and running, sure that I would never leave.

After forever, when real panic began to grab me, I rounded a corner and there he was. My father, in his old orange sweatshirt and fishing cap, standing by a window with a curious smile on his face. He held his arms out and I ran to him. He picked me up, gave me a warm, musky hug, and walked back down the stairs that had been invisible to me as if it were the easiest thing in the world to do. I thought we were going back to the office to sit some more, but he said he was going to quit for the day. He packed his old leather bag and we walked out to his truck, parked just where he had left it hours before, and drove home in the rain.

Santiago layover
the ghetto
mcpenguin
We bounced along in the cloud layer for what seemed an hour, but was probably only ten or fifteen minutes, before the Chilean landscape became visible; dark green hills rolling under wet gray skies. Mountains everywhere. Above the clouds had been bright orange dawn sunshine.
The customs and immigration process was long and tiresome, but we had Jimmy - our local contact - organizing and keeping us moving along, so it was much less of an ordeal than it might have been. Cost me $140 for the visa, but it’s good for the life of the passport, so I’ve got that going for me.

Went to the Chilean ATM. It took three attempts to figure out how to get it to display English so I could figure out what I was doing. One of the buttons said something like “open line of credit”, so I was trying to be careful. I didn’t want a line of credit. I pushed the button that I thought said “$100.00”, but it turned out it was “100,000 Chilean pesos”. I don’t even know how much that is. I think I just financed a house. Either that, or I have a new career as a drug mule. 
Our layover in Santiago is over six hours. I’m using the time constructively, to accurately analyze the complete deficiency of my knowledge of the Spanish language.

So far, I have concluded that I know the following:

1. Buenos Tardes.
2. Cafe con Leche.
3. Agua sin gas.
4. Blanco granulada.
5. No se permidad animales domesticos.

Two hours to go. I’m going to try to learn how to say “Drop your panties, Sir William, it’s time for breakfast.”

And then….

Found a little cafe called the “On Time” in the domestic terminal here, where I got myself an agua con gas, cafe con leche, and a churrasco italiano, which was thin-sliced beef with avocado sauce on ciabatta. Free internet with sandwich. For the first time today, I’m starting to feel human, and somewhat less like the cave-dwelling morlock that got off the plane this morning.

Another 4.5 hours on a plane left to go today. Will arrive at the hotel sometime around 2000 tonight. Cannot wait for a pillow and a soft, flat space to lie down on. 30 minutes until we board.

One thing that is for sure; be it Santiago, Rome, Dublin, St. Petersburg, or Keflavik, waiting six hours in an airport for a flight sucks no matter where you are.

On to Chile
discovery
mcpenguin
**I've been on the road again, for a short while now. Haven't had internets to post, but I've been writing the entries....**

Somewhere over Mississippi, or Texas, or Louisiana - somewhere down in the lush green part of the sweaty southern states - seat 12A on Flight 2312 is bouncing rather jauntily. I hate it when it does that. The bouncing. It doesn’t suit me. I’m more of a ‘smooth flight’ kind of guy, by which I mean that every shred of courage I possess attempts to leak out of my urethra every time the S-80 hits a small patch of turbulence. It’s not too bad today, but I’m rather exhausted, running off of three hours of fitful sleep, a banana, and coffee, and fatigue does seem to take the edge off of the unmanly panic.

I finished my exam just three hours ago: one hundred questions in 27.5 minutes, for an average of 3.6 questions per minute. I only had three hours from the scheduled start of the test until my plane departed Birmingham, and I needed to complete the test, stop for gas, make the hour drive from Tuscaloosa to the airport (BHM, if you were interested), return the rental car, drop off the luggage, and negotiate the frustrating loss of dignity that is airport security. I had some time to make up.

It’s been a decent two weeks in Alabama, and I am surprised to admit that I liked it there in Tuscaloosa. I spent most of my time in class, seeking out more and more ridiculously out-of-the-way home cookin’ restaurants, and sitting in the hotel studying. I spent the first week sharing a room with John, a friend from McMurdo, who was coincidentally at the Fire College for the same session. He had many episodes of a US Navy-flavored crime drama on his laptop that we got in the habit of watching before bedtime.

During the second week I spent a lot more time staring at the walls in my underpants than I normally do. Not that I spend an undue amount of time staring at vertical partitions whilst clad in underclothing. I would probably guess that I spend the normal amount of time in that activity, the average of men in my age group. Aside from that, I repeatedly drove around the greater Tuscaloosa metropolitan area gaping at tornado damage.

Tonight I am en route to Punta Arenas, Chile, down at the far-downy-tip bit of the South American continent, where it points at Antarctica. It’s going to be one of those long, long nights. After a couple of hours in Dallas (where I’m hoping to snack on something a trifle more substantial than a tropical fruit) I’m off to Santiago, which is a leg of about 11 hours or so. I’m not sure, really. I’ve never been there before. Never been to South America anywhere. The cool thing is, though, that this will be my sixth continent visited.

Flight is about to land, so I have to go. More soon. I think I’m going to have the time to write.

Somewhere over the Dallas area.

Tuscaloosa Tornado
the ghetto
mcpenguin
Tuscaloosa was flattened back in April by a Category-4 tornado, about three-quarters of a mile wide. One report I looked at showed over thirty fatalities with over six hundred injuries. Block after block of homes are vacant, in various states of destroyed. In some areas where the cleanup has progressed at a quicker pace, there's nothing left but gray concrete slabs, torn up green grass and red Alabama clay.

On University Avenue what is left of a 1950's-era Firehouse stands, surrounded by nothing. A friend in the Tuscaloosa Fire Department said that it was 'built like a bomb shelter'. Indeed. He told me of how the Firefighters in the building “got in their hitch” - Tuscaloosa slang for putting on their structural gear – threw mattresses into the bathtubs and covered up to ride it out. The twister went right by them, screaming like someone just stabbed the devil. When it was all over, they got up, and got to work.

Across the street a Baptist Church is missing a roof.

Here and there a house remains, structurally sound amid the devastation. Homeowners cling to the roofs, replace windows, clear brush and the remains of once-mighty trees. A commercial dumpster sits in the living room of one home.

I drove through the neighborhoods for a couple of hours, trying to get a sense of the destruction. It seems limitless. Around every corner is another home wrapped in blue tarp. I felt guilty taking photos of their loss...it was like going to a funeral and sketching the deceased.

Back at my hotel I spoke to a man named John, who is a Park Ranger, here in Alabama to help with disaster recovery. He manages a small crew that operate backhoes, skid loaders, buckets. In one day they cleared forty-two dump truck loads in blistering heat and oppressive humidity. In one day. They're only one crew and they're working 12-hour days, seven days a week. It's been months, but still the damage is everywhere. I was acutely aware of the hot tub we were sitting in.

Going to be a long recovery here in Tuscaloosa.

Pics are up on Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mcpenguin/sets/72157627147162793/

Tuscaloosa One
the ghetto
mcpenguin
I'm sitting in a “Hooters” in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on a sweaty Sunday night enjoying a comically large glass of water and watching the locals do their local thing. Behind me a table full of bubbas is playing some digital poker game that baffles me. Aside from them, however, it's clearing out faster than a pool that's been shat in. I found out that in Alabama they stop serving beer at 9pm on Sunday nights, which explains the exodus.
The girls look tired, but on the plus side, in their skimpy uniforms they look much less put off by the weather than the rest of us.
I'm here for two weeks hiding out in Alabama, (Roll tide*) attending the Alabama Fire College, finishing up what has been one rather intense summer of study. I think tomorrow I start my fifth or sixth class since April (having trouble remembering them all) which have taken me all over Maryland, Texas, and now 'Bamma. Friday, I'm done. Immediately following my final exam, I get in my impressive rental car, and get on down the road faster than a pig can eat. I have a plane to catch.
Next Friday I'm off to Punta Arenas, Chile, where I'll be for a day or two before boarding the Nathan Palmer for the voyage across the Drake Passage and into Palmer Station, Antarctica. I'll be at Palmer for nine days, I think, before returning to Punta Arenas. Never been to Chile before.

I'm going to go on the record saying that I kind of like Tuscaloosa. Have no intentions of moving here or anything – let's not get crazy – but I'd visit again if I had the chance. I'd take her to the Prom, but I'm not proposing on the dance floor.



*That's one big-ass stadium they got on down there.

Running off to Denver
the ghetto
mcpenguin
I’m heading to Denver this morning. Denver is known as the “Mile High City”, because everyone who lives there smokes so much marijuana that they can’t even see the ground. They’re so high only dogs can hear them. But, I kid. It’s actually called the Mile High City because of its altitude above sea level. That, and the marijuana. 
I’ll be flying into Texas on the way, stopping for a couple of hours at DFW, a three-letter airport code that means “Shitfuck, I’m in Texas”. Every gate at the airport is at least a six-mile walk to your connecting gate. It’s ok, though, because on the way you’ll be sure to pass a Taco Bell offering a special on ‘Stuff’.

Then, on to Denver. It’s a mile high. That means that when we go up to our cruising altitude over Texas we’ll go up about five miles, but when we land we’ll be coming down only four. Someone owes me a mile. Maybe it’s all these stolen miles that make Coloradans so high. I’m going to have to talk to someone about this.

We’re about to board. I hate flying. It’s like strapping yourself in a congested incubator with a hundred people you don’t like and a few of your favorite pathogens, then paying some benevolent corporation to push the incubator down a rather steep hill. When you get out at the bottom, they charge you a courtesy fee for not cudgeling you with an axe handle. Charge only, no cash.
It’s not always that bad. Sometimes it’s worse.

Going to Denver to complete my PQ - “Physically Qualified” - process for my ninth season in Antarctica. I’m starting to get modestly jaded about the whole process. Mostly, I’m tired of paying someone I don’t know every year to stick a greasy finger in my butt.

That guy can’t possibly see his feet.

Switched planes at DFW. Got off of one S-80 and walked six miles to another S-80. I always land at the forgotten gate at the lost corner of the airport, the one where they ran out of money when they were remodeling. Gate C-39 was danger close to having livestock wandering the floors. Walked back into civilization. Did manage to stop at Taco Bell and ate a half-pound of food. Not sure what it was, but that isn’t important. Everything at Taco Bell is the same, they just stack it up in different ways. This one had the beans on the top.
The plane from DFW to DEN was full. Every seat was taken. The vast majority of the passengers were young college girls going to some kind of summer camp, probably for full-contact bikini championships. There were half a dozen Swedish women as well.

I could tell they were Swedish because of the following:

1. They were Swedish.
2. They were speaking something that sounded suspiciously like Swedish.
3. They were wearing clothes that said “We’re Swedish”.

I was sandwiched between Sigmund the Sea Monster and the turd pile that Bill Paxton was turned into at the end of “Weird Science”. Not that I mean to be so critical. I only got three hours of sleep, and the incubator was flung down an extra bouncy hill.



Leaving Denver now. During the last four days, I’ve been to two baseball games (one win, won loss), visited some friends, worn a Scottish dress at the Renaissance Faire*, been prodded by a giant lesbian**, and provided backup vocals for a rock band. All in all, a successful weekend.

I’ve got center seats on both flights, all the way from DEN to DFW (see previous), and then from DFW to BWI. It’s possible that I’m sleepy enough to not care.



* Renaissance Faire – Every year when I fly to Denver for my PQ, I schedule it around the Renaissance Faire in Larkspur, Colorado. We’ve made it an annual tradition to go and dress in period drag. We made up a game called “Freakshow Bingo”, which consists of the familiar five-by-five bingo card with different sights we’re hoping to see at the Faire rather than numbers. These sights might be an anachronistic costume (this year, that was Batman wielding a lightsaber), an amputee, tragic sunburn, an obese man with a sword, etc. The first person to fill up a row or column wins bingo. We dress in drag to include ourselves as the “Free Space” in the center. We feel that if we didn’t allow others to stare at us and laugh, then what we were doing might technically qualify as a hate crime.

**Second time for her. I told her I had Indian for lunch and asked if she’d wear a little sailor hat for me. She said “no”. I was just trying to inject some levity in what, to me, was a highly distressing situation.

Untitled
the ghetto
mcpenguin
It should have taken me about a half-hour to an hour. It took me almost five. Stupid brakes.

I had no where else to work on them, so I jacked the car up by the curb on St. Paul Street. Every time a bus went by the car shook from side to side, buffeted by the generated wind. It felt like the car was going to flop off the jack. Stupid jack. The caliper was rusted, so I had to crank it down by hand, one-quarter turn at a time. That's why it took five hours. Shaking.

Now the brakes work, but they feel different. Soft. Sloppy. I have to do the other side tomorrow. I'll be parked on the other side of the street so I don't hang out into traffic.

Stuff.
andre con queso
mcpenguin
Stuff. It was on the menu. It was written on the wall, so it had to be true. Stuff - “Like your Mom used to make” it said. My mother never made 'Stuff'. She made things that I used to call stuff, as in “can I have some more of that stuff?” But she never made capital-S “Stuff”.

“So what's in it?”

“It's taco meat and cheese covered in biscuit gravy.” Get white boy wasted.

“Biscuit gravy? That bowl of heart attack you can get at Denny's?” Ouch. Taco meat and occlusion sauce. Sounds yummy. “I'll have the half-pound Death Burger (mixed with tabasco sauce and covered in jalapeno peppers) and a side of Stuff, please.” It was quasi-vacation. Normal eating habits don't necessarily apply. We found a seat at a crooked table carved with so many names and years that it read as a complete overall pattern. It looked like drunken worms had eaten their way through the alphabet.

We sat, watched basketball and listened to country music, neither of which I have any love for. We talked about things and waited for our food. The bar was called the “Dixie Chicken”, and is apparently well known among the Texas A&M crowd. I'd never heard of it until I planned to come to Texas. I did a little research on where to go eat, and all of the sources discussing the very impressive cuisine of College Station, Texas agreed: Go to the Dixie Chicken, get a half-pound of Death. And Stuff.

“If you eat this more than once a day, you will die.” Neel just nodded his agreement. His mouth was full of Stuff. Hello, I am the butt-plug of your life.

We were in College Station to attend TEEX, the Fire Training Center attached to Texas A&M. The Aggies. I need the “Hazardous Materials Incident Command” certification for my job. I now have that. Two more to go.

The Winged Menace of Glendale
the ghetto
mcpenguin

It's Mother's Day, and so I feel that I should share a story of my Mother, and describe one event that explains in graphic detail the tribulations this poor woman faced while raising myself and the three other fine specimens, which were known as my siblings. As you read, it is worth noting that this was just one day, and while this event was noteworthy enough for me to remember it some thirty-eight (or so) years later, it was simply one in a seemingly unending series of similar events that would have challenged the resolve of scores of lesser people. Seriously. Bowie and Travis and the men who held The Alamo would have withered like delicate flowers under the relentless onslaught of infantile trauma that we continuously threw at this one stalwart Mom. She was the Gibraltar that stood within the warm sea of raging kid blood and tears.

It was a very good thing for our continued survival that our Mom was a nurse.

 

 

THE WINGED MENACE OF GLENDALE

Or, “How I found out that I wasn’t allergic to Hornet stings”

 

 

Our family of six lived, for a time, in a large old farmhouse in the Village of Glendale, one of six villages in the small New England town of Burrillville, in the northern part of Rhode Island. The house, a grand old lady, painted white, stood on Main Street, which was pretty much the only street, featuring a few houses, a Methodist church, and a Post Office at the bottom of the hill. It was the early Seventies, in late spring or summer, and the kids of the neighborhood – there seemed to be many of us for such a small street – were out enjoying the good weather.

Somewhere far away, there was a war going on, but we were young and only vaguely aware of it, and too young to even know what it meant. On our street the kids ran wild from yard to yard, playing games, stomping on black widow spiders, and getting treats and glasses of milk or juice from the other houses we'd run into as if they were our own. If it was nice outside, the kids were all outside. There was no playing in the house on warm summer's day.

Our house had a porch that ran around on two sides, with a grand staircase at the back that led to a neat back yard with a small patio and detached garage. In one corner was the tree that the neighbor kid had fallen out of and broken his arm – consequently, we weren't allowed to climb this tree. In the center of our backyard was our swing set, the kind made out of hollow pipes that were attached with metal sheets and screws at the joints, and had a slide at one end, with a ladder leading up to it, and a see-saw at the opposite end. It was our redoubt, the place to which we would retreat when the other kids went home for naps, or to get their hair cut, or to eat sandwiches that the other Moms on the street would make that just weren't right.

Recently, however, our beloved swing set had been taken over by hornets. The hollow pipes that made up the frame of the beloved structure had little plastic end caps on them – designed, no doubt, to prevent exactly what had happened here – but, the plastic end cap was easily accessible if you climbed up on the slide, and would hold just the right amount of marbles, so it disappeared soon after Dad put the swing set together. Hornets, it seems, like to build their nests in sheltered spaces, like dark hollow logs, or metal tubes that resemble (to hornets) dark hollow logs that are made of metal and warm up nicely in the summer sun. We had a thriving colony of hornets in our favorite outdoor toy.

Renee was the oldest, at about seven years old, and came up with 'The Plan', the solution to our problem that would return our swing set to us and let us continue on with a summer afternoon worthy of Fragonard. Dan, one year younger, was the adventurous one and the one who would carry it out. In terms of Kid Logic, 'The Plan' was flawless.

I forwarded a plan of my own. It involved the highly complex maneuver of 'putting the plastic thingy back over the hole', but it was ultimately rejected for two reasons: one, that I was three years younger than Renee, and since she was older, her plan was better nyah nyah nyah, and two, we couldn't remember where we had put the plastic thingy.

Renee's plan needed tools. Tools that we had to fetch from the basement of the old house without alerting Mom – who would put a stop to the plan before we had a chance to carry it out – or letting our youngest brother Jeffrey see what we were up to, because he was only about one or two years old, and was far too little to be involved in such a complex undertaking. We couldn't go into the house and risk alerting them, so we had to use the outside door. The one facing the swing set. We knew the door would be unlocked – it was the seventies, and we were in the middle of nowhere, Rhode Island; nobody locked their doors – but to approach the door would require stealth and luck. The hornet patrols must be avoided.

It was risky, but we made it. There was a tense moment when a pair of yellow jackets patrolling the perimeter nearly saw us, but we crowded behind an old cast-iron sink and stood really still for a few seconds. The hornets flew off, none the wiser.

In the cold and musty cellar of the old house we found what we were looking for, Dad's claw hammer, and a pair of tennis racquets. The hammer was heavy, so Dan, being the strongest, would wield it. It had a red shaft, a soft, black rubber handle, and a shiny peen and two claws in the back. We had seen Dad using this to great effect on many occasions, and were well aware of its destructive power. We tested our racquets. We plucked the strings, to be sure they were tight, and swung the lightweight wood around for practice. We were ready.

We opened the door, surveyed the landscape. A short cement staircase led up to a vast expanse of green grass before the swing set, and the ladder that led up to the slide, our objective. Dan would have to go first. We were nervous. It was quiet. There seemed to be no sign of our enemy. The sun shone brightly, not a cloud in the perfect sky. We were vulnerable - it would only take one hornet to alert the nest, and then we'd be swarmed. But we were ready. We had planned for this contingency.

The Plan was this: Dan would run across the lawn, and climb the ladder. Renee and I would take up defensive positions – her on the slide, me at the base of the ladder – with our tennis racquets, protecting his flanks. When we were in position, he would bang on the metal tube with the hammer, stirring the hornets to action. When they tried to fly out of the metal tube, he would smash them with the hammer. Renee and I would take care of any stragglers. Perfect.

Dan whispered 'let's go' and we ran, fast as leopards, across the lush green lawn. He reached the ladder before I was even halfway across the green expanse, and climbed like a monkey holding a heavy claw hammer. No sooner had I reached my position than I heard the bang bang bang of the hammer impacting the swing set, sounding out like a giant tubular bell.

The hornets flew out of the tube en masse, as if fired from a gun; it was clear, and then suddenly the air was full of yellow-and-black-striped vengeance. On top of the slide, Dan was the first to get stung. He screamed, and flailed about him with the hammer, trying to smash the hornets. The nimble fliers, who darted in and out, stinging him repeatedly, easily dodged his wild strikes.

Renee and I were not spared. The massed cloud of buzzing anger dove on us hungrily. Our tennis racquets split the air uselessly, as stinger after stinger made contact with our young skin. The terrified and painful screams of children rent the quiet New England air, sundering the calm of our street like an air raid siren.

Jeffrey, our youngest brother and still in diapers, was in the kitchen of the old house when the banging and screaming began, and, being curious, he hurried to the top of the grand stairs on our porch that led to the back yard. He was standing there, perplexed, as Dan took a vicious and painful stinger into the center of his naked back. In his spasmodic reaction, he screamed (of course), and arched his back, his hands thrown up into the air, flinging the hammer with all of his young strength. The hammer flew, end over end, in a graceful and perfect arch, the twin claws coming down perfectly into the center of Jeffrey's previously unblemished forehead.

I was only vaguely aware of events that followed, as I ran hysterically around in circles, failing to escape the wrath of the hornets. In the corner of my eye I remember seeing Jeffrey tumbling down the staircase like an Easter ham with limbs, landing at the bottom and lying there, unmoving. I remember sting after painful sting, and Renee frantically slashing at the air with a grimace on her face – she reminded me of that toy monkey with the cymbals that would clash them together over and over with a terrifying smile.

And I remember my Mother, rushing out of the house with a looking both bewildered and horrified. At the top of the stairs was a bloody hammer, and a pool of crimson trailing down in drops to a small child in diapers lying in a puddle with a gaping head wound, and three other children running in circles screaming as legions of yellow jackets pursued them around the yard. I can't imagine the thoughts that went through her head at that moment.

Mom threw Jeffrey into the car and rushed him to the hospital where he received a few stitches and a new teddy bear and came home unhappy, but with no lingering effects of the hammer except for a scar right at his hairline that he keeps to this day. The rest of us were bounded off to the neighbor's house, where we attempted to explain what had happened to the kind old woman. She was a mom, too, so she just smiled and gave us cookies and juice and covered our hornet stings with some kind of smelly homemade poultice.

That night when Dad came home from work, we told the story over and over again, trying to explain why Jeffrey got hit in the head with a hammer in a way that he would understand. Mom made us dinner.



{thanks, purriskat!}


The American Test
the ghetto
mcpenguin
Mr. Jury, front-and-center, if you please.

The tall Kiwi with the sandy-brown hair leapt to his feet and took his place in the center of the circle, exaggerating his military-style snap to attention sarcastically.

Yes, Sir. Sarcastically.

As you are the only Immigrant on this crew, we will give you the opportunity to join us, should you pass this test. Are you ready for the test, Mr. Jury?

We're going to make him an honorary American, should he pass. He's ready.

Question number one – which of these was not a US President? Chester Arthur, James Polk, or Gordon Lightfoot?

Gordon Lightfoot? Wasn't he a singer or something?

That is correct. He sang The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Next question: Why do you hate the Yankees?

Uncertain. Thinking.

Because I like Baseball?

That is correct! Well done! This next question is a tricky one, are you ready?

Confidently, Yes, Sir.

How many US States suck?

Uh... Pause. I can't even remember how many US States there are. Let me think... Ohio, Indiana. Utah. I'm going to say six.

I'm sorry, but the correct answer is seven. But, you did name three of them. What do you think, guys? Give it to him?

The group agrees.

The correct answer is seven. Ohio, Indiana, Utah, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Texas and Idaho. Fuck Idaho.

Last question is a math question, are you up for that?

Yes. The sarcastic snap to attention straightens even tighter.

Ok. A hooker leaves Las Vegas in the trunk of a Toyota at an average speed of seventy-five miles per hour. How long before she's buried in a shallow grave outside of Barstow?

Confusion, for a moment. Then the answer.

That's a bullshit question. It would never happen. This is America. The hooker would be in a Ford, or a Chevy, not a Toyota.

Correct! Welcome to America, my friend.