the worst of...LEONARD STEGMANN
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Wednesday, April 16, 2014
It only lasted for a short patch of my junior high school career but at the time it seemed like it would go on forever. The sexual expression “69” had just become popular and was making the rounds, bouncing daily off the pale green walls of our school’s congested hallways. To this day I don’t know if the term itself was new or if it had simply found its way into our pubescent awareness.
I only know that the phrase seemed to be everywhere, and that I lived in a state of fear and embarrassment that the foul number would again raise its obscene head. And part of the reason for that embarrassment was no doubt because I, unlike apparently every other guy at school, had no idea what 69 meant.
There was one large and loud fellow named Steve who seemed to take particular delight in the number. In fact he appeared to live for the mention of it. He was like some coiled but chubby panther, patiently waiting for his next opportunity to pounce at the mention of the number. If the teacher said, “Please turn to page 69,” Steve was there to instantly bellow “Sixty-nine! Awright!”
It got to the point where I would scan ahead on the page we were reading, dreading that the offending digits would make an unwelcome appearance. I once innocently told Steve that my friend and I were in the midst of playing a tied curb-ball game that already was in the 62nd inning. “You’ll have to play seven more innings!” he said predictably and loudly. I became so embarrassed by the ubiquitous number that I even began to dread the approach of 1969, even though it was still over two years away.
I was on a school bus on the way to a field trip when I began to overhear the conversation of Larry and Kevin, the two kids in the seat in front of me. Apparently Kevin was like me in that he too had no idea what 69 meant; but he was unlike me in that he was willing to admit it. Larry, no older than we but somehow perceived as wiser in these matters, was about to answer all his questions. I leaned forward. This was an unexpected educational opportunity that I was not about to miss!
“69 means different things in different parts of the country,” began the school bus sage. “In the South it means a blow-job” Now I knew instantly that this didn’t sound right. (I’ll not specifically describe the different sex terms that Larry enumerated because I don’t need my Mom to yell at me about this column again.) Maybe I didn’t know what 69 was exactly, but I knew that it was the same thing no matter where the hell you lived. Wise Old Larry, it seems, was nearly as much in the dark about this taboo term as the rest of us. I listened anyway.
The phase where Steve, and others, would yell out “69! Awright!” every time the number came up soon faded, joining other dusty and now fading memories from our school days. The term became so insignificant to me that I don’t even remember the first time I found out what 69 meant. Hell, I don’t even remember the first time I did it. And so instead of dwelling in the foggy past I’m going to conduct a little experiment using only my stopwatch and computer. Ready…go!
Amazing. Through the use of the Internet I was able to find the definition of 69 in 39.34 seconds. Man, having a computer even for just a minute back then would have saved me months of suffering in embarrassed agony. Believe me, Kids, it was a dark, dark time.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
The Three Girls
“I can use it, because they’re not really identifiable, right?” I asked Spike.
“No, I don’t think you can,” she answered.
And while I still wasn’t convinced, I knew better than to go against Spike’s opinion. Her instincts were almost always dead-on, and I saw no reason why that should change in this instance. And so I decided not to post the photo I had taken of the three girls.
It wasn’t easy getting in and out of the car, especially that little clown car that I insist on driving. Still, I knew if my back was ever going to start feeling better it needed some gentle stretching, and a walk down by the harbor seemed like the perfect solution.
I had taken about a half mile stroll along the harbor, and now was heading back. Actually it had been more of a hobble than a stroll, but little by little I could feel my rickety old muscles trying to loosen up. I believe I heard the three girls before I saw them. In truth, everybody heard the three girls.
They were fairly far off in the distance, but I could make out that there were three of them playing in about a foot of water. As I got closer I could see that they were a little older than I had thought they were, and certainly a little older than they had sounded. And they seemed to be having the best time laughing and screaming and yelling while splashing around in the water. I never did get particularly close to them, but I got close enough to hear what they were saying.
“Oh my God! I thought that was an eel, but it was seaweed!” This statement was yelled in the most dramatic of teenaged girl fashion, and was accompanied by the screeches and screams of the other two.
“It’s a hole! I almost fell into a hole!” shrieked another.
“That’s a shark! Look out, that’s a baby shark!” squealed the third.
Keep in mind that all of this remarkable activity was happening to these girls in six inches to a foot of water. I continued on my walk, keeping an eye, and an ear, open to see what these girls might come up with next.
After walking a few more feet down the path I came even to a man about my own age who was resting on a bench. I had seen him hunching down a few minutes earlier, ostensibly to take a picture of the blooming wildflowers. Still, I had noticed that his camera had been pointed in the direction of the three girls.
“It’s good to be young and stupid,” I said to him as I walked by.“Those were the days,” he answered without missing a beat. He knew exactly what I meant.
Monday, April 14, 2014
I don’t know why the price shocked me, but it did. Somewhere along the way when I hadn’t been paying attention the price had gone up to fifty, sixty, even seventy dollars, depending on the brand. I couldn’t believe it.
“Is that how much a carton of cigarettes costs?” I asked the clerk behind the counter.
“No, we just hang those prices up there as a joke,” she was kind enough not to say.
And at this point I’m going to resist taking that high and mighty route that I find so annoying in others. I’m not going to say, Well, I wouldn’t know the cost, since I don’t smoke and never did. Why, saying something as superior sounding as that would put me right in the same category as those snobs who brag, Oh, I don’t even own a television. Well, your loss, asshole.
Side Note: Many years ago I had a friend who often bragged that she never watched television. One day we were discussing our favorite writers and she said one of hers was Henry Blake.
“You mean William Blake,” I corrected. “Henry Blake is on MASH.” It was satisfying back then, and, if I’m honest, it still sort of is today.
Several days after I found out the cost of a carton of cigarettes I received an e-mail from a childhood friend. I hadn’t heard from her for years, and so when she was bringing me up to date she mentioned that she and her husband were taking care of an old aunt.
“She smokes two cartons of cigarettes a week, at $120 a carton,” she wrote.
Now having just learned the cost of cigarettes I thought she must be mistaken, or prone to exaggeration. It was only when researching the cost of a pack of cigarettes that I learned that the price varies a great deal from state to state. New York, where my friend and her aunt live, has one of the highest cigarette taxes in the country. And so $120 for a carton of cigarettes is certainly not out of the question. Which means, and here again I find myself shocked, that the amount the old lady spends on cigarettes in a month is higher than my mortgage payment. Whoa.
Now I doubt that the clerk mentioned above had any interest at all in hearing about the way things used to be in the olden days, but you do, right? Sure you do. And so imagine a very young Leonard riding his bicycle up to Herman’s Deli to buy a pack of cigarettes for his mom. I remember doing this many times, and I also remember the price: twenty-six cents a pack. And yes, Herman would sell that pack to a ten year old kid, if he happened to have a note from his mother. It was a different time.
And so once again to the inflation calculator, where we find that twenty-six cents in 1963 is the rough equivalent of $1.95 today. Ah, but haven’t we just learned that a pack of cigarettes now costs anywhere from five to twelve dollars? My, they really are expensive, and I was right to be shocked. Luckily, I don’t smoke and never did. I do watch television, though.
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Five Whole Dollars
I just read this story about an 83 year old man in Salt Lake City who was so “wracked with guilt” that he returned to the restaurant where he had skipped out on a meal when he was ten to make amends. And so what did he do? Well, the original meal had cost a dollar, but he gave the restaurant five bucks, to pay for the meal and seven decades of interest. Such a heartwarming story, isn’t it?
Like hell it is, and here’s why. Look, let’s not crawl over each other in a rush to shake this geezer’s hand for his honesty. Where's the congratulatory pat on the back for those of us who never dashed out on a meal, who never shoplifted, who never stole anything except perhaps a young maiden’s heart? Nowhere, that’s where.
And even forgetting about the morality of this admittedly minor crime committed by a ten year old boy, let’s take a good hard look at the mathematics. First of all, the old coot ripped off that restaurant in 1941, basically stealing a 1941 dollar. And yet when it comes time to make his reparations what does he do? He repays the restaurant with a modern-day dollar. Now a quick trip to my handy inflation calculator tells me that a dollar in 1941 was the equivalent of $15.61 today! Whoa, nice deal you cut for yourself there, Grandpa!
And don’t confuse inflation with interest. The owner of this restaurant who had money stolen might very well have invested that dollar in the stock market, which has averaged roughly a ten percent annual return over the last seventy-plus years. Do you know how much that restaurant owner’s dollar would have grown to today? $1,051.15! But it didn’t…because that young punk stole it.
So there you have it. If that old man truly wanted to make amends he would have given that restaurant $1066.76, to cover both inflation and seventy-three years of interest. (And don’t even get me started on punitive damages for pain and suffering.) But no, he gave them five measly dollars. This is not some noble act of restitution, people, it’s just some codger trying to buy his way into Heaven, and as cheaply as possible. Well, I got news for you, Pops. God, too, has a calculator. And he knows how to use it.
Friday, April 11, 2014
Quiz: Everything’s Archie!
I enjoyed reading comic books as a kid, but I was fairly selective. My comic book universe was pretty much limited to Superman (and Superboy,) Batman and the Green Lantern. Sure, I might deign to read a Flash or Justice League if nothing else was available, but that was about it.
Oh, and I read Archie. Now, I recently heard someone say that the Archie comics were mostly for girls, but I never agreed or even understood that premise. Archie and his pals were teenagers who drove cars, went on dates and seemed to be having all kinds of fun. This, I assumed, was the world that I had to look forward to, and I couldn’t wait.
And part of the reason I couldn’t wait was the subtle sexuality in the Archie comics. What exactly did Archie do with Veronica on all those dates? Or with Betty? Or with Veronica and Betty? And best of all, did you know that with nothing more than a pencil and a thin piece of paper you could trace the outline of Betty and/or Veronica’s ripe young body, sketch in couple of strategically placed dots for nipples, and just like that you’d have a crude facsimile of a naked woman? Well, that’s what I had heard, anyway. Ahem.
Yes, I enjoyed reading the adventures of Archie and the gang, which featured a varied and delightful array of characters that included…ho, ho! Did you think I was going to tell you who they were? Wrong, Chum. Why don’t you tell me?
1. What is Archie’s last name?
2. Which fictitious character was the inspiration for Archie?
a. Oliver Twist
b. Jack Armstrong
d. Andy Hardy
3. Who sometimes refers to himself as “Mantle the Magnificent”?
4. Who is the owner of The Chok’lit Shoppe?
a. Hiram Lodge
b. Jellybean Jones
c. Pop Tate
d. Professor Flutesnoot
5. What subject does Miss Grundy usually teach?
d. None. She’s the assistant principal.
6. What is Jughead’s actual first name?
7. Who says “Duh” quite a bit?
c. Coach Kleats
d. Mr. Weatherbee
8. Who was the blonde?
9. What is unique about Kevin Keller?
a. He is disabled.
b. He is openly gay.
c. He is dead.
d. He is in prison.
10. What year and make was Archie’s jalopy?
a. 1916 Ford Model T
b. 1922 Pierce-Arrow
c. 1930 DeSoto
d. 1934 Hudson Eight
1. Archie’s last name is ANDREWS. (He is Archi Gomez in the Spanish version.)
2. Archie creator John L. Goldwater wanted to create a comic about a normal, everyday teen and was inspired by the ANDY HARDY movies starring Mickey Rooney.
3. Such a boast could only come from Archie’s friend and sometimes rival, the sarcastic, vain and athletically gifted REGGIE Mantle.
4. The Archie gang hangs out in the Chok’lit Shoppe, which is owned and managed by POP TATE. His first name is Terry and his best customer is Jughead.
5. Miss Geraldine Grundy is usually seen teaching ENGLISH, although she has taught other subjects.
6. Archie’s good pal Jughead’s full name is FORSYTHE Pendleton Jones III. The woman-avoiding Jughead was actually named after an American hero ancestor, who also happened to be married nine times.
7. Not-too-bright MOOSE Mason is also a star athlete. And you’d better not even look at his girlfriend Midge, unless you want your ass kicked.
8. Kind-hearted and smart, BETTY Cooper is the blonde, blue-eyed girl next door. She was ranked #66 on The Comic Buyer’s Guide list of the sexiest women in comics. Her rival, the rich and spoiled Veronica, placed 87th. So there, Bitch.
9. Kevin Keller, who first appeared in 2010, is unique in the Archie universe because HE IS OPENLY GAY. He bonded with Jughead over their mutual love of food, and became best friends with Betty. He now appears regularly in his own comic book.
10. Archie drove his bright red 1916 FORD MODEL T for decades, despite its penchant for constantly breaking down. The junker was finally destroyed I 1983, and now Archie cruises for chicks in a mid-1960’s and equally unreliable Mustang.
Wednesday, April 09, 2014
The Spanky Club
In addition to these concerts, however, the school also presented a lecture series, featuring some of the giants of the day in the fields of writing, art, history and political activism. Sadly, for whatever reason, I never availed myself of the opportunity to attend any of these speeches, as intellectually stimulating as I'm sure they must have been. I probably couldn't find the time to go because I was most likely off somewhere, you know, studying. Ahem.
Let me correct that. Among the Nobel nominees and poet laureates that I so easily skipped seeing, there was one speaker who I made a point not to miss. His name was George Robert Phillips McFarland. You might know him better as Spanky.
Now, it was the early ’70's and Spanky was already 45 years old by the time he spoke to that lecture hall full of pseudo-hippies. He mostly talked about his years as the lead rascal in the classic Our Gang comedies of the 1930's. He showed a short clip from his original screen test for Hal Roach Studios, which was filmed shortly after his second birthday. And then he answered questions from the audience.
The marijuana-infused crowd was, for the most part, appreciative and respectful. Too young to have seen the original Our Gang shorts in movie theaters, we were however the first generation raised on television, and as such we knew Spanky well from watching the syndicated version of the classic films when they were repackaged for television as The Little Rascals.
But we were also, for the most part, well-educated, middle class white kids who, at the time, were convinced that we knew just about everything there was to know. (Life would later teach us otherwise.) And so we couldn't help but look down our noses just a bit at this fat old man (We were told, after all, not to trust anyone over 30.) with the poor grammar skills. And when at the end of the speech Spanky announced that we could each become a member of The Spanky Club by purchasing an official Spanky Club card on our way out, well you could almost hear the communal scoff of indignation.
Hey what kind of rip-off is this, man? I mean, we marched against Vietnam and for civil rights, have just about given Nixon the boot and we know crass commercialism when we see it. Sure, we might spend twenty bucks for a baggie of some brown and desiccated "Columbian," but a Spanky Club card? Just what are you trying to pull here?
After his run in Our Gang, Spanky found that he was horribly typecast, and he would have trouble finding acting jobs for the rest of his life. Having worked practically from birth he never received much of a formal education, and would work in a soft drink plant, a hamburger stand and a popsicle factory. He died in 1993 from cardiac arrest. He was 64 years old. The Spanky Club cards that he attempted to sell to my schoolmates and I had cost fifty cents. I wish that I had bought one.
Tuesday, April 08, 2014
Ashes to Asses
“Do you ever go swimming in it?” I asked, gesturing to the beautiful lake in the distance.
“Nah. Too many people’s ashes are in there,” answered my brother.
It was just about two years after that conversation that I returned to the lake, this time to scatter my brother’s ashes. This wasn’t any ordinary lake, though, seeing how it was located smack dab in the middle of a popular nudist retreat. This, then, had been my brother’s home for the last several years, and having his ashes scattered in that lake had been his request. It was a horrific and tragic time, to be sure, but not without its touches of humor.
Over the years my brother had repeatedly invited my parents to come and visit him in his nudist paradise, and they, not surprisingly, had always declined. Mom, especially, was dead set against the idea, perhaps conjuring in her mind a place running wild with bacchanalian heathens, and naked ones at that. Dad, for his part, was a little more open to visiting, and admittedly curious, but Mom let him know that it was not going to happen. Ever.
And now, with one sentence sloppily written with a cheap ballpoint, my brother had made the impossible a reality. And whether he had intended it as such or not, it was a wonderful final joke. I had offered to go there by myself and scatter the ashes, but my parents wouldn’t hear of it. They felt, of course, that they should be there. And so they were.
I notified the community’s management of what we were planning to do, and got their permission. By now this sort of thing, as my brother had mentioned, was almost old hat to them. They even offered us the use of an old boat so we could row out to the middle of the lake and do the job right. Mom didn’t want to go out in the boat. She didn’t say why, and to this day I don’t know her reason, but this was not the time for arguing.
And so the four of us, Mom, Dad, Spike and myself, stood along the wooden plank at the edge of the lake. Over my right shoulder the sound of splashing and people laughing threatened to destroy the solemnity of our family ritual. The pool was less than twenty feet away, surrounded by a canvas-covered chain link fence. I couldn’t see much of what was going on inside, but I didn’t have to. I knew it was a bunch of people, naked people, happily enjoying the gift of another sun-filled day.
I’m sure I said some appropriate words, but I no longer remember what they might have been. I then reached out as far as I could and with a wave of my arm I attempted to scatter my brother’s ashes. Instead, the ashes came out of the box in a lump, which plopped down unceremoniously in about three inches of water. I later realized that I should have walked out a few feet into the lake, but I didn’t think of it at the time. After all, I’d never done this before.
After a moment everybody headed back to the car. I stayed for another few seconds with my thoughts, and then joined them. Back in the car, Mom admitted that the place really wasn’t so bad. I can’t say for sure what she had imagined, but the community had a resort atmosphere, with tennis courts, pool, sauna, restaurant, hiking trails and, of course, a lake. The deed, however, was done and so it was clearly time to go. But before we left I did something very nice for my dad.
“Want to take a tour?” I asked him, and he not surprisingly agreed. I offered to let Mom out if she didn’t want to go, telling her we’d pick her up in a few minutes, but she declined. And so we slowly drove along the narrow roads to the tents, trailers and small cabins that made up this naked city in the sun.
My intention, of course, was to drive past some naked women for my dad to see. He’d never mention it, and neither would I, but I knew he was curious. Besides, we were already here and it was the least I could do. He’d had a rough day, and it wasn’t about to get any easier in the weeks ahead.
It was a quiet day and most of the people must have been at the pool. We had driven through much of the place when we saw her. Dad was finally getting to see a naked woman. Now, this woman was clearly in her late fifties, or even early sixties, but as Dad was at the time pushing eighty, he probably thought he was looking at some naked, young chick. And after all, from his point of view, he was. We drove past her slowly, like the gawkers that we were.
Mission accomplished, I then turned the car around, proceeded slowly to the exit, waved to the people at the gate and headed home. Nobody said much on that hour-long drive. It had been an unusual day, and we each had a lot to think about.
Monday, April 07, 2014
My Short Career at Short
I’m not talking about some hateful thing we once said to a loved one in a time of anger, or that horrible thing we did and wish for the rest of our lives that we could take back. I suspect we all have one or two of those that we carry around with us, tucked way down deep inside.
No, I’m talking about some silly and wildly insignificant episode that perhaps bothered us at the time, but which should have been completely gone from our memory banks by the next morning. But wasn’t. And now years later we still cringe every time we think about it, no matter how much we know it shouldn’t matter.
I was playing in a co-ed softball league at the time. It’s not the sort of thing I would generally gravitate to, but my girlfriend had insisted, and the truth was it was kind of fun. More fun than that bowling league, anyway.
For whatever reason I showed up late that evening, and the game had already begun. Actually I had rushed straight from work, and had arrived with my head still in corporate mode. As it turned out, being a little late did not make me the most unreliable member of the team that night, as several people hadn’t bothered to show up at all. A quick greeting to my girlfriend and other teammates, and then I found out they had been talking about me before I arrived. In fact, they had big plans for me.
“You’re going in at short,” said Ron, our pitcher and unofficial, and self-appointed, team captain.
Now it was true that I had probably played a lot more baseball in my life than most of the guys (and all of the women) on the team. Not particularly well, mind you, but I knew the game. The truth was, though, I had never played shortstop anywhere. Not on an organized team and not in street games. I weakly made this point, but I knew it was no use. The team, that is to say, Ron, had decided.
It was quite a compliment, really. And so I trotted out to this totally alien location, pounded my glove a couple of times and nodded to Ron that I was ready, let’s get this show on the road.
Let me tell you something about Ron. I didn’t know Ron before I had joined this league. In fact, I hadn’t known anybody on the team, except, of course, my girlfriend. In the beginning I liked Ron. He seemed nice enough, and I thought that I saw the start of, as they said in that old movie, a beautiful friendship.
Now, after a few games, I wasn’t so sure. We all wanted to win, but Ron really wanted to win. He was not above slamming his mitt on the ground in disgust if someone made a mistake in the field, or even yelling at a teammate if his play didn’t live up to Ron’s expectations. Did I mention that this was a slow-pitch, co-ed softball league?
The first batter up hit a clean single to right field, putting him, of course, on first base.
“Play is to second,” Ron said to me, as if I hadn’t been playing baseball all my life. It didn’t matter because the next batter hit a double right up the middle, scoring the runner. Clearly this wasn’t going well, and Ron was starting to fume.
With a runner on second, the next batter hit a not-too sharp grounder right at me, the first time I had touched the ball as a shortstop in my life. I scooped up the ball cleanly, despite the runner rushing by me to third, and mentally sighed with relief. And then I could see the look of confusion on the face of the second baseman, and I already knew I was doing the wrong thing. But for some reason I couldn’t stop. I tossed the ball underhand to second.
“What are you doing?” Ron yelled. No, make that “screamed,” and in front my girlfriend and the rest of the team. As for me, I didn’t know what to say. It would have been a bonehead play in any league, from t-ball to the majors, and I knew it. Still, I felt the need to defend myself.
“You, you said to throw it to second...” I stammered weakly.
“That was on the last play!” Ron screamed unnecessarily. I already knew that.
Well, we did finally manage to get three outs, and while I don’t remember who actually won that game, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that it wasn’t us. Oh, and that was the end of my career at shortstop.
So anyone would agree that in the grand scheme of things a throwing error in a game of softball doesn’t rate very high on the list of life’s little horrors. And yet every time I think of this incident I cringe inside, and wish there was some way I could go back in time and do things differently.
Here’s the odd part, though. Thinking about that unrealistic opportunity to relive this experience, I become a little confused. I’m not really sure which part of it I would change. Would I not throw that ball to second base, would I not give that feeble excuse right after I had or would I just go ahead and knock Ron on his big fat ass?
Sunday, April 06, 2014
Word of the Day
A good vocabulary can be a powerful asset in both your career and your social life. It can make you seem intelligent to others, and allows you to express yourself in more ways than you could have imagined. That’s why it’s always been a good idea to learn a new word each and every day, or at the very least to be reminded of one that you may not have used in a while.
I was standing in line at the dollar store when I noticed the cute little kid ahead of me, sitting in a shopping cart while his mother paid for her purchases. The cashier in the low-cut top smiled at the tyke, who couldn’t have been more than two or three.
“Ooh, a Batman shirt,” she cooed to the little fellow. “We just had a princess in here earlier, and now we have Batman. I wonder who’s going to walk in next, Superman?”
“I’m already here,” I chimed in. And the cashier in the low-cut top laughed. And then she said this:
“Well, maybe George Clooney.”
Now, it didn’t long for me to realize that these four words could be taken in two ways. Was she saying that she hoped that the next person who came into the store wasn’t Superman, but George Clooney? Or did she mean that she didn’t think I was Superman at all, but reminded her more of George Clooney?
It didn’t take long for me to come to the obvious conclusion that she had, of course, meant the latter. Sure, maybe George Clooney never actually goes to the dollar store to buy toothpaste with the label in Spanish, and some peanut butter-filled pretzels, but I got the connection.
The charm, the wit, the intense yet non-threatening good looks, it was all there. What else could she possibly have meant except that I was her George Clooney?
And that, boys and girls, brings us to today’s word:
Delusional. (dih-loo-zhuh-nl) adjective
1. having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions. 2. maintaining fixed, false beliefs even when confronted with facts, usually as a result of mental illness.
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