Authors: Geoff Herbach
I still feel like a prick.
Launching Stupid Chickens
No Thanks, Andrew
On the night of the announcement, Andrew called. He said, “Congratulations. I've never been to Stanford, but I understand it's a beautiful school.”
I'd begun stewing. “No shit, you've never been to Stanford,” I said.
“No shit?” he asked. “Grandpa said he already knew you were going there.”
“I told him.”
“You didn't tell me,” Andrew said.
“You weren't interested,” I said.
“Of course I was interested,” he said.
“I have to go. I'm cooking a frozen pizza,” I said.
“Wait. I just emailed you a list of therapists, along with some thoughts on each of them. Just wanted to give you warning. I'm glad you're going toâ¦”
“Not now,” I hissed.
“What do you mean?” Andrew asked.
The landline rang. I was in the kitchen, so I could see the caller ID. The caller was from northern Wisconsin, the 715 area code.
“You there?” Andrew asked.
“Just a second,” I said and waited to hear the message because people were leaving some badass messages.
The caller hung up.
“Nobody home,” I said.
“What?” Andrew asked. “Are you talking about your brain because you're acting so weird?”
“No. That's the past. I'm done with the past. I'm moving on,” I said.
“Felton. I just thought. I thought you wereâ¦”
“I'm tired,” I said. The oven alarm started beeping. “Gotta go. Pizza,” I said.
“Felton?” Andrew asked.
I hung up. I ate pizza. I read mean things about me on the Internet while I ate pizza.
Andrew called back. I didn't answer. He left a simple message: “Check your email, you ass face.”
The landline rang again. Same 715 number. No message.
I checked my email, but only to read mean messages Wisconsin people sent me.
YOU ARE A TRAITOR!
Oh yeah? Come here and say that. Come onâ¦
By the time I talked to anyone (other than Jerri) again, I'd been locked up in the house for the better part of three days. I'd only left twice to run. Although I was sort of out of shape because I hadn't worked out in January, I ran really hard and right into the middle of town, and I ran into the street when cars were coming, which is bad. I flipped off an old man who honked at me at an intersection. (I'm sure he knew who I am tooâlittle Bluffton.)
I was pissed.
Here's the shit:
After my announcement, Wisconsin fans caught fire. Journalists were on fire. Bloggers and Facebook membersâall on fire. They were totally united in their hatred of me. They called me traitor and classless and an asshole and a bad citizen and selfish and lots of four-letter words I don't care to repeat. Jerri screamed because we got calls every five minutes, all day, all nightâpeople breathing, hanging up, or shouting profanity. We could see their damn numbers. These people weren't even anonymous.
Worst thing I saw? Some asswipe kids from Appleton in front of their ranch house rapping in a video called “Homo Reinstein” where they rhymed “Reinstein” with “Vi Queen” (I think in reference to the Minnesota Vikings) and replayed over and over me picking up and putting down the Badger hat, eventually putting on some kind of red filter like there was blood covering me. They acted all gangster or whatever.
you. I could wipe that driveway up with your stupid faces.
People left comments cheering them on.
I read Facebook again and again. I watched the tweets pile on me. I watched the “rap” video again and again.
I guess I was happy to be pissed (instead of depressed). I thought I understood Dad's poem. I wanted to be fearless, like a Wallenda who worked without a safety net.
I'll break the mold.
Being pissed gave me the courage of my fake convictions (that all Wisconsin people were assholes). It felt so much better to be pissed than incapacitated. I felt like I had a reason, a mission.
don't care if they live or die.
The more shit I got, the less sorry I felt for picking up the Wisconsin hat. These people wanted me to crumble on the damn floor because I'd made a mistake? (I convinced myself it was a mistake.) I'd rather set fire to the whole damn Dairy State than crumble on the floor.
don't back down. I'd pick up the Wisconsin hat again, idiots. I backed down when I was a squirrel nut, bullied kid. Not now. No more.
On Friday, I wanted to talk about it. (Jerri didn't want to talk about it.) I called Gus to bitch at him about Wisconsin football fans.
“It's just a damn game,” I said. “I'm the one who plays the game. What's wrong with all these people? They're pissed at me? They should go play their own game.”
“Mob mentality, man. They like being on a team, and if you mess with their team, they want to kill you. People are brutal,” Gus said.
“It's not their team. They watch the freaking Badgers on TV. Idiots should die,” I said.
“Uhâ¦You okay?” Gus asked.
“I'm mad, man!”
“Umâ¦” Gus was quiet for a second. “Okay. My parents are going to Milwaukee for an art show tomorrow,” Gus said. “How about you come over and we have some beer? We'll put down a six-pack, man. Relax and reflect. I've got some big news.”
I didn't even think for a second about the alcohol policy at school or the track season or anything (or about “big news” for that matter). “That's what I'm talking about,” I said.
“Cool,” Gus said.
“I'll break the mold.”
“What?” Gus asked.
“I will toast the fire that consumes Wisconsin.”
Gus paused. “Dude, calm down.”
“I don't think so,” I said.
“I have to call Maddie so she can get beer,” Gus said.
“Have you heard of the Flying Wallendas?” I asked.
Gus was already gone, calling Maddie. She baby-sits for her older brothers and sisters. They give her beer and wine and everything else as long as she keeps baby-sitting for them.
My anger kept me from thinking about Pig Boy for a couple days. He'd sent me that weird email about who killed Curtis. He sent me other emails, which I didn't open. I forgot about him and roasted my nuts on an open fire instead.
After talking to Gus, I ran the hill on the main road for an hour. It was a killer workout, but I had to do it.
My plan: Explode all over Wisconsin during track season. Defeat Roy Ngelale (a Wisconsin recruit). I would destroy the rest of their sons in the long jump pit.
Except something drenched the anger. Drunk.
Mr. Dipshit's Love Day
Here's why alcohol is dangerous for some people: it totally seems to work at first. Unfortunately, “at first” is the end of “work” and the beginning of Shit River.
Gus texted me at midnight:
be here at 8:30.
Normally, that might seem a little early for a Saturday morning. But I was psyched to get going.
At 8:20, after checking the Facebook taunts, I climbed upstairs to get a lighter coat because February had turned weird warm, like 50 degrees. Jerri and Terry were sitting on the couch. I didn't even know he was at the house.
“What are you doing awake?” Jerri asked.
“Did he stay over?” I asked, pointing at Terry.
“I did, buddy,” Terry said. He smiled. Shit-eating smile.
“Great,” I said. “I'm going over to Gus's. I think I'm going to stay over there tonight.”
“Good! Glad you're reengaging, Felton!” Jerri said.
“Uh-huh,” I said. “Reengage this, jerks,” I said under my breath.
“What?” Jerri asked.
“Nothing,” I said. I got my coat and my stocking cap, got my bike, and hit the road.
When I arrived, Gus greeted me wearing a blue robe and chewing on his dad's old pipe (same pipe he used in our karate video back in the innocent fall). And something bad. He'd gotten a haircut. No more hair wad. To me, this wad was Gus.
” I shouted.
“Big news! I'm going to Amherst College. I got in and I'm going. I marked the occasion with a new hairdo,” he said.
“Aw, shit. Stupid,” I said. “You look like a lawyer. Do lawyers go to Amherst? Are you going to be a lawyer?”
“Jesus, Felton. Relax. I'm not the enemy, man.”
“I'm really happy about this, okay? Life is change.”
I exhaled. “Okay. Why do you have a pipe?” I asked.
“Feels right. Anyway, I'm in the process of preparing us a breakfast for the kings of ass-kicking,” he said.
“Cereal?” I asked, walking in.
“Bacon and eggs, mother boy,” he said.
In a few minutes, Gus had placed a far better looking breakfast in front of me than anything Jerri had cooked since she had her first freak-out a couple of years ago. (Jerri has been institutionalized once.) There was actual cheese and salt and pepper in the scrambled eggs. The bacon was not burnt to black dust. Along with the eggs and bacon, Gus put two cans of Hamm's Beer on the table.
“I'm told that this beer comes from the land of sky-blue water,” Gus said. “It also cost me nine dollars for a twelve-pack, which is affordable on my budget.”
“Good. That's a lot of beer, man,” I said. I stared at his haircut and my jaw clenched, but I didn't say anything.
“Maddie assured me that twelve would be the minimum we'd need for a day of relaxation and beer drinking. She knows these kinds of things. I trust her.”
“Good.” One beer at Stanford had made me loose. What would happen with six? Would I rip off my clothes and run out into the street?
“A toast,” Gus said. He popped his beer, which spewed some foam on his eggs. “To the end of the world as we know it.”
“Yes please,” I said. “Blow it up.”
“I don't want to blow anything up,” Gus said.
“To each his own,” I said.
Then I popped my beer can, which spewed some foam. We clapped our aluminum cans together, which spilled beer on the table. Then we sucked down our first sip.
I gagged. My nose burned. I swallowed so I wouldn't spit it out. I exhaled and looked at the ceiling. “Wow,” I said. I took another sip. Then a longer drink.
Good. Very good.
Within about a minute, I felt looser. And here's what's really weird: within about two minutes, my anger began draining in a stream from my fingers. (I let my arms hang down at my sides and I felt the draining.) I took another deep breath. I shut my eyes. I swallowed. I opened my eyes and I saw Gus and all he was to me: the greatest damn mother on the face of the whole planet. The
This chemical. That fast. I'm serious.
Beer is dangerous for me.
“This tastes like urine, right?” Gus said.
“I think I love it. You know what? You're a good man. Amherst College, huh? That's awesome.”
“You're the best, man. Amherst? That's a good one. You're my best man.”
“You've experienced an attitude change,” Gus said.
“Have I? I guess. Good. Life is hard.”
“Indeed, my brother,” Gus said, raising his can and taking another sip and making a face.
“You do look like a lawyer,” I said, smiling.
“I'm aware of that,” Gus said.
“I like it,” I said.
I sucked down about ten gulps, and the saintly tears of a million smiling Christmas angels swept down my stairs. My chest expanded with love. My heart slowed. My face smiled.
I think we were only two beers into our day when Gus put a record on his dad's record player. “âO-o-h Child.' The Five Stairsteps,” he said. “You know this song?”
I didn't. It's all these people singing, “O-o-h, child,” and telling that child that things are going to get easier and that things are going to get brighter. I had to drink my smelly beer very fast because it was all too much, this song and the nice people on the record. Way too much. Not like the angry Badger fans who wanted to kill me. All these people singing sweet, gentle words of hope to this poor kid, who probably had lots of sad problems but was still alive and still had hope, telling that kid that things are going to get easier and brighter.
“This song's from the '70s, man. I sometimes wish I was a hippie,” Gus said. “You know, like dancing naked on a VW van?”
“It's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard, man,” I said. The song's sweetness opened up a space for Tommy. “Pig Boy should hear this.”
“No. Please don't bring over Pig Boy,” Gus said.
“Really?” I asked.
“Okay. I won't. But you'd really like him.”
“I need to play the song again.”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
He stood up. I could tell he was a little wobbly. He swept himself, robe billowing behind, to the turntable.
We listened to the song about ten times and I was so warm and I knew things would be both brighter and easierâ¦ How could the world be so wrong if people with big Afros (serious Afros on the cover) made such nice music?
By like 10 a.m., I'd already had my best day since Curtis Bode shot his own heart.
we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sunâ¦
(That line is from that song.)
Outside, the sun poked through the February gloom. After some debate about pizza delivery (it was still morning), we understood that we had to take a walk because Gus wanted a frozen pizza. We each put a can of beer in our coat pocket (Gus wore a red-and-black plaid wool coat over his robe, which looked hilarious), and we walked out into a sun that was not cold.
“I'm going to grow your hair wad on my head to honor your past,” I said to Gus, pulling my stocking cap off.
“That's a good idea. That would make me happy,” he said.
“I'm going to make a painting of me and Andrew swimming in a fish tank,” I said. I pictured this giant mural painted on the side of our house. “People stare, you know? They stare at us. But I need to learn how to paint,” I said.
“That's good,” Gus said. “You should do that.”
“Pig Boy is a good artist. He can help me.”
“Where are the womens?” Gus asked.
It seemed like a really important question.
Then we got to the Kwik Trip on Highway 81. There, we were very thirsty from not drinking, so we crouched behind a Dumpster on the side of the store and popped our beers while a cool wind blew and Gus called Maddie.
Then this girl, Robin Tesdell, walked around the Dumpster. She's sort of a burner. She graduated last year. She works at the Kwik Trip. She said, “Look at you two alkies.”
I dropped my beer.
Gus said, “Don't do that.”
I picked it up and sucked the foam off the top.
She lit a cigarette.
“Can I have one of those?” Gus asked.
Robin tapped a cigarette out of her pack. “You dudes know it's like ten in the morning?” she asked. “What are you doing?”
“Looking for womens,” I said.
“And a pizza,” Gus said.
Maddie shouted from his phone, “Who are you talking to?”
“Just come over to my damn house!” Gus shouted back.
“I'm still asleep,” I heard her shout.
“I didn't figure you for a drinker,” Robin said to me. “You feeling good?”
“I am good. I am filled with angels' tears,” I told her, nodding.
“Awesome,” she said.
We left our beers by Robin (Gus gave her back her cigarette, which she threw in the dirt) and went in and bought three pizzas.
When we got back to Gus's, it was eleven in the morning. Maddie was there.
“Oh, no,” Gus said to me. “You don't have a woman.”
“My woman left me,” I said. My chest filled with sadness, the angel tears like old car oil gumming up my warm engine.
“Don't you like other girls?” Maddie asked.
“No,” I said. “No love.”
“Come on,” Maddie said. “There must be some other hot chica you've had your eye on.”
“No. I love Aleah, but I won't talk to her.”
“Why?” Maddie asked.
“She broke up with me too much,” I said.
“Abby Sauter,” Gus said.
“Abby?” I asked.
” Maddie shouted.
“Abby Sauter.” Gus nodded. “You love her.”
“I do?” I asked.
“Yes,” Gus said.
“I should call her?” I asked.
“Oh hell no,” Maddie said. “Do not invite that priss over here.”
“Do it!” Gus shouted. “I need to speak to her!”
“You do?” I asked.
“Yes!” Gus shouted.
I was already calling Abby.
Abby! Of course!
I felt great! In love!
Abby didn't answer. So I called again. She didn't answer. So I called again and left a message. “Call me, Abby. It's important.”
I sat and stared at Gus, who was doing a sexy dance in front of Maddie. She smiled up at him.
“No woman,” I said.
Then my phone buzzed.
“Whoa.” Then my breath died inside me and, shaking a bit, I answered, “Abby?”
“What's important, Felton?” she asked. “Is your mom going down on my dad?”
“You're mad at me,” I said.
“No. My dad's an asshole,” she said.
“Okay. Jerri's an asshole too,” I said. “But I miss you.”
Abby paused. “What are you doing, Felton?” she asked.
“Oh. I'm not sure, baby,” I said.
“What the hell?” she asked.
“I don't know for real.” Here's the thing: Me and Abby have a long history. After Gus, she's the first person I remember in school. In first grade, she told me to stop staring at her. I couldn't help it. I stared at her one time during lunch and she slapped me. In fifth grade, out of no place, she told me she was my girlfriend. (Nobody liked me thenâbut me and Abby walked home together every day.)
In seventh grade, she shoved me against a locker. In ninth grade, she and Jess Withrow made fun of me mercilessly. But she was also the first person to apologize, the first after sophomore year to say how awful she felt for the way they all treated me.
Then, last summer, in the middle of the night, I got a text from her that said:
me and jess drunk she says I like you so call me
The text sent shocks through my body, but I was in Florida dealing with Andrew and I loved Aleah, so I didn't call. I couldn't call. I just pretended it never happened and Abby never mentioned it againâmaybe she thought I didn't get it?
“What do you mean by âbaby'?” she asked.
“Babe,” I answered.
“Where are you?” Abby asked.
“Gus's house. He says I like you.”
“What did I say?” Gus asked.
“Are you drinking?” Abby asked.
“I don't know,” I said.
“What do you want, Felton?” Abby said.
“I want you to be here,” I said.
” Abby shouted. “So we can be together like our asshole parents?”
I heard Nolan tell her to shut up in the background.
“No,” I said. “I like you, that's all.”
“Okay,” Abby said. “Shit.” Silence.
“Abby, baby?” I asked.
“I'll be there in a little bit,” she said.
I clicked End on the call and looked up at Gus.
He stared at me. “Is Abby Sauter coming over to my house?” he asked.
“I don't want the prom king in my house!” Maddie shouted.
“Prom queen,” Gus said. “And furthermore, this isn't your house.”
“You don't think I know that?” Maddie spat.
“And furthermore, Abby would've been the valedictorian of our class if she hadn't screwed up last semester. She's not dumb.”
“She's a bitch,” Maddie said.
“Abby screwed up last semester?” I asked.
“Straight As all through school, then doesn't show up on the honor roll?” Gus asked.