Despite what anybody has ever told you, it’s impossible to remain optimistic while having your testicles impaled by sharp metal wires. That was the exact lesson I learned when I was 13-years old and found myself being nearly castrated by the cold iron teeth that rest atop of a ten foot high chainlink fence that I was stuck on. My scrotum was at DEFCON One and I was now sobbing in front of a group of cackling teenage boys down below me who were embracing their animatistic nature by cheering for the shredding of my tender nut sack. The unfortunate circumstances that lead me to being stuck up on the metal fence were a combination of innocent happenstance, my inability to resist peer pressure, and the gypsy curse that I’m assuming was cast upon me at birth that destined me to live a life of unintentional comedy. Things had gone from zero to bat-shit crazy so quickly. I had just been hanging out with my newly acquired (and hard-fought for) buddy’s taking an innocent walk to the arcade and now I was face to face with the prospect that I was going to be publically sterilized. Only five minutes earlier I was bathing in the radiance of feeling like I finally socially fit in. I had been rambling around with the crew of “cool kids” from my school who had finally tapped my shoulder and invited me to join them for one of their well publicized adventures after school adventures. It was a moment of social acceptance that I had I worked tirelessly toward all seventh grade year.
I had finally gotten The Cools to finally surrender to the once outlandish notion that I was worthy of being included in their popular flock. I had learned to peg my pants – well, to be fair I forced my parents to learn how to do it. I had no fucking idea how to fold my pants cuffs tight enough to get them to stay. When I attempted to do it myself I would end up looking like one of the Lost Boy’s from Neverland. Every morning on the way out the door to school I would hop up on the counter and inform my mother that “It’s pegging time!” Eventually she would come and adjust my pants but not before emitting a couple of “God Dammit, not again!” or “This makes you look like a stupid-idiot! or my favorite “At least I won’t have to worry about you having a girlfriend while you walk around looking like a fool!” My mother was a master at being able to unleash a litany of barbs while keeping her cigarette resting inside of her mouth. I never could convince her that what she was doing was for a greater good than she could have ever imagined. My dear mother, could never wrap her head around the fact that I needed to get Jacob Neil (the self-appointed leader of The Cools) to think that I should belong in their number. My mission in life was to get one of his personal invites and I was willing to do whatever it took to get one of those golden tickets to social acceptance. I also had started using copious amounts of styling mouse to give my thick mat of hair that “I just might be Corey Haim’s distant cousin” look. Thanks to my parents purchase of the often R-Rated HBO I was able to spend my free evenings practicing and eventually becoming an accomplished cuss word linguist. I had jumped through every social hoop and it had finally paid off. At last I had been given my audition to accompany he and his ilk to the equivalent to The Vatican for all puberty ravaged boys in Cheyenne, Wyoming: The Timeout Arcade..
My invitation to join the crew on that evenings jaunt to the arcade came right after lunch had ended. As a seventh grader at St. Mary’s Catholic School the lunchroom was a terrifying social jungle. You were either prey, the predator, or one of the ignored chumps who kept their heads down as to not draw any attention to themselves. I had spent years being one of the throngs of people who tried to blend into the paint to prevent any bulls eye being painted on us. However, thanks to my dedication to my pegged pants, shiny hair, and my newly minted foul mouth I had drawn the eye of the head table to the point where they offered me a chance to sit (on one of the end chairs, of course) with them, and I was making the most of it. I was the court jester of the cool kid table. I would do anything to get them to laugh. I took all requests. When they wanted me to throw a ketchup soaked pickle at the wall to see how long it would stick, no problem! When tasked with the job of trying to snort an entire carton of chocolate milk through my nose I happily obliged and then proceeded straight to the bathroom to vomit for an hour. I did whatever was asked for me without any question. Even if that meant that I was told to be a dick to a poor schlep who got caught in Jacob’s unfortunate crosshairs. I was his bully avatar. I was his hitman. On command I would walk across the lunchroom to another table and slop some milk on some kid whose only crime was that he didn’t have a mother who helped peg his pants. When given orders from King Jacob I would be the asshole to the unwashed heathens that sat at “lesser” tables. Even if that meant that I was to harass people who I was friends with before my rise up the social ranks I would do whatever Jacob bid me to do. The shaming of other people was the only tribute or currency he would accept. I was a coward who would do anything to be a considered part of the inner circle of the popular kids so I was an easy mark to become his ambassador to bullying.
I was cleaning up my lunch area from my attempts to make my tablemates laugh while I make a puppet out of my ham sandwich, when Jacob came over to me:
“Roedel.” he said looking me over as if for the first time. God damn his eyes were so perfectly blue. Who could have known that behind those eyes laid the brain of a sociopath who took such delight at making his peers suffer under his reign? Jacob never talked to me when we weren’t at the lunch table so I this already had me concerned. This meant he was taking the time out of his normal post-lunch rounds that normally included trying to look down the shirts of girls who were still sitting down eating their lunches. I was sure I was being told that my trial run of sitting with them during lunch was now over. It had not gone with me noticing that he was the only one at the table who did not find my puppet show involving “The Dirty Mr. Hambone” very entertaining. He never cracked a smile throughout my entire performance. Not even when Mr. Hambone had carefully crafted various poems about donkey farts and other such material that was usually a hit with kids my age. The content was golden and it should have had him in stitches like everyone else. Jacob just sat there examining me during my cutting-edge food-performance with a dissatisfied look on his face. I had actually practiced my routine the night before in the bathroom for about an hour before I went to bed. My parents kept knocking on the door to tell me to “Get done with whatever in the hell you are doing in there and get to bed!” I am certain they thought I was just making sweet love with the inside of my palm and I was okay letting them believe that. Had they known that I skipped doing my math homework so I could work on coming up with the perfect voice for my ham sandwich it probably would have caused both of my pragmatic parents to have simultaneous strokes right on the spot. Having them believe that I was overcome with teenage lust was a better alternative to them sending me straight to the hospital for an emergency 48-hour psych hold.
It crossed my mind that perhaps I should not have gone so abstract in my artistic choices on that particular day. Mr. Hambone was not humiliating anybody and that is usually what made Jacob laugh. Now Jacob was sidiling up next to me to inform me that I would be back to dining alone.
“Hey, man.” I said trying to play it cool.
“That sandwich shit was pretty funny.”
Pretty funny? While, that wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement, it certainly wasn’t a absolute panning of my dynamic lunchroom show.
“Ah, thanks dude. It was just something stupid I had come up with.” I lied. I had actually had written out a loose script for me and Mr. Hambone to follow. I thought we had done a pretty good job being faithful to the original screenplay I had penned, considering we had only had an hour or two of practice. Those were not facts that I was willing to disclose to our Lord Of The Flies because he probably would have taken my need to prepare to be funny as a sign that I was trying too hard. Cool people don’t try to be cool. They just are.
“So a bunch of us are heading to Timeout tomorrow night and then sleeping over at Ed’s house afterward” Jacob said.
My heart started to race. This was it. Was I being being promoted from Lunchroom jester to full on posse member? Could this be the moment I’ve been waiting for?
“That’s cool, dude” I said casually while holding back my urge to jump into his arms and allow myself to be cradled by him.
“Yeah, so I was wondering if you could-”
“Absolutely!” I interrupted. I could not believe that I was being invited! I was sure I felt the exact same way a Cardinal feels when he gets the nod to become the next Pope. It was a feeling of acceptance and responsility. This fast escalation up the communal ladder would also ensure that I would probably get to makeout (which had been my Holy Grail since I could remember) with a girl in the next few weeks.
Jacob looked at me curiously for a brief moment and then a small smile formed on the fringes of his lips. It was a look that gave away the fact that I had fallen into a pit of horrible misunderstanding.
“You don’t know what I’m even asking yet.” he said. Oh shit, he had me and he knew it. I was on his hook now and I was in serious trouble. This is what he did to people when they exposed their underbellies. I had been so careful through my tense courtship of him and his friends to show any weakness and now I was blowing it. He was right, I didn’t know what he had been asking me. I had assumed that he was inviting me along with them to the arcade and had shown how incredibly desperate I was to be included. I had to come up with a way to spin this so I didn’t look like such an asshole.
“Well, regardless whatever you were going to ask the answer was going to be yes.” I started. Immediately I could tell that my answer sounded really creepy, so I do what I always do when I get into trouble; I kept talking and talking and talking.
“Because you are such a good guy that I would be willing to do whatever you ask.” I blurted. My hand was suddenly on his shoulder.
What the hell am I doing?! It look and sounds like I’m hitting on him.
“I’m more than happy to help with anything, and I do mean anything!” I was now squeezing him with my hand.
Seriously, quit saying words! This is not a drill! Don’t speak anymore! Quit touching him for Christs sake!!!
“I’m the kind of friend who can get things done for his friends.”
Shut the fuck up!!!!
Jacob’s fucking smile exploded into full extension. That was usually the first sign that he was about to strike out like the viper he was. It was clear that he hadn’t planned on asking me to join he and his crew that evening, but now he knew that I was hopelessly awaiting it to happen. He glanced at my hand that was still gripping him and I immediatly recalled it back to my side. We both sat there quietly for a moment reflecting on my verbal diarrhea I had just exploded over the both of us. Finally he spoke.
“Okay then. So what I was going to ask was do you think we can get some stuff for free from your parent’s Drug Store for tomorrow night?”
Suddenly my rapid accent up the social ladder had started to make a bit more sense. I was not being included because of my new found interest in fashion or my perfectly sculpted (and probably bulletproof) crunchy hair – it was because Jacob wanted to use me to get stuff from out families store. I should have been outraged and offended by this revelation, but the truth was I couldn’t have cared less why I was being selected as one of his disciples. He could have told me that I was being incorporated into the flock because of my ability to dry hump a large knotty pine trees and I would have been just as happy. This lack of self-respect would be one of my more prominent personality traits that I would gladly carry with me through most of my life.
It was true, my family did own a drugstore and in 1987 it was one of the crown jewels of downtown Cheyenne, Wyoming. It had been opened in 1889 (a year before Wyoming actually became a state) by my Great-Grandfather Andrew Edward Roedel who hopped off the train fresh from Pharmacy School (which back then I’m certain focused on the application of leeches and the smoking of donkey fur for healing purposes) and decided that this dusty cow-town was in need of his fine remedies. The store grew up with Cheyenne and had become a widely acclaimed as being one of the oldest family owned businesses in Wyoming. It was passed down from Andrew E. Roedel to his pharmacist son Andrew E. Roedel Jr in the mid-30’s (my Grandfather) who then passed it down to his pharmacist son Andrew E. Roedel III (my father) in the early 1960’s. Everything about our families identity in Cheyenne was tied to the store. Every time my parents, my brother, or I would be required to offer our last name to somebody we would be met with something like “Oh, you mean like Roedel’s Drugstore?” As a child I loved the recognition of the whole thing. I would roll into the store every day after school and strut around like an asshole who knew he had it made. I would joke around with the clerks until they got in trouble for screwing around, then I would grab a bag of Hot N Spicy Pork Skins and watch my father work his magic. I used to love the hectic atmosphere of our store, but as I grew older I became increasingly resentful for the whole damned operation because I had to deal with the expectations of keeping it open. Placing expectations on me is a sure fire way to cause me to quit something – which is another unfortunate personality trait of mine.
My father was a very well respected business man in our community who took the life and legacy of the drugstore with a deathly seriousness. This was during the days before Wal-Mart spread it’s bulk-purchasing and soulless independent business destroying practices to Cheyenne so our store was pretty darn successful. in fact, there was a time during the 80’s where our store actually had multiple locations in town. With that prosperity my father could have afforded to hire more help to run the pharmacy, but he was the kind of hard-working, chain smoking kind of man who wanted to do most of the heavy lifting. If I were in his shoes I would have gladly paid somebody else to handle the day to day stresses of managing the store so I could free myself up for glad handing the public, golfing and attending Chamber of Commerce functions where I could be allowed to have a gin and tonic over lunch because I was “talking business with folks”. If I would have been running the store then I would have taken a helluva lot more short cuts – which, again is another one of my traits that is tied to how I operate.
Being asked by my peers to mule out items from my parents store was not an uncommon request. I would often smuggle candy or comic books out for my pals on the outside who did not have the advantage of being the heir to their own market. This was a practice that I carried on with for quite some time. In hindsight I have no idea how in the hell our families store stayed in business during the height of my embezzling. I would waddle out of the store wearing a winter coat (no matter what the season was) jammed full of Slim Jims, various Archie and Jughead illustrated adventures, and a sweet action figure or two. I would take these items to school the next day and auction them off for lunch items, change for the vending machine, or (as often was the case) for social currency.
For years I thought my trafficking of misappropriated items (otherwise known as shoplifting) was a practice that went unseen by my parents – but I was later informed (by my father on his death bed three days before he died) that I was not nearly as slick as I had thought I was. My parents never called me out for my intense thievery because they were probably constantly exhausted with dealing with the shit that inherently came with raising a devil-child like myself and this was not another battlefront they wanted to open up. Andrew and Priscillia Roedel (who at 50 were older than most other parents I knew) had enough on their plates dealing with my terrible grades and my inability to remain motivated towards anything than to worry about my growing criminal enterprise.
“Sure.” I said to Jacob trying to mask my disappointment for not being asked to join them on their fun night out and subsequent sleepover. I was mostly angry at myself for acting so desperate about wanting to be invited. “What do you guys need? Some candy or chips?”
“Nope. Something a bit more intense than that. You know what I mean, right?”
I nodded in affirmation. Of course, I had no fucking idea what he meant! More intense than food items? I wasn’t sure what that could be. Batteries? Some polaroid film? A humidifier? What did he want me to get to him? Then it came to me. Of course I knew what he wanted.
“How many water guns do you want?” I asked like an easy-going doctor who was asking his patient how many painkillers he needed to get through a weekend of back pain.
Jacob’s sublime eyes flashed with anger. “What? No, I don’t want water guns you idiot.”
Oh shit. I was about to get my naive socks knocked off,
“I want condoms and porno mags” he said as if I should have known.
Double shit with a side of dick balls. The condoms that Jacob wanted me to procure were in an aisle right in front of the pharmacy counter (The 20 foot x 20 foot throne my father ruled from) and our store didn’t actually sell adult magazines -the closest thing we had in that genre of periodical were in women’s fashion and homemaking so those were already out of the question. What in the hell kind of perverse activities did Jacob and his band of cool kids get into on their nights out? Suddenly I became the moral police. How outrageous! After all I we were all students of a Catholic school, and we had been fully instructed that pre-marital sex is a terrible sin only to be made worse covering our genital with a greasy thin rubber wrapper. Had I been a redheaded southern bell from the 1950’s I would have declared that his request “was giving me the vapors!” and feinted right there on the stop. Aside from the immorality of the whole thing I was certain that I would be unable to overcome the practical obstacles that presented themselves with getting what he wanted. How was I going to be able to get those damned condoms out of the store without being seen? Getting candy or toys was one thing – this was something entirely different. This would be a serious problem.
“No problem-o.” I lied.
“Good. Get that shit to me tomorrow morning.”
I knew right then and there my days hanging with these guys was about to come to a crashing halt. How was he expecting me to get him and his crew some condoms? I was going to have to call in sick the next morning and not be able to fulfil his request – which would get me expelled from the group. There was no way I was not going to be able to risk my parents catching me with a box of condoms just so I could continue to sit at lunch with them. I could just imagine my moms hysterics if she watched me shove some Extra-Large Trojans (Yes, based on my time staring at my naked form in front of the mirror, I was an extra-large) into my coat pocket. It would be a production that would involve public humiliation and a visit to the nearest Catholic priest. The risk of being caught did not match the reward. Plus I did not want to commit this big of a sin. Jesus hates birth control. I was not going to join the devil’s army with this kind of immoral act. This was not at all worth it.
“Then, why don’t you come with us to the arcade and then to Ed’s house for the sleepover.”
Never mind. I was in. This was totally worth it now. Hello Mr. Devil, my name is John. Have you met my soul?
As soon as the final bell I walked with purpose down the four blocks from our school to our families store and worked on the great prophylactic heist of 1987. This would require more and skill and stealth than any of my other sundry acquisition in the past. Getting the rubbers out of the store without being eyeballed proved to be a tricky proposition. It involved me pouring a soda all over the ground of our vitamin and supplement aisle and then sprinkling a bag full of M & M’s over the spill. I then rushed to my father who was in the middle of filling prescriptions for a line of customers and announced that I had just stumbled across some sort of toxic spill that looked very suspicious to me. My dad refused to take my bait. He told me to tell one of the clerks to go over and clean it up. I was afraid he was going to say that so I upped the stakes a bit and used the keyword that I knew would get him to leave his post..
“But Dad!” I cried with all the melodrama of a daytime star. “I think it was vandalism!” His eyes lit up. Suddenly his counting of little white high-blood pressure pills were no longer important. What was important now was for him to drop everything and leap over the counter to hunt down whatever sum’ bitch was causing mischief in his store. My dear father hated vandalism more than any single person who has ever lived. It was a crime that was so severe in his mind, that he believed that if a person was caught defacing or destroying another persons property that an immediate public execution. He had been waiting his whole life to catch somebody in the act of doing something like this in his store and he was going to kick some juvenile ass! He ran the three aisles over and let out a war cry to announce to the store that some serious shit was going down.
“What kind of punk would do this?!” he shouted. Everybody in the store followed the sound of his anguish to see what was going on – everybody but me. I was too busy stuffing my pockets with Trojans. Extra Large.
The next morning I proudly walked into school like the badass I was. Jacob was at his locker and I marched right up to him and gave him my broadest smile I could muster. I had just pulled of the caper of the century and now I was about to present Mr. Wonka with my Golden Ticket that would admit me into his wonderland of shenanigans and adolescent adventure. He didn’t look quite as excited to see me as I thought he should have given the copious amounts of penis raincoats I had in my backpack.
“What do you want, Roedel?”
“It was tricky, but I got the stuff. ” I announced. Like a boss.
“You better have. Let’s see it.” Jacob stated without showing an ounce of recognition for the amazing operation I had just pulled off the evening before. The efforts of masterminds are never fully appreciated I lamented to myself as I dug into my bag and pulled out the indecent booty I had stolen from my parents store. First I showed him the magazines I had taken.
“What the shit is this?” He asked. Obviously he was confused.
“Cosmopolitan Magazine” I said without trying to have it come off like I thought he was an idiot.
“Are you serious? Those aren’t porno mags.”
What had he expected me to bring, Hustlers? Dirty Mama’s from Texas Digest? Big Boobed Babes Weekly? What kind of store did he think my parents owned? I started to explain to him that while the glamorous women were all fully clothed in various Cosmo’s there were a number of them who had a lot of cleavage showing but he didn’t want to hear any of it. I flipped to a couple pages in the back that I had bookmarked earlier that had some advertisements for bra’s. Jacob was disgusted in my efforts. Turns out that he wasn’t that interested in cleavage. He was interested in serious smut. He wanted to see nipples and pubic hair – which was certainly not images that were displayed in this sort of rag. My naiveté was starting to show.
“What are we supposed to do with these?” he questioned. I didn’t know how to answer that. What in the holy hell were we going to do with the real nudie magazines that he wanted me to bring? Were we all going to take turns taking them into the bathroom at Ed’s home. That didn’t seem very sanitary to me.
“Never mind, asshole. I should’ ve known that you couldn’t handle this. I should have just asked my somebody else to get them.” Jacob slammed his locker and started to walk away.
“Wait, what about the condoms? I asked. “Don’t you want to see them?”
His eyes rolled in a manner that made it looked like he had just been possessed. It was clear that I had lost all favor in his eyes. I’m sure he thought that if I couldn’t bring proper adult magazines than how could he trust that I would have brought real condoms. He probably assumed that I had just brought a package of tube socks in lieu of real rubbers. I flashed open my bag to show that I was concealing and carrying about sixty genital slickers.
Jacob’s mood changed immediately. “That’s a crap ton, man.” My status has quickly upgraded from “asshole” to “man” in just a matter of moments. That had to be a good sign.
“So, are we cool?” I asked. Suddenly I knew that I had six boxes of I rubbery leverage to wield over Jacob’s head.
“We are totally cool.” he smiled. “Eddie’s mom is picking us up after school! Tonight’s gonna be a blast!”
I was so in.
Eight hours later I was reaping the rewards of all of my hard work. I was (unbelievably) rolling large with a crew of six young dudes that are shared the physical effects of budding testosterone and fully blossoming acne. We were carving our way through Ed’s neighborhood on our righteous odyssey to the arcade With our pants stuffed with dirty quarters, we jingle-jangled our way down the sidewalks under the warm hug of a late day low April sun. I felt like I was in a parade of coolness and macho that should have demanded a police escort. I could feel the all too familiar peering eyes coming from jealous kids who were probably gawking at our magnificence from behind the slits in their bedroom curtains. There was a part of me that empathized with those envious kids because up until recently, I had been one of those regular schelps who desperately wanted to be counted in the number of the chosen. My sympathy for them could only go so far though. It was not my fault that they had not been caught up in the in-crowd rapture like I had been and that they had been left behind to spend their weekend nights watching Dallas with their parents or playing Dungeons and Dragons with their strange and unwashed older cousin. I was at the height of my social influence on that walk to The Timeout Arcade – little did I know that soon all of that promise would come to a crashing end while I flirted with the possibility of becoming the most famous teenage eunuch Wyoming had ever known. The cascade of events that led me to the unfortunate moment where a half dozen sharp wires introduced themselves to my balls all began when somebody innocently suggested that we should take a shortcut in our route to the arcade.
The idea of taking a shorter route to our destination was just the music that my lazy-assed soul needed to hear. My wee legs were tired from the six or so blocks of walking we had already traveled and I was already having a hard time keeping pace with everyone else.. Since I was (by far!) shorter than anyone else in the entourage my limbs were being forced to take extra steps just to maintain my status in the mob. Why in the fuck were they walking so fast? There was no rational explanation to why we had such a frantic pace. Yes, I wanted to get to the arcade as much as anyone else and play Gauntlet, (where I was always picked being the girl elf archer because of her seductive pixilated green tights) but I was finding it almost impossible to stay within earshot of my new cool friends. What the hell would be the point of being included in the crew if I was stumbling a half-block behind? It would look like I was just a stalker who was just trying to draft myself in the slew of mullets and stonewashed denim that was ahead of me. I could feel the sweat on my brow starting to combine with the massive amount of product in my hair. It was forming a toxic slurry that I was certain would soon leak into my eyes and blind me. This was quickly turning into my death march. My legs felt like gummy bears and to make matters worse my bright white grand pappy underwear had begun to form itself into the most invasive wedgie in the history of mankind. (Damn it mom! I had been begging her to buy me some boxers, but she had long decided that the only undergarments Roedel men in her house would wear would be made by the cost cutting assholes who worked at Fruit Of The Loom.) With every step I took I was moving closer to what I sure would be my death. It was in the heart of this darkness when my discomfort was granted a reprieve. I looked up and notice that the group had stepped off of the sidewalk and were now stopped in front of chainlink fence.
Jacob examined the barrier like I imagined General Patton would have when his tank division was met with a dangerous ravine to navigate. I took this opportunity to try and slyly excavate my tiddy whiteys from the inner sanctum my bum. I had to handle this process with great care because the social ramifications of being caught with my hands down my pants would be irreversible. While I secretly dug away inside my of my backdoor garden, Jacob led us in a small group discussion about what we should do. We were at a crossroads. We could just keep walking for another seven blocks, or “we could just climb this motha-fucka and get there in one minute”. The choice was obvious for me. First of all,I was pretty sure if I didn’t have enough life-force in me for another five blocks, and secondly, I’m a sucker for a good shortcut.
Generally speaking, I am all for taking all shortcuts in all aspects of life. When confronted with any kind of problem or obstacle my mantra has always been “There has got to be an easier way” to get around it. That personal philosophy of mine has held true for my academic years (why solve the math problem when you could just look up the answers in the back of the book?), my personal life (why confront a relationship problem when it is easier to just ignore the person altogether?) and in my professional career (if you could call it that). For every ‘road less traveled’ out there I have found there is also an Jetson-like escalator that could carry me to wherever it was that I was headed to with a lot less hassle. I’m not ashamed to admit that I succumbed to a sloth-ful existence pretty early in my life. I have the work ethic of a piece of marmalade toast. I was not created with the work hard gene that many of you have. When life knocks you down, you probably get up and start punching back. When life knocks me down, I use that as an opportunity to take a nap. I was born with the knack for being open to any shortcut that is presented to me. Of course I wanted to take one to get to the arcade quicker! Why walk around five blocks when I could simply just climb a little fence? I was all for it.
Shortcuts have been and will always be the fucking ruin of me.