Knaus and I

            Since drafting ‘Thies and I’, it became apparent to me that some of the characters found herein and such probably require similar tales to be told. Chances are that in the collected edition, the T&I story will follow this one and thus what I am writing about probably makes no sense at all, unless you are a clever enough monkey to skip about or perused the formidable table of contents. If not, I’m certain you are already confused and having made your way this far, you might as well continue, as my words, I am certain delight to you even more than fresh cherry cobbler.

            Though it is probably of little interest to the reader, I met Knaus the same way I met Psycho, at one of the Wargames meetings. He had somehow, and without my knowledge or consent, been brought in by Louis to help ‘run the day to day operations’; something I was perfectly capable of pretending to do. Although threatened by the intrusion, I discovered early on that he was mentally in the same magnitude of bizarre that I was; something that I found strangely comforting. We also found ourselves taking the same art class in sophomore year, which is where he picked up the long discarded moniker, Mouse. As each of us took to the comic book style of art, I introduced him to Collector’s Inn, pleasing Jim to no end, as Knaus always seemed to have a wallet full of cabbage every time he walked in.

            That year I also managed to create another connection by bringing Dave to the art show where Knaus and I were showing off our wares. Within 5 minutes of meeting each other the two were wrestling like dogs in heat in the parking lot. A beautiful bromance was born, and one frankly, that I sometimes became the third wheel in. This was my first and only successful attempt at integrating groups of friends from previous periods in my life with newcomers, probably because it is usually something I try to avoid.

            The first time I stayed over at the Knauses over night, I knew I had met my match in oddness. The kitchen table was covered with newspapers, atop which were a collection of batteries in various stages of disassembly. Knaus revealed that he was performing detailed dissections on them, and although I had abandoned my childhood attempts at alchemy, I resolved to put my chemist hat back on and see what forbidden substances I could take apart at home, resulting in many burns. Knaus also revealed that day his own particular brand of logic when making scrambled eggs. I witnessed him dumping in quantities of vanilla extract into the mix, and when I pressed him on why, he stated that vanilla made things taste better, end of story. It was a principle that could simply not be argued with, though I will say they were pretty sucky eggs.

            That first sleepover was also memorable as it revealed Knaus to be as daring an intrepid explorer as I was, perhaps even more so. We decided to walk over to the old Thruway Mall from his house, taking a back channel along some old abandoned rail road tracks, something Dave and I used to do ourselves. After screwing around there for a while, we headed back utilizing a “shortcut” Knaus claimed to have intimate knowledge of. Somehow we became lost in this area, readily observable by entering these coordinates (42.904482,-78.786821) into Google Maps. This delightful looking “park” area is in truth nothing of the kind; the area is actually an industrial dumping ground amidst a swamp treacherous with piles of corroding hulks of strange machinery and murky channels of slightly frozen over sludge and water filled ditches. Did I mention it was February?

            Knaus led us deep into this wasteland with was what I feel were deliberate intentions to cause me the maximum amount of discomfort possible. We scurried around the piles, snagging our jackets and flesh on the razor sharp edges of rusty metal and frequently plunged one or both legs into one of the horrendous bogs. A mixture of snow and drizzle started to come down, further obscuring our limited view and sense of direction. For several hours we wandered, forced back to the center by the presence of trains or some insurmountable obstacle. Eventually we found our way to one of the side streets and took the by ways back, ending up in Town Park on Harlem. There we were accosted by an angry gentleman we affectionately referred to as ‘Dickhead’ afterward. With our muddy disheveled appearances he mistook us for a pair of sophisticated second story men who had been doing some breaking and entering in the local area weeks prior. We managed to convince him otherwise, but he banished us from the premises anyway.

            Despite the horrendous trip through the bog of doom, I let him convince me to accompany him through the tunnel that runs beneath the Galleria mall shortly after it was built. We began the journey in the mall proper and had Jeff along in tow. We got some cheap flash lights at the Dollar Tree, the kind that you have to hold down the button to keep lit, and ventured to the start of the tunnel, resembling old timey Roman catacombs. Jeff freaked within the first few feet and pledged to meet us, if we emerged alive, around the other side. Creepy does not begin to describe it. Pitch black, sterile, with a slow creek running through. At some points you could look up through a grate and see the happy shoppers walking above in a very different world. Near the end we found a side tunnel and began to venture down. An indescribably horrific noise, however, led us to believe a cult of Satanists was looking for fresh sacrifices, so we bolted out of there post haste.

            We managed to maintain a tight friendship through high school even to the point where I hooked him up with my cousin Ann for the senior prom. He was actually supposed to return the favor hooking me up with his cousin Lin, but fate intervened and I ended up going with Ende’s girlfriend’s friend instead. Before high school ended and after we both got accepted to UB, we made arrangements to become dorm mates the following fall; a service UB was willing to provide as roommates with prior friendships were less likely to cause administrative headaches by requesting room changes mid-semester. We were assigned to Schoellkopf hall on the South Campus on the fourth floor reserved exclusively for freshmen men. Not an ideal choice by any means, but it was a start.

            Our living arrangement was an interesting one, defined by the contract we drew up on the first day that allowed for privacy with female visitors (never required) and the settling of disputes on the field of honor. The field of course turned out to be whatever manner Knaus chose to enact his insidious revenge. In order to shield myself from him better, I constructed an enormous wall from the top of my desk, almost to the ceiling that I referred to as my ‘fire hazard’ as it consisted of mostly paper. Knaus respected the wall to a minor degree, though would often tear pages out of the phone book to turn into paper airplanes and launch them over in miniature raids. Fortunately for me, he had not yet stumbled on the notion of lighting them afire just yet.

            At least once a week we would trundle down to Shirley’s O’Aces, with or without the Irish Club, and stumble back in the wee hours of the morning. It was a grand tradition that later moved to Anacone’s but always followed the same pattern of cheap beer, some sort of bar food, and a traditional playing of William Joel’s classic, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ on the juke. On the walks back we would wax into bizarre conversations, such as what we would do if we stumbled upon a patch of decapitated heads on stakes. Knaus, I recall, immediately concluded that he would take as many of them home as he could carry. Hmm… it occurs to me that this post, as well as some of the others, will probably be deposed as evidence against the defence argument that he is sweet and silent as a lamby-pie.

            As a gift that year, Knaus procured for me a small collection of mice, one male and two females. By April the collection had grown to 42 mice and stunk up the room with great aplomb and all too frequent defecation. One weekend, when we least expected it; they made a bid for freedom. I came back to the room Sunday night and immediately noticed something different. The large tank I kept them in now sported a hole where there had been none before and no mice where there had been 42 before. Looking over at my desk I bore witness to the one named ‘Stripe’ after the Gremlin’s character dive into the moldering water in my hot pot, swim across, and jump out the other side slick with putrid grease. Furious, I called Knaus’s house to get him to come help round them up, but no one picked up. By the time he returned that evening at 11, I was sweaty, disheveled and had managed to recapture 3 of the slowest; the rest defeating my best efforts with ridiculous ease.

            Knaus did manage to help me capture the rest in a comedic run about, John Hughes style, with head clonking, crashing falls, frequent collisions, and all manner of events that would indicate the mice were far cleverer than we. At the end it was Knaus and I against Stripe, the lone hold out, and we were hopelessly outgunned and maneuvered. At some point the little bastard made it into the hall and we happily bid good riddance, but he made a surprise return a millisecond before we shut the door. Finally, improbably, Knaus got the mouse and a day later the lot was taken to a pet store with the most likely final destination in a large reptile of some sort.

            Knaus at this point, and for years on forward, became the prime initiator of trips down to Alleghany to get lost, camp, or make every attempt to get injured in course of photographing wildlife and wee pretty flowers. Most of these trips simply involved a lot of hiking, though there were several traditions that had to be met each trip. One was a visit to Thunder Rocks where we would climb around and scale the impressive boulders. Second was the trip to the legendary beaver damn, the jumping off point where we all got lost that epic journey recounted in ‘How I Became a Horseman’. If this chapter precedes that, well, tough luck. Finally, no trip was complete without a stogie enjoyed usually on the trail leading down from Thunder Rocks to the stream that led to the dam. Due to our impoverished condition, these were usually Dutch Masters, but on one occasion toward the end, we enjoyed authentic Cubans.

            Despite the abuse suffered at his malicious hands, and in spite of the fact that he took to calling himself Malfeus for some reason, we decided to room together the following year rather than take chances on a devil unknown. Common adventures shared between all the roommates in that situation are recounted far too often elsewhere, so I will concentrate on a few items unique to point of this post. While it didn’t trouble us in the past, at least not me anyway, a point of contention came up regarding both my habit of snoring loudly and engaging in distracting sleep talking that made little to no sense. These things enraged Knaus and from time to time I would awaken to see him standing over me gritting his teeth in fury. At site to keep you awake at night assuredly.

On several occasions I did some sleep walking as well, always to his inconvenience. One happy night he was treated to being awakened by me piling the contents of his desk on his sleeping head as “they were about to start air brushing”. Another night I somehow found myself in the hall way, locked out, necessitating a furious pounding on the door until he unhappily let me in. His remedy was to play the same Nine Inch Nails CD on auto repeat each and every night; a condition that kept me from ever really falling asleep soundly and led to many missed classes after sleeping through them on the 5th floor of Lockwood.

Knaus also had an excellent habit of distracting me from schoolwork; something I heartily embraced. He’d look over at me from his desk, exclaim, “I have waaaay too much work to do”, then pull out the latest issue of ‘The Mask’ and commence to reading. This always resulting in me aping his behavior as Matter Eater Lad was far more engaging than BF Skinner. He also had a way of dragging me out to Anacone’s and such on nights before an early morning class. Always with the one-upmanship, if I had an important lecture, he would claim a critical final. He probably did as it was shortly after this that it was strongly suggested he change majors from aerospace engineering to something more his speed like basket weaving or photography.

Knowledge of fine and classical music was an area in which Knaus felt I was severely lacking and attempted to educate me in. Prior to knowing him, I was completely unaware of the iconic 90’s superstar band Transvision Vamp and how they rocked the air waves with such classics as Trash City. We had the opportunity to see them in concert once and to this day I contend that lead singer Wendy James was looking me dead on with the hairy eyeball, such was my magnetic presence in the crowd. I also learned of other enduring legends such as Savatage, Shriekback, and was treated often to the cat like wailings of a post-Blondie Debbie Harry. I’m sure it was musical ignorance that I often sought out knitting needles to end the agony.

When we finally all moved to Comstock, Knaus took on a more reclusive role especially once Aaron and I began our reindeer games and intimidation campaign. Still, on occasion, he would emerge from his oft locked sanctuary and announce he was on a quest for alcohol and trundle down to Anacone’s with or without anyone else in tow. Despite his apparent either shyness or unwillingness to speak in general, with a few beers in him a charismatic demagogue emerged who drew in the enfeebled masses. Often in such circumstances we would find him amidst a crowd of drooling hangers on, gulping up his every ill spoken word. If anyone thought to supply him with endless brandy the world could easily have another JFK or David Koresh, such was his inebriated cult of personality. 

In those heady days of yore he introduced us to one of my favorite summer festivals of all, Allentown. His enthusiasm for going downtown on the subway, slurping raw clams and beer, and looking at all the art we couldn’t afford was infectious! Since those days each trip back is a search to recapture the raw joy of Buffalo’s first summer festival of the season. We used to badger Knaus about entering his own photography as the camera apes down there were pulling down serious green for the same tired old shots of the Central Terminal and shit, but he was unwilling to lay down the cabbage to rent some space despite being able to command four digits a pop for abstract snaps of me eating dog food or Litter Box Jam. Even now I hope to run into him down there, but so far he has declined to compete.

As time progressed he emerged less and less unless it was to bang away on the worlds oldest word processor or not clean the cat box which had become an impressive tower of feces. Once, however, he emerged in a manner most unusual. I came home and was surprised to hear a small commotion and a female voice coming from behind Knaus’s door. As ¾ of the house, a demographic to which both Knaus and I belonged, were not currently being seen with female companionship, this stuck me odd. A bold enquiry led me to believe that Aaron and my cousin had ensconced themselves in there, apparently without Knaus’s knowledge or permission. I began to sweat at what he would do to them, or so I still contend, and when he came strolling through the side door like a thundercloud of death I gently broke the news to him in order to bear the brunt of his immediate wrath.

To my surprise he remained nonchalant about his sanctum sanctorum being so rudely violated. I could only imagine that he was saving his volcanic outburst for the soon to be damned. I threw myself in his path, but he simply stepped over me, the ashes from the cigarette dangling from his lips blinding me from making further pursuit. I managed to come up behind him just as he opened the door and prepared to bludgeon him before he could blast them with his eyes with a bolt of eldritch energy, but while I looked around for an appropriate tool, it became clear that the three of them were really in cahoots. The story, as I was led to believe, was that Knaus egged on by Aaron and Ann in their little exclusionary ka-tet, used a bed sheet tied to his handcuff ring above the bed to shimmy down the side of the house if for no other reason than to annoy me.

When the Comstock project wrapped up and Knaus moved back to his folks, much to their soul crushing dismay I’m certain, we worried he would become a fixture in our past; more of a relic than the hideous goat lamp we absconded with. In the final months we saw very little of him as he spent his time elsewhere and discouraged questions as only Knaus could. At times he would bring Malice, his familiar, along with him as they embarked on dark and mysterious deeds. Instead we were delighted to find that he now actually chose to spend more time in our vicinity, often making the long haul over to Princeton and joining us for our very frequent beer and movie nights. The newest recruits to the Whole Sick Crew, like Jenn with the tongue, Mary, Rob, Chet, and even Dave’s new interest Jennifer took a shine to him. It was the silver age of Knaus and we thought it would last forever.

When things at Princeton degenerated in the last year or so, Knaus, perhaps feeling the Discordia when mom and pops were on the outs (I’m pops by the way), kept his distance. Meetings with him became consigned to long evenings of coffee with myself, Dave and Jen or old school excursions to the forest where to my dismay, increasingly longer periods of time were being devoted to setting up complex equipment to photograph wild posies. When I broke the silence about my intended enlistment to him and Dave, I received open support, though some degree of skepticism as to my true intentions. Anyone who knows me well has difficulty pinning me as a ‘Yessir!’ style military man, except perhaps in the tradition of ‘Stripes’.

While in Basic training Knaus became my most frequent writer, a condition I was intensely grateful for. Basic was a dreary place in which I received frequent verbal comeuppances and days would pass without hint of a smile. Knaus, however, managed to coax out of me the very first laugh out loud with his long and convoluted tales of his wanderings with Dave in the land of UB looking to fulfill the Celestine prophecy. I attempted to share with the other folks, who could all use a giggle as well, but apparently I was the only one cracked enough to appreciate the mad ramblings of shellac headed penman.

Despite the distancing he displayed prior to my departure, he certainly made himself available on a near constant basis when I managed to make it home on leave. Although he had a full time job, not to mention achieving high year tenure at Work-n-Gear, he still managed to drag himself out each and every night until the wee hours. Not only that, but since I didn’t have a car at my disposal, he even drove. Fun nights of pool and beer were spent at old Anacone’s, Bullfeathers, old favorite Caputi’s, and of course our new favorite down on Franklin, the Sanctuary (or Spankuary as it was sometimes known) with its midget bar tender and gothic crowd who moved in from the now defunct Icon.

When I returned for good, Knaus came by to help move me in, although he conveniently showed up just as the very last box was removed from the truck, but had a bottle of SoCo in hand and was forgiven. I don’t recall much after that due to the illness, except that the annual Christmas exchange with Dave resumed and that a screening of our old classic ‘Eric the Viking’ was made to break in my new digs. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital, bored from my near death experience only to have it relieved by a considerate Knaus shipping me a hefty load of books overnight.

In the year or two after my return, Knaus was around for a time, but gradually began to slip away into the night. He was a force to be counted on when Tiffany came to visit, once again eschewing work (since I couldn’t, new in my crap ass job at GP:50) in order to entertain her during the days. He was around often in those days and I think made one last epic trip to Allentown with us. He was also instrumental in decorating my pad with his home grown bonsai trees, necessitating me to line up someone to water them every time I went out of town.


Thies and I

            Whereas I have absolutely no doubt that the title character would prefer that I instead named this piece “King and I”, his attempts to get us to call him by this and other canine nicknames never quite caught on. This chapter, my tenacious little titans, is the long overdue answer to the earlier post, ‘Wolf and I’ by the author I now wish to roast in return. In truth, I don’t recall his version being necessarily a roast per se, but it’s been some time since I read it and thus feel required to fire back on a just in case basis. Truth be told, probably enough already has been said about this scurrilous lad, but a bit more, conveniently packaged should appease the hungry masses.

            I first met Thies back at St Joes at the old Wargames club meetings. At the time I though he and another character Booger were one in the same, and he undoubtedly attempts to make the same claim. I later came to realize that he was a separate yet similar entity all together, imported like a case of old cheese from foreign locals. Louis, who grew up in the near vicinity of him decided to bring him in to pad the ranks of the growing club with ardent supporters who would back his illegal status as dictator for life. In truth I believe Louis still runs the St Joes Wargames club from afar using hand picked successors and monitoring meetings closely in his strange box. In any event, I never chose to engage unless trying to actively kill his character; a trait I charmed everyone with.

            I quickly forgot him and the rest of the crew, but for Louis and Knaus who I was unable to shake all together. In my freshman year at UB, however, he found a way to creep back into my glorious vicinity. I was rooming in Schoellkopf hall on the south campus with Knaus when around the spring time his began having long phone conversations with some person known as ‘Psycho’ like a couple of old Mary Sue’s clucking away with girlish pleasure. My Holmsian instinct should have kicked in at that time and Thies’s face should have popped immediately into my brain, but alas, it did not as I doubt I ever knew his name and certainly not his new nickname. I did, however, have enormous appreciation for him as oftentimes he would abscond with Knaus for long evenings, leaving me the room to myself to watch whatever I wished on his TV/ VCR combo or rummage through his stuff.

            Eventually it came to pass that I was expected to meet this ‘Psycho’ character and Knaus invited him out to Shirley’s with us; a time I know I recounted elsewhere, so will keep to the short version herein. In any event, he proved considerably verbose, regaling me with tales of times he played pool before; a topic of considerable fascination akin to the checkers tournament my aged neighbor attempts to impart to me as I flee from the car to the garage. He did, however, hold his own in chugging down whatever shitty beer they were pouring and even went so far as to join us for garlic bread and cheese at Mike’s Big Mouth after. Unfortunately he failed the ultimate litmus test when he both failed to and objected to joining us in our ritual pee against the old Presbyterian Church on Bailey. We saw no more of him that year.

            Despite his constant crimes against my person I opted once again for occupying a dorm room with Knaus, and we found that we would be moving up to the big time at Goodyear. Little did I know that Knaus, in his typical underhanded and Machiavellian fashion, made arrangements with both Thies and JP to occupy the adjoining suite next to ours. I exploded with rage as I was under the misguided hope that sitcom style zaniness would hold true and through a mix up that room would contain some nubile coeds instead. In any event, I didn’t recall who these two putzes were anyway, so grudgingly acceded, as if I had a choice.

            I was forced to admit that the admission of these two extra individuals to my world turned out to be not such a bad thing. For one, I was no longer the sole object of Knauses malevolent intentions, leaving me to sleep considerably easier at nights. On top of that, I got to enjoy the show as Thies and JP locked horns from the get go, initiating a vicious graffiti war with indelible markers that remained a fixture in their room for the duration. Psycho, as he became known as exclusively, but for a brief time in the spring when Knaus renamed him ‘Brownie Buttfuck’, provided all manner of amusement on his own. We came to find that offering auditory descriptions of penis tortures, a conversation mysterious in its origins, was enough to make him curl up into a little ball on the floor, quivering and drooling, until we departed the premises.

            In those days we were also always seeking to define our signature look. Having at the time a full head of hair, I entertained notions of adopting the classic ‘Marvel’ wedge haircut seen on Wolverine and others, though it never panned out. Instead I settled for the classic 90210 sideburns and rocked them, Dylan McKay style. Psycho, not to be undone, grew a magnificent pony tail flowing from the back of his head in shining auburn like a good Catholic schoolgirl. In truth it exceeded no more than an inch and protruded like the turgid member of an especially hairy elf, but we forgave him the immodesty of it.

            Psycho proved to be very adept at commodity trading both to his advantage and our appreciation. He, unlike the rest of us left to fend for ourselves, was bequeathed with a fully loaded meal card that was not only good at the Spot cafeteria in the basement, but at Domino’s as well. Generally the transaction worked like this. I got paid on Fridays, cashed my check, gave Psycho his due, and then spent the rest on comic books. Due to my status of then being broke, I came to rely on advances from the meal card to feed myself delicious chicken sandwiches and pizza through the weekend until I could milk the sweet teat of freebies at food service once again. Though I paid no interest on the advances, I made up for it in other ways such as applying a good 4 lbs of meat and cheeses on his subs when he came through my line.

            Another delightful trait we discovered was his willingness to eat almost anything back then. I believe this was attributed to his nearly absent sense of smell; the only possible reason he would culminate his culinary odyssey with a plate of Nasty Olde Sauce. In the Goodyear days it was limited to more mundane fare, though I did bear witness to him once gagging down and subsequently upchucking a whole handful of jalapenos during a critical game of ‘truth or date’ with Ann and Tammy, the only two female visitors our room ever received. His amazing ability did allow him to survive on food stuffs such as popcorn for long stretches of time, much like a wharf rat.

            Although it became somewhat unavoidable after the toilet incident, Psycho was one of the driving forces that led us to the dark door of Comstock. While the rest of us could have theoretically returned home, Psycho’s parents up and moved all the way across the country when he went away to college. An apocryphal version of the story has this occurring without his knowledge, and that he returned home with gear in tow only to have the door answered by strangers, but this has never been truly verified or disproven. In any event, he needed permanent digs and lingering in the poorly ventilated basement of the Mooney’s, having his belongings mutilated and urinated on during weekly Dashwood Medicine hours was not along term solution. I, wishing freedom from any burdens of home life, and Knaus, with parents wishing themselves free of the burden of him being at home life, joined him on his quest with the inspired help of Dave.

            Due to events not worth recounting yet again, Aaron was relegated to one of the back bedrooms at Comstock, conveniently next to the bathroom and in clear ear shot of Louis’s frequent Mighty Taco cacophonous BMs. Unfortunately for him; he was also next to Jason which in truth helped to cement our alliance and friendship. Jason really got off on the wrong foot with him as in their first ever meeting, after he feigned that he poisoned the pizza Psycho and his girlfriend were eating with a packet of silica gel that said very clearly, ‘not meant for human consumption’. It was a slight Psycho was not to take lightly and the memory of it fueled many late night planning sessions filled with diabolical plots to irritate him. It also didn’t help that Psycho, a neat freak, was constantly cleaning up dishes Jason left wantonly about, or that I was only one to clean the kitchen floor, the magnet for the constant rate of spillage.

            The supreme efforts expended to make Jason’s life slightly less tolerable forged a bond and with Knaus rarely present anymore, we found ourselves in cahoots more and more often. Aside from just being bastards, we also adopted traditions of walking all the way to Tops from Comstock on Sunday afternoons and lugging back as many groceries we could carry. Part of the tradition, if I recall correctly, was the treasured procurement of Nestle Quick brand chocolate milk, which we would enjoy quaffing down in great gulps upon returning home, flaunting the empty containers at Jason and Knaus who were forced to drink the suspect drippings from the tap. Originally these shopping trips were meant to be at the L&T, but after Moustache Guy refused to sell us produce 2 minutes before opening (it was already on display!) we decided to boycott his wares. All food items upon return were marked with big angry notes, aimed more at Jason than the vengeful Knaus, who ate little, but what he damn well pleased.

            We also found ourselves in cahoots regarding TV watching habits and came to dominate the living room, so long as Knaus wasn’t present and it served to intimidate Jason who would be immediately outvoted from the show about the feelings of macadamia nuts he was already in to in favor of ‘Treehouse of Horror’. Knaus kept an enviable collection of authentic bad movies in his room, locked away safely while his TV combo was ritually abused. We found ourselves, much like Thursday nights in the dorms, creeping up on him, elbowing each other, to ask if we might borrow one of them for just a little bit. The answer, never guaranteed, was sometimes yes, and we would revel in the tale of an electrocuted man or some nonsense. After a while this became no longer necessary as my position at Collector’s allowed be to borrow, at no cost, any of the collection of very crappy horror movies my boss rented out to local creeps.

            Through my association with Collector’s I was able to pull him into my extra geekified universe of comic collecting. I got him started with ‘Heavy Metal’ magazine, a gateway product, for which he actually got carded at Seeley and Kanes. Next I made comics available free around the house, just sitting in white box for anyone to sample, and indeed, he did. Finally after months of grooming I was able to pull him into the shop and get a firm commitment to collect not one, but several different series to be kept in pristine condition with bags and boards. Unfortunately the line I got him stated on, Marvel’s ill fated ‘2099’ venture, turned out to be too sucky for words and those comics, so lovingly preserved, have not only devalued substantially, but actually depress the market value of any property they are housed on.

            Another commonality, I almost forgot, was our mutual love of fresh French fries; dripping with salt and hot oil. Living where we did the take out options were limited and any fries ordered were generally limp and soggy, and unworthy of our exalted palates. With a ‘can-do’ spirit not seen since old WWII era film reels, we rolled up our sleeves, boiled us up some oil in the wok Knaus procured but never used, and set to work peeling spuds. The results, well perhaps not as tasty as carnival fries, were certainly excellent and enjoyed several times over our stint there; that is until one of the girls Dan brought over yorked up in the remains.

            When the time finally came to depart Comstock, partially because Knaus decided to once again become a burden on his parents, and partially because we all but set fire to Jason and he still showed no signs of leaving, Psycho and I decided to continue our living arrangement, but in a better locale. Unbeknownst to me, Chet had snuck in the picture and became an unsavory influence, filling his head with castles in the clouds regarding the wondrous land of Princeton Courts. I suspected that Chet’s plan all along was to secure a couch near by where he could crash when his Chinese dad was drunk and pants-less, but nevertheless, we ended up there. I was sold on the convenience of Tops, right up a near vertical path behind the place. For Psycho it was the beacon of the hoops courts, which sold me as well on the idea of getting in shape.

            The first year went surprisingly well. The key to it all was our mutual obsession with TV shows generally no one else ever watched. Weekends were filled with basketball and full on tackle football over at the school to be followed by all manner of wonderful programming. The Adventures of Pete and Pete, X-Files (till I made him hate it), Lois and Clark, Seinfeld, the Simpsons, Dan’s Red Dwarf tapes, and finally Space Ghost. Such was the fabric of our character that bonds were so easily formed over the emissions of a smallish cathode ray tube.

            We also continued to have minor adventures, although most were not of the same quality as Comstock. The first Halloween we entertained ourselves by blowing up the Jack O’ Lantern I carved behind Tops. It was a marvelous spectacle and naturally Knaus forgot to bring his camera. We made frequent walks up to Tops in those days, right up the old path, sometimes waist deep in snow. We also grew a great love in ordering food from Jacobi’s, though still bear the guilt of probably killing one of their delivery boys by ordering in a terrible snowstorm and demanding satisfaction. The manager said he was never heard from again. Well, that day anyway.

            After some time though, the cracks began to show. It was fairly amazing that thing went well so long for basically two jackasses who had strong reputations for not cohabitating well. Slowly, I began to wax more slovenly and he grew more rigid in his German authoritarianism. I think much of it had to do with the fact that our TV watching habits took a turn south. Sure, we would always have Seinfeld, but I began gravitating toward the Discovery channel and shows about how to make cheese, while he insisted on watching things like Division 3 High School basketball and curling. Lights on or off? The debate grew thunderous to where on one occasion I replaced the perfectly good bulb in the Ugly Lamp with a burned out one I kept on hand for such an occasion.

            On top of that, he grew monstrously dependant on the gaming. Where I had taken great pains to cultivate a comic addiction, Chet trumped my Tylenol with codeine with smack in the form of Bloodbowl and Magic cards. Night after night I would haunt the living room, lights off, soaking up the flickering radiation from the tube. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Psycho, Chet, Matt and the rest would howl and bark, banging the table in wanton ecstasy because one idiot trumped another’s ‘Elf Taking a Whiz’ card with ‘Orc With The Green Apple Splatters’. I ventured in, with much snarling, only for food or a beer. They in turn would only invade my domain to use the can, a frequent unwelcome intrusion brought on by excessive Mountain Dew and Mighty Taco consumption.

            On many occasions they brought me to rage. Once, after a long Saturday at Collector’s, I came home with the express desire to consume my delicious Mrs Paul’s Pirogues that I procured for just that purpose the day before. I lifted the delightful blue box in the freezer. Way too light! Peering inside the tattered side, I would see but one lone surviving member rattling around, mocking me; too little to assuage my hunger. Pounding on Psycho’s door I demanded satisfaction. One fortunate thing in my favor was that Psycho, regardless of any other faults, was unquestionably honest to the point where it caused problems, such as when I needed him to lie about my presence to avoid friends and loved ones. Was it you? No. Matt? (I was hoping, as I felt he needed a good comeuppance for being so smarmy about working out in his mom’s basement) No. Dan (always the most likely) No. Chet? No reply. Chet? Silence. I had my man. I immediately called over there and got him after haggling with the Chinese woman for 5 minutes regarding what I wanted. I gave him a verbal lashing that really resulted in nothing. Faced with the prospect of dining on one of the Tony’s pizzas, I went to bed hungry.

            Eventually we stopped associating with each other on any level other than grunts or sarcastic pointed questions. I did my best to drive him from the apartment by any means necessary. It was an iron contest of wills between two juggernauts of stubbornness; either one willing to run a sword through his own bowel for even the opportunity to scratch the other. Eventually this grew old and we both made secret plans to move out and screw the other; he eyeing a cavernous basement apartment beneath some old building, and I eyeing the sky. Through some means I forget, our mutual plans became revealed and frankly, it made things much more comfortable in the end. We were able to reestablish cordiality and help each other move. When he finally departed and I had the place to myself for a few days, always my goal, in a tiny way I even missed the old goat, especially calling him ‘Boscoe’, which made him erupt in foul rage.

            By the time I came back from the Air Force, relations had fully normalized and we returned to the old days of bad movies, Allentown, basketball games, and meals. As much as I loath to give anyone credit, he was one of the only 3 friends of mine to make journey to Jersey for my wedding. Last I saw him; he handed over the treasured UB table, confiscated so many years ago; my legacy now for safe keeping. The best of times, however, will always be those moments after duct taping Jason’s room, high on a Quick sugar rush, munching home made fries and watching ‘Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers’ and worshiping at the alter of Green Arrow Mark Pike. You had to be there.

Some Real Characters

            Those few of you not so yet enfeebled of mind as to have forgotten the golden poetry I flung your way back in “Land O’ Lakeland” may recall that I ended that delightful tale with a threat to acquaint you better with some of the characters therein. Well sir, I’m afraid that day has come around at last, so settle in for yet another unnecessarily long yarn spun to showcase the qualities of some ne’er-do-wells you would assuredly be better off remaining unaware of. With honeyed tongue and nimble fingers I shall take you through snapshots of some unimportant galoots, leading to the magnum opus of a character had he not existed, it would have been necessary to invent him.

            There is no doubt, my lazy forgetful friend, that you would wish me to reacquaint you with what Lakeland is and my connection to it, but I’m afraid I must extend a polite ‘screw you’. I have no time for fools who obviously should have memorized my past works like Koranic verse and misused them expeditiously likewise. Before you get sucked into this too deeply, for you a few brief sentences prior to being rendered catatonic with orgasmic delight at my penmanship, I demand you go back to the original tale and commit my austere passages to rote lest the phantasmagoric Nun of Literacy’s ruler find your worthless hide. In the mean time, I will work on talking like less of a douche.

            Welcome back! I applaud your acceding to my demands though I regret to say I have changed not at all; it was simply a carrot now discarded to the wolves. Obviously vegetarian wolves. Let’s get started then. One of the first characters I encountered at old Lakeland was Fat Paulie. The more clever of you might suspect that the name was a sarcastic moniker for some skin and bones twig, but please bear in mind where we are talking about and understand that aside from your favorite author, none who worked there were capable of that level of sophisticated humor. Fat Paulie was known as such because his ample frame tipped the scales at almost 500 lbs.

            Paulie was one of the drivers who worked for Billy and I’m sure one of those classified as “assholes and thieves” as Willie described the general work force. Paulie wasn’t much of an asshole so much as I can tell, and if he was thieving I was never able to figure out what. At one point we did a general inventory and actually found every single thing that was registered to belonging to the place, so obviously there was a broad conspiracy comprised of the workers, accountants, management, and even the computer system. Absolutely diabolical in every respect.

            Despite the obvious weight issue, Paulie painted a tragic figure as on top of things he was not the brightest star in Orion’s belt, hanging precipitously over the cosmic god’s nads, but still a good egg. His main problem, and one I was going to understand much better later on, was that he was in the classic substitute boyfriend situation, though a whole lot deeper than most of us get. The woman in question was his roommate, and someone he was very obviously infatuated with as he spoke of her incessantly. It was apparent to the rest of us that she was well aware of the situation and used it to her best advantage.

            The woman, who I only had the pleasure of meeting once, was a much less pretty version of Joy Hickey, though somewhat more trailer-trashy. Chain smoking Newport’s and sporting a baseball cap advertising the same, she ordered and derided and he obeyed like a well beaten puppy. Adding to the mix was the fact that she had an infant child who also occupied the small apartment with them, and according to Paulie, was quite colicky, meaning he, yes he, was up many nights trying to calm the little rascal while unemployed mama got her beauty sleep. Where baby daddy I’m sure your eager mind was is beginning to wonder? Attica! And for the crime of maiming some poor schmuck who he felt had designs on his old lady. Paulie drove her down there every weekend to get her conjugal visit in, he keeping his old Dodge Dart warm while she got her freak on.

            I don’t know whatever became of Paulie, he just sort of faded away, getting fewer and fewer shifts and finally disappearing from the schedule all together. My hope is that Attica Al didn’t get out of the joint and do him in for his obsession with her nibs, and thankfully I never heard reports of this. I was certain, however, that I spotted him in a video by the band 311 for a song called ‘Down’. The video features a very large man meditating and that large man is the spitting image of Paulie. Look it up. Seriously, go look it up you lazy piece of shit, before you go on to the next entry. God!

            Shaky Joe was a character I disliked from the get go. The origin of his moniker again was fairly straightforward; the dude shook like a leaf most of the time and while he offered numerous explanations of dubious medical causes, most of us suspected it was excessive drug and alcohol use. I first encountered this idiot at the MAWDI warehouse where I and drivers from other local outfits would be routed from time to time to pick up parts that we didn’t have on hand. A chair opened up and I took it to ease my tired dogs. Apparently the chair “belonged” to Shaky McGee there as he came striding over and stood before me. “Uh uh Lakeland, you got no seniority here, that is my chair.” Was this fool with his bad moustache and mullet actually trying to claim some right of seniority regarding a damn chair at a place that neither of us worked? We stared each other down for a few moments and then he was called that he part was ready. He sneered and walked away.

            I came to find out that this yutz actually worked at our other branch in Depew. That was just great. The next time I ran into him it was to deliver a whole truck full of quart boxes of oil to our sister store. He was assigned to help me unload and did so by picking up each box and hurling it, full force, out the back of the truck to me on the loading dock. I refused to acknowledge the intent or the discomfort growing in my hands and caught every one of them, stacking them before the next was whipped at my head. For some reason this seemed to impress this shaved ape and he was cordial ever after; a good thing because he eventually transferred to our branch.

            Getting to know him better, I found he was cut from the same cloth as Klausen to an alarming degree such that had they not looked completely different, I would have speculated that they were twins separated at birth. Often on Monday he would come in with a blackened eye or lumpy face and a tale of some dust up he had gotten into at a bar where the other fellow got the better of him. Greg enjoyed deriding him about this considerably. “Don’t you have any buddies? Or do they just enjoy watching you get the shit kicked out of you every weekend?” I had money on the latter. Joe eventually went the way of the careless driver. First, one Friday evening on a MAWDI run he managed to plow right into an oncoming buck and total the Ranger. The event was looked on with at least a little humor (not so much from Billy) and for a night he was known as ‘Crash’. Two days later he managed to total a second truck after running a stop sign. He resigned on the spot and we never heard from him again.

            Billy really liked to employ old retired guys as drivers as they were willing to work for the low wages he offered as they were basically in it for something to do. Nice old coots most of them, but the one worth mentioning was Voicebox Teddy. Teddy, who had been a chain smoker most of his life, contacted cancer of the larynx and had to have it removed leaving a large hole in his throat that he covered with a piece of mesh to keep the flies out. When agitated he would pull the mesh down and make you look at the opening like a festering evil eye that he would wheeze at you through. Like others in his condition, he was issued one of those electronic voice box things. Teddy apparently got the shittiest model they ever made because we could never tell what he was trying to say. Bud for some reason insisted on sending Teddy to the warehouse and have him call back. Having been present for both ends of these conversations, I recall them going something like this


B: Lakeland, Bud speaking.

T: Grrrrk….bzzz…akeszzz….zzt

B: Is that you Ted?

T: Zxzzt……zink….is?

B: Goddammit Teddy, speak the fuck up!

T: ..Zz…fu..grzzt…ant…me…kkkkt….go?

B: I can’t understand a goddamn word you are saying you old fuck!

T: Zzzzt….go….zz…go!

B: Go to hell you fucking prick! But stop at Precision Tune with those brakes on the way.

T: Xxxzzzt….uck….zzz…ou!

B: What?


            Despite the fact that this played out the same way every time, Bud still sent him there about 3 times a day, even though multiple phones were broken over violent hang ups and MAWDI Mary would call complaining that Teddy was flashing his hole at her every time she lit up. Teddy liked to serve as a living ghastly warning over the ill effects of tobacco and became quite enthusiastic in sticking things in the hole, drawing pictures (Teddy was only semi-literate and usually fucked up deliveries as a result), and performing incomprehensible skits. Except for Bud. For Bud he kept a lighter on hand and presented a lit flame every time Bud opened his pack. Bud, the devil himself and having no fear of hell, always accepted.

            Teddy was most interesting on Friday nights when Greg and I would man the place until close. Usually about an hour before, Teddy would come staggering in with a tall boy of Pabst Blue Ribbon and want to shoot the shit with us. He was generally quite schnockered by this point and as far as we could tell, he was portraying, quite poorly, with movement interspersed with electronic crackling, the various ways in which he intended on killing and disposing of Bud. Eventually, like many former hires, he gave everyone the finger and strode out the door never to be heard from again.

            I mentioned U.T. in my earlier post (I swear you better have gone back and read it or it’s your ass!) and feel the need to bring up another of Billy’s political hires, this one by the name of Chris; not to be confused by the other Chris who worked there who was actually pretty good and thereby not worth mentioning. If either Chris stumbles upon this entry, rest comfortably knowing you are probably the bad one. Bad Chris, the son of some tool who bought a lot of parts from us, started as a driver and within a week managed to fuck it all up royally and piss off a number of good customers.

            Those of you who are familiar with basic economics, which is probably not any of you, forcing me to explain, knows, or is about to know, that most businesses operate on the principle of acquiring labor and material for a certain cost and marking it up considerably to cover both the costs of doing business and securing some amount of profit. Believe it or not, this is something I have had to explain ad nauseum to both employees and street level inquisitors who buttonhook me randomly for answers. These dolts often cry “unfair” until I drill through adamantium skulls that doing otherwise is poor practice. In any case, B.C. strode right into the busy customer area of our largest customer with an armload of parts and exclaimed at full volume, “Wow, I never saw rotors for as cheap as $7 before!” The customer base, comprised largely of the great unwashed, were of the ilk unable to understand these basic economic principles and a small riot ensued when they understood the establishment intended to charge them more than the $7 it was paying. We, as well as they, lost considerable business that day due to that loose lipped schmuck. After several other similar incidents, a verbal altercation with another customer, B.C. finally plowed his truck into the back of a car in front of the mall and Billy gleefully cut him loose.

            Now that I think about it, Good Chris also had an incredibly bone headed adventure as well. He was yet another driver that Billy hired without asking if he could drive stick, so like Adrianna, we gave him a crash course and let him loose. His first time out he pulled in to Precision Tune Sheridan and in his eagerness to make good time, he left the vehicle running, which as you are aware in standard vehicles necessitates shifting to neutral. What Chris forgot was that it was necessary to engage the parking brake, which was unfortunate given that the parking lot had quite the pitch to it. While the grease monkey was signing for his parts, he casually let slip to Chris that the source of the commotion behind him was Ranger which had rolled back into traffic where it sat cutting off two full lanes. We liked Chris, so we let it go, though he was saddled with the tired old ‘Crash’ moniker for a few weeks after.

            The auto supply industry does not merely employ idiots and assholes, but delivers to them almost exclusively. My least favorite was a fellow up on Young St in Tonawanda who ran a garage and was affectionately known as ‘Assface’ by myself and the rest of the crew. Please be advised that he is not to be confused with popular ‘Preacher’ character ‘Arseface’, as he precedes him by years and was far less pleasant. We called him Assface for a number of reasons. For one, he always wore a sour, puckered expression like he just ate a Lemonhead, which for all I know, he did. In addition, he was a considerable prick to deal with. Every time I pulled into his tiny parking lot with the big white box, he would become almost hysterically angry and demand I move it before signing for his shit. Annoyed with his initial overreaction, I made it a point to forget each and every time and feigned sheepishness in moving the vehicle after each and every conniption. I was pleased to see him go out of business before my stint there was over.

            Other customers were full of stories, though I came to find that some liked to tell the same damn ones over and over, like Anal Bead Gary. Gary was one of the nicest customers we had and he’d often come in to shoot the breeze on Friday nights; a pleasant offset to Teddy’s mute rantings. One of the stories he liked to tell, and hence the name, was about the time he was in Vietnam and got a prostitute who like to shove thing up his ass. Making sure we understood he wasn’t gay, he would wax poetic on the pleasantries of having said items yanked out. By this point we would generally be concentrating more on Teddy’s exaggerated stabbing motions or stick figure drawings reminiscent of Knaus’s ‘Animal Divorce Court’.

            I know Munchkins that I promised to get to devoting more attention to a man already introduced but not yet given full substance, the honorable Mr Bud. Bud, whose full name will assuredly not be disclosed as I have no doubt that he would not hesitate for a moment to shoot me in the face, a threat he made even when I wasn’t pissing him off. I will begin; you worthless bastards who I know didn’t go back and read the old entries, by reminding you that Bud was the general manager of the place under Billy and had been a counter fixture there since before time began. Abusive, explosively temperamental, and usually the first impression customers gained of our little establishment. He was, by the by, the spitting image of Alex Trebek and even sounded like him when he wasn’t shouting.

            Like many angry men, Bud had a bit of a cop wannabe fetish going on. He was licensed to carry a concealed weapon, which he exercised at all times, and enjoyed flashing it around from time to time just so that the fact would come to mind when he was exploding on some matter or another. On top of that, he insisted on carrying handcuffs as well. Not the furry kind that probably would have been more explainable, but the standard cop issue chrome ones. He refused to explain why and insisted that they came in handy from time to time without elaborating. He would use this tidbit to flirt on the phone with MAWDI Mary and on more than one occasion I heard him remark, “Hey Mary, I’m fingering my handcuffs while I’m talking to you.” Having been at MAWDI when she was talking to Bud, I could see her blushing and giggling like a schoolgirl, a sickening sight.

            Customers and employees were not the only one’s Bud like to explode on, but his employers as well. Billy usually backed down when Bud went on one of his little tirades, but he and Will would get into some terrific rows. It says something about a place when you can threaten to shoot your bosses father in the face and still keep your job. Often times this would end with Bud quitting and storming out the door leaving his company supplied vehicle behind. On one occasion he called me five minutes later and I had to go pick him up from a phone booth down the Boulevard and drive him home. I asked if he really quit that time and he affirmed this. He then asked me to pick him up in the morning as he would need a ride. His returns were generally full of enormous amounts of tension around the place for many days on end.

            Although he didn’t often get physically violent, it happened from time to time. One cold Feb we received an entire semi full of cheap Chinese brake rotors Billy got some killer deal on. We were dismayed, however, to find that the load had shifted cracking open every crate and eliminating the possibility of unloading the truck with the fork lift. This of course meant unloading many thousands of heavy rotors by hand. To make matters worse, the driver, whom Bud accused of deliberately letting the load shift, refused to help us unload. It was a long day in the cold, and even Bud was out there with us in his shirt and tie pulling things out. His temper grew by the minute and when there was enough room to maneuver around; he picked up a large crow bar and went apeshit on the inside of the semi denting the hell out it to the point where the driver would undoubtedly have some serious explaining to do. The driver was actually nearby when Bud started, standing lackadaisically near the front of the truck smoking and was visibly startled when the clanging began. He initially came forward in angry alarm, but once he could hear the terrific cursing of the most threatening kind amidst the banging, he backed off fearfully and paced around very agitated for the rest of the day.

            In the end it was decided that managing the store and the drivers was simply too much stress and likely the prime contributor to the outbursts, never mind that this seemed to be his natural disposition. The only reason Bud continued to breath, we figured other than his armaments, was that he was actually very personable and charming the majority of the time. It was just that the other 10% was so memorable as to make us forget that. Billy acquired a little Geo Metro, probably a former B.O. Geo as they were still doing that back in those days, and had Bud ride around in it from customer to customer bullshitting with them and trying to sell parts. I ended up taking Bud’s old stand at the counter and it was universally agreed that it was a kinder, gentler auto parts store.

            I stopped back in to Lakeland a few years ago to have some keys made and Billy went ahead and comped me. Almost all of the old crew was long gone. Greg got his CDL and hit the open road and most of the drivers finally retired for good. As for Bud, well, Billy didn’t go into too much detail but apparently there was a row to end all rows and Bud departed there for good. Sleep easy though and know that he is out there, somewhere, just waiting to make good on his threat to shoot you in the face.

Summer Scum

            Though I’m sure I touched on my old days in the DPW here and there, I decided to recant my earlier testimony that the book to those old times is shut and give them an entry anyway. For those of you reading the collected version of my body of work for some reason, the preceding sentence probably makes no sense to you whatsoever and can safely be ignored, as can other references to this being a blog and not a hard bound, gold leafed tome encased in rich Corinthian leather nestled betwixt ‘War and Peace’ and ‘The DaVinci Code’ in your poor excuse for a library. So sit beneath your bust of Pallas with a bowl of brandy and corn cob pipe and enjoy the tale of some assholes who work at the village level.

            The ‘summer help’ program in Kenmore was considered to be nothing less than a golden political plum job wherein the most favored sons of the political elite were given the opportunity to make $2 an hour over minimum to supplement the DPW work force over the summer whilst the regular workers took vacations. Applications for the position required two letters of reference and it was commonly understood that at least one of them would be from the mayor himself or one of the long standing trustees. While it may be uncommon in other locals to furnish such letters for the opportunity to mow grass or pick up dog shit, that was the way they roll. My father’s role in heading up the zoning board as well as his old drinking buddy days with the mayor bought me a ticket in.

            I had my last shift ever at Denny’s on Delaware the Sunday before my first day and left the dish room of my childhood with little regret. That place deserves its own tale one day as well, unless of course you are reading the limited collector’s edition of this, sold exclusively at Walgreen’s for $29.95, wherein you already caught this telling in chapter three or something. I showed up my first day right on time and was immediately sent home for wearing sneakers instead of steel toe boots. Apparently I missed the memo that the other lads received as I was the only doofus to commit such an egregious first day faux pa. Fuck me!

            When I came back sporting my fathers old Vietnam era combat boots with steel toe and steel foot plating to guard against sneaky pungi spikes that may have been set up on Elmwood, most of the lads already got assigned crews such as garbage, trash, concrete, paving and whatnot. The dregs left over, including myself, got assigned to Howard, the retired foreman of the grass crew. Howard, described to some degree in ‘Other Oddballs’, was a happy go lucky canard with a taste for the finer things in life. Actually, he was nothing of the sort; old, foul to the eyes and nose, a brutish hulk sporting unfiltered Pall Malls continuously, and a mean Wild West temper of the kind that gets a man shot. “Git cher ass in the truck!” he barked at me, and I complied squeezing into the back of old Kenmore #3; a dilapidated mini-bus commandeered by Howard for use of the grass crew.

            The initial crew consisted of me, John B, the other Mike W, Rob B. We would eventually lost John B to a packer (garbage truck) and Mike to sewers, both situations vastly superior to working for Howard, and picked up Ken in response. The big task of that first rainy day was to travel around the village and look for storm drain receivers that got plugged up by maple helicopters and scoop them into garbage cans in the back. Really, they had Howard and four guys performing this somewhat pointless task; an inefficiency model suspected by the public at large but now revealed to me in its ugliest. We took turns getting out and doing the clean up. Over the course of the day, minus 9:00 AM coffee, 11:30 lunch and 2:00 PM coffee, we probably managed to clean off close to 20 whole receivers, each of us only having to get up and out a grand total of 5 times each. Suddenly, the labor to pay ratio was substantially greater than originally expected.

            Driving around Howard tended to wax philosophical and like some of Socrates who button hooked you by refusing to unlock the truck, would fill our heads with the pearls of wisdom he accumulated over his many long years. We would marvel loudly over the profundity of his proverbs gush admiration. “Fellas, a bird in the hand is worth 2 in bush.” Explain to us Howard! Whatever do you mean with such a wise and elusive statement? We don’t even have any birds! Howard would go on to enlighten us with a lengthy explanation of why it is better to have a sure thing than not while we with creased brows and befuddled expressions would ask countless absurd questions until tiring of the game. He never caught on. His best, in my book anyway, was his admonition to be sure to always wear high boots when sheep fucking to avoid having your footwear get filled up with shit. Priceless, but still untested; at least by me.

            Once assigned to a crew, it was difficult to become dislodged from it unless one of the others had urgent need. Grass and garage detail were the parking areas for labor overflow until demand peaked; thus it appeared as though I was stuck with his nibs for the whole gig. As mentioned we had some turnover and picked up Ken and life became much more fun. Howard hated Ken with a passion and the feelings were returned. When Ken would dance about with the push broom or when he accidentally stapled his hand to a tree putting up no parking signs, Howard would scream out, “Whater yer playin’ fuck around out there?! Git cher ass in the truck!” There was some difficulty in complying in the staple incident and in one other occasion Howard simply drove off without him, but usually Ken would get back in and we’d have a good chuckle while Howard fumed and hocked big fried egg loogies out the window.

            The other bad news is that we were one of the few crews stuck “working” right to 4, as those with limited scope like garbage, trash and recycling finished when done and got to leave at 1. The early days melted together. Come in, sit on the bench, wait for Danny to stand in front of you and tell you your crew for the day (Wolfie…. grass!), do the mooch route (more later) till coffee, go to McDonald’s for breakfast, mow a lawn or drive around till lunch, eat, drive around till coffee, fuck around at the garage for a half hour, clip hedges or something till 3:30, go back and sit at the garage and watch the clock till 4. There were some notable events.

            The mooch route was the traditional start to the day on Howard’s watch and his successor in the follow on years. This was basically driving the garbage route before the packers got there looking for treasures to abscond with. Highly sought after items included recyclable metal, specific pieces of furniture (I got 3 antique mirrors that way), whatever weird ass item Howard was looking for (git out and get me that there terlet!), but most of all, nudie magazines. The DPW had the greatest collection of porn I have ever seen, dwarfing even the inventory of Village Books and News. Piles and piles in the garage basement, in the break room, stacks under the seats of every single truck, scattered about the main garage and even the big truck and salt garage. If you see a village truck go by manned by 2 people, I can guarantee the person not driving has a Hustler on his lap.

            Finally the day came that first year that I was tapped for greatness. Danny stood in front of me as usual. “Wolfie….” I know, grass. “packer number 4” I couldn’t believe it, I was finally going to get to be one of the big boys riding proudly on the rear of the packer, the wind sailing through my hair and showing my quality as a scum to be reckoned with. Holy shit it is a hard job if you are not in shape for it! I was put on the truck known as the Todaro death march – crewed by Louie, Ed, Norm and myself. Louie and Norm were build like brick shithouses and Eddie was a wiry little sumbitch with gnarled veiny arms hard as steel. I was pooped after 2 streets but they flogged me on with an unkindness of words.

            The impetus on garbage was to finish as fast as possible, no matter what it took. No breaks, no rest, no water, no food, and no playing fuck around, as Howard would say. The pace a medium to fast run with the goal being to never let the truck truly stop. On streets that were considered narrow enough we performed the infamous ‘double-dong’; collecting both sides at once at a double time pace. The only break consisted of the brief time it took to drive from the completed street to the next, or about 20 seconds. The stated mission was always to beat those bastards in the other truck, but victory simply meant going to help them finish their route. The prize didn’t put a whole lot of wind in your sails!

            Aside from the cramping, spasming, soreness and exhaustion, one of my main problems was the sweating. This was an intense workout under the summer sun and I was generally thoroughly drenched by the end of the first street. In one instance walking to Wilson Farms after the route for a snack, another summer scum and I ran into one of his friends who asked if I got caught in a storm or something. “No dude, that’s sweat!” The counter girls would also look at me with some level of disgust, especially after taking bills drenched with perspiration and garbage juice from my pockets to pay while praying fervently for the invention of Purell to come about. Every night I would stick a 3 liter bottle a quarter full into the garage freezer and fill the iced up result with water in the morning. I’d have the whole thing gone well before the route was done and be craving more. In many cases I would get spasmodic cramping from the loss of electrolytes.

            On top of it being a physically hard job, it was actually more disgusting than you would think. The smell was obvious – plenty of left over BBQ meat garbage with close to a weeks spoil on it festering in the summer sun. This of course led to our near and dear friends, the maggots. Now add exploding bags to the mix. When the back of the truck would get full, we had to pack it. When packing, it was very common for the pressurized bags to explode sending a stream of flying debris, fetid liquid and maggots shooting from the back. It was impossible to complete a route without being showered at least once. The most horrible incident I ever witnessed, a guy was standing right behind the truck when the packing blew out the contents of a full Hefty bag full of dog shit. This poor bastard was covered head to foot and forced to seek the use of a kind strangers hose before we would even let him near the truck again. I can still see him taking his glasses off, untouched eyes only bulging in the sheer horror of it, and I throw up in my mouth a little every time. By the way, nothing, nothing smells worse than really old moldy grass.

            That first year I had a reputation for being super suck ass bad at garbage and was not requested much, and that was fine by me until faced with the alternative, the second most dread duty of all, garage duty. Garage duty meant that instead of going out with crew, you were kept back at the garage to do busy work like sweeping the floor, chipping paint or some other incredibly tedious bullshit task but in the same vicinity as the bosses. This was far worse than either Howards tongue lashings or dodging streams of maggoty sewage while Norm shouted “Double dong! Double dong!” in your ear at jet engine volume. My second week into it I dreaded going in each day as it was an exercise to keep looking busy – the real task at hand. Look busy in case someone comes by.

            I adopted a new strategy in hopes of being moved off of this wretched job. Other scum revealed that when they pulled a stretch they would sweep the floor and then go hide in the basement. There was even a convenient hidden nap area carved out amidst the stack of extraneous recycling bins. My work ethic would not allow, so I took the opposite tack. Danny would set your tasks, always starting with a good sweeping. This was supposed to take you to coffee, but I really applied myself and finished in 20 minutes. “Now what do you want me to do?” I could tell he dreaded seeing me come. No matter what pathetic, unusual or difficult task he set out for me, I would work like a banshee to finish in record time. “Done! Now what do you want me to do?” Danny wasn’t going to break that easy and I admire his tenacity especially after learning what a royal pain it is to think up work for highly efficient yet completely un-self motivated employees. It was a contest of wills that went on for three full days. I wouldn’t budge and I finally drove him to total exasperation. “Fuck! I don’t know Wolfie, just fucking find something!” The next day I was Howard’s problem again.

            Danny found a way to get my back a few weeks later and I was really to learn what tedium meant. Only thing worse than garage duty where it is hard to find something to do is barricade duty where by definition there is certainly nothing to do. Barricade duty is just as it sounds – stand at the wooden barricade at the end of a street where paving is being done. Move the barricade out of the way when a dump truck comes full of hot asphalt. That is all. Oh, and argue with residents of that street who try to force their way though the barricades citing the auspices of divine right of living there. Explaining that the village will bill them for the cost of re-paving the street to eliminate their tire tracks in the soft asphalt was an excellent and effective deterrent. A lie invented by yours truly; bored and full of stories. Due to the time sensitive nature of the work, there was no lunch break, no bathroom break, and we often worked well past quitting finishing the job. Brutal does no justice in describing the horror of this pointless task.

            The best job of all, hands down, was the fabulous Store Truck, commanded by Sam M, Kenmore’s answer to the mafia. Store Truck was the garbage truck specifically allocated to picking up the garbage of Kenmore’s many fine business establishments. While it is true that the work aspect of this detail remained heinous as regular garbage, the surrounding circumstances were much more pleasant. For one, we picked up every day so the garbage never really had time to get that extra special stank to it. In addition, it was a much shorter route with more riding around and a significantly increased emphasis on lacksadaisicality. By the way, since this blog begin not a single one of you fools has taken me to task for the many dozens of words I completely made up. You can ignore this if reading the collected edition as no doubt the boorish clown of an editor removed my masterful and creative wordsmithing and replaced it with the unimaginative and dull.

            There was a reason Store Truck was known as the Kenmore Mafia, and that is simply because Sam had the knack for shaking down any business with desirable goods to ensure services their hefty tax dollars were paying for anyway. Each morning we dined, on the house, at one of the local diners. Anything on the menu was open game and a check was never brought to the table. From Consumers cases of beer were brought out the back door and loaded into the hopper under the truck. Watson’s furnished the finest candy in the land, with little of it making it home. Sometimes when the load at a certain business exceeded the allowable tonnage, a wad of cabbage would be deftly delivered in a handshake between the manager and Sam. Sam would divide the take (never revealing the full amount, counted in secret) and pass me a fiver with the admonition, “If anyone asks you where you got it, you don’t know” Apparently in this small community flashing an inexplicable fin around town was cause for raised eyebrows.

            Sometimes the best job was being in the right place at the right time. A bunch of us drew the duty of spending the day in the hot sun down at the Wabash dump breaking down the old steel lamp posts that had been replaced. The village wished to recycle the steel and apparently thought that paying the labor of 8 guys for a day to get the hundred bucks in recycling savings was a good use of resources. The morning sucked, but things turned better later on. The recycling take was coming out to more than the village elders were expecting and it was quickly agreed upon that this was not the information going into the report and that the recycling center conveniently forgot to give us a receipt. We went to lunch at Spectators, a long gone sports bar run by a former worker, and dined like kings. Flagrant disregard for policy held the day and round after round of frothy beers were ordered along with shots of Kessler’s interspersed in between. Old steel paid the tab at the end. We didn’t make it back to site until well after 2, only to find Danny parked there. Somehow we avoided giving ourselves away though our rank breath and stumbling about, conveniently attributed to heat exhaustion!

            I survived my first year as a summer scum and apparently impressed the powers that be just enough that I was invited back the following year and thereafter. The regular workers accepted me as one of their own and I became integrated into the unique culture of hard work interspersed with tomfoolery. I managed to obtain an assortment of nicknames; most of them terribly original like ‘Wolfie’, ‘Wolfman’, ‘Wolfmeister’, ‘Wolfmeisterman’, and my least favorite, ‘Meaty Muff’. That last one was due to my intense love of slurping up Tina’s Burrito’s micro waved at the Wilson Farms and consumed at breaks. One of the jokers remarked that I was going down on it, “like a big meaty muff” and to my consternation it stuck thereafter. At times it was shortened to just ‘Meaty’, but it was assured that the full version was used whenever women were present thus negating any sexiness being on the back of a packer might have had.

            Most of my time in the follow on years was spent with Bucko, Howard’s successor. Bucko took a shine to me and personally requested me most of the time. He held to Howard’s tradition of goofing off most of the day, but at least had a far sunnier disposition. He had a real knack for finding fun projects to fill our days and make the time go faster, and some of them were even loosely affiliated with things that may have benefitted the village, even if inadvertently. We often had long breakfasts at the Hinwood, conveniently located outside the village borders, thus negating the chance of a boss type discovering our whereabouts. Bucko generally had a pat answer in his hip pocket when pointedly asked where we had been and what we had been doing. Incredible how often we all “just missed” each other!

            I am proud to say that after a lackluster first year, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and became a master packer; a description that just doesn’t sound right no matter what the interpretation. I was requested often to fill in the personnel gaps on the garbage crew and learned to power through the Todaro Death March even more efficiently than the regular guys. My motivation, you see, was that by getting on a packer and out by 1:00, I had plenty of time to take a nap on my mother’s living room floor before heading over for my 4:00 shift at Collector’s Inn. It was given that after CI I would spend a good deal of the evening partying at Comstock, so needed the sleep.

            As touched upon in ‘Other Oddballs’, each summer the village would throw a big outdoor shindig for all the workers. Kegs of beer, big bags of clams for the shucking, corn on the cob, steaks, bottles of whiskey strewn about and snacks up the ass.  It was a smorgasbord of everything hard working village workers could want and a virtual guarantee that most to all would be driving home stinking drunk around rush hour. In the early years it was a sure thing that the summer scum would be invited as well, though after the incident in which Ken tippled a few too many, the concept was re-thought. It came to pass then that only certain select scum would be invited under strict admonition that those who did not get the nod would not be informed. I was one of the chosen and kept my end of the deal in return for delicious clams on the half shell by the dozen. Plus my cousin was a regular there, not to mention Sam was willing to endorse me.

            It was after one such summer event that I had the most challenging ride home ever. Like every morning I rode my bike in to work. Usually after these parties I would wheel it over to my parents house and my father would drive me home. On one instance, however, they had alternate plans, so I decided to make the long ride back to Princeton on my own. It was an ill conceived plan as any bit of Comstockery heretofore mentioned! For one, my balance was shot causing me to tumble right over at any time for no good reason. When I was able to maintain balance, I tended to swipe the curb and send myself tumbling for that reason. When I was able to avoid the curb through intense concentration, I tended to ram into parked cars. It never occurred to me, of course, to just walk the bike until I was too banged up to even ascend the seat again.

            After putting my bike away in the living room, a habit that annoyed Aaron to no end, I collapsed on the bed and lay there as the room spun about me. One would expect that the punishment I took would have sobered me some, but that was not the case. I fell asleep at 5 in the afternoon and didn’t wake until the following morning with ripped clothes and blood staining the bed sheets. Classic!

            I’ll never forget my summers at the old DPW and will always look back on those days as instrumental in keeping me in school to reduce the risk as much as possible that I would have to do such work for the rest of my life. My hats off to those who can.

Land O’ Lakeland

            Once again, despite all promises made in the past to spare this readership further tales of those vainglorious and vermiscious days before my little jaunt into the Air Force, I am going to make a filthy liar of myself. I feel that in my haste to close out this era and move on to stories in which I alone of the editorship was the star, I left out some details worth telling in my post titled “Wild Blue Yonder”; specifically my days of employment at Lakeland.

            As per the original agreement that I saw fit to flagrantly disregard on so many occasions and thus invite all manner of justifiably angry responses, I am going to leave out details that would serve to direct the baleful eye of Google or other search engines this way. It is not so much that I worry for the delicate feelings of those sensitive souls who sob quietly to sleep at night because I described them as a low brow brutish nancy, or because one of the editors tends to spew a worrisome stream of Mountain Dew from his nose every time it happens, but because I have grown weary of the cumbersome task of apologizing, backpedaling, or trying to convince you that you aren’t as bad as you seem. This naturally does not apply to any current readers whom we have apologized to. You, my friend, are the lone exception in the dreary list of malcontents.

            Although I now am known to possess the gritty motivation of a fully fledged razorback boar with a yen for road apples, following college graduation I had no particular idea on how to go about gaining a professional position that had anything to do with my majors of choice. I closed out the year in food service at dear old Berts in Talbert, said my goodbyes to JT and Eileen, and was banned for life from the immaculate grill area on the simple account of losing my student status. Where most people would have used this as a springboard to make use of the career counseling services we all had access to, I chose, as usual, the road much less traveled (and for a good reason) and waited with grandiose expectations for the world to get around to beating a path to my door.

            In the mean time, I fell back on my old standby, the DPW. I figured working a long summer would keep me in beer and pretzels while word filtered around the job market that a brilliant young bull was about and available. The job paid the princely sum of $5.50 an hour, which even at 1995 wage rates, probably wasn’t really all that great. Given that I lived out most of the year making minimum wage food service wages supplemented with the $2 a week I took home from Collectors after paying for the 4 color monkey on my back, it seemed generous. To save on gas, as well as the expensive luxury of a personally owned vehicle, I pedaled my ass through the streets of Tonawanda every morning to spend the day dumping trash into the back of a packer or schlepping around killing time with old Bucko, occasionally tending to the one or two village owned patches of grass.

            With these lofty wages keeping most of my expenses met (supplemented with a Discover card I received after filling out an application to get free M&Ms), I lacked the motivation to really, really look for a job. Hell, I didn’t even have an up to date resume; the most current employment on the old document listed as my Pennysaver route and ‘bug collecting’ listed under hobbies. Now I knew that a lot of the ‘summer scum’ as they liked to call us got hired on full time when needed and my unmotivated noggin deeply considered the option of just continuing on past the summer and backdoor my way into a permanent gig. Some of the really senior guys there revealed that with side gigs they were clearing as much as $40K a year, and to my poor 4 digit annual income, that sounded pretty sweet.

            The shoe dropped of course at the end of the summer. The super came rambling up to me one Wed in early September and revealed that Friday was going to be my last day. “Budget’s all up for summer scum Wolfie! Nice havin’ you but don’t let the door hit yer ass on the way out! Haw!” Well that was just great. A college grad with gigantic loans looming and here I was about to face the ranks of the unemployed. I was filled with indignant fury! Since they had hired on less senior summer scum I was under the assumption that my marker was in play and good and now to betray me like this? I was the ideal government employee! Never missed a coffee break, never returned early from lunch, took frequent naps on the taxpayers’ nickel, and often showed up late, hung-over and disheveled… I was the very model of the extraneous man leaning wearily against a pristine shovel behind a relentless barricade of orange road cones assembled for no discernable reason but to irritate residents.

            I vented my outrage to Bucko who listened with great compassion and aplomb. “My old pal Willie could use a good man like you. Got nothing but assholes and thieves working for him!” This sounded at least somewhat promising. An environment full of lazy distempered thieves was one I felt I could thrive in and stand out over the rest of the pack. The friendships I had cultivated as described in the rest of this wordy blog prepared me well for dealing with assholes in a highly successful manner. Willie, happy to have a well recommended college boy like myself sent his way, sent me in to Lakeland to interview with his son who had taken over the family business.

            The interview process was quite informal. Billy kicked the tires a little bit and quizzed me on my knowledge of auto parts, which was nil having never owned a vehicle or even changed a tire. He smelled the potential of greatness, or perhaps the Brut I employed to smarten myself up a bit, and agreed to hire me at the same amazing wage as the DPW was paying me. Although he admitted my pedigree had senior management written all over it, Billy took the bottoms up approach and decided to start me as a driver hauling parts around town in order to get to know the customer base and the product since at that time I had not even been aware that cars had such things as cooling systems or alternators.

            I reported my first day, shiny and showered, and was given over to Greg, one of the counter guys. The other fellow at the counter, chain smoking and barking on the phone at the same time was identified as ‘Bud’. I was immediately warned of both his explosive temper and the fact that he carried a concealed weapon. Experience taught me over time that the latter was well justified as no less than three dozen people, most of them customers, one with known mob ties, personally and graphically threatened to end his ability to breath in ghastly, painful ways. Billy’s business model was somewhat counterintuitive in nature, but by the fact that he remains in place today against juggernaut NAPA, his acumen is unquestionable.

            Greg got me going with my first delivery run and a snag or two shook out almost immediately. The first being that not having a car, I didn’t know how to get anywhere that was not in walking distance. We worked through this, both initially and for the next 6 months by Greg taking me to the local map in back and tracing out my route with his finger as I hastily wrote down directions. Eventually I would take to spending much time at that map establishing ideal routes for any type of delivery run which led to my legend as the fastest driver in the history of the joint.

            The second problem manifested after I loaded up the back of the old Ford Ranger and got in the drivers seat where I was confronted by the fearsome stick shift. The worn black knob, like a gruesome eye with foreign symbols (the gear numbers of course) staring up at me, mocking me, daring me to try and fail. Of course I did; those of my kind are not partial to revealing weakness and would rather drive the thing off a cliff than admit the challenge was beyond the scope of experience. I couldn’t even manage to get it started. I stepped out and admitted defeat expecting to be sent home in disgrace. Instead, Billy surprised me and made available the only vehicle in his fleet with a standard transmission, a large white box truck in which I was to have plenty of adventures.

            Driving the box had its own challenges as I was to learn. First, backing up requires some deal of care and in one of my first runs out I managed to plow right into a parked car. Like a good employee and responsible citizen I left a note implicating my employer. As it turned out, that was the wrong thing to do. Billy made it a point to avoid company identification on the vehicles despite the guaranteed advertising value specifically because it allowed the possibility of his careless drivers to escape hit and runs, something that happened quite frequently, without implicating him. Otherwise he would have been out of business in but a few fortnights. Yes, I am using archaic time terminology simply to be a prick and make you think.

            I also learned early on that the box did not fit very well through the drive through at Arby’s on the Boulevard. Thinking I was clear after placing my order I ran right into the overhang. This necessitated a comedic episode in which the whole line of disgruntled drivers behind me had to back out, let me out, and then refigure their place in line to receive the correct order. Although Arby’s took down my information I declined to relate the incident back at the home office for obvious reasons.

            Since the box truck was my only possibility for the time, it became my responsibility to deliver all the 55 galleon drums of oil, washer fluid and anti-freeze around the area. This in itself posed some challenges. My first time out, Greg loaded the back with about 10 drums using the fork lift. I got to my first destination where the customer didn’t have a fork lift. We stood there looking at each other wondering how we were going to lift down a 900 lb drum of anti-freeze. Someone finally came up with the idea to stack up about 5 discarded old tires behind the truck and roll the barrel down onto them. This method worked splendidly for getting the item off the truck, but had the downside of almost squishing the fool mechanic who had the brilliant idea to stand in front and “catch” the falling item. Classic Wile E. Coyote. In time I gained such finesse at this operation that I could alone tip and roll the barrel down and flip it upright the moment it hit the tires; a class act according to the grease monkey community at large.

            I would also like to share my complaint regarding the day that this cavernous vehicle almost became my tomb. I was executing the much vaunted Kessel Run and trying to beat HS’s nonsensical time of 12 parsecs down the 400 from Holland. The back hold was filled with exotic merchandise: 2 huge pallets of oil spill cleaner (kitty litter), some barrels of oil and washer fluid, stacks of brake rotors, and up front in the passenger seat next to me was a whole pile of exhaust parts that a savvy customer was returning. I took a hard turn trying to make good time when I felt the load shift in back. I heard a vaguely familiar sound that almost reminded me of a plane taking off. In nanoseconds I concluded that the noise was generated by the tires lifting from the wet pavement. I could feel the tip just beginning and fountained effluvious chilled sweat staring down the tangled mess of rusty piping poised ready to impale me if gravity had say.

            Forget not to breathe gentle reader! I did indeed survive that day as evidenced by my only claimed supernatural telling of this tale. With ever so careful application of the brakes I managed to reverse the course of the tip and guide her home; albeit now going at a breakneck 15 MPH reaching base in great excess of the to my knowledge unbeatable 12 parsecs. To round out the day nicely, driving into my last stop I was forced to brake suddenly allowing for the sole remaining barrel of fluid, unwisely placed at the rear of the truck, to fly forward up through the crawl door and into the cab with me. Extracting it was a real bitch; a task made all the more difficult by well shot nerves.

            Over time with the assistance of the irascible Mr Walsh I learned to drive stick shift, but by that point my duties began to shift more managerial. My next feat of note occurred when I brought in my first new hire; a very poorly conceived idea that fortunately managed not to bite me in the ass. Adrianna was one of the many women I met in my teledate days and in one of our early conversations she revealed she was hard up for a job. We had lost Fat Paul and Billy was looking for someone new and reliable. So, without ever meeting her in person, and even after the Stanky Stalker incident, I gave my wholehearted recommendation. She interviewed and was hired and we had our first “date” as I was to train her how to drive stick, Billy having not yet learned to incorporate that most useful of questions into the interview process.

            The immediate upside to what could have been an awkward and disadvantageous situation was that we had a wonderful case of mutual unattraction that greatly facilitated us working together without too much hullabaloo. Our first foray out she beat the clutch on the old Ranger like Mike Tyson’s unfortunately named younger brother Bryson. We were cruising down the 290 approaching Sheridan with the intention on making a delivery to some now defunct garage near the country club when I smelled it go. The predictable black smoke visual soon followed and I was able to guide her down the Sheridan/ Harlem exit ramp. I had a dilemma on my hands here; our customer expected their delivery and this was the time before cell phones. I boldly made a decision of executive quality.

            Adrianna steered the old clunker while I pushed that son of a bitch all the way to the garage; a distance of almost 3 miles. It was a fantastic battle gaining momentum down slight inclines and straining with all my might on the tiny rises, but I got her there to the delight and amazement of the wrench heads waiting for their parts. The bonus for this customer is that they were guaranteed the work of making the repair and got to ogle Adrianna, generously endowed in an area pleasing to most men. We became the most favored supplier that day. Greg picked us up and drove us back to Lakeland where I received significant accolades for the accomplishment and was subsequently asked to repeat the story ad nauseum. Despite all I have accomplished since, including bringing in a $15 million dollar contract, I never once received such praise as I got for pushing that old goddam truck.

            After an incident in which our mob affiliated customer threatened to kill Bud, and Bud responded by threatening to not only kill Doug, but his whole extended family, it was decided that the best place for Bud was in sales and marketing and not managing the counter. I don’t know if Billy thought that Bud might make more effective threats in person than over the phone, but I never understood any of his logic anyway. In a brilliant move of emasculation, Billy gave him an adorable little Geo Metro to scoot around town in and gave the flagship purple S-10 over to me to take home every night. A sweet deal this; my own “company car”. This served to facilitate my tele-dating efforts considerably, even though I was on the honor system to simply drive the thing back and forth to work.

            In my new role as counter manager and directing the drivers and such, I finally had my first opportunity to push someone out the door. I’ve never been a believer in keeping around dead wood; a philosophy diametrically opposed to Billy’s penchant for bringing it in through the front door and angling just so that pushing it back out becomes an exercise in futility. The prize of the litter was a fellow Greg and I referred to as ‘U.T.’, a clever altering of his true name, ‘J.T.’ for the purpose of identifying him as a ‘Useless Tool”. U.T. was the son of a highly prominent customer in local government who had the wherewithal to allocate large amounts of budget our way by circumventing the fair bid process. U.T. was hired to sweep up and shit and I was saddled with the task of keeping him busy. Within hours I wanted him fired, though Billy would not capitulate.

            U.T. liked to find places in the store to hide and force me to go looking for him in order to find some bullshit task that didn’t need doing that he couldn’t fuck up too badly. It was a challenge. Since I couldn’t force him out, I decided to break him to provide motivation for him to look for an easier job. “C’mere J.T.! Got a little job for you!” his face would fall in misery upon hearing those words. “I’m going to need to go ahead and ask you to…” It was never anything pleasant. Tedious, dirty, even dangerous; no task was too shitty to assign U.T. We received in a half dozen pallets of anti-freeze, the heaviest shit on earth, stacked up to the ceiling and wedged back into our filthy cramped back storage area, comfortable only to the likes of a Gollum, and I had my backbreaker.

            “J.T… Got a little job for you. Yeah, you know all that anti-freeze in the back? Well, the other day I went back there myself and pulled out and counted every single bottle. Here is the thing…the count has to be balls on accurate, so I’m going to need you to do the same thing and let me know what number you come up with. I’ll come back here and there to see how you are doing.”

            In reality I did nothing of the kind, but it did force him to actually do the work in hopes of matching my number. Accomplishing the task meant moving everything by hand through cramped dirty narrow areas in stifling heat to boot. I made good and went back there every 20 minutes or so and tapped my watch each time. He worked all day; pulling, counting, putting everything back. He finally emerged well after his normal quitting time filthy, sweating, red faced and weary to the bone to produce his results.

            “Oh… hmm… that isn’t the number I came up with at all! Well, one of us is off, so I’m going to need you to go ahead and do the same thing tomorrow to see if you come up with your number, my number, or a different number all together. Just so you know, I’m real sure my number is right, so…”

            As expected, U.T. failed to show for his next shift and every one thereafter. A week later we discovered him sweeping sawdust at one of our customers who also knew his dad. Sweeney leaned over to me, “I never saw anyone take 4 goddam hours to sweep a floor before! And it wasn’t even clean when he was done!” If I had to make a guess where he is today, it would be holding up a shovel behind inexplicable orange cones, enjoying the effects of gravity and nothing else till 5 o’clock made its way around once more.

            Far more difficult to manage was Willie, the founder of the company and Billy’s father. Despite retiring 5 years prior, Willie insisted in coming into work for the full day, every single day. He spent the majority of his time poking around, telling Billy how he was doing things wrong, annoying the living shit out of Bud who would periodically quit and storm out in a cloud of fury to make a point, and needling the rest of us about everything under the sun. We affectionately referred to him O.B. or ‘Old Bastard’, based on an incident in which a former employee, tired of being told for an hour straight that he was hanging exhaust wrong, screamed “fuck off you old bastard!” and was thence ushered out the door. Once I was jammed behind the counter most of the time, he began to get under my skin as well.

            I found a way, however, to get him to leave us all alone. I discovered quite by accident that after he had one of his temperamental episodes, set off by some perceived slight or instance, he would take to Billy’s office for several hours to cool down. I began to look for ways to get him spun up at someone else’s expense. “Will, get this. I filled up the white box truck on Friday afternoon, and here it is Monday morning almost empty!” He looked at me with wide eyed horror, “Those sons of bitches!”; Willie was always convinced the world was out to pick his pocket. What I didn’t tell him as he exploded in fury was that I came in on Saturday and drove a load of oil down to Chestnut Ridge and never filled back up. He had his rant, hid with Billy well into the afternoon (poor Billy suffered from my technique) then spent the rest of the fuddling around trying to find a locking gas cap that would fit.

            I can probably fill up a whole separate entry about all of the characters I encountered there: Fat Paulie, Shaky Joe, ‘Crash’ McGee, MAWDI Mary, Assface, the Made Man, Anal Bead Gary, Rocky, the Businessman, the Bigot, and of course much more on the ineffable Bud, so I’m probably going to go ahead and do that at some point since the rest of these douche bags are letting this wondrous fruit languish like last weeks tomatoes. Pricks.

Stick ‘Em Up!

It’s been a fair day or two since I last ventured back in the sunless lands of an era or three before previous, but I felt the compelling need to share one more tale from the Princeton days that for some reason I forgot to include when I shut the book on that time. The pleasant thing about books, especially electronic ones, is that you can go ahead and shimmy in another chapter here and there without causing too much grief to some of the more anal retentive characters who manage these volumes. Today’s chapter, my already bored and agitated chillun’s, is the amazing adventure of how I was mugged at gunpoint. I will spoil the ending for you now though; I lived through it and am sorry if you had high hopes that you are experiencing first hand communication from beyond the grave, though seriously, were that possible I would be haunting a woman’s locker room and not penning this tediously dreary missive.

            It was a glorious Friday in May and a scant 3 days before I was scheduled to take the very last exam of my UB career before graduation. I was for an English class; one of the ones I declined to often attend or do the work for in a timely manner. Graduation hinged upon my ability to read and digest Willkie Collin’s Moonstone, Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, and one or another of Dickens’s little romps with asshole urchins and snidely douches with improbable names. Piece of cake! A straight shot though of all nighters fueled with gallons of java and a couple boxes of Vivarin would do the trick but nice. Just so long as nothing were to throw me off my game.

            After a few chapters of plodding through Moonstone, a dubious “classic” I had never heard of before, I decided that a breath of fresh air was in order and decided to smoke my cigarette while taking a brisk walk around the block and over to the nearby school where I planned to do some more of the reading perched on the big wooden jungle gym. The gym, mind you, was the icing on the cake when being convinced to leave the comfortable wilds of Comstock for the guaranteed safety of an Amherst address.

            It was early afternoon and the weather was sunny and a balmy 60.The air was sweet and the birds singing high in the trees, just for me. I bee-bopped in my usual gait down the block and turned down Windermere, my blue backpack (which I still own) perched in the cool manner on one shoulder, and my cassette walkman advising me with the honey voice of Amy Manning that I should keep it down now, voices carry. I was but days away from graduation and the big money that would bring in once I starting flashing my degree on the street; nothing, nothing could stop me now!

            I noticed the fellow coming down the sidewalk in my direction while he was some distance away. He was dressed in a vibrant red track suit and walked with a ease of purpose that he had no where to be in a hurry and was saddled with the burden of dragging along a horse cock between his legs and the entitlement such endowment brings. I thought little of it as it was I mentioned in Amherst, the safest community in America, in the early afternoon on a beautiful May day. Honestly, even at Comstock I would have thought nothing amiss.

            When Hoss was about 3 paces in front of me and I was drawing my jaunty gait right in order to accommodate his urban swagger, he surprised me in what I initially thought was a very rude game of chicken as he stepped quickly and directly in front of me. A few seconds later it registered that he utilized my moment of surprise to draw a pistol from some fold in his voluminous track suit and was now holding it to my forehead. Now were I Dave, I would probably be ghost writing this in a very literal sense, as the initial instinct would have been to swat his hand away or position myself into some ridiculous kung fu stance that would have given Homie G a good chuckle before putting a cap in my ass. Fortunately I had enough common sense to glean on to the fact that I was outgunned and that quick draw here probably had a lot more experience in this area than I did.

            Before I could get a real good look at his face, I was ordered to turn around, which I did with a ‘yes sir’ thrown in as a calculated nicety. One never knew when a measure of respect toward some scum bag might make the difference of having them let you off with a pistol whipping or give you an urban legend style warning to help you avoid some terrorist attack. He ripped my backpack off and managed to fish my wallet out of my back pocket all in one fluid motion. Even I, in my disadvantaged position had to admire the expertise with which he practiced his craft. I lamented the fact that I chose to put my Dickens requirement off as it would have been deliciously ironic to have this happen at the same time I was reading about ragged pick pocket who I decided to view with much less sympathy when I got to it.

            I didn’t really have the time to wonder if he planned on shooting or not because the second after he got my wallet, he ordered me to run and I, once again in my role as a people pleaser, was anxious to comply. I barreled down the street about half a block with Til Tuesday still blaring in my ear and stopped to catch my breath as I was woefully out of shape. I looked back and he was still there looking through my backpack when he noticed I had stopped and began to look very menacing. Not waiting to see if he was going to give chase, I resumed my sprint around the block back to the apartment.

            The run back was somewhat anxiety fueled as it occurred to me that the most natural place he might use as his get away was to go past my apartment and up the incline behind Tops. What do I do if I have to pass him for us both to get away? Do we acknowledge each other? Nod hello? Feign ignorance of the others presence because of the sheer awkwardness of the situation? I really hoped he would pick another route and save us both the social anxiety such a chance encounter so soon would cause. While I could probably handle it fine, he seemed the type to turn to the gun again to avoid the unpleasantness. Even worse I could see him ending up living in the building adjacent mine and thus be subjected to bumping into him doing laundry every week. My luck held and he both chose another direction and probably had a better residence. I’m sure he could afford it, his line of work being somewhat lucrative.

            I bolted back up into my apartment completely out of breath hoping to find my roommate at home, but instead found it empty, he probably off pretending to be an elf or locked up at Chet’s “playing Bloodbowl”; a euphemism I was sure was code for some other activity I would rather not acknowledge. I dialed 911 and when the operator answered I calmly explained, “HimynameismikewolfandIwasjustrobbedrobbedatgunpointandumandumwellhehadagunandgotmywallentanduhhhh….” She advised me to slow down, take a deep breath and try again which only furnished the same results. Third time was a charm and I managed to convey, in my most suave manner as she sounded cute, what had befallen me but moments before. She didn’t bit, but was willing to alert the proper authorities posthaste.

            Mere moments later three cop cars came screaming up to the apartment, sirens blaring, making a neighborhood spectacle of my predicament. Two cops came in and directed the other cars to the manhunt with hopes of catching the miscreant before he escaped into Buffalo proper and outside the jurisdiction of fair Amherst. The boys in blue were highly motivated as Amherst had the distinction of being rated one of the safest cities in America and as such the long arm of the law was dedicated to keeping that rating. It was clear from the get go that they were taking this simple mugging very seriously.

            I was brought along to the scene of the crime and was delighted to find that my assailant declined to carry away my trusty blue backpack and he also left my copy of The Moonstone, which had been deceptively difficult to obtain to begin with. Better still, the rogue also failed to find the checkbook I had hidden away in one of the pocket thus securing the twenty bucks or so sitting in my account. To my irritation, the cops wouldn’t let me touch my stuff as they had designs on dusting it for prints. I could feel precious time starting to tick away from my rigorous reading schedule. My would be rescuers, however, were unwilling to budge on the slightest detail. I replayed for them again and again the exact sequence of events as if the particular manner in which he stepped in front of me would clue them in to his MO and thus his identity. I could see if he were a Batman villain and told a joke, riddle or encased me in ice or something where that would be a help, but I was pretty sure we were looking at some generic Blood.

            In order to further impact my day in relation to the event, they insisted I come into the station on Audobahn for the purpose of answering more questions. My bag was returned to me having been through the lab already with a team of experts already analyzing the forensic findings. The detective gave me a cigarette, and had I asked, I was certain he could have also poured me a stiff one from the bottle inevitably hiding in his desk drawer. He battered me with a series of questions, some of which became insulting in nature. He explained after that he had to be sure I was actually mugged and didn’t fabricate the whole thing for attention or some hair brained scheme to avoid a much regretted credit card purchase but moments before.

            Once my victimized status was established, he did kindly help me contact all the credit agencies and cancel my cards. The investigation already revealed that my Discover card had been used to purchase $200 worth of goods at a convenience store on Bailey before it could be cancelled. Evidentially they didn’t bother to check the fellows ID. Next they actually brought in a sketch artist who took down my extremely hazy conception of what this guy looked like from what I could recall in the nanosecond I got to see him before being spun around. While the artist was talented it was more likely they were going to apprehend a young Morgan Freeman than my criminal based on the results. If Morgan was detained at all as a result, I deeply apologize especially if that was what got him sent to Shawshenk.

            Finally, all bases covered, they drove me back to my apartment at about 6 in the evening. I had lost the whole afternoon to that debacle and knew my book a day schedule was now shot. Aaron was still gone; still up to shenanigans with Chet no doubt, and I felt the need to convey my story with at least someone and so made dinner plans with my grandmother, sister and cousin and got the opportunity to regale them with my adventure of the day. When I got home I intended on starting the reading again, but by then my roommate had manifested once again with the gamer geeks in tow, so I had the stage once again to tell of my narrow escape from the clutches of the reaper.

            The fallout from the day was years in the lasting. The immediate consequence was that between the events of the day and the constant retelling over the next few days my intention to read 3 books became a reality of actually reading a book and a quarter. I walked into the exam anyway fully prepared to spin the best yarn of bullshit I could muster. We had a choice of answering 1 of 3 questions, and true to form, I ended up picking a question on Kim, the one book I never even cracked open, as I felt the question was something I could deftly schmooze my way through simply with the knowledge I gleaned from reading the back cover. I got a B+ and graduated on time.

            The far more difficult challenge was in replacing my drivers license. As most of you know, trying to get a license when you don’t have one to show them requires many points of identification, the majority of them being items I routinely kept in my wallet. I showed up at the DMV with my birth certificate, and electric bill in my name, and an expired library card. The woman behind the counted chuckled at my foolish ignorance. I played the sympathy card and explained the whole mugging and whatnot and despite not even having half the number of points of ID needed, she put through my request anyway. Goes to show you can get a license with but the flimsiest of identifiers and a darn good yarn to boot. In a way it was fortunate as it saved me from having to explain the very obvious modifications that had been made to my birth date years before.

            The downside was that it takes a good 6 weeks to get another license. In that time, every place I had been too previously where the waitresses knew my face and had never asked for ID, had suddenly become very inquisitive and denied me service time and time again. Aaron took to buying my beer at Tops for me; a task he deeply resented having given up imbibing some months before to focus on his health and allowing him to ingest more popcorn, tomato soup, and Mountain Dew. Naturally during this period the whole gang got a hankering to go to the Pier every weekend, my favorite non-Anacone’s hang out and left me behind to wallow in X-Files reruns, which by nature had to be watched in the dark and silence. Once my new license came in the mail, all were spent on the Pier and it closed before I could ever go again.

            I was to discover over the years the relative uselessness of having a social security card. Though it was pointed out to me many times that it was essential documentation, I have since been able to: get a drivers license, register to vote, get several loans, join the military, buy a house, get a job, get a passport, and even obtain high levels of security clearance without ever furnishing it. While it had been asked for many times, I simply explained that I didn’t have one and the answer was always deemed acceptable. Some of this was even in the post 9/11 world! Won’t I be surprised though in 30 years when I come to discover that my robber, grown fat and rich on poor college boys, is collecting the benefits in my name.

A Tradition Like No Other

The Comstock and Princeton era’s birthed a number of traditions, most formed out of boredom, laziness, or lack of choice.

Every holiday has it’s own traditions, especially *mas.  The most persistent and pervasive of all Comstock traditions was the Brown Bomber.  Mike’s grandmother took great pride in baking.  All throughout the year Mike would come home with a coffee tin of baked goods, but especially around *mas.  What is a Brown Bomber?  It is not a Fraternaty initiation, nor another of Larry’s army stories, but a golf ball sized sphere of rice crispies and peanut butter coated in chocolate.  Sounds awesome!  They sure are, but after you have had hundreds of these suckers you are done.  Done for good.  Mike, myself, and every single character of the crew tasted defeat after a handful of Brown Bombers, even the immutable Paul fell.  The only one left standing was Dan.  No doubt due to his thick stomach walls earned with his mom’s pork chips and the infamous pickle jar.

The next tradition started before Comstock, but was engulfed by Comstock.  that was Mike’s dad’s Bills-Miami party.  Mike’s dad would open his garage to a big party with lots of food, guys, and a big TV.  Aside from myself, Paul, Dan, and Mike the party-goers were comprised of grizzly old men from the neighborhood.  Inevitably they would spin tales of of Jack Kemp, and various other “old man nonsense”.  EDITOR’s NOTE: I can’t wait to be an old man and use my growing collection of crazy old man behaviors; when the sole purpose of my remaining life is to both others.  One of us would make some comment about some Bills player that was a group favorite just to roust the old men.  By 1999 the Bills height of power was diminishing, and Miami was sucking with no Marino, hence the party moved from the Miami game to a random other game.  With this move the fever of the party waned, and along with Mike entering the Air Force, coupled with the Paul’s decent into hermit-hood, and my detachment from Mike.  that last thing I wanted was to spend MORE time with Mike.

Many television programs made their way as a Comstock tradition.  The first of which was the original Beverly Hills 90210.  This started when in Goodyear.  Given no cable in the dorms at the time, we where stuck with 3 channels, 2 of which where often blurry.  Only the soon to be beloved Fox was routinely clear.  Paul, Mike, and I decided to make one of our routine trips to Tops in the University Plaza.  Paul held us up for a minute to use the bathroom.  As all readers know by now, this “minute” lasted way more than a minute.  In the meantime Mike and I flipped on the TV just in time for the start of the weekly installment of the antics of spoiled rich kids played by 30+ year olds, some balding and pretentious enough to purposely mispronounce their name.  By the time Paul emerged, hair gel in tact, Mike and I where hopelessly locked into the show.  Only 5 minutes remained.  The siren song of Beverly Hills did not release us from it’s icy grip for another several years.  It is odd what you become engrossed in when your entertainment options are limited.  If it hadn’t been for Paul and his meddling hair.

Many other TV shows where targeted by Mike and myself over the years: The Adventures of Pete & Pete (I recently bought the Season 1 DVD), the classic Degrassi Junior High (the story of a Canadian junior high, which recently made a comeback in the same fashion as Saved by the Bell: The New Class), and Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman – the draw of Dean Cain, former Buffalo Bill and sprinkle in the famous line from the first episode..

Terri Hatcher: *long tirade about how she is the experienced reported, and Dean is some punk, closing with how any co-authored pieces will have her by-line above his*
Dean Cain: *smirk* “Got it.  You like to be on top.”

Other, less obscure, programs became Comstock favorites also, including Seinfeld and the Simpsons.  These where both recorded on VHS tape and a formal event was help where Mike and I split up the tapes just before he entered the Air Force.  Dan often barged into Princeton Sunday night just before Simpsons time.  He tried initially to barge in during the show, but when we refused to answer, even though with the TV blaring, it was quite obvious we were in there.  Dan would bring some strange movie or British TV over to watch after, but Mike would always go to bed early, and since I would relish any time I could spend at home with Mike gone or asleep I would watch said weird program with Dan.

The X-Files was a favorite of Mike and mine both, until Mike ruined it for me with his fanatical behavior.  No sounds during the show.  No one over.  Disconnecting the phone.  Watching it in as much dark as possible.  I grew to dislike the X-Files, and stopped watching it after the first season, never to return.

While living at Comstock itself we where stuck with Paul’s TV/VCR combo.  We where also stuck with the same 5 movies.  Having watched them all, including when we broke down and watched Frantic, the default because One Crazy Summer.  I lost count how many times we watched this.  mike often fell asleep long before the end.  Clutching his Daisy Duke beer can handle, and occasionally talking in his sleep.  When Mike talked in his sleep you could ask him questions and he would reply, uttering such gems as “I had sex with 30 houses and stuff.”

All these years of limited viewing left us fans of MST3K, and after some buffer time when Princeton vanished, and the Comstock era ended, we started a new tradition of Crappy Movie Night.  We would gather with pizza and beer, and watch 2-3 terrible movies.  The event was a success only 50% of the time, but then again , what kind of incentive is Manos: Hands of Fate or Lolita.

The final tradition that also held favor for several months, long after Comstock was over, was Travel Friday.  In an effort to not end up in the same bars each week we forced the issue.  We would gather and car pool over to some restaurant/bar that no once had ever been to, and engulf some dinner.  If the place was god we would stay, and if not then we would head to some new place that was unknown to all or most of us.

There are certainly other “traditions” that could be mentioned, like someone being trapped in the Comstock bathroom every party, or Jason getting upset with Dan, but those are left for another post.