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.

Ach Du Lieber!

            Those of you who may have known me for some good amount of time might choose to recall that I have exhibited, at times, the general tendency to declare a level of expertise on subject matters well outside my scope with the basis of such being flimsy at best. The one that seems to have resonated with most and was frequently cited, was my claim to have been rock climbing in Germany. Miscreants will have you believe that I used this as firm evidence to support everything from my claim to know the best way to grow garlic or make minestrone soup. Jealous lies! In truth I used it only when climbing the Thunder Rocks at Alleghany and advising on the correct three point method. Since you are dying to know, dear munchkins, I will tell you the whole story of how I gained such wisdom at a tender age.

            As everyone knows, Buffalo and Dortmund are international sister cities. No one really knows the need for cities to partner up in this manner or how it came about. Well, they probably do, but I don’t feel like looking it up. In any case, this was fact and one of the programs to come out of this dubious arrangement was the Sister Cities summer exchange program. Through it, American youths would travel to Dortmund and reside with a German family for a month, after which the German student would come to Buffalo under the same arrangement. It was a good way to live in a foreign land cheaply and broaden one’s horizons. Spearheading the program was none other than Herr Savory, my high school German teacher. When I brought news of it home, my grandfather was tickled enough with the idea of me seeing the old sod that he helped my parents finance it.

            We filled out questionnaires so that they would pair us with German students of best fit. I was hoping of course for a little hot to trot Deutche chickie with a shelf like derrière, but apparently my answers indicated that a much better fit would be Heiner. My mother was quite flummoxed at the arrangement as Heiner’s bio indicated that he was 22, the only college student participating in the program, and that his favorite activity was hanging out at the Bier Gartens. She was worried of course that he would be a bad influence, which of course he was, but more on that later.

            There were several “get ta know ya” events before departure where we all met up and settled into one of two groups – the geeks and the assholes. I feel somewhere in between but ended up gravitating toward the nerd herd, as always was my inclination. Russ, the unacknowledged leader of the geek set, was often in conflict with the asshole ‘cool kids’ and thus managed to drag the rest of us in, assuring for plenty of awkward times when they forced us all together. Then one morning in early July we assembled in the parking lot of the old Thruway mall and bussed it up to Toronto where they have an international airport in more than just name.

            It was my first time on a plane and I enjoyed the experience, though after the second leg and a long bus trip, I was thoroughly exhausted and smelled of smoke, as Lufthansa in the 80’s still allowed, and encouraged, open smoking wherever one pleased. Our German families were there to pick us up and I was greeted by Herr and Frau Thiel (so close to Thies!), Georg the brother, and Heiner, my student. The parents spoke no English whatsoever, but Georg, a very cool cat, jumped right in as translator. Heiner, with a wooly blond fro, was cautiously polite. I was in a jet lagged daze when they brought me back to the family abode where Heiner still lived, along with Grossmutter upstairs, and they showed me to Georg’s old room which they made up for me.

            The house they occupied was built sometime in the mid to late Pleistocene period, though had been updated many time since. One of the recent upgrades was the addition of a shower, conveniently constructed from an old pantry that was directly in the living room. There was no place to change, so taking a shower meant descending the stairs in towel, greeting whoever was in the living room, and someone always was, entering the shower, then opening the door just enough to throw the towel out. It was uncomfortable arrangement so I avoided it as much as possible until someone would comment on the pervasive eau d’Wolf.

            Heiner was delighted by my presence as he had lived his 22 years as the smaller, less handsome, not as clever little brother to Georg. His first order of business was to teach me an enormously complex card game that made euchre look like War, and proceed to beat me at it until I refused to play any more. Next he taught me the one strategy game he was a master at: Muller (pronounced moo-lah), or known in English as ‘Nine-Man Morris’. His love of this game, by the way, extended all the way to Buffalo as he proceeded to teach it to my family and friends just so that he could beat them at it. Then came Knaus. The first game they played, Knaus won. Heiner took it as a fluke. Then Knaus won the second game and then the third. Heiner put the game away in a snit and we never saw it again.

            True to his fact sheet, Heiner liked to hit the Bier Gartens pretty much every night and liked to drag me along with him. Although my parents signed a form saying I was not allowed to drink, being only 16 at the time, Heiner’s family completely disregarded it from day one. Nights at the Bier Gartens were not unpleasant as I would sit there with a giant tankard of Dortmunder Kroner Export, my favorite beer to this day, and listen to Heiner and his friends joke around in German and occasionally make fun of me, as I gathered by the looks in my direction followed by laughter. Oh, he would get his all right when the time came!

            Aside from being saddled with a jerk ass big brother type when the rest of the Americans got kids their age, including this one dullard who wound up with a total fox, the one downside of the trip was the food. The Germans are a real meat and potato race of people and most meals out consisted of wurst, brot, and kartofel – sausage, bread and potatoes. At least meals out were somewhat edible and when not being forced into some ‘authentic’ German Rathskeller of some historic value, the Americans gravitated toward good old Mikey D’s, which in Germany, also sold beer.

            On days I spent with the family – it was an on off thing, one day with the family, the next with some planned group activity – I was treated to Frau Thiel’s cooking skills, which were fairly non-existent. Breakfast consisted of a platter that was left out at all times and stocked with several kinds of incredibly dense breads, sausages with big old hunks lard in them, cheeses, marmalade, and a substance I was told was minced ham by Heiner, but later came to find was raw pork. The value of refrigeration was deeply discounted and this stuff Americans generally throw away if exposed to room temperature air for over an hour simply sat out until consumed. Every breakfast I prepared for the worst, though nothing ever happened.

            Lunch wasn’t much better really. Frau Thiel insisted on making me sandwiches out of the ultra dense pumpernickel with the consistency and taste of compressed sawdust. These were usually peanut butter or some suspicious “cold” cut from the breakfast tray. I found them inedible, and if we were on a group outing I would generally ditch them when Heiner wasn’t looking and get some fries. I lived on fries that trip. Dinner was a horrid affair as she would sit there watching me not eating the ghastly thing she prepared like watery mild soup with super fatty chunks of mystery meat or tired old boiled sausages. On one occasion I convinced them to let me grill as they had a BBQ out back. This time I was the villain, for when I came in with nice char broiled sausages all black, crisp and delicious the whole family was horrified. Apparently letting the skin break ‘contaminates’ the sausage making it inedible. Yeah, they kept a bowl of raw pork in the warm dining room eating out of it for a good week, but fainted at the sight of a properly cooked hotdog.

            On the days I spent with the Thiels, they seemed genuinely frustrated with what to do with me all day, so it seemed that at least on 8 or so occasions Mr Thiel, with sometimes Heiner and sometimes Georg, would pack up the car and we’d go auto touring in the Saurland. Form some reason he was under the impression that I had never seen countryside landscapes before and got a charge out of looking out the window at some fields and shit. These were tedious days indeed and lasted until the arrival of Bob, which if you hold on for one goddamn minute, I’ll get to. On one of these dreary days Mr. Thiel wasn’t feeling well and it was just Georg and I, and thus the point of this story.

            Georg gathered that looking out a car window was not my cup of tea, so planned a more interesting day. In the selfsame Saurland there once existed a gigantic underground cavern that collapsed back in prehistoric times leaving a large area full of humungous rocks jutting up out of the earth with seemingly bottomless gaps between them. This is where Georg took me to go rock climbing with no equipment or preparation of any kind, except for a word of caution to keep three points on the rock face at all times because falling into one of the gaps meant a slim to none recovery of your corpse. It was a thrilling experience, fraught with danger, and imbued me with the wisdom of the ages to give expert advice on any number of unrelated topics.

            Time with the Thiels, and Heiner in particular, became so much easier once Bob came to stay. Bob drew a German family who was childless and where both worked, leaving Bob to sit on his ass all day watching German television, which consisted of tennis, dubbed over Loony Tunes (was ist los, doc?), or, I’m not kidding, a German Western called Winneto. The Thiels, who were actually very good people, agreed to take Bob in and thus ease their daily burden to figure out to do with me. Once Bob came, the daily trips to the Saurland stopped and Bob and I generally roamed the streets of Dortmund looking for things to do.

            The other excellent thing about Bob being there was that I now had an ally against Heiner. We quickly found that we could make fun of him by simply speaking in slang, which he was unable to follow. Watching his face scrunch up as he tried to figure out in what manner we were teasing him was priceless and only served to increase our laughter. Frau Thiel would beam as we exclaimed that the hunk of sausage on our plates was “the absolute worst!” as she felt we were simply declaring it absolute sausage. Evenings at the Bier Garten were better as well because now I finally had someone to talk to.

            On group days, things were hit or miss. One some days we would have spectacular outings like boat trips down the Rhine or visit some castle where Charlemagne once rubbed one out. Other days were less exciting and consisted of tours of an automotive plant or a bauxite mine; probably one of the least interesting mined substances you can imagine. On one of these outings Russ, Bob, Gary, Evil and I found a shop that sold tee shirts advertising the Soviet Union and East Germany, both of which still appeared to be going strong. What made them so delightful was that the Germans found them horribly offensive to the degree that turned them into daily wear for us.

            Russ, bless his dork ass hide, also managed to acquire a genuine pair of lederhosen which he looked absolutely ridiculous in. He insisted on wearing these around on occasion which infuriated the German family he was staying with to the degree that they began to shop him around for someone else to take him in. There were no buyers, even the Thiels, who had their hands full already with two rebel jokers already. Russ, pleased with the effect his outfit, the equivalent of one of the Germans coming over and wearing around Puritan garb with big buckle shoes to the local Denny’s, took to wearing it as often as he pleased, including the plane ride home.

            The best trip of all was the opportunity to go to East Berlin when such a thing still existed. On the bus ride through East Germany to the walled city, it was a popular undertaking for everyone to read George Orwell’s classic ‘Animal Farm’ as the bus driver, an ugly character we dubbed Dr. Friendlybones, played the soundtrack to ‘Dirty Dancing’ over and over. Before going through Checkpoint Charlie we were treated to the obligatory Berlin Wall museum which gave a full history and some stories of people who got shot trying to make it across. Apparently the Wall originated as the Berlin Line of Masking Tape, a la Brady Bunch, which proved to be somewhat less effective than the follow on project. We were debriefed before going through. Do not smuggle currency back, do not wander outside the permitted area, do not do the ‘Heil Hitler’ sign at the Russian guards, and do not under any circumstances feed the locals or they will try to follow you home. The end of the brief was given with a ray of hope that perhaps even as soon as 50 years hence, but certainly not before, the Wall would be a thing of the past. This was 1988.

            I wore my East German tee and Russ his Russian one, though we were informed this was a poor choice of wardrobe. We found this to be correct as the East Germans, less full of patriotic pride than one would think and bitterly resentful of the Russian presence, gave us evil stares and even went so far as to call Russ a ‘bitch’. East Berlin was as dreary as one would expect. There still existed bombed out buildings from WWII and very little to spend our currency on. I got a cola from a street vendor and found it three shades more horrendous than even Tab. We went to the finest restaurant they had and ordered big steaks all round; grade Q meat if that, full of fat, gristle and very little flavor. The sides were even worse as we discovered they even found a way to fuck up baked potatoes. Here was the thing, we had to change over 50 marks worth of currency to cross over and were not allowed to bring any of it back. At the end, we gave away whatever we had left to beggars by the checkpoint that lived off of this rule, though I managed to sneak back a few coins in my shoe.

            After a month away, coming back to America was fantastic! It was a long flight back, and a seemingly longer bus trip back from Toronto. The whole bus load of folks actually broke out into the national anthem, albeit poorly sung, as we approached the border. Even better, the Germans were not to follow for another few days, allowing us to get reaclimated without them. This of course gave me some time to plan out a little payback for Heiner and all his bully big brother tricks.

            Heiner arrived a few days later and we set him up in my attic bedroom in the twin bed across the room from me, actually the hottest corner of place, and directly under the bird cage that housed Henry, my ill tempered parakeet who liked to fling seeds out of the cage all night at whoever occupied that bed. It was a hotter summer than most, and Heiner being a rather stout fellow, felt it much more than I did, a very skinny teen. To maximize his discomfort I took to closing the skylight at night if I suspected rain and unplugged the fan for ‘noise reasons’ in the middle of the night. I was just fine with the heat build up, but on more than one occasion Heiner became so overheated that he would rush down in the morning, beet red and encrusted with birdseed, and dive into the pool to bring his body temperature below the three digit mark.

            Where Heiner subjected me to his daily Bier Garten outings with his douchebag friends, I subjected him to daily bike rides with Jeff to Collector’s Inn where we would spend hours upon hours discussing the finer points of ‘Invasion’ with Jim or Kevin as Heiner stood by bored to tears. This was usually followed up by a trip to Watson’s for vanilla cokes, which he found to be a terrible substitution for his beloved beer. Finally he took to eschewing me completely and followed my mother around the house all day, something she didn’t appreciate. Heiner, you see, tended to be argumentative and would actually do things like attempt to correct your English. On more than one occasion he would rush upstairs to grab his dictionary or text book to prove his point, then come slumping back down with the claim he couldn’t find it.

            One week I was granted complete relief from him as one of the families was making a trip to DC in order to show their student around. They invited Heiner to come along and we talked him into it, despite the fact that he had a bad cold and didn’t really want to go. Heiner, in retrospect probably a functional alcoholic, made sure to have a case of beer with him for the journey. He was completely dismayed, however, when we brought him to the family’s house and they announced to all gathered there that “Heiner brought beer! Who wants one?” and he saw his store immediately depleted before the trip was even underway. I was secretly delighted when I found out his trip went terribly. First he was too sick to enjoy. Second, the family turned out extremely cheap (as was Heiner!) and shafted him at every opportunity. While the whole group occupied one hotel room, they stuck Heiner with half the bill. At dinner they would order expensive entrees while he would go frugal, but then divide the check evenly. We all got quite a chuckle out of his bitter recounting of things when he got back.

            All in all, he wasn’t a bad guy and we did have fun showing him around and such for the most part. My mother also hooked him up with the single niece of her friend, which got him out of my hair even more. The visit ended on good terms and we kept in touch often enough they he came back a year later, though specifically to visit my parents, and not so much me. Over the years we eventually lost all contact, and although I have tried to Google his name, all the pages that come up are in German, which I never quite got the knack for despite having rock climbed there

Denny’s on Delaware

            There are a number of establishments that figured well into Comstock lore and the surrounding mythos that orbits around that brown monstrosity. Some have been mentioned with much fanfare such as the celebrated Anacone’s, while others garnered only brief mention such as Mike’s Big Mouth, Jacobi’s, Parkside Candy, Tom’s Diner, and the Olympic. Denny’s on Delaware, although only a small part of the general Comstockery despite birthplace of the Madisons, the roost of Big Chief Strait-Jacket, and the local where Monkey Jaw kicked Dark Pistacio so hard he nearly broke his coccyx, predates them all. While the low degree of incidents in the Comstock years might make it worth a miss, as it turns out it is relevant to me personally and thus of increased interest by several orders of magnitude to the readership.

            It came to light in my junior year at St Joes that one of my friends, Ende specifically, had been seen flashing around some serious cabbage. Not the quarters and singles seen in the pizza line, but real green with pictures of big shots like Lincoln and Hamilton on the face. In most locals I would imagine that the initial suspicion would be drugs or some other illegal enterprise, but being that we were imprisoned in the citadel of Christian Brothers in the most white bread section of town, it seemed there was more of a chance that he was nicking it from his mum or some other unsuspecting source. After watching with envy as he purchased an unheard of third slice of La Hacienda on pizza Wednesday, someone finally got the stones to go over and ask him. That ballsy someone was me.

            Turns out home slice went and got himself a real job; the kind where you have to fill out paperwork with government form numbers on it, punch a card and wear shoes all the time. He was legally employed at Denny’s on Delaware as a member of the illustrious Bus/ Dish team. Being an awkward teenage doofbag I enquired none so gently as to what kind of cash one could expect to take home from that kind of high society gig. I was floored by the answer. $3.85 an hour! I quickly did the numbers. I was working my tail off doing Pennysavers (still!) and raking in a large $13.50 a week. With two weekend shifts at Denny’s, by my tax-law ignorant calculations, I could be brining home over $60 dollars a week. There was no ‘Mathletes’ sweater hanging in my closet but I was still able to tell that the Denny’s gig was more buck for the bang. I moved in for the hookup.

            Came to find out that I wasn’t the only one who was hankering for some of that sweet ass dough-ray-me; Kevin “Special K” W and Missy G also got an easy in and were already gainfully employed – one as a bus\dish and the other as a hostess. For the confused, Missy nabbed the hostess gig looking better in the dress, or so went the opinion in those old less enlightened times. A man of my standing is not one to grovel and beg like a craven cur, so I utilized the chick tactic and turned on the water works. “I’ll talk to my boss and see what I can do.” It was the best I could hope for and declined the use of his mottled hanky.

            Mike managed to score me an interview a few days later on account of his sterling reputation with management. I showed up, punctual as always, and was ushered into the back and took at seat across from Mrs Jones in the fishbowl management office. This, by the way, was my only stint of employment outside the military where honorifics were still employed; Mrs Jones, Mr. Smith, and the living breathing reincarnation of Oscar Wilde himself, Mr. Wirth. I would have liked to assume they all had first names as well, but didn’t want to presume on such a great unknown. The interview was brief and to the point allowing me to confirm that yes, I did feel that given a stream of boiling hot water I could rinse off plates and stick them into a machine that did the rest. As a bonus, I could also pick up tubs of soiled dishes; ferry things around there were needed, and not steal steaks from the freezer and pass them out the back door to some asshole in a pickup. We shook hands, I was issued two shirts, an apron, and hat which I was to wear with all the pride afforded by the office. I started that Friday eve.

            As with any first day on the job, I walked in nervous about being in a new environment and the crushing weight of responsibility I had undertaken. Mike and Kevin arrived with me, all of us walking in from Kenmore, car-less, card carrying members of the League of Impoverished Gentlemen. The position, I hoped, would allow me to rescind my membership and thumb my nose at the remaining members. The evening was filled with training videos which I watched at the break counter on a TV/VCR combo as employees actually on break loudly consumed omelets and patty melts around me, asking retardedly what I was doing. After my sponge like absorption of pearls of knowledge such as not to breath in chemical fumes, spray people in the face with the hose, and wash hands before handling foods (all flagrantly disregarded hundreds of times), I was ready to get to work.

            The value of a first job is that you can always look back and say, “thank God I don’t have to do that anymore!” it was apropos in this case… as well as 4 or 5 others to follow, be that as it may. The job was a multifaceted one which made time move faster, but also dangerous and disgusting which slowed it down to a crawl. I’ll take you through some of the highlights, after which you will have a firm appreciation for that smelly character trying to take your not quite completed meal at one of these third rate diners. Or if you read carefully enough, you will take the hint and stay home and microwave some fish sticks.

            Primacy, all things being equal, in the bus/dish world belonged to washing the goddam dishes, second billing aside. Here is how it went down. The bus monkeys would bring the brown plastic bins full of soiled dishes to the chrome counter to the left of the rinse area where they would pile up like so many dead leaves in an October windstorm. Brimming with the disgusting remains of unfinished food, beverage and empty ashtrays (ah, the 80’s when the smoking section was still half the restaurant), they never stopped coming, especially on Sundays when the old folks and churchies liked to come in and gobble down Grand Slams and Moon’s Over My Hammy. Man on point, and it was always a man; the fairer sex relegated to the front end, would extract all washable items, spray them off with the overhead hose dispensing boiling water, until only refuse was left. The sprayed dishes went into the machine, the garbage at the bottom of the bin was put into the trash can through the magnetized opening (to catch silverware), and rinsed out for reuse.

            While most of Denny’s was nicely air conditioned, the dish room was not. In addition, between the spray hose and the antiquated dish washer, humidity in that sub-local of the back generally reached about ten thousand percent. The supersaturated and superheated moisture had a side effect of carrying airborne grease and food particles that would became inextricably embedded in your clothes, hair and skin; an eau d’Garbage that would make Oscar the Grouch toss his fuzzy green cookies. After about an hour the person would be heat exhausted, shriveled like a prune, soaking, and usually burned in one or more places.

            It is hard to imagine such a position having advantages, but there were in fact a few; mostly having to do with the ability to irritate both co-workers and management. Most of the tactics employed were none too sophisticated and had to do with the hot water hose. Bringing someone to their knees with a face full of scalding water was always good for a chuckle. Another was squirting water into the garbage can so that it became incredibly heavy for the bus monkey who had to take it to the dumpster when you asked; a favorite in wintertime as making the dump always resulted in a bath. Ende truly hated this one and we once almost came to blows over it as I was a frequent abuser. Creaming your co-worker with left over coffee creamers a la “Excess Fluids” was a hoot as well, although the female staff did not take kindly to this as they usually eschewed our reindeer games, especially the gross ones.

            As no one could survive the hellish environment for very long, we tended to rotate out of the prime position and take turns as bus monkeys, cleaners and go-fers. If one had been a particular prick that day, he usually tried to hold on to the prime position as long as possible, but inevitably he would come close to collapse and end up suffering the face blasts of water and the heavy can of ultimate melancholy. The other duties were somewhat more pleasant but with a lot more walking.

            Originally, the clean cut waiters and waitresses would bus the tables and place the bins in out of the way places for us to pick up, but these prima donnas of the food industry finally rebelled and the loathsome duty was shoved on us. I’m not sure who in the Denny’s corporate ladder decided it was a good idea to have soaking, food splattered lads smelling of pungent greasy garbage roaming the floor and leaning over still eating patrons to clear plates, but it certainly took balls. The customers didn’t seem particularly amenable to this either, usually wrinkling their noses in disgust or even lodging bitter complaints when the sweat mingled juice from our shirt collars dripped into their coffee or Denver Omelet, but we were persistent and let them deter us not a smidge. On one occasion one of the fellows managed to spill an entire bucket of pancake batter down the front of him and subsequently managed to schmear the arms and shoulders of several patrons before being relegated to the back for the rest of the shift, management grown tired of providing compensatory deserts.

            Being out and about with the customers allowed us to express the more jaunty aspects of our at work personalities; a condition management both feared and resented yet remained surprisingly tolerant of. We began with the ‘mark of excellence’, a circular sticker used to denote which day of the week something was prepared and applied originally to our aprons and later out foreheads. For some reason having disheveled bus monkeys wandering about with blue or purple bindis adorning their foreheads caused fear and confusion amongst the elderly patrons who could not comprehend a condition in which local boys would be mimicking south Asian caste fashion. We were told to knock it off. Next we went with outrageously large boutonnières of dish pan parsley, usually dripping butter and syrup, and tucked into our nametags. This practice as well was eventually rooted out after one, ill fastened in place, managed to fall into some old mans eggs benny.

            The practice that really seemed to irritate the customers the most was the timing when we chose to perform vacuuming. It wasn’t bad enough that the antiquated thing set off a din loud enough to keep a whole portion of the restaurant from talking, but we actually had the impertinence to ask eating patrons to kindly move their legs as we banged the hose around under tables and even booths. It is human nature, perhaps not with present company but real humans, to not challenge someone who seems engaged in doing something productive, and so most of the time we generally got miserable looks from diners who wished to engage in some snappy dialog with their tablemates or resented having their foot banged into repeatedly by the filthy douche repeatedly going after some imaginary crumb in the far back of the booth. Some, however, were pushed beyond endurance and requested we hold off. Request denied! This probably affected the tip, but given we received no cut, we didn’t give a toss.

            There are two loathsome habits with which we regularly engaged. The first was the decoration of the dish room. I don’t recall who got started doing this, and I believe it began with a simple slice of Canadian bacon slapped to the side of the dish machine in order to give it a bit of panache. One-upmanship quickly reared its head and before long the whole of back was regularly decorated with all manner of meats, cheeses, eggs, break and grits. It was a cornucopia of plenty of quickly spoiling foods; a panoply of customer rejected meals, masticated and gross. Mr Wirth didn’t seem to mind it and found it somewhat comical. Mrs Jones, however, had quite the conniption fit when she came back there on the day the health inspection was due, to find a level of violation so grim as to forecast not only immediate shut down, but a full on demolition. This practice was quickly discontinued.

            The next one is worse, so be sure you wish to continue. In the center station sits a gleaming chrome insert full of salad from which patrons could see a conscientious waitress move it on to plates with long handled tongs. What they did not see was what happens when the bin gets low. Carefully a gloved waitress removes it ever so daintily escorts it to the back, then dumps it on the back counter with the dish bins. “Gimme some more salad!” The dishwasher would then, hands filthy with old yolks and spit up porridge, remove it to the cooler and fill it with same said hands from the giant bin in which it was stored. Washing hands before touching food was probably encouraged in the literature but little in practice. No sign of admonishment was left in the bathroom, nor was the spirit of one followed.

            Everyone thinks that their place of employment is sit com fodder but honestly, we couldn’t hope to compete with CBS superpower ‘Alice’, what with Flo’s kissable grits and all, but we did have our characters. Matt wore the description ‘strong as an ox and almost as smart’ like Trump wears that ridiculous toupee; wild and true, though no one really knows for sure. He was the originator of the dish hose face blasting as well as the garbage can fill up, both tricks useless on him as he was immune to the heat of the water and could lift the can no matter what the fuck we put into it. He was also guilty of sticking my shirt to my back in a literal manner through the employment of many hard slaps when he found that the worst sunburn of my life had broken into a great many blisters. It was the closest I came to passing out from the pain, and despite it, he still managed to get me a good dozen times, plus soaked me with the boiling water a few more. I called out the next day.

            Interestingly enough, or perhaps not, is that this job presented my first knowledgeable anyway (little did I know half my graduating class would eventually come out) encounter with homosexuals. Initially I was quite perplexed as none of them conformed to the homogenous stereotype so lovingly crafted and reinforced in movies. For one, not a single one of them was named Bruce or Bruth, talked with a pronounced lisp, or actively tried to have sex with me every time I walked by. Frankly I wondered if perhaps they were cultural ignoramuses not knowing the correct norms of their kind or perhaps rebels and non-conformists. Although it was assumed that company policy dictated attire, we were shocked at meeting one of them out in the world on an occasion and found him dressed neither in women’s clothing or the mandatory uniform of the Blue Oyster Bar.

            While I had already been forming hard hitting questions regarding what I was being told about religion and the world at large, this served as solid proof to me that I had been sold a bill of goods at least as far as this was concerned. Imagine my surprise then 3 years later when JP made his big debut and managed to not only incorporate every one of the old stereotypes, but exceed them significantly. It was like having a big hunk of coal hit the back of your head and turning to see Santa himself floating there in his sleigh in his big red britches, rearming and sizing you up for a nut shot.

            Aside from working there 2 or 3 days a week, more in the summer, we took to hanging out there pretty much all the time we were not in school. Being introduced to the 6:00 AM shift led quickly to an introduction to coffee and a life long habit that a few years down the line would further lead to the discovery of the delicious pairing of that dark gold and cigarettes, which I only managed to break free from 3 years ago now. Evenings Mike, Kevin and I would haunt the counter and drink endless cups while chatting up the waitresses who were so much kinder when you weren’t banging into them with soiled bins or spilling chocolate milk on their shoes. Most of our paychecks when to the meals we insisted on paying full price for on off hours that we got for half price on breaks. We were die hard addicts to eggs benny, patty melts and even an occasional liver and onions (fine, just me on that last one).

            Eventually of course the time came to bid the place adieu. We suffered a change in management who had far less tolerance for our little jokes and tomfoolery and began looking elsewhere. A brief hiatus emerged at the end of our senior year when Mr Wirth, returning as head manager, called us up as hired guns, quick fix experts, to get his dish room rolling in order again. We answered the call to arms, highly flattered and impressed by our perception of worth. Within a day we realized how much it truly sucked. Mike quit within weeks and Kevin and I stuck in there, I finally quitting accepting the DPW Summer Scum position as the title seemed to have far more dignity than what I was doing.

            To this day Denny’s on Delaware persists on behind the railroad tracks, even after the destruction of its evil twin sister across the way, Perkins, which found new life as an OTB. Perhaps one day I will stroll through those doors again, take a perch at the counter, and revel in the odors of an aged cup of coffee and cheesy eggs benny. I’ll probably pass on the salad.

Jolly Old Joe’s

           While much has been written about the college days and after, given that they were significantly more interesting than high school which lacked the dramatic punch of say a Bayside or West Beverly, it is worth mentioning some of the Joe’s stories which have been alluded to here and there. My thought is publish them quickly and let Louis rail and denounce, making empty threats of furnishing the “real” story. Most of these, however, are extremely innocuous and pose little threat to reputations, though perhaps I will be proven wrong by some poor tool whose employer makes decisions based on a blogged account of events 20 years prior writes to fuss.

            Though I already told the tale of how a grand number of people mentioned herein met up, I’d like to revisit freshman year and how I met Louis, the catalyst for this group forming in the first place. Come to think of it, chances are it would have anyway but just without me in it which we all can assume would have been a dreary affair indeed. Both shoved into the honors program due to being scholarship recipients, we had most classes the same that year and happened to sit next to each other in Music Appreciation and established a consensus between us, and with Jim Matuzak next to Louis, that the class did indeed truly suck as a complete waste of time. We also began talking during the long trudges back and forth between the freshman building and the main campus.

            Our inaugural year was the last in which the Freshman Building (the basement of the church across the street) was utilized. The building held our homerooms as well as a few different classes, but the good Brothers arranged it so that it would be necessary to send us out into the cold, rain, and all manner of foul weather to get to gym, lunch, and of course music appreciation. As Louis was really the first person I talked to that year, I took to making the voyage while talking to him; a risky endeavor at best as it often seemed likely that we would be tardy. Louis was in the habit of lugging around a bag intended for hockey equipment in which he had stashed the books and material for every class. I never understood if it was an anathema to utilizing the lockers or he just preferred to be a heavy traveler. I also need to mention that he was only 12 at the time and had not hit any type of growth spurt, possibly a byproduct of his heinous diet, so going was slow as he struggled under the impressive weight.

            He did most of the talking, in these trips and at lunch when I was treated to the sight of him dinning exclusively on products made by Hostess, Hershey, and the powerful Mountain Dew conglomerate. My apologies; he also participated on pizza Wednesdays electing to grab a slice of La Hacienda, extra greasy with a tongue drying layer of flour underneath. His grand scheme was to launch a war games club apart from the war games club that already existed and roped me into talking to Mr Scott for permission to start it. I liked the idea of having my name associated with starting something and having to do relatively little work on behalf of it, so I went along willingly enough. You all know how the rest of losers were drawn in like moths by the most brilliant beacon of geekishness this side of Trekkies. This reminds me of one of Louis’s best quotes of the year, uttered in Br John’s religion class, “I’ve been called a nerd so many times I’m beginning to get a superiority complex.”

            One of the more notable things worth mentioning was Knaus’s ability to crack the combination of anyone’s locker within 15 minutes using a simple algorithm and taking advantage of the degree of ‘swing’ for any of the combination numbers. Although he didn’t have the propensity to steal, he did enjoy the power of being able to get into anywhere he pleased. Occasionally he would leave little indicators that he was there. Although many suspected he had this talent, he refused to confirm it. I was fortunate enough to catch him in the act once and thus became a co conspirator as the alternative was that he would direct his attentions toward my stuff. I once convinced him to play a prank on Sean O’Donnell by completely emptying his locker contents into Luke Pryzbla’s along with a note announcing his wishes to cohabitate cozily. As expected, much of his stuff was scattered and destroyed, Luke having little patience for our little games.

            The most memorable occurrence was when he began screwing with Mike Ende by breaking into his locker several times a day and rearranging things. He sidled up to me one day in the commons and announced his suspicions in a hushed voice. He had a plan though, and quite a reaching one at that given the frivolous nature of the intrusion. Mike elected not to take Doc Breem’s physics class but instead opted to take the electronics course instead; St Joe’s version of ‘shop’. As they had to design a simple project as part of the class, Mike used it as an opportunity to design a locker alarm that would emanate an annoying beeping sound when triggered. Although I was already in cahoots with Knaus as the time, I decided to play mum enjoying the idea of him being caught in his fledgling endeavors as a second story man. Mike finished his project, tested it, and set it up one day staying late after school.

            There are a few reasons why things went wrong. The first mistake was that he thought he could outwit Knaus at his own game, though in his defense none of us understood the extent of his manic tendencies. As predicted, Knaus broke into his locker the next morning, but immediately detected the presence of the trap, disabled it, then re-enabled it so that simply banging on the door would set it off for a several minute period. He did his usual rearrangement, shut the door, banged it with is fist a la Fonz, and stalked off.

The second mistake was the Mike picked a day when he would not be coming in until lunch time due to a doctor’s appointment. The third was that his locker was in fairly close proximity to the faculty lounge. Word spread quickly that a quick pass and bang of Mike’s locker would set the thing off to the growing irritation of both the lounge and the classroom beside the offending space. By the time Mike came in, a faculty posse had formed ready to lynch him then and there. Fortunately his father, a history teacher there and possessor of the worst comb over in history of bald denial, was able to have his life spared. In the end, he was still never able to prove it was Paul, who continued his daily harassment until graduation.

Knaus did, however, decide to punish me for not warning him of Ende’s alarm as he was correctly convinced that I knew about it and enjoyed the idea of him being caught. In his usual style he bided his time until I was no longer expecting it. A bunch of us were hanging out after school for a reason I can’t recall and remember O’Donnell and possibly Louis being present. In any case, at some point my bag disappeared causing me some amount of consternation since my assignments were within it, including a famously long Doc Breem lab report. No one would own up to having hidden it and I had to leave that day without it, and under the impression that it had been locked in the library behind a book shelf. O’Donnell pointed the finger at Knaus and Knaus at O’Donnell.

That night I spent more than a great deal of time talking to each of them on the phone trying to get some notion of the truth. By the end of the evening, Knaus in his crafty way had me utterly convinced that not only did Sean maliciously screw me, but that if I didn’t manage to grab my bag at the moment the library opened, it would likely be discovered and stolen or disposed of. I was enraged and spent my last call of the night hurling threats and slander against an obstinate O’Donnell. I spent the remainder of the night trying to recreate the lab so I would have something just in case, not getting to bed until 2:00 AM, with my alarm set for 4:00 AM. I wanted to get to school by 5:30 AM you see, which is when Knaus told me the library opened up. Bleary eyed and miserable, I made it there, only to sit waiting until 7:30 when it actually opened. I rushed in, pushing the librarian aside and combed the aisles. It wasn’t there! I demanded she tell me where it could have gone, and mid-frantic appeal I suddenly caught site of Knaus’s smirk though the window. He was holding my bag up like the prize marlin, having stashed it in his car the evening before.

Since I had to go and mention Doc Breem, and enough people have asked, I’ll go ahead and devote a little time to this character whose over the top style landed him a place amongst the most memorable of our instructors. Aaron is anxious to hear about the English long bow, and I have to admit, he told a memorable story about it. Doc in his fairly high pitched voice began the story with the adaptation of the longbow by the Welsh under Prince Llewellyn and how well they used it to give King Edward Long Shanks (yes, the same one from Braveheart) a really hard time until Ed managed to starve them out and adopt the weapon himself, much to the dismay and defeat of Mel Gibson; though Doc neglected to mention that part. He went on to brag as if he had been there, of the great battle at Crecy during the 100 Year War in which the English longbow proved to be a far more powerful weapon than the soon to be outdated crossbow. In this case Edward III and his son known as Edward the Black Prince for some reason, laid a clever little trap, setting up a small force of archers on high ground above a whole lot of muck. The French force, outnumbering them 3 or 4 to one, managed to wipe out perhaps as many as 10,000 men while only losing a few hundred by firing a seemingly endless volley of arrows through the Frenchies old timey plate armor.

Doc truly enjoyed his tales of mayhem and often made such claims as having seen such things as a man nailed to a tree with shrapnel from 40 yards away, although he refused to explain the circumstances in which his was treated to such a site. While he never directly claimed he was at Crecy himself, he offered no indication that he was not either. His experiences taken together indicated a man with a richness of experience far beyond his years. It also occurred to some of us that when he told of his bad old Brooklyn knife fighting days, the impetus of the story may have been that he caught ‘West Side Story’ on the tube the night before.

In addition to his personal experiences, he also had a great deal of knowledge concerning assassinations (presumably by the Russians) of leading scientists working on secret government projects. I believe it is possible his tales served as the inspiration for the conspiracy nut legend that the oil companies killed the man who developed a car that ran on water. He went so far as to offer sanctuary, no questions asked, if assassins ever came after any of us as he had been in that situation and knew what to do. Still to do this day I occasionally get the urge to don a battered trench coat and show up at Doc’s door some windy rainy night clutching a folder full of papers and sporting a haunted look. I don’t know if what stops me is the idea that I would give the old man a heart attack at having his bluff called, or that he would whip out a 9 mm and start firing into the night. Either way not much good could come of it.

I will round this hodge podge of memories out by coming back to Louis; a tribute to the most impressive prom date story as modesty seems to be preventing him from telling it, and because I suppose I owe after pulling the gruff on the bespectacled old goat so many times before herein this blog. It all started between our Junior and Senior year when Louis and I both signed up to take a summer AP English course at Canisius with Prof Butler. Once we both realized we were both in, we made arrangements to have his mom drop him off at my house and I’d drive him too and from school every day. I was never quite sure why either his mom couldn’t drive him all the way there, or why I didn’t just pick him up if that was a problem. In any case, such were the arrangements.

The class itself was fairly small; apparently not a whole lot of kids entering their senior year were all that jazzed to learn about the western in disguise in a stifling classroom during the best part of the year. Most were geeks like us with one notable exception: Miss Kara McKunn. She sat in the front row, was bright and engaging with golden curls and frame most appealing to the adolescent eye. It was clear that every male in the class was focused more on her than old Butler, and he too I believe than on the rest of us. Her presence was bewildering; a geek in disguise? In case she was not, I believe no male attempted to engage her fearing the simultaneous whammy of scorned laughter and spontaneous erection. No thank you! The summer ended with nary a word between her and me or her and Louis.

We rocketed though senior year at a stunning pace and inevitably prom season came around. My previous girlfriend and I broke up right before the junior prom, making it an unpleasant experience since she insisted on coming anyway having bought the dress, and my attempts to replace her had fallen short; one of the trials of being at an all boys school. Many were in the same pickle and began creative ways of searching out dates before the magic of the internet. I managed to hook up with Jody Schulebein, a friend of Ende’s girlfriend. Knaus, considered to be one of the least likely to score a date was hooked up with my cousin Ann.

Louis, two years our junior, president of the war-game geeks, 1590 SAT scorer egghead, was predicted to remain home that night. One evening he called me up and asked me if I remembered what part of town Kara from Butler’s class lived in as he couldn’t find her in the phone book. I knew then what he intended and told him it was madness. Undaunted, he asked again to receive a sterner warning. Still obstinate, I capitulated on the third request and revealed it to be Grand Island. Ah ha! The Niagara county phone book was needed! He set forth for the library on his bike for it was well before the internet and gathering information verily was still a sucky process.

Despite my admonitions, he called later that day to announce that he had indeed cold called her. She as expected remembered him not, but to my amazement had agreed to go to the prom with him anyway. There were some, I imagine who expected Louis to show up with his sister or cousin that night and may have had a bucket of pigs blood nestled up in the rafters. Doubt was silenced as he strode though the door with the lithe beauty on his arm, the crash of brass monuments thundering each time he took a step, looking smugly confident amongst the predators for the first time in memory. Lucas had scored his touchdown.

The prom was a fun night and memorable, and if I can get my scanner working again, or get around to buying a new one, I’ll post the pictures that you all know the truth of the power of the coup he pulled off. As it so happened, she ended up attending UB and was in a number of my classes where she was universally hated by all the rest of the women present. Later on JP started a rumor that she became a full fledged member of the LGBA, but was never able to back it up with corroborating evidence. Even if so, it would only add glory and mystique to the legend of Louis’s prom.