Wednesday, July 20, 2011


            All names have been changed to protect the innocent. It’s not their fault I couldn’t close the deal.

            Over the years I’ve had my share of romantic entanglements. Some of those entanglements have given rise to a decent story or two, and someday those stories may inspire me to put pen to paper and share them with you. But the best stories – the funniest, the most entertaining – are about the missed opportunities. And those are legion! Let me share with you one of my favorite missed opportunities. Come with me, if you will. Let me be your sherpa up Blue Balls Mountain. Watch and learn how a certified Grand Master cockblocks himself.
            When I was sixteen I somehow found myself ensconced within that strange, mercurial clique known as The Popular Kids, which always struck me as a misnomer since the majority of kids outside that clique hated the lot of them. I’m still not sure how I ended up within their circle, and I’m mystified by how long I stayed in it. Their initial appeal was certainly obvious. The boys were confident, the girls were pretty, and they always had a lot of fun. I would sit with the guys at their table in the cafeteria. I would listen to them castigate one another in the most infectiously deplorable terms, impugn each other’s manhood, ridicule the income of another’s parents. The girls would sit two tables back and the boys would try to catch a peek up their skirts from the reflection in their watches. The girls would come up to me at my locker and lean against my neighbor’s with the most comely posture. They would laugh at my uninspired, spineless attempts at humor with enthusiastic sincerity. When one of them would ask me to drive them home after school, I would readily agree. Once in the car, focusing on the music selection was all I could do to prevent myself from pitching a painfully obvious tent from behind the wheel.
The irony was that I had gravitated to them in the hope of gaining some self-confidence. Oh, they like me and they’re cool, so I must be cool. I was part of their crew for a year, and for that whole year I wore my paranoia like a Castilian panoply. I expected to be found out at any moment, to be exposed as a fraud and a thief. I was like a low-level wiseguy who had betrayed the family and now, surrounded by them all, didn’t know if he was going to be kissed or killed. I expected Jason Barracus to turn into Robert De Niro and send me down an alley to pick up some dresses. Did I ever make a move on one of the girls? No way. How much did I contribute to the boys’ back-and-forth? Take your hand and touch the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb. That much.
One night I attended a party at Mark Maloney’s house set deep in the Byzantine arbor of Medford. I was at a disadvantage before I had even arrived. I knew kids would be drinking with a capital “D,” but my father was driving me and he would be picking me up at the end of the night. You see, my testicles had yet to descend and I did not want to be on the receiving end of his wrath when he picked up his inebriated son. So, upon arrival, I promptly grabbed a Budweiser, cracked it open, and proceeded to nurse that bastard for the better part of four hours.
I made two observations over the course of those four hours. One, lukewarm Bud tastes like Satan’s piss. Two, I had no business being there. There were boys holding themselves upside-down over a keg of beer and they had hoses in their mouths. Greg Bateman was sitting on the edge of a pool table and Tori Moore was sitting next to him and she was smiling at him and laughing and hanging on his every word and he was talking to her like a big jerk. There were three girls huddled in a corner of the basement sharing a marijuana joint and they were giggling in a crazy creepy way and it smelled weird. Jason Barracus was sitting on some milk crates with a case of beer at his feet and he was drinking one and everyone was sitting around him and Bobbi May kept sitting on Jason’s lap until he grabbed her privates and she would hop off and laugh and walk away, then she would come back and sit on his lap again and laugh and spill her beer on herself and laugh again and then Jason would grab her again and…
After a while, I had taken enough laps around the basement to wear a groove into the floor. Just as I had to come to the conclusion that there was nothing for me at this party, Leigh Mara wobbled up to me.
Leigh Mara was tall and thin, possessed an acerbic sense of humor and a body made to turn priests off kids. She was one of those girls every boy wanted – you know the ones. I was certainly no exception. We had been friendly up to that point, hung out within the company of others a few times. I had always been respectful and gentlemanly toward her in the hope that, Maybe she’ll see I’m a nice guy and she’ll like me. Granted I had applied my modus operandi to every girl I had hoped to attract, but that didn’t make it any less sincere. Or anemic.
And now, on this night, for whatever reason, Leigh Mara, her most recent beer clutched in one hand, stumbled to within six inches of me. Her taut upper body, all the more enticing with the Nineties midriff, waved like a drunken flag. Her hair danced as her head loped from side to side. Her lips thinned to an out-of-focus smile. She leaned into my face and implored, “Tony, hook up with me.”
Just so we’re all clear, I’ll reiterate that in more prosaic terminology: Leigh Mara invited me to make out with her.
Many of you reading this may never have had the pleasure of experiencing the phenomenon of a beautiful woman unambiguously hitting on you. I assure you, I understand. You hear in your head the airy refrain of, “If only…” as if tragically intoned by a Gregorian choir. A wistful sigh is escaping your body. If you tried, you could even squeeze out a tear or two. I’ve been there, folks. But on this night, the dream came true. The opportunity to live out my own little PG-13 Penthouse Letter opened her arms to me. All I had to do was reach out and embrace her.
Of course I didn’t.
“Why not?” you’re screaming. Because this is how sixteen year-old Tony Petracci’s mind processed this information: I know what’s going to happen. I’ll say yes and go to take her hand and lead her to someplace private. She’ll pull away, start laughing like a hyena, and go tell everybody, “He actually thought he could hook up with me!” The house will fill with malevolent snickering. People will approach me under a pretense of sympathy and turn it into backhanded mockery. I’ll become the Punchline That Wouldn’t Die.
Hey, how many of you understood at sixteen that no one is paying attention to you?
I politely said with utmost compassion, “You’re drunk, Leigh. You don’t want to do that.” She staggered off, but five minutes later she shambled up to me again. “Toooooonyyyyyyy, hook up with meeeeeeee!” She literally begged me. And I refused again!
She didn’t try a third time.
In retrospect it’s not surprising that, within a few months of this incident, a Tony-is-gay rumor started swirling about the school.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that my life would have been totally different had I hooked up with Leigh Mara. This isn’t Mr. Destiny. I look at this bit of self-mortification as little more than an entertaining story about a missed opportunity. But it was a missed opportunity of my own creation, and it makes me consider the scores of other people who have allowed their own heads to get in the way of achieving some modicum of happiness, however fleeting and shallow it may be. So many of those people are quality human beings whose negative self-images, from wherever they may spring, prevent them from fulfilling their potential. The greater irony is that so many success stories who think highly of themselves are irredeemable wastes of oxygen who contribute nothing of value to the world.
Christ! No wonder people thought I was gay.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


           The Monopoly Mobile sped through the tunnel of reflective metal and rivers of light. The tunnel wound around deposits of shale and coiled upward in a wide helix through layers of stratum. From behind the wheel Dubious Lee cursed himself for opting for the winding road rather than the more timely lift. The Monopoly Mobile exploded through the doors of an abandoned warehouse (obviously) and raced to meet Simple Country Lawyer. Dubious Lee braked with a sudden squeal and jumped out the car at Twelfth & Hamilton.
            Simple Country Lawyer stood over the limp and twisted body of the Toddler. The boy’s head had been replaced with a steaming mound of gray-green necrotic tissue. The corpse twitched slightly as the Lawyer said, “You disappoint me, Lee. Being as economically minded as you are, I’d have figured you for the vehicular-lift sort.”
            “Silence! I’m finishing this!”
            “Shucks, son. That there’s easier than a post pattern in a – ”
            “FUCK FOOTBALL!!!”
            Simple Country Lawyer’s arrogantly gregarious smile disappeared. “I beg your pardon, but I believe you just uttered fighting words at me.”
            “Indeed they are. NOW!!!
            Three streaks of light burst from the Monopoly Mobile and landed as Dubious Lee called the roll.
            “Metalhead!” Guitar strings crackling with electricity snaked from her fingertips and waves of distortion snarled from her feet.
            “Titmouse!” His mutated member grew several feet and gnashed its sharp bucked teeth with a furious hiss.
            “Alfobet Soope!” He danced an endzone celebration with increasing speed, then halted with a sudden prominence of energy.
            Dubious Lee stood before his team, lapping at the fountain of anticipatory delight, savoring his nemesis’s impending defeat, bathing in his own venom. “Lawyer,” he called, “I’ll say this but once: this – ends – now!”
            “Reckon I agree with you, Lee.” Simple Country Lawyer let fly a loud puncturing whistle. Four shapes suddenly fell from the sky. They landed behind Simple Country Lawyer and rose to their feet as their leader and benefactor introduced them.
            “Meet Bloody Belle – spoiled Georgia Peach turned cannibalistic ninja.”
            Clad in her crimson shozoku and twirling her kama, Bloody Belle said, “I’ll never go hungry again.”
            “Big Block –  left for dead in a Nascar crash, now a cybernetic killing machine that runs nines.”
            Big Block’s chest-set cylinders raced as he balled up his iron fists and his mullet pulsed with violent energy.
            “Boo Bradley – poltergeist and former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.”
            Craning the long neck of the bone-white marble dragon he now possessed, Boo Bradley cried, “Wight Power!”
            “And finally, Boy.”
            The slump-shouldered middle-aged black man said, “I’m the custodian.”
            The two lines of superpowered assholes stared at one another coldly. Dubious Lee’s eyes darted from Simple Country Lawyer to one or another of his lackeys and back again. He knew the planarian had outmaneuvered him once again. He resigned himself to the inevitable just as the Lawyer said, “You know something else, Lee? Of the two of us, whose team is more alliterative?”
            Dubious Lee and Simple Country Lawyer screamed at the same time: “DESTROY THEM!!!”

            The battle hadn’t lasted long. Alfobet Soope had immediately charged Boo Bradley, who quickly clasped the wide receiver in his marble jaws and tore him in half. Titmouse had launched his retractable rat-penis at Bloody Belle. She had caught it in her mouth, eaten her way down the shaft to the mammary molester and promptly cleaved him in twain. Metalhead had whipped her finger-strings at Big Block like lariats, but the iron goliath caught them, extended his mullet into a mane and launched from it a wide blast of power, reducing Metalhead to a molten lump.
            Big Block and Bloody Belle held the defeated Dubious Lee at his arms, binding his arms behind his back, slumped to his knees amid the human flotsam spackled across the intersection.
            Only his petrified rage prevented Dubious Lee from collapsing into tears. He would never acquiesce to living in a world that loved and embraced the treacherous parasite that was Simple Country Lawyer. He would never stop hating him, never stop trying to purge the earth of its cancer. He lifted his head as the single-celled advocate approached him. His eyes screamed hosannas of hate, and the Lawyer, meeting his eyes, actually froze. Dubious Lee spoke through clenched teeth, “Do not believe this is over, Simple Country Lawyer. You may have won today, but one tomorrow you will meet the very same justice you have long inveigled. You will watch everything you have stolen fall through your fingers like the finest sands. Your influence will count for naught. Your power will dissipate. You will be left impotent and despised. And as you fall to your knees, as supplicated as I am now, a shadow will cross your face. You will raise your head, lift your eyes, and see me. And finally you will meet your end, lost in the dyspathetic clutches of Dubious Lee.”
            Simple Country Lawyer regarded his enemy silently.
            “No I won’t.”
            Simple Country Lawyer shot Dubious Lee in the head.
            Boy grumbled as he withdrew his retractable tachyon-powered mop and set to work. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011


            The air over downtown Madsen, New Jersey buzzed with calamity. The intersection of Twelfth Street and Hamilton Avenue shook under the panicked stampede of civilians. People of every make and model surged every which way, filling the urban corridor with echoing screams. Businessmen body-checked fathers into mothers. Parents wielded their children like war hammers, clubbing strangers out of their way. Neurotics curled into fetal shells and were kicked down the street like black and blue tumbleweeds. Drunken pugilists put up their dukes and wanted at ‘em. Closet cases screamed their long-hidden sexual predilections into the sky. The socially awkward grabbed random women and tried to have sex with them. A bearded lunatic brandishing a placard adorned with Bible verses rushed into the crowd and shouted apocalyptic predictions. He was quickly trampled. Tires screeched and brakes whined as cars slammed into skyscrapers, collapsed into twisted heaps of metal, and launched fleeing pedestrians into the air. Street lamps toppled to the ground. Garbage cans soared through panes of glass. A spell of bedlam had descended over the street.
            At the storm’s eye was the Toddler, his lollipop held aloft, openly inquiring how many licks it would take to reach the center.
            Half a mile beneath the street Dubious Lee, flanked by his villainous coterie, reveled in the disaster unfurling on his massive view-screen. Titmouse, Metalhead, and Alfobet Soope stood behind the ringleader, periodically glancing at the view-screen, engaged in their ongoing debate of the utmost importance: “Some guy took a picture of it in 1986. You can see it has dark hair,” said Metalhead.
            “Look, man,” countered Alfobet Soope, “I know ‘bout yetis and I know ‘bout evolution. Yeti’s not gonna survive in the snow ‘less it got a pelt for camouflage.”
            “There’s photographic evidence!”
            “Fuck outta here! Those pics are doctored. Every artist’s rendition shows it with white fur.”
            “You’re both way off,” argued Titmouse. “It’s all about Mothman!”
            Dubious Lee ignored the ridiculous badinage; he watched the anarchic carnage unspool. He stood like personified marble, unflinching and unperturbed. He waited patiently for the arrival of his bete noire, the single-celled shyster who cured the disease that never existed. Leland DuBois had done nothing originally startling. He hadn’t committed a single atrocity countless others hadn’t as well. His sin had been arrogance, making little effort to hide his professional transgressions. He knew that. He had made himself an obvious target. Simple Country Lawyer had been merely the first to hit the bullseye. And now he was a hero? Dubious Lee would not abide the duplicitous irony of it all. His lips curled with epicurean anticipation.
            Twelfth & Hamilton was littered with debris and bodies. The only sign of life stood at its center. The Toddler’s cherubic face was a beacon of innocence without expectation. He waited for the arrival of his victim.
            “You best have one whopper of a explanation of this hullabaloo here,” came a voice from behind the Toddler.
            “He’s here!” hissed Dubious Lee, his mouth jerked into a carnivorous rictus.
            The Toddler beamed ravenously as he turned to face the litigious planarian. “Why?”
            “‘Cause if you’re missing one,” said Simple Country Lawyer, “you’re in more trouble than a head coach in Oakland.”
            Dubious Lee clenched his fists greedily. “Yes, answer him, Lawyer! Talk your way out of this!”
            The Lawyer stood silent, regarding the inquisitive little child of the corn like a suddenly manifested sty. His argumentative hackles were rising with each repeated syllable from the Toddler’s mouth. He could feel himself being drawn by the Toddler’s psionic tractor beam, inching toward his semantic web.
            He cocked his head (or whatever you would call it) to one side, folded his hands (or whatever they were) together and calmly said, “Well, that there question’s got more moving parts than a Rube Goldberg cotton gin. What you’re asking begs the further inquiry of where do our values come from at all,”
            Dubious Lee jerked back. “What is he doing?”
            Simple Country Lawyer continued, “Some have argued that our values – morality, ethics, what have you – are merely our more highly developed human minds’ attempt to rationalize the irrational instincts of the vestigial lower brains from whence we arose.”
            “What is he doing?!” cried Dubious Lee.
            “I think he’s being a lawyer,” said Metalhead.
            “Impossible! You can’t be a lawyer with a toddler, let alone that one!”
            “Apparently he can,” said Titmouse.
            Simple Country Lawyer continued, “‘Course that all begs the question: is evolution real. Now, granted, the theory’s got holes to fit a bobcat’s litter. But that don’t mean it’s not so.”
            “Keep it to yourself, son,” he answered dismissively. “But if it ain’t so, does the answer reside in the unprovable ether of an omnipotent super-whoever, pulling and yanking all our strings like a puppeteer on draft day? If fatalism is the answer, then the identity of that deity becomes the question. Which faith is the correct one? Or perhaps none of them are, and we all are blind birds flying through a hurricane.”
            The Toddler’s lip quivered nervously. “W-Why?”
            “Never interrupt a planarian pontificating, boy.”
            Alfobet Soope said to his grimacing leader, “Man, y’all fucked up.”
            “This is horseshit!” bellowed Dubious Lee and turned on his heel. “To the Monopoly Mobile – NOW!!!”