by Joe Meno
In our History Class, we had to do a twenty-minute oral report on An Event That Changed America, and Mike and I were listening to a lot of old metal records and also very into serial killers at the time, and the girl, Dorie, who was put in our presentation group because she looks as about as hooked on drugs as Mike or me, well, we decided what the heck, and told Mr. Aiken that we were going to do it on the Boston Strangler. When Mr. Aiken asked why we thought the Boston Strangler was an appropriate Event That Changed America, I thought we were busted right there, but Mike said, "It has greatly affected our sense of trust and comfort," and Mr. Aiken nodded, impressed, I guess, and he gave us a check-mark on our assignment sheet and him giving us the big OK was our first mistake.
At the same exact time, Mrs. Madden’s, Mike’s mom, got her divorce finalized and she finally lost it, and one day, while we were in her kitchen, smoking, she said to Mike and me, "That’s it. I‘m giving up they both of you as human beings." She said, "Fine. If you want to be anti-social, fine. If you all want to grow up without any prospects, it doesn‘t bother me in the least." So now we can smoke dope in her basement as long as we don’t do something stupid like trying to drive later. And no fucking around, as she put it, between boys and girls. We can have girls down there but no going all the way. That was her terminology. No going all the way. If either of you guys get a girl pregnant, you‘ll be out on your ass. She said that to me and I’m not even her kid. The bad part is she took out all the telephones in the house and called the phone company and they came in and put in an actual payphone. I mean, right on the wall, like Mike’s kitchen is a bus stop or something. So Mike doesn’t hardly ever call anybody anymore. Also, before the divorce got signed or whatever, and before Mrs. Madden completely flipped out, you could go over to Mike’s and dig around in his fridge for like some left-over pizza and some Jewel-brand soda pop, and eat it there, over the sink, standing up, but nope, none of that now. There‘s a goddamn lock on the fridge. So Mike and his little brother, Terry, who’s only twelve, well, they got to buy their own groceries or pay their mom for meals. Seriously. Mike’s older sister, Jean, who has a big round face, the way I like a girl’s face, kind of mean and smart-mouthed, you know the kind, the kind of girl who looks at you like you aren’t nothing, and then makes-out with you just because she’s bored, well, Jean, who’s two years older than me and Mike, seventeen, well, she saw the payphones and the lock on the fridge and took off with the road manager from the band R-E-O Speedwagon, who are very big in our neighborhood, because one of the guys, the drummer I think, went to our high school. Jean leaving has killed Mike, being his older sister and all. She would buy beer for us and tell us what girls like you to do and how to get them to at least consider having sex with you by saying stuff like, "I feel like you‘re the only one I can say personal stuff to." The other night, we had two girls down in the basement, two girls who Mike had met at the 7-11 and who were definitely Catholic, because they were as clean as any girls I’ve ever seen, not just their hair, but the way they talked and smoked like movie stars and even crossed and uncrossed their legs. Well, we passed around a bowl and the girls got high and then I had put on "I can’t fight this feeling anymore" and I had my hand up this girl’s shirt and was feeling her up over the bra and she had her eyes closed, like if she had her eyes closed she wasn’t going to have to go to Confession next Saturday or whatever Catholic girls got to do, and well, Mike, he just stood up suddenly and said, "What the fuck?" and I said, "What?" and he said, "Don’t you got any goddamn consideration for my feelings, man? I asked you not to play this record anymore," and I said, "I don’t get it, it‘s a good record," and he said to turn that goddamn thing off unless I wanted to go in his backyard to do my dryhumping. Which I did not. A girl, on a couch, is a lot more likely to just lie there and let you do what you want than if you‘re, say, in the backseat of a car or under her back porch. I don’t know what goes on in their heads, if they just look up at the ceiling and count the tiles or if they are thinking about their homework assignments or imaging you are somebody special like Scott Baio, but if you can get them on the couch, you are half-way there, my friend, or so I have seen.
Dorie, the girl in our history presentation group, is the only girl I have ever loved from afar. Most girls I do not care enough about to spend the time thinking about. I am not one of those kind of guys who is particular, like Mike, who’s been in love with Lisa Hensel since fifth fucking grade, even though everyone in the modern universe knows she’s never going to have anything to do with him, because, well, she is like on Student Council and is always handing out Mothers Against Drunk Driving and D.A.R.E buttons. I mean come on, Mike, get over it. There are tons of other decent-looking girls who want some non-descript, renegade, loner-type to de-virginize them so they can have it over and done with and never see the doofus again. That’s where I like to think I come in. Monica Dallas. De-virginized. Kelly Madley. De-virginized. Kathy Konoplowski. Not totally de-virginized, but close.
Dorie, in our history group, is not like that. She’s smart, as smart as anyone, but not nerdy, and she smokes, and wears the same Iron Maiden "Somewhere in Time" tee-shirt everyday, which must have been black but is gray now and soft from being worn so often. She is tall and skinny and has long greasy brown hair that is cut in bangs. Fuck. No girl has bangs in our school. They wear their fucking hair in ponytails. I mean, fuck. The last thing that gets me about Dorie is kind of weird, but, well, she always has hickies, you know. Which means she fools around. I don’t know. I like the idea that she fools around and doesn’t care about it, like fucking around in high school to her is not like getting married, which is how some girls think of it, because I asked her, "You got a boyfriend or something?" and she said, "No," and I said, "Well, what the fuck happened to your neck?" and she said, "Some asshole mauled me," and I said, "Somebody I know?" and she said, "Shit, I don’t even know his name," and it was like I fell in love with her right there maybe.
Mike’s mom and dad are now definitely getting split and the paperwork’s definitely been signed his dad made it obvious by going out and buying a brand new, red, convertible Cadillac, big beautiful chrome bumpers, automatic roof recline, and Mike and I were at the mall, killing time with this new Cop-Killer game at the arcade and then we were outside, waiting for the bus, throwing rocks at the seagulls and we saw his dad cruising by with some blonde in this red convertible and they were both laughing like they had known each other their whole lives. Mike’s dad saw us and pulled over and said, "Get in, dudes, I’ll drop you off," and Mike’s face got all red and he said, "Mom’s supposed to pick me up," which was a total lie, and his dad nodded and said, "See you later, dudes," and pulled away and I asked Mike, "Hey, man, are you all right?" and he just frowned and said, "Jesus Christ. This is not how I imagined my sophomore year going at all," and I said, "Yeah. Shit," and then just to say something, I said, "Maybe we should stop by the library and see about this Boston Strangler dude," and he said, "Maybe," but we just stood there, not saying anything else, waiting for the bus, not even laughing when a group of junior high kids showed up, and they all had New Kids on the Block tee-shirts on and everything.
Mrs. Madden, who is very thin and blonde, with short hair, who might be hot if she wasn’t so nervous and twitchy, and well, crying all the goddamn time, well, she has made it obvious that the divorce has gone through by wearing the same see-through yellow nightgown all day, which is beginning to get dirty. Also, she has started smoking, which she did not do before. And drinking. Canadian Club whiskey. We were down in the basement smoking dope and it was late and I was going to sneak home and I came up and Mrs. Madden was sitting on the floor with a bottle of Canadian Club and watching Mary Tyler Moore reruns. I thought about it as I was walking home. When I got there, my dad was crashed on the couch, which is where he has slept for the last couple of years, and upstairs, I could hear my mom sewing, the sewing machine going, at like two in the morning, and I thought nobody anywhere over the age of eighteen was glad to be living.
At this time, I decided it would be cool to have lines shaved into my hair, you know, like Brian "the Boz" Bosworth from the Sooners, like where you have long hair in the back and the sides are short and there are lines like shaved into the side of your head in a cool pattern. I had seen Bosworth on TV and it looked cool so I asked Mike to try it and he wouldn’t do it. I mean, I even went to Osco and bought a hair trimmer kit for twenty bucks and there I am and no one will do it and I even asked Mrs. Madden and she said she’d do it for fifty bucks and it was like everything else. You get a good idea and people go out of their way to make it hard on you. Here, I was the one who said, let’s do our report on the Boston Strangler and Mike won’t go to the library and Dorie like is never in class or at home because she’s out getting hickes from people she doesn’t even know and already, it’s the weekend before the oral report is due. So shit.
Dorie finally calls back because, well, she’s got to pass this class, like us, because she’s smart but doesn’t give a fuck about school, and so she comes over to Mike’s on that Sunday and we plan on doing the report, but Mike, he’s in a mood, and he keeps playing "Changes" by Black Sabbath, which is a very weak song if you don’t happen to know, where there’s like a piano, a piano on a fucking Black Sabbath song, and Ozzy kind of mumbles about going through changes, and all Mike does is lie on his bed, and I point out all the crazy stuff to Dorie in Mike‘s house, the payphone and lock on the fridge, and the bowls and one-hitters lying out in the open and she just shakes her head and says, "Mike, your home-life is definitely fucked," and he lifts his head up from the bed and says, "I totally know."
"Well, what the fuck are we gonna do about this report?" she asks. "I got two books from the library but I don’t have time to read them. I got to be at work in like twenty minutes."
"Work? Where do you work?" I ask. "You’re only fifteen?"
"My dad’s restaurant. Dockie’s."
"The fish place? On Kedzie?" I ask. "How long have you been working there?"
"Since I was a kid. I’m the night manager."
"The night manager? You’re like a kid. How can you be the night manager?"
"My dad needed help, you know, he had back surgery and there’s nobody else so I go there at night and help him. Plus," she says. "This guy, Duane, the cook, he usually brings some dope to smoke."
"Is he the guy that fucking mauls your neck?" I ask.
She looks down and then lifts one eyebrow and says, "Jealous?" and I say, "How old is this dude?" and she says, "Twenty-five," and I look at her and realize I am so in love with her, it is not even funny. I want to ask her right there if she would maybe think about being my girlfriend and she could wait until we are married before ever doing it with me, but she says, "So what the fuck are we gonna do tomorrow?" and I say, "I dunno," and then I ask, "Have you ever cut anyone’s hair?" and she says, "My dad’s," and I say, "Do you think you can cut lines in my hair like that football player Bosworth?" and she says she can try and she does it like in five minutes, right there in Mike’s basement, with my hair on the floor by the pool table, and it looks badass when she’s done and I say, "I’ll give you a couple of bucks," and she says, "Just make sure this report is good," and I say, "It’ll be the best fucking report Mr. Aiken has ever seen," and it’s like we’re going to kiss, but we don’t, which is OK with me.
In the end, we opt to do a skit, because Mike thinks it’s the best way to disguise that we have not done anything. It goes like this: Mike is the detective telling the class about historical facts, "The year is 1962, Albert DeSalvo works at a rubber press during the day, at night, he tracks his quarry all over the city of Boston," and I am the Boston Strangler, and I have a stocking cap on because he had one on in the book Dorie got, and Dorie is the victim, and she is sitting at the head of class, filing her nails and chewing gum and doing whatever victims do before they get strangled, and right there, I decide to do something different. Instead of going to strangle Dorie, who is looking bored, and lovely, man, really lovely, well, I creep up the side of the classroom and strangle Lisa Hensel, the girl Mike’s been in love with forever, and she starts screaming, but I cover her mouth and Mike sees what I’m doing and shouts, "The Boston Strangler has struck! No one can tell where he will commit his evil deeds next!" and he runs besides Lisa and says, "Another victim of this unpredictable killer who is impossible to predict!" and by then I’ve strangled Debbie Otis, who gets the drift, and falls out of her seat, playing dead, and Mr. Aiken starts shouting, "OK, guys, that’s enough, that’s enough," but I don’t stop until I have my hands around Dorie’s neck, and it is long, and soft, and I think I can feel her breathing, oh, God, I can actually feel her breathing, and there, there are two hickies popping out of the top of her shirt and I want to kiss her more that anything in the world, and she can tell, probably, because she looks up at me, and blinks, but like a girl, with all her eyelashes, which is something she never does, and I decide not to murder her, and instead, well, I just run out of the room and hang out in the cafeteria because the lunch ladies there know I‘m cool.
Joe Meno hails from Chicago, Illinois USA. This appears to be the short story that was expanded into his latest novel Hairstyles Of The Damned, published by Punk Planet/Akashic this year. It's his first on an independent publisher and perhaps it's not a coincidence that it's also his best. Contact him at profjoe13 (whereit'sat) aol dot com.