The Blown Away Guy

So this just hap­pened: I’ve got a bit of a stuffy nose today, which is good, because The S.O. has been suf­fer­ing with adult croup all week and that means I prob­a­bly haven’t caught it.

So I said, “Hey; where’s the Mucinex?” Mean­ing, of course, the brand name of the pop­u­lar decon­ges­tant. Except that’s not what I said—I actu­al­ly said, “Hey, where’s the Mem­o­rex?”

She said, quite rea­son­ably, “What?” I went to the replay, as I so often have to do, to fig­ure out what I real­ly said. “Oh, I meant the Mucinex.”

“It’s under the sink in my bath­room,” she said. “What’s Mem­o­rex?”

“Ah!” I said. “You did not have to fight in the Great Car Stereo Wars of the ’70s. There was all sorts of debate about stereo and record­ing equip­ment, but it got most vicious when it came to car stere­os. Which was a lit­tle sil­ly, because every right-think­ing per­son knew the cor­rect answers: The very best car stereo was the under­dash Pio­neer Super­Tuner; the very best speak­ers were Jensen Tri­ax­i­als, and the ONLY cas­sette tapes that should be allowed in any­one’s stereo were Max­ell cas­sette tapes—in short, pre­cise­ly what I had installed in Charles the Deep Breather.”

That whole “Stair­way to Heav­en” thing? This is what they meant.

She wise­ly stopped lis­ten­ing at that point, so I’ll just tell you what I meant:

See, if you were around in the 1970s, it came down to this: If you liked Mem­o­rex tapes, you had to get behind their lame com­mer­cial with Ella Fitzger­ald singing a high note that broke a wine glass, then the record­ing of Ella Fitzger­ald doing the same thing.

“Is it LIVE—or is it MEMOREX?” the com­mer­cial smug­ly asked.

Well, lemme think: I’m in my car lis­ten­ing to music. Is it live? A quick glance at the pas­sen­ger and back seats con­firms: There are no musi­cians per­form­ing here. None of my win­dows are shat­ter­ing. Con­clu­sion: It is nei­ther live nor Mem­o­rex BECAUSE I’LL SET THIS CAR ON FIRE BEFORE I USE MEMOREX TAPES!

There were oth­er worth­less tape brands out there, such as TDK (aka The Dick Knnnnnnig­gits1, favored by wimps who lis­tened to smooth jazz) or BASF (aka Barf and Shit Farts,2 which your younger sib­lings used to record, direct­ly from the radio, what­ev­er bub­blegum dreck was pop­u­lar that week, and you made it known across the land that a slow, painful death await­ed he who dared even think about using in your car).

On the oth­er hand–Maxell. MAXELL, baby. They got more famouser even than Mem­o­rex with a sin­gle print ad: It was a fan­tas­tic, icon­ic image; the kind of adver­tis­ing Apple is always grasp­ing at.

On the left is a hulk­ing, mon­strous speak­er, the kind Dr. Dre wish­es he’d replaced with the Beats Pill. On the right is a deep leather arm­chair in which a guy wear­ing a leather avi­a­tor’s jack­et and scarf is hang­ing on for dear life. His scarf is snap­ping and flut­ter­ing like he’s a Flori­da reporter stand­ing out­side for no rea­son dur­ing a hur­ri­cane. Behind him, on his right, a lamp is about to blow away. On his left is a small side table upon which a mar­ti­ni glass has slid to the edge and is about to tip over; the mar­ti­ni itself and its olive are spray­ing over the edge of the glass.

The guy in the chair quick­ly become known as The Blown Away Guy, and the ad OBLITERATED Mem­o­rex. It was on bill­boards for a while dur­ing my senior year of high school–just the pho­to with the word Max­ell down in one cor­ner. That’s all they need­ed. If you were a faith­ful Max­ell user you would just shout “MAXELL!” and high-five your pas­sen­ger. If not, you would turn your stereo way down in abject hor­ror and mis­ery, won­der­ing if you could ever aspire to redo all your mix tapes and albums on Max­ell tapes.

When they final­ly decid­ed to make it a com­mer­cial, they did Apple before Apple was Apple: All you saw was the guy hang­ing on, teeth and toe­nails, against the oncom­ing tsuna­mi of–not Led Zep­pelin or KISS or The Who, but Wag­n­er’s “Flight of the Valkyries.”

It’s been 20 years since even seen a cas­sette tape, much less lis­tened to one. But hav­ing acci­den­tal­ly spo­ken the Cas­sette Brand That Must Not Be Named, I still feel the need to apol­o­gize to Max­ell and any­one old enough to under­stand what the hell I’m talk­ing about.

We and Mrs. Jones

No, this is Mrs. Robin­son.

And now, chil­dren, hear and remem­ber the tale of me, Bil­ly Paul, Mrs. Jones, my friend Rob, and my dog Meat­ball:

Long, long ago, in a lit­tle state named Kansas, which no one wants to admit com­ing from except the clas­sic rock band Kansas and pos­si­bly Bob Dole, two young men and a dog were tool­ing around town in the leg­endary mus­cle car  Charles the Deep Breather, which prob­a­bly sounds sil­ly because you weren’t there, but which would make per­fect sense if you were there, because Charles breathed very, VERY deeply indeed, and com­mu­ni­cat­ed in a sub­son­ic, almost heav­en­ly, rum­ble that made fans of glass­pack muf­flers sneer, fans of tur­bo muf­flers weep tears of pure joy, and every­one else say, “That car! It—it spoke to me! It made my panties moist and/or my jeans tight “(depend­ing on their gen­der)”, and I want to run after it to hear and under­stand and remem­ber its teach­ing, but I can’t because I have noth­ing but two legs, while Charles the Deep Breather boasts 8 cylin­ders and 318 whole­some, part-of-this-nutri­tious-break­fast Detroit cubic inch­es (plus a .30 radius of bored-out glim­mery smooth cylin­der walls, rebuilt 340 heads, a 60,000-volt Mal­lo­ry rac­ing igni­tion coil, graphite igni­tion wiring, an alu­minum Edel­brock intake man­i­fold, a 600 CFM Hol­ley four-bar­rel car­bu­re­tor, a bunch of oth­er rac­ing parts no one gives a shit about, and the most impor­tant com­po­nent of all: the sto­ried under­dash Pio­neer Super­tuner pump­ing its juicy Amer­i­can-made stereo­phon­ic DNA through a 60-watt graph­ic equal­iz­er and final­ly into the Holy Grail of mobile tunes: a pair of 6x9 Jensen tri­ax­i­al speak­ers!”

And on this long ago night, my friend Rob, my dog Meat­ball, and I were engaged in the…

What? Meat­ball? You’re wor­ried about Meat­ball? Look, Meat­ball loved loud music, okay?1

Any­way, Rob and Meat­ball and I were—okay, now what? Oh, you think it was cru­el to name him Meat­ball? Look here: Peo­ple should not name ani­mals. We should instead lis­ten to our ani­mals and use the names they choose. Meat­ball was named Meat­ball because that’s the name he want­ed me to use.

So! We were observ­ing the time-hon­ored tra­di­tion of get­ting drunk via a cool­er of beer in Charles the Deep Breather’s back seat as we drove around, which also sounds sil­ly (if not down­right irre­spon­si­ble) if you weren’t there, but if you were there it made per­fect sense that two friends, a dog, one car, and some beer all had to be enjoyed simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, because that’s just the way it was and get off my lawn.

Rob, Meat­ball and I had been drink­ing, dri­ving and rock­ing out for a cou­ple hours and had just fin­ished lis­ten­ing, on cas­sette, to Queen’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera,” with pun­ish­ing­ly high deci­bels, and for some rea­son we couldn’t agree which cassette/band/album we should lis­ten to next, so I just flipped the Supertuner’s switch from cas­sette to radio and we start­ed lis­ten­ing to KDVV, aka V‑100, to see if any­thing good popped up.

And it did. To an expo­nen­tial degree, it did.

The moment we switched over to V‑100, Bil­ly Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones” had just start­ed. And Rob and I (and, I am con­vinced, Meat­ball), we all loved “Me and Mrs. Jones.”

Meat­ball gen­er­al­ly showed his approval by wag­ging his tail, while I, care­ful­ly and wise­ly, avoid­ed try­ing to sing along with music if any­one else was present, even if it was just Meat­ball. To do oth­er­wise would prob­a­bly vio­late the Gene­va Con­ven­tion.

Rob, on the oth­er hand, was and is an excel­lent vocal­ist. Meat­ball and I were both delight­ed to del­e­gate the mouth music to him.

Bil­ly Paul had just fin­ished the first stan­za from “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and was gath­er­ing his strength to explode into his famous refrain: “Meeey­eee aaaayaaand… MISSUS! Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones Mrs. Jones! We got a thing going on!”

And Meat­ball and I were hap­py to be The Pips to Rob’s Gladys Knight, rea­son­ing that with Rob bel­low­ing out the cho­rus along with Bil­ly Paul’s ear-shat­ter­ing voice ham­mer­ing out of the Jensen Tri­ax­i­als, we could add to the over­all vol­ume with­out drift­ing too far off-key.

And the moment arrived: Bil­ly Paul’s thun­der­ing “Mee-yeee aaayaaand MISSUS! Mrs Jones!” plus Meat­ball and I utter­ing an unrea­son­able fac­sim­i­le there­of, and the oth­er cars and traf­fic sounds and oth­er urban back­ground nois­es, all set­ting the stage for and pump­ing up Rob’s bet­ter-n-aver­age con­tri­bu­tion, and the whole world screeched to a halt and cocked its ear to see what Rob’s con­tri­bu­tion would be, and he did not dis­ap­point:

Ver­i­ly did he openeth his lips, and he sang with all his might, and he utter—uttereth, no, uttere­deth… SHIT! Okay, he pro­claimed to the heav­en­ly skies above and the rest of us mere mor­tals, and he sang:

“Weeey­eeee aaaaayand MISSUS!” and then he paused, real­iz­ing he was hav­ing a lit­tle pro­noun trou­ble exac­er­bat­ed by beer, because “Meeey­eee” and “Weeey­eee” are rad­i­cal­ly dis­sim­i­lar, even as I was won­der­ing why he paused, and then Meat­ball whis­pered to me “Who’s this ‘we’? You got a mouse in your pock­et?” and I blurt­ed out “ ‘WE?’ Ooh! Menage a trois!”

And Meat­ball start­ed laugh­ing, as did Rob, and I start­ed laugh­ing as well but then belat­ed­ly real­ized hey, maybe I shouldn’t veer left and kill us all.

In con­clu­sion, we all got home in one piece even though we all laughed so much no court in the nation would have con­vict­ed us for being unable to dri­ve, and then I ran away and got mar­ried to an unrea­son­ably beau­ti­ful and amaz­ing woman who by all rights could have land­ed Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt but instead she chose ME, and had two kids, and some­where along the way also Rob got mar­ried and had a kid, and I bet him feels the same way about his wife and son too, so I’m pret­ty sure I don’t need to threat­en him with telling his wife about our stu­pid juve­nile behav­ior and hey Rob, I love you and thanks for giv­ing me so much of your time way back then.

A Churnin’ Urn o’ Burnin’ FUNK!

Back in ’82, I went over to my friend Rob’s house one sum­mer day, and for some rea­son he had a black laun­dry mark­er and a bunch of let­ter sten­cils, and he want­ed to put some slo­gans on some shirts.

For some reason—quite pos­si­bly the same rea­son Rob had a black laun­dry mark­er and a bunch of let­ter stencils—we were wear­ing iden­ti­cal gray tank tops, and this all reeked of por­ten­tous fore­shad­ow­ings.

Alco­hol may have been involved.

We had one T‑shirt each, so first drafts and revi­sions were out of the ques­tion. Despite alcohol’s pos­si­ble involve­ment, we had to do some adult­ing and set­tle on our shirts’ mes­sages.

So we sat down and watched an Incred­i­ble Hulk rerun titled “Meta­mor­pho­sis,” in which Bruce Ban­ner lands a sound engi­neer posi­tion for a punk rock­er played by MacKen­zie Phillips, because if you need a sound engi­neer, every­one knows you look for an expert in gam­ma rays and cel­lu­lar biol­o­gy.

Some­one slips Ban­ner acid, so of course he gets scared, and we get to enjoy the Hulk stag­ger­ing around trip­pin’ balls while MacKen­zie Phillips sings her ear­split­ting hit song “Neck­tie Night­mare” in front of a gigan­tic pair of high-volt­age elec­trodes shoot­ing per­fect­ly safe 50-foot light­ning bolts across the stage, and the also-stoned fans think it’s part of the show, so MacKen­zie Phillips ditch­es her punk bonafides to turn into Amy Grant.

No, real­ly. I could­n’t find a clip of it, but as a con­so­la­tion prize, you can enjoy  the Hulk get­ting into a bar brawl, which is almost as sil­ly as the Hulk break­ing Las Vegas or the Hulk land­ing a dam­aged 747.

Mean­while, we got to laugh­ing so hard Rob fell off the couch and I almost wet myself.

After the Hulk was fin­ished with “Neck­tie Night­mare,” and after more con­tem­pla­tion and dis­cus­sion, along with more of the pos­si­bly involved alco­hol, we set­tled upon mes­sages to sten­cil on our shirts, mak­ing them T‑shirts that would have helped Bill and Ted’s music to bring har­mon­ic bal­ance to the uni­verse much ear­li­er if Bill and Ted had been wear­ing shirts with the most total­ly excel­lent and boda­cious sten­cils we cre­at­ed

Rob’s shirt said PRO.


With our new world-chang­ing T‑shirts fin­ished, and after some more pos­si­bly involved alco­hol, we decid­ed we need­ed to get out there and let the world see them. The T‑shirts, that is. Not the impres­sive pile of emp­ty beer bot­tles.

So we hopped into my car, aka the leg­endary Charles the Deep Breather, and engaged in one of our favorite pas­times: Dri­ving around and drink­ing beer while enjoy­ing music gen­er­at­ed by the vig­or­ous pelvic thrusts of the renowned Pio­neer Super­Tuner and lusti­ly pumped out through the inim­itable Jensen 6x9 Tri­ax­i­als.

As we cruised up Tope­ka Boule­vard, we saw that the Kansas State Fair was under­way, so we parked and wan­dered around with a cou­ple of warm, over­priced state fair beers rather than the cool­er full of ice-cold rea­son­ably-priced beers wait­ing for us in Charles the Deep Breather’s back seat.

As we passed all the rigged games, a carny guy look­ing for some­one to blow $80 to get a nasty-smelling import­ed ted­dy bear that was prob­a­bly stuffed with asbestos accost­ed us.

Seri­ous­ly? I mean yes, this is played for laughs on a TV show where every­one was in on the joke. But while teenagers can be abysmal­ly stu­pid (watch any hor­ror movie), no one would think an unshaven mid­dle-aged carny with B.O. that could kill Godzil­la was a nice fel­low teen who want­ed to dis­cuss T‑shirts. Yeesh.

“Hey there, fel­las!” he said.

Rob lit a cig­a­rette and crimped an eye at him. “Yo.”

“Those are nice T‑shirts!” the carny guy said, look­ing as con­vinc­ing as that “How do you do, fel­low kids?” meme with Steve Busce­mi, no doubt think­ing the fel­low kids said, “Why, there’s that groovy cat with the skate­board (or nasty-smelling ted­dy bear)!” rather than “Here comes Chester the Moles­ter again–run!”

DENTAL FLOSS TYCOON?” he said, point­ing at me. “What does that mean?”

“It means I might be mov­ing to Mon­tana soon,” I replied.

“Oh, cool!” he said, the way you would say “Oh, cool!” to a guy car­ry­ing a chain­saw and wear­ing a space hel­met who told you he was the lovechild of Carl Sagan and an alien from Prox­i­ma Cen­tau­ri V, hop­ing to dis­tract him long enough to make a run for it. “Does th—“

“Just to raise me up a crop of den­tal floss,” I inter­rupt­ed.

“That’s inter—“

“With a pair of heavy-duty zir­con-encrust­ed tweez­ers!” I inter­rupt­ed again.

He gave up and turned to Rob. Appar­ent­ly he wasn’t a Frank Zap­pa fan. The car­ni­val guy, that is. Rob was a Zap­pa fan. Still is.

“What does PRO mean?” he said, sound­ing des­per­ate.

Rob squint­ed at him again, tak­ing anoth­er drag of his cig­a­rette.

“Pros­ti­tute,” he drawled.

The carny guy turned on his heel and stomped away. I don’t know what got his dud­geon up; you’d think some­one who trav­els with a car­ni­val wouldn’t get offend­ed at the word pros­ti­tute.

It wasn’t always like that, though. If you’re brac­ing your­self for a sto­ry about how I had to walk 10 miles to school bare­foot, relax. What I mean is that you could buy T‑shirts when I was a kid that these days would make woke peo­ple pass out.

Take this charm­ing, whim­si­cal 1970s T‑shirt ad, for instance. Before Rohyp­nol, Jethro Tull T‑shirts were, alas, the only way a lot of guys could get laid.

The strug­gle is real.

Here’s the text:

Reprise leer­ing­ly invites you to win a T‑shirt that will


You say you’re not mak­ing it with the local lovelies? That when you make Paul McCart­ney eyes at allur­ing lit­tle hon­eys in vio­let hip-hug­gers they respond by frown­ing and sug­gest­ing, “Jerk off, los­er”? That even the offer of a seat next to you at a Led Zep­pelin con­cert is insuf­fi­cient induce­ment for a far-out nubie to spend part of the evening with you?

Then, fel­la, whatch­oo need is a SUPER-OUTTA-SIGHT-JETHRO-TULL-T-SHIRT of the sort worn by the fullest-hand­ed rakes every­where.

These eye-catch­ing sar­to­r­i­al groovies, which are guar­an­teed to reduce even the haugh­ti­est of lovelies to a mound of hot pul­sat­ing flesh, are a divine shade of yel­low designed to to flat­ter even the swarthi­est of com­plex­ion, are the three-but­tons-at-the-neck style recent­ly made all the rage by your sharp­er Eng­lish groups, appeal­ing­ly reveal the wearer’s fash­ion­ably skin­ny arms (being short-sleeved) and fea­ture an entic­ing like­ness of sexy Tull leader Ian Ander­son some­where in the vicin­i­ty of the right boob. Avail­able in the splen­did sizes of medi­um and large, they may be worn with equal suc­cess by mem­bers of any sex.

We, in our cus­tom­ar­i­ly fis­cal­ly unsound way, are giv­ing 1,000 of these won­der away. Free!

All you have to do to win one of your very one is: 1) fill our coupons below; and 2) give it back to us com­plete down to the exact play­ing time of the first side of Jethro Tull’s lat­est hys­ter­i­cal­ly acclaimed album (sure­ly you don’t expect us to give you some­thing with­out first try­ing to trick you into buy­ing some­thing first), which infor­ma­tion may be gleaned from the album’s label, which you have to remove the cel­lo­phane to get to.

So why don’t you in a real hur­ry send us the required so that we can rush you a Tull T‑shirt that’s cer­tain to trans­form you overnight into a churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk.

I like Jethro Tull and I do have fash­ion­ably skin­ny arms, but I’m not sure I’d like Ian Ander­son sit­ting on my right boob. Also, do I want to be a churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk? I hon­est­ly don’t know. A churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk might be a slick-talk­ing studly chick mag­net.

A churn­ing urn of burn­ing funk could also be an over­flow­ing Por­ta Pot­ty doused with gaso­line and set on fire.

In ’77, when I was in Catholic high school—and I must empha­size that this was not just any Catholic high school, but Hay­den Extreme­ly Catholic High School—the math teacher, Sis­ter Rose Celine, called a guy named Bri­an up to do a prob­lem on the chalk­board.

Awww–how adorable!

Now Bri­an had been wear­ing a hoody all day because he was wear­ing a T‑shirt that said “Your Prob­lem Is Obvi­ous” on the back, along with a draw­ing of some­one with his head stuck up his ass. He’d been col­lect­ing snick­ers and gig­gles all day from oth­er stu­dents.

But now it was the last class for the day and it was pret­ty warm out, so he shrugged off the hoody and left it draped over his chair.

And when Sis­ter Rose Celine called him up to do a prob­lem, Bri­an for­got about the hoody.

Just as he was about to pass by Sis­ter Rose Celine, he real­ized why the rest of us were sti­fling gig­gles and whis­per­ing “Pssst!” at him, and with­out miss­ing a beat he piv­ot­ed 90 degrees to the right, fac­ing Sis­ter Rose Celine, and sidled up to the board. He filled out the math prob­lem with his left hand, fac­ing Sis­ter Rose Celine all the while.

“Very good, Bri­an,” Sis­ter Rose Celine said. “You may sit down.” Bri­an began slid­ing side­ways back the way he came as the muf­fled snick­ers neared a crescen­do. Sis­ter Rose Celine glanced up at us, then at Bri­an. Being a math teacher, she put 2 and 2 togeth­er and stood up.

And because nuns are ter­ri­fy­ing, Sis­ter Rose Celine didn’t yell or throw things or grab a ruler or any­thing like that. All she did was to qui­et­ly say, “Stop.”

Bri­an froze in place; every­one else stopped gig­gling. We stopped breath­ing, in fact.

“Why are you walk­ing side­ways, Bri­an?” Sis­ter Rose Celine said.

Bri­an said, “…eep?

“Turn around,” she said.

Bri­an turned and showed her the back of his shirt. She stud­ied it for a moment and said, “Class, you will work on the rest of the prob­lems in your books until the bell rings and class is over.”

She walked to the class­room door, opened it, and wait­ed. Gulp. This meant Sis­ter Rose Celine and Bri­an were about to vis­it the prin­ci­pal, Father Ax, a vis­it. Dead man walk­ing.

No, that’s not a joke. His last name real­ly was Ax. Father Ax was the prin­ci­pal and the school’s box­ing and wrestling coach.

Clar­i­fi­ca­tion: Father Ax was prin­ci­pal of Hay­den East, which was in down­town Tope­ka, across the street from the state capi­tol. Hay­den East was for 9th and 10th graders.

11th and 12th graders, on the oth­er hand, went to Hay­den West, which was across the street from Gage Park. And the Hay­den West prin­ci­pal was (I’m still not mak­ing any of this up) Father San­ta.

And I just real­ized Father San­ta looked an awful lot like Prin­ci­pal Carter in the movie Porky’s, and that the actor play­ing Prin­ci­pal Carter was named Eric Christ­mas.

Okay, I’m hav­ing a pan­ic attack here. I’m gonna go lie down.

Don’t let the teeth fool you. He’s not smil­ing; he’s bar­ing his fangs.

I didn’t attend Hay­den after 10th grade, so while I have no direct 411 to share about Father San­ta, I sus­pect he was even scari­er than Father Ax. But let’s get back to Father Ax:

Father Ax was about 5 1/2 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and weighed about 220 pounds, all of it sol­id mus­cle.

Father Ax was not the kind of guy to have an avun­cu­lar chat with a way­ward stu­dent and invite the way­ward stu­dent to come see him if he ever want­ed to talk.

If Father Ax answered the phone instead of Liam Nee­son in Tak­en, Father Ax would not threat­en to kill the kid­nap­pers. The kid­nap­pers would drop dead the instant Father Ax picked up the phone.

The rea­son you hear all those jokes about Chuck Nor­ris being so tough and also about how Bruce Lee killed Chuck Nor­ris in a movie is only because they were both way too smart to even joke about fight­ing with Father Ax.

Father Ax had a large pad­dle in his office made of 3/4‑inch oak. It was labeled “Board of Edu­ca­tion.”

Father Ax was a Viet­nam vet, but he was not rumored to have been a Navy SEAL or in Spe­cial Forces or a sniper. Father Ax was rumored to have tak­en the Board of Edu­ca­tion to Viet­nam and sin­gle­hand­ed­ly end­ed the war in less than a week.

Father Ax had no inter­est in, patience for, or mer­cy upon any wiseass churnin’ urn o’ burnin’ funk T‑shirt, and even less for the stu­dent wear­ing it.

The next morn­ing, every­one was whis­per­ing about poor Bri­an. No one knew what tran­spired in Father Ax’s office; Bri­an wasn’t talk­ing about it and every­one else was afraid to ask, although we did notice Bri­an winc­ing when­ev­er he sat down, so we assumed Bri­an had had a talk with the Board of Edu­ca­tion.

Any­way, Mom and Dad had 4 chil­dren, but I was the only one they sent to Catholic school. I have no idea why.2

First Sis­ter did­n’t care; She’s three years old­er than me, so we nev­er saw each oth­er in school.

Thing 1 and Thing 2, on the oth­er hand, are a year younger than me, so when I was sent off to Extreme­ly Catholic school, they wel­comed not hav­ing to say yes, that weirdo is our broth­er but he was adopt­ed because his birth par­ents dropped him on his head a lot.

A lit­tle Extreme­ly Catholic high school would­n’t have hurt them, though. I mean, thanks to Sis­ter Rose Celine and Father Ax and Father San­ta, I stayed out of trou­ble (or was care­ful enough not to get caught). And thanks to Bri­an’s ter­ri­fy­ing fate I espe­cial­ly avoid­ed provoca­tive T‑shirts (at least until after grad­u­a­tion).

Sec­u­lar pub­lic school, on the oth­er hand, deprived Thing 1 and Thing 2 of impor­tant, nur­tur­ing, eter­nal val­ues; val­ues like cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, sheer ter­ror, and flu­en­cy in raunchy slang and raunchi­er T‑shirts.

And so one sum­mer when they were maybe 13 or 14, Thing 1 and Thing 2 went to Worlds of Fun with some friends. Worlds of Fun was okay, but it was real­ly just Acres of Fun.

Be that as it may, it was still fun, and that evening their friend’s mom dropped them off; they were sweaty, dirty, sun­burned, over­stim­u­lat­ed, greasy, and sug­ary from eat­ing junk food all day. Job well done, Worlds of Fun.

Mom was sit­ting on the couch read­ing a mag­a­zine while Dad and I watched a movie. She said, “Go get a show­er before you sit d…”

She trailed off as she glanced up and saw what Thing 1 and Thing 2 were wear­ing. They’d saved up their mon­ey and bought match­ing T‑shirts. And this is what was print­ed on their match­ing T‑shirts:

I laughed so hard it made me snort and then hic­cup; Dad was shak­ing his head and try­ing unsuc­cess­ful­ly to look stern.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 were still look­ing hap­py, but a lit­tle puz­zled.

Mom fold­ed down the page she was read­ing, set the mag­a­zine down gen­tly, and said very qui­et­ly, “Where did you get those shirts?”

Uh-oh. She sound­ed just like Sis­ter Rose Celine. I’d for­got­ten: Mom and Dad had both grad­u­at­ed from Hay­den Extreme­ly Catholic High School in 1958. Back then, things weren’t as kind and for­giv­ing and touchy-feely as they were 20 years lat­er when I was there.

“We got them at Worlds of Fun,” Thing 2 said. “Um… is some­thing wrong?”

“They had those shirts at Worlds of Fun? They let you buy those shirts at Worlds of Fun?”

Thing 1 and Thing 2 have this thing they do. They’ll glance at each oth­er; maybe one of them will raise an eye­brow and the oth­er one will shrug. It’s like all the hand sig­nals in base­ball, except instead of a short mes­sage like “Walk this ass­hole,” they exchange an ocean of info in the blink of an eye.

“Did­n’t your friend’s mom say any­thing?” Mom asked.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 glanced at each oth­er to dis­cuss their strat­e­gy. It’s impor­tant to note here that Thing 1 is a prac­ti­cal, take-action type, while Thing 2 is more intro­spec­tive and philo­soph­i­cal.

“Well, no,” said Thing 2. Mean­while, Thing 1 qui­et­ly left the liv­ing room and head­ed down the hall.

“I see. Do you know what that means?”

“What what means? Oh, on the shirt? It’s, uh…”

By now Dad and I were des­per­ate­ly try­ing to keep straight faces. Mom glared at us for a sec­ond, and look­ing back I just now real­ized this sit­u­a­tion was eeri­ly sim­i­lar to a famous scene in the movie Porky’s:

A group of horney—I mean, horny—guys were caught peep­ing into the girl’s lock­er room show­ers. One them sticks his, um—can we please call it a tallywacker?—he sticks his tal­lywack­er though the peep­hole and almost gets caught by Girl’s PE Coach Beu­lah Bal­brick­er.

Bal­brick­er wants Prin­ci­pal Carter to arrange a line­up of naked teen boys so she can iden­ti­fy the scoundrel. Mean­while, the Boy’s Coach­es Good­e­nough, Brack­ett and War­ren are des­per­ate­ly try­ing to keep straight faces as Prin­ci­pal Carter says no, a short-arm inspec­tion is absolute­ly out of the ques­tion.

Coach Brack­ett says, “Mr. Carter, we can just call the police, and we have ’em send over one of their sketch artists. And Miss Bal­brick­er can give a descrip­tion. We can put up Want­ed posters all over school: ‘Have you seen this prick? Report imme­di­ate­ly to Beu­lah Bal­brick­er. Do not attempt to appre­hend this prick, as it is armed and dan­ger­ous. It was last seen hang­ing out in the girls’ lock­er room.’”

At which point every­one, includ­ing Prin­ci­pal Carter com­plete­ly los­es it, and Miss Bal­rick­er stomps out. I still admire Nan­cy Par­sons, who played Miss Bal­brick­er, for keep­ing a straight face. I would have had a stroke.

This all hap­pened years before Porky’s was released. And it’s worth not­ing that Thing 1 liked Porky’s so much she had a per­son­al­ized license plate say­ing “PORKY1” for a num­ber of years.

But I digress. Thing 2 was try­ing to come up with a def­i­n­i­tion for hor­ney that would would keep her and Thing 1 out of trou­ble, espe­cial­ly since they didn’t know what it meant any­way.

“It means,” Mom start­ed. “It means, uh, well.. *ahem.* When some­one is “hor­ney,” it means they’re… um… sex­u­al. I mean, excit­ed in a sex­u­al way.”

Thing 2 rumi­nat­ed on that for a few sec­onds. “Sure, I’ve heard that,” she lied, “but it’s kind of like the word ‘crazy.’ There’s ‘crazy,’ where you see things and stuff, but it’s also like, you know, ‘wild and crazy guy.’”

“So what’s the oth­er mean­ing of hor­ney?” I man­aged to choke out between snick­ers. Mom glared at me again, and I real­ized I might have to explain how I knew what hor­ney meant if I didn’t shut up. So I shut up.

Thing 1—who is, as I said, the prac­ti­cal take-action type—came back down the hall, say­ing, “Hey, what if we just wear them like this?”

She’d hitched her jeans up as high as she could, then tucked in the Smile If You’re Hor­ney shirt so tight it was stretched out of shape, so instead of this:


It looked like this:

And we all—Mom, Dad, me, Thing 1 and Thing 2—we all lost it as thor­ough­ly as the coach­es in Porky’s.

It’s not fair. When­ev­er Thing 1 or Thing 2 got into trou­ble, they’d do some­thing to make Mom or Dad laugh and they’d get away with it.

“Go take a show­er,” Mom said, pick­ing up her mag­a­zine. “Change clothes and bring me those shirts.”

Thing 1 and Thing 2 sur­ren­dered with dig­ni­ty, glad they were off the hook.

And by “sur­ren­dered with dig­ni­ty,” I mean “exe­cut­ed a strate­gic retreat to dis­cuss flank­ing maneu­vers.”

The next day, when we were all called to the kitchen for din­ner, Thing 1 was last to arrive. She strate­gi­cal­ly exe­cut­ed a not-quite-late arrival, dur­ing which she showed up just as Dad was about to repeat Mom’s chow call, mean­ing every­one would be wait­ing to see what was going on.

She stepped into the kitchen, wear­ing the “Smile If You’re Hor­ney!!” shirt that she’d been ordered to destroy, and said, “Hey Mom! How about this?”

She’d secret­ly rum­maged through Mom’s sewing sup­plies and found some embroi­dered let­ters, one of which she’d sewn onto the offend­ing shirt. And this is what it looked like:

Dad, who hero­ical­ly man­aged to keep a straight face, said, “Smile if you’re CORNEY?

Golf clap to Thing 1. I’m still in awe.

I don’t remem­ber if Mom and Dad let Thing 1 and Thing 2 keep the shirts.3