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Words in a Row

Spelling and grammer and all that stuff--supposibly its like, real important!

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:

Genius. Sheer genius.

Rob’s shirt said PRO.

My shirt said DENTAL FLOSS TYCOON.1

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 and 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

DRIVE THE GIRLS WILD WITH DESIRE!

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.

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.

First Sis­ter came upstairs from her room in the base­ment and poked her head into the liv­ing room.

“What’s so fun­ny?” she said.

  1. Obvi­ous­ly you’re not a Frank Zap­pa fan.
  2. Alco­hol may have been involved.

4 Comments to A Churnin’ Urn o’ Burnin’ FUNK!

  1. John Danahy says:

    Hey Folks,
    Great bit of writ­ing!!! Thank you so much for the free enter­tain­ment and quick shot of endor­phins! BTW, seri­ous­ly big time Zap­pa fan here and that name drop is what made me click on the link. Any­body asso­ci­at­ed with his music and phi­los­o­phy has to be fair­ly inter­est­ing and bears investigating.
    Am sav­ing link to this site to read some more here and there hope that I can get a chance to relate some sto­ries of my own for the ben­e­fit of others.

    Cheers,
    Jack D.

  2. ScottVR says:

    Here’s a short clip of the scene you described from “Meta­mor­pho­sis”: https://youtu.be/3DV0vwyvey4

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