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Relates the humorous attempts of wheelchair-bound Wolfgang to organize the ...
Relates the humorous attempts of wheelchair-bound Wolfgang to organize the members of the He-Man Women Haters Club into a rock band.
A Box of Chocolates
Hate is such a strong word.
I love it.
Because at least it says something. I figure, if you're going to open your mouth, you might as well say something. Who cares if we don't actually hate women—maybe we do, maybe we don't. It's how it sounds that counts. And the He-Man Women Haters Club sounds a lot tougher than the He-Man Couldn't-Get-a-Date-if-We-Wanted-to Club.
That's not me, of course, but it does cover most of the guys in my club.
That's right, my club. They've been wanting me to take control since the day I showed up, but I kept telling them, listen, you guys just aren't ready for the big leagues yet. But they just kept begging and begging, and then their first leader, Steven, belly flopped, and then the second, Jerome, burrowed into his own belly button when the going got tough, and so the president of the United States called me himself and pleaded that I take over the situation....
So I'll do it temporarily, until this ship is afloat again. Then they're on their own, 'cause I've got bigger things on my plate than wasting my time being president of everything.
The first thing they are going to notice about my leadership style is that I get to the point. These guys want to be He-Men, then all they have to do is listen up, and they'll learn what's what, and what isn't. I call 'em like I see 'em.
Forrest Gump, for instance. What's all this about life's a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get? What kind of garbanzo is that? You take your finger and poke it up through the bottom of every chocolate, and then you know exactly what you're gonna get, right? So you can put back the lousy coconut and pick out the caramel cream you were after in the first place.
So why doesn't somebody make a movie out of me and my homespun philosophy and pay me sixty bazillion dollars and spin off impossibly handsome Wolfgang dolls and Cookin' with the Wolf cookbooks?
When I'm done, they will.
Now I really will get to the point. You'd like that, wouldn't you?
My name, in case you missed it, is Wolfgang. That's all you need to know about me, but I'm going to tell you more because I know what you're after. Because, as everybody knows, what is really important is how a person looks. I look like a kid in a wheelchair. You got something to say about that?
Didn't think so.
Swell. So let's talk about how the rest of them look.
Steven is, I suppose, in a way, in a very common way, what someone might describe as handsome. He's taller than me even when he's sitting, he has a swimmer's body, and sometimes it seems that girls actually like him. He has exactly thirty-nine chest hairs on him, which he'll be happy to tell you about, and I think he may have names for them all by now. There is a girl named Monica, who has a thing for Steven, and we can assume Steven has a thing for Monica, since every time she appears he makes a total butt of himself. The situation would be pretty darn funny to anyone who was inclined to be cruel and ridicule Steven from time to time.
Which would be me.
Steven claims to hate Monica. Steven doesn't deserve Monica.
The best thing about Steven is that he owns a very cool 1956 Lincoln that lives in his uncle's garage and is our official club headquarters. Steven doesn't deserve that car.
Then there's Jerome. You could carry Jerome around in your knapsack for a whole day if you wanted to, and you wouldn't even get a stiff back. But he's also a real brain box, and you know how they are. So you have to watch him every second. Jerome has this dream of being exactly like Steven. Please, don't ask me, all right? Unless it's the chest hair thing, I can't figure it out either.
Ling-Ling. Any description of He-Man Ling is going to sell him short. He's a giant, like twelve feet tall and nine hundred pounds. He reads comic books one hundred percent of the time and when he's done with one, he eats it like a government secret. He's so pale that if he was naked—
Oh my god!
Sorry. If he was, naked, and standing against a white wall, you couldn't see him. Couldn't see the wall, either, for that matter. He has an excellent collection of big-head hats, we got him out of an on-line computer advertisement, and he hardly ever says anything unless you ask him to. He's like Arnold Schwarzenegger, if Arnold was just a little tougher. The club really does revolve around Ling-Ling. Never mind that, the country, the whole world, revolves around Ling-Ling.
He's actually a big fat spaz who cries all the time, but I like to say nice things about him.
So as you can see, the first order of business under the new regime is clear.
He was hanging at the entrance to the subway when I passed by on the way to the club. If getting attention was the real point for street performers no matter what their particular act was, this guy was one successful busker.
"You stink, man," a hippie screamed at him. You really have to work to get a hippie to scream you stink man.
"Thanks," the kid said, without even looking up from the fretboard of his yellow guitar.
The color of the guitar matched his long stringy hair. He had no shirt on, exposing a set of ribs so jagged you could climb them like little stairs. His cheeks looked like he was sucking them in on purpose, and he had hand-drawn pictures of snakes and skeletons—he didn't have to look far for a model—inked all over his upper body. I could tell he did the artwork himself, because most of it was upside down.
"You don't stink," I said. I meant it. He was grinding away on that guitar, feeding it through a mini amplifier at his feet, but getting huge sound out of it. I didn't recognize any of the songs he played—didn't even know if they were songs—but I loved the amount of stuff he was getting out of it. It sounded like when the trash truck goes into mash mode and there's a filing cabinet inside.
"I know I don't. But thanks anyway, man." He looked up when he said it, flipping his head left and right like a horse to get the hair off his face. That exposed the most awesome part of the look yet. Starting at his left temple and zigging its way diagonally across and down to his right ear was the most vivid zipper scar I had ever seen.
"Wicked scar," I said, nodding and wheeling up closer to admire it. "No kidding, truly excellent."
The kid played on. "That's no scar. That's a scratch."
"Ya? Well, I bet Frankenstein'd be jealous."
"Pshhh," he said, waving me off. He stopped playing to pull up the leg of his hugely baggy, filthy dungarees. "This, is a scar," he said, pointing to a spiraling fat purple gouge that ran up the entire outside of his leg and spread an inch wide.
I nodded again. "You're right, that's a scar. What'd they sew you up with, baseball glove rawhide stitch?"
"What, they? Did it myself."
He went back to playing. Then I noticed he was missing half of the middle finger on his right hand.
"How'd you lose that?" I said, pointing rudely.
"Bit it off during a math test. How'd you lose those?" he shot back, pointing at my rubber legs.
"Didn't," I said. "I'm just lazy."
He smiled broadly. His teeth too were that same banana color as the guitar and hair.
"You got a name?" I asked.
"No," he answered.
"Scratch," he said.
"I said Scratch."
How did he know I was itchy? It was uncanny. I started clawing at myself, just under the ...
"No, I mean, that's my name. That's what you can call me, Scratch."
"Oh." Too bad. I was working up such a good scratching for myself, my foot was about to start thumping. "So how come you're out here?"
"Making a living."
I looked into the top hat on the ground in front of him. "Not much, you're not."
In response. Scratch turned up his volume to the max and started grinding on his instrument, aiming it at me like a machine gun to try and blast me away. It was way beyond what the speaker could handle, and it sounded now like two trains colliding over and over down in the subway.
"Listen to that," I hollered. "You're a genius. You shouldn't be wasting your time here."
"You got a better idea for how I should be wasting my time?"
"Of course I have a better idea," I said, rolling up close and patting my new man on the back. "An outstanding idea. You pack up and come with me, and you'll see, I have all the best ideas."
This was the situation when we got to the club: Ling was inside the Lincoln, in the backseat, reading comics. Jerome was walking speedy circles around the car, muttering about something, worrying himself bald about something. Lars, Steven's uncle, who owns the garage we club in and so we have to be at least a little nice to him, was leaning in the back window of the car, rambling on and on in Ling's ear about something big. Always something big with Lars, always something he knew everything about. Ling was not listening to Lars. And nobody was listening to Jerome. This was the situation when we arrived.
This was always the situation when I arrived.
Except usually Steven was already there. This time, he came in right behind me, hauling a new recruit just like I was.
"Hey," Steven called from behind.
Scratch and I stopped and turned around.
"What's this?" he asked, pointing to Scratch.
"New blood," I said, slapping my man on his bare pink back. "What do you have there?" I asked in return. I don't think it bothered either of us much to be there talking about two fellow humans as if they were new socket wrenches. The new guys didn't seem to mind either. It's a guy thing.
Steven pulled up alongside his. "Meet The Killer. He's our newest club member—once we vote him in, of course. Tell Wolfgang why they call you Killer," Steven said proudly. "Go ahead, tell him why they call you that."
Could have been for his looks alone, I thought. And I don't mean handsome, lady-killer-type killer looks. I mean everybody-killer looks. The kid was just as tall as Ling, and just as skinny as Scratch. He looked like Abe Lincoln, with all the sharp-cut face bones, black curly hair, and limbs that stretched on forever in every direction. But he was a lot more Jurassic Park than Honest Abe, with a bottom jaw that stuck out about an inch farther than the top, and eye sockets so deep there was no way of telling what color was in there. Score one for Steven already: He had found his recruit under a bigger rock than I'd found mine under.
The Killer smiled proudly. "Shoot, I don't like braggin'," he said.
Which was when I realized he was a big bag o' nothin'. Everybody likes to brag.
"Oh, go on," I prodded. "Brag."
"Well then, it has to do with when I was a kid in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. There was just me and this big ol' crazy alligator and all I had was a rock—"
"Nice story there, Killer," I said, and spun toward the back of the garage, pulling Scratch along with me.
"Hey," Steven called, chasing after us. "You didn't even let him finish his story."
"What?" I asked, but I kept on going. "What? I thought that was the end. You mean there's more to the story?"
"Sure," Killer said.
"Oh," I said. "I didn't realize."
Killer got himself all pumped up again. I love to see a guy get pumped up.
"Let me guess," I said. "Ahhhh, you ... killed the alligator."
You could hear some of the air hiss out of him. "Well, um, yes sir, I did indeed."
"Wait, wait. You killed him ..." I closed my eyes and put my fingers to my temples like those old crapola fortune-tellers. "You killed him ... with the rock, am I right?"
The Killer got all red, staring down at me. Then he turned on Steven. "You told him already," he snapped, thumping Steven in the chest with his big country-boy fist.
"Hey, Steven," I said. "I really like your new boy. Good thing there's no written exam to get into this club, huh?"
"That mean I'm in?" Killer asked, rejuvenated.
I shrugged. "Well, hold on there, pardner. I do have an oral exam first."
He squinted at me.
"Oral. It has to do with your mouth. You have to speak."
"I can do that," he said. Then he looked to Steven, to back him up, I guess. Steven had his eyes covered.
"Okay, ready, Tex?"
"Ready? The question is: Are you a dink?"
The squint got so tight he looked in pain. He turned to his man Steven, who was already sorry he'd gotten into this. "Just answer him, for crying out loud," Steven snapped.
"No. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a dink."
"Fine, you're in."
I quickly turned and wheeled myself over to the Lincoln, where Jerome and Ling were watching with great interest. They looked a little nervous at the new presences in the club.
"Guys, I want you to meet the two newest members of the He-Man Women Haters Club. This is Scratch, and this is Huckleberry."
"Nah, that's 'Killer,'" he said nicely, as if I had made an honest mistake. "Not Huckleberry. Y'all can call me Killer. But what is it with that Huckleberry name, anyway? Is there somebody by that name who looks like me or somethin'? I hear it all the time lately."
I got closer to Steven. "I want to thank you, Steve-o. I'm going to love having him around. What is he, like, a birthday present for me or something?"
"Wait a minute," Jerome squawked. "That's not the way this works. We all have to vote before any new—"
"Ling," I said. "You got any problem with our two new members? Do they have your vote?"
"Okay," Ling said, with his patented one-shoulder shrug.
"Well then, Jerome," I said. "The candidates both have the votes of He-Man Wolf, and He-Man Steven, since we each voted for the other's nominee—right, Stevie?" Steven had by now slithered into the backseat of the car, hidden his face in The Fantastic Four, and merely grunted when I needed him to. "And since He-Man Ling-Ling has also thrown his weight—sorry, Ling—behind them, the guys now have at least three votes out of the original He-Man Four. So they're already in. You can still vote no, as a protest or something, but would you really want to do that and then have to see them all the time? We could do a secret ballot, of course, but I think, once they see the tally is three to one, and they do the math—"
"Whoa," Killer said. "Nobody told me about no math bein' involved in all this...."
"Okay, one of them might be able to figure out who blackballed them."
Good old Jerome. He's a lot of things, but he is not unreasonable. He walked up to the new guys and shook their hands. "Nice to meet you, Mr. Scratch. Look forward to working with you, Mr. Killer."
God, I'm great at this power-wielding thing, and I didn't even know it.
And it feels so goooood.
It's like discovering chocolate all over again.CHAPTER 3
Cecil and the Moose Musk
"Okay, so what I want to know is, what does your guy bring to the club? Huh, Wolf?" This was Steven talking. "I mean, we know what The Killer brings. I picked him carefully, recruited him hard. Every club in town was trying to get this guy, and who wouldn't? Look at him ... The Killer!"
So I looked at him.
"What's your real name, Killer?" I asked.
Sigh. "Yes, your real name for real."
"Cecil, that wasn't really an alligator you killed all by yourself with that rock, now, was it?"
Cecil shook his head. "It was a frog."
"There now, don't you feel better telling the truth?"
"It was a mighty big frog, though. That's a fact."
"I don't doubt it. And I'm sure you done slayed him right good."
"Well, truth? Truth is he wasn't completely not dead in the first place, when I hit him."
"Wasn't completely not ...? Cecil, you hit an already dead frog with a rock in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Then you brought that story all the way up here, and named yourself The Killer based on the heroics of that very tale. Have I got that right?"
"Guess I never fully assembled all the parts of the story together like that before. But, yes."
"If it's okay with you, I think I'll call you Cecil."
"Sure. Okay if I still call myself The Killer?"
"Knock yourself out."
I grabbed his hand just in time.
"It's just an expression, Cecil. Just an expression."
By the end of this conversation, Steven had already retreated to the underside of the Lincoln. I wheeled myself over to where his legs were sticking out. I could tell from the stillness of him that he wasn't actually working on anything, just lying there. It's the traditional He-Man refuge. Just ask your dad, he'll tell you.
"So let me show you what my guy contributes to the organization," I said to the feet. "Yo, Scratch, fire it up, will ya?"
Scratch then unzipped his guitar from its soft case, unstrapped the portable amp from his back, and plugged in. As soon as he started his loud tuning up—which sounded awesome, like he was sawing a cat in half—he had everybody's attention. Ling lifted himself out of the back of the car, and Steven slid himself out from under it. Jerome and Cecil, who had begun explaining to each other what life was like on their respective home planets, broke off talks to come and listen. Lars bolted for his office.
Excerpted from Scratch and the Sniffs by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1997 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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