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The members of the He-Man Women Haters Club attempt to restore it to its former glory when a rival club with female members emerges.
The Continuing Legend of J. Chesthair
How many disasters did it take before everyone realized there could be only one true leader of the He-Man Women Haters Club, and that leader was old Johnny Chesthair himself?
Can I say it again?
Johnny Chesthair, back on top.
So maybe I'm gloating a little. But I'm sitting in the big chair, and the big chair feels good.
I never should have left it. Here's how it happened.
I started with a big car and a big dream, to gather up all the right-thinking, two-fisted, red-blooded, big-muscley ...
No, scratch that. I started with Jerome. And it wasn't even my idea. It was Jerome's. He put into my head that it might be kind of awesome to get together a lot of macho guys like me, who would hang with me, and act like me, and talk like me, and listen to me ...
Sounds like paradise, no? Right, it sounded that way to me, too. But then Jerome—whose whole problem is that he doesn't look or act or do anything much like me and doesn't have so much as a single hair on his chest—came with his own little set of quirks. Like, he quits the club every fifteen minutes because some small thing or other is brushing his fur the wrong way. And girls harass him—like, pelt him with snowballs, or kiss him against his will, or stalk him—pretty much around the clock. Jerome is our high-maintenance He-Man. And on top of that, he went on his own and advertised for new members. He put out his little bulletin on—ready?—on the Internet.
I know, I know. But he did it before I could stop him.
The result was Ling-Ling.
Ling weighs in at a cool seven thousand pounds (with a hat on, because he would be naked without some lunatic headgear at all times). He towers over even me, and cries like a faucet if you give him half a reason. Like if you wear red on a Wednesday, that might set him off ... or eat your fries before your burger, and watch him flood. He's a very sensitive He-Man. But then, he's watched the movie Pattern six million times, reads those crazy commando gun magazines as if they're the FAO Schwarz catalog, and is so far deep into superhero comics that he even became one for a while. Bolt Upright. How's that sound? Pretty heroic, don't you think? Pretty sane? Not a whole lot, no.
Ling should wear one of those signs that say, "Caution, do not touch. Third rail is live!"
Then we got a hick from Alabama named Cecil. Cecil is very nice.
What? What? I didn't say anything else. Cecil is very nice.
All right, so he's also roughly as smart as your average soup bone. But don't knock it. There is not a better recruit in the world than a loyal, strong, simpleminded goofball who also happens to look just like Abraham Lincoln without a beard, and is handy with a hammer and nail.
Anyway, cunning and intelligence aren't everything. In fact, sometimes they can become a problem.
A serious problem.
Which brings us to the other guy.
Those I've mentioned already, those are the good ones. Good guys. Good people. Good He-Men.
Then there's the other one.
His name is Wolfgang. His mother knew what she was doing when she named him (if he ever even had a mother, which I think is unlikely). Because while he isn't a wolf, and he isn't a gang, he makes as much trouble as any pack of wild dogs ever could.
He's in a wheelchair. But don't be fooled.
It's an unfortunate story, since Wolf was one of the original four members of the He-Man Women Haters Club. He was even president for a while, and turned us into a very successful rock-and-roll band. You probably read about us. And despite the fact that he was always picking fights with me for no reason (and of course I had to let him win sometimes, because of the legs thing), he made a pretty tough and useful He-Man.
But then they got him.
The dark side of the force.
Now he is no longer a He-Man—he is the enemy. We had a trial and ran him out. He thinks he quit, but he is mistaken. We showed mercy. We did not impose the death penalty.
That was our fatal mistake. Our kindness was our weakness.CHAPTER 2
Her Satanic Majesty
Can I just interrupt for one minute, please? There have been, by my estimation, about twelve thousand lies perpetuated about me by now by Johnny Chipmunk, and I'd like to address this.
Oh, I'm the devil. I'm so scary. I'm so mean. Boo-hoo.
Couldn't you just slap him sometimes?
Hello, I'm Monica, in case you couldn't tell, and like, what have I ever done to him that was so bad? Sure, I kissed him one time. Did he not kiss me back? Oh yes, he did indeed, the little fish lip. Not only did he do it and like it, he was so excited about the event, he treated my lip to an experience I'm sure only a spoonful of Jell-O would understand. And he drooled. Right onto the bib of my practically-new-this-year Girl Scout uniform, laminating a half-dozen badges. He was like he just came from the dentist with half a Novocained face. The boy can't kiss and salivate at the same time—and I don't even want to think about why a person would feel the need to do those two things simultaneously. There's something very wrong there, I think.
If only he didn't have that face.
You know the way butterscotch pudding feels? Exactly. If butterscotch pudding were a face, it would be Steven's face.
I said that at the dinner table one night and my father said, "Oh ya? Well, when I see him, I'm going to get the world's biggest can of that nitrogen-propelled whipped cream, and I'm going to take Butterscotch Boy and ..."
Ya, ya, ya, Dad. Can somebody tell me why guys talk like that? Especially when everybody knows they're just big fat cream puffs who wouldn't even—
You know, whenever I talk about guys, I always compare them to food. More often than not dessert items. I wonder why that is.
I will tell you very simply the difference between boys and girls (and I wish Johnny Chestnut would ask me so I could straighten him out and we could get down to business): When a girl wants something, she moves first one leg and then the other, plants foot A, then foot B, and pretty soon she has reached the object she desires; when a boy wants something, he ... jumps on his motorcycle or his monster bigfoot truck or his aircraft carrier or whatever big toy is hot that week, and he beats it as far and as fast as he can away from the thing he desires. And he hopes it followed him.
Also, guys don't ask questions. Girls do. I ask questions, do I not? It's the only way to find out things. You know what a guy does when he doesn't know something? He makes a proclamation. "Atmospheric conditions in this part of the country make it categorically impossible to tell what conditions will be like," is what a guy would say, when a girl would ask, "Is it supposed to rain tomorrow?"
Other than that, I think we're pretty much alike.
Anyway, so he kissed me, and what's more, he's going to do it again. You see, I have joined a particular club ... and my club and his club are destined to spend a great deal of time together.
And next time, he'd better bring both lips.
Now you can go back to listening to his fantasies. If you're feeling stupid, go right ahead and believe him.CHAPTER 3
"The stupidest thing I ever saw," I said.
"No, Steven," Cecil responded. "I think it's pretty darn decent of ol' Wolfgang. He wants to still be friends in spite of what-all you done to him."
"What I did? To him? Listen, that guy spent his whole time here just trying to mess up my life and my club, and now that he's out, he's still trying. Well, I say, nothing doing."
We were at the club, hanging out, doing nothing much but sitting in, on, or under my beautiful black Lincoln. No heavy lifting, no major brainwave motion disrupting things. Just the way a guy likes it.
Until the mail came. Now, understand that in the six months or so the He-Man Women Haters Club had been in existence, we had previously received three pieces of mail: First, Ling received his induction notice telling him he'd been drafted into the Greek Army (I warned him that the free-knife offer he answered at the back of his magazine was going to be a trick); the twelve boxes of Girl Scout cookies we never ordered arrived along with a big fat bill; and somebody sent Wolfgang a "Happy Birthday" singing-belly-dancer telegram. (He said it was from Bill Clinton; we said it was from himself.)
So when a piece of mail came to Lars's garage addressed to the HMWHC, we noticed. And when the return address read THE WOLF GANG, we ducked.
"You want me to dunk it in water for you?" Lars asked. "They can do them letter-bomb things these days, you know. And that cripple boy, he's a clever one ... and a mean and scary one, I don't mind tellin' you now that he's gone. Never never liked him, never trusted him at all."
"Really?" asked Jerome in his I-think-I'll-insult-Steven's-uncle-and-he-won't-even-know-it voice. "You were licking his wheels pretty good when you wanted to be in our rock-and-roll band. So what was it you didn't like about Wolfgang, Lars, his brain?"
"Exactly," Lars said, as if the two of them were agreeing.
"Stop picking on Lars," I snapped.
"What?" Lars asked. "Who's pickin'?"
"Never mind," I answered. "Just give me the letter. I'm not afraid of any letter bomb he could send me anyhow."
I tore it open with my teeth, to the gape-mouthed amazement of my troops.
"What a stupid name anyway," I said before reading. "The Wolf Gang. Pathetic. You'd think he could at least come up with a tougher-sounding ..."
"Like He-Man," Jerome prodded, "or Johnny Chesthair."
"Don't get fresh," I said.
I read the letter out loud (after a quick silent run-through to make sure there were no tricky three- or four-syllable words lurking in there):
Even though you guys tried to railroad me and court-martial me and hang me by the neck until dead, I hold no hard feelings. As a matter of fact I've been thinking, as I kick back in the comfort of my impressive new clubhouse, what a shame it is that we can't all be together again. We sure had some rockin' times back there in the early days of the club, before you got all screwed up. I'd like to try and make things better, because I am a big person, and extend to your club an invitation to come visit me and mine at my new club, The Wolf Gang. Don't you love the name?
Anyway, I have to go now, very busy Wolf-banging around, you see. But please come by next Saturday, take the tour, have a cold Yoo-Hoo, and renew old times.
Sincere as always,
Prince Wolfgang I
Defender of the Faith
Chief Executive Officer
Sacred Order of the Gang of Wolf
P.S. If Steven is too afraid to come, I understand.
Oh, boy oh boy, can Wolfgang chew a raw nerve like a dog on a ham bone, or what? Afraid? Me? Of him? That'll be the day. That ... will ... be ... the ... day. I don't fear him, I just hate him. There's a great big difference. But he wouldn't understand that.
"Can you believe this cheese ball?" I said to my troops. "Trying to say that I, Johnny Chesthair, am afraid of a rat like him .... Get a load of this guy, will ya? He'll say anything to get attention."
I laughed my patented brave laugh. Laughed it long, laughed it hard.
Laughed it alone.
"What?" I said when I realized my boys were a little skeptical. "What? You don't buy it, do you?"
"Well," Jerome answered gently, "Wolf always did have a way of getting to you."
"Getting to me, sure, because he was such a slime bag. But that's not the same as—"
"And there were all those fights," Ling said. "With Wolfgang ... that you ... well ... didn't win."
Lars rushed to my defense. Good man, Lars. Good uncle.
"Well, of course, what kind of a guy do you think Steven is? He was raised right. Why, I can't tell you how many times I was over to his house for supper and his old man, my brother, pointed his knife across the table and said, 'Boy, whatever you do in this life, don't you never beat up on no cripples. That, and never look at another guy in the gym shower. Those are the two things.' So of course Steven never beat up on Wolfgang, he lost on purpose. Because he was raised Christian."
Excellent story, even if I didn't recall Lars ever being to my house for dinner. Even when they went bowling together, my dad made him wait on the steps.
"But it is all right, ain't it?" Cecil asked naively. "For a guy to be afraid once in a while? I mean, sometimes, bein' afraid just makes sense."
I was back in charge of the club now, so it was my job to provide this kind of guidance.
"No, it is not all right. We do not be afraid. It does not make sense. It is not allowed."
"Well," Cecil went on, "forgive me for bein' simple here, but seems to me that you break your own rule sometimes. 'Cause the way you act all panicky and deranged whenever that girl Monica—"
"That's different!" I blurted. "That's not fear, that's confusion. Because she is a deceptive and unpredictable opponent who plays by no known set of rules, and who will stoop as low as humanly possible to bring down her enemy. That is confusion, not fear. Confusion. Not fear. Confusion ..."
Cecil was satisfied, even impressed, with my response. Not so the others. Ling shook his head dubiously. Jerome openly laughed at me.
"What's your problem?" I asked.
"Her enemy? You are her enemy?" Jerome asked. "Steven, if what Monica does to you is how she treats her enemies, what does she do when she likes somebody? Fetch their slippers with her teeth? Throw money at them? Lay her coat over mud puddles for them to walk over?"
You cannot reason with Jerome when he gets like this. You have to just move on. "Obviously," I said calmly, "you have fallen for her ploy."
"Colonel?" Ling called with his hand raised.
Now, here was a He-Man I could talk to. I acknowledged him with a regal nod.
"I hate to disagree with you, but it just seems, from the way your hand is shaking with that letter in it, and the way your eyes keep rolling all the way back in your head every time anyone mentions Wolfgang ..."
God, I hated the sound of that name.
"... Ya, just like you're doing right now. Well, sir, this would seem to indicate that it may be true, that you harbor a little fear of Wolf."
"That is not fear!" I insisted once more. "That is anger. Anger is good. And it is rage. Rage is good. Anger and rage are good. They make a guy strong. They are good. They are good, not fear. Fear bad. Anger, rage good."
Apparently, that didn't come out the way I'd intended it. The three of them stared back at me with even more concern than before I started explaining.
"Fine," I snapped. "We'll go to the stupid Wolf stupid Gang stupid Club and take the stupid tour and drink a stupid Yoo-stupid-Hoo and then you'll see that stupid Wolf and his stupid Gang don't bother me at all. Is that what you want? You want to put Johnny to the test?"
They shrugged and nodded at the same time, all three of them. A forceful, decisive outfit, my men.
"Okay," I said. "Just you remember, the last time we let what's-his-gang lead us blindly into a powwow, we were ambushed into ..."
I paused, forced my voice down into the very bottom of its manly range.
"... a dance party," I rumbled.
A chill went through the room.CHAPTER 4
The Aquamarine Door
Unless we had the wrong address, things were taking a turn for the ugly here.
The four of us stood there on the sidewalk, staring up at the sign: YVETTE'S HAIR—MANICURE—PEDICURE—AROMATHERAPY.
"This can't be right," Jerome said.
"I hope it's not right," Ling said.
"Pedicure," Cecil mused. "Does it got some-thin' to do with animals? 'Cause it sure don't smell like no animals in there."
He was right about that. Coming out of Yvette's Hair were the mingled smells of nail polish, shampoo, lavender, lemon, mint, apple, chamomile, incense, licorice, and a hundred other oily warm scents.
"Boys," I said darkly, "breathe it in deep and get to know that smell. That is the smell of evil right there."
Jerome laughed at me, but cut himself off quickly when the shop's glass door opened and the little bell above it tinkled. Then smart-boy Jerome scurried behind me.
"Hello," the tall lady said happily. "I couldn't help noticing four handsome young men standing in front of my window."
I spread my arms wide in a protective gesture, with my men huddling behind me. "Get back, boys," I announced. "It's a trap."
The tall lady laughed without bothering to hide it from me. "Aha," she said. "You must be Steven."
As I feared, the big ones are just as spooky as the little ones.
"I'm sorry, sir, but we don't do chesthair."
And just as vicious.
I turned on my men. "The first one who laughs ..."
Jerome fitted his whole fist into his mouth to cork himself.
"The kids are around back," she said. "Through the alley entrance, the aquamarine door."
We backed away as a group. When we were a safe distance from Yvette, we turned and ran around the corner.
Standing in front of the entrance to Wolf's clubhouse, in all her brutal glory, was Ling's big (big, big) sister, Rock. She had one great paw resting on one meaty hip, and the other curled around her javelin. She held the spear at her side, like a centurion guard standing in front of the palace in an old gladiator movie.
"So, we meet again," I said. You can't let them get in the first shot.
Excerpted from The Wolf Gang by Chris Lynch. Copyright © 1998 Chris Lynch. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted January 17, 2012
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