REAL TRUE CONFESSIONS WITH PADRE PIENBIQUE 24: THE LEAGUE OF SPAM FREEDOM FIGHTERS AND THE FATE OF THE POOPIE CARNY
I never knew the true meaning of peace until I started to live with my wife. What I thought before was peace in my bachelor pad turned out to only be isolation. As it turns out, you truly begin to recognize those flashes of peaceful co-existence during the few (and far between) moments they happen, which are usually located between never and never-ever. I mean: between my puppy trying use my nut sack as a chew toy, my wife constantly threatening to hijack my beer or the endless procession of friends, family, in-laws, outlaws, drunks, thieves, gamblers, floosies, speed freaks, fallen Jehovahs Witnesses, flakes and twenty-four hour power-sinners that come rolling through my door fat luck getting thirty minutes to watch South Park.
Every once in a while, all this activity gives one a notion to sneak out and stir up some trouble. Not that Im against stirring up trouble at home, but my wife always makes me clean it up, so thats no fun. No, Im thinking about the kind of havoc that teenagers cause in the middle of the night when not under the watchful eyes of their parents. My career in midnight mischief ran the spectrum of innocent to ‘way past criminal, but it was always in the name of fun. One would think I should have had something better to do in my youth than pull capers in the dark, but one would be wrong. At that age, there is nothing better.
By the time I turned thirteen, the notion of participating in school sports, or any school-sanctioned activity, was ludicrous. Since I had just dedicated myself to smoking cigs and goofing with an electric bass, there was no need to pursue extracurricular hobbies to fill my time. Not only was did this keep me too busy to join a gang, but my self-esteem was at an all-time high, which is important for teenagers: You can quit smoking, but its doubtful that Phillip Morris is going to throw you off Team Marlboro.
Kids will be kids, so you can always count on them to be doing something. Whether or not its legal or useful, theyre always in engaged, like a perpetual motion machine without a purpose. Looking back, I can see how this unending supply of energy becomes a catalyst for trouble, as any source of power can easily be corrupted if not focused upon the good of all. However, if youth is usually wasted on the young, and the young are usually wasted and up later than their parents, then aside from chains and cages, the late hours belong to those with a sense of adventure.
And how the night gives to those that seek her out! I grew up in Northfield, Minnesota, the kind of place you want to raise your kids. The population hovered around twelve thousand, not including a few thousand-college kids, so the town had enough people to be interesting, yet small enough to keep its youth from living behind bars. Just like any small town that grows slow in the summer, the lack of activity spares enough space for the seeds of tomfoolery to blossom.
Not unlike the pleasantly fictitious Milwaukee of Happy Days," Northfield retains an innocence that remains untainted by gangsta bullshit and strip malls-as-social centers. Plenty of folks have lived there for generations, so theres still a sense that everyone knows everyone, or at least everyone knows somebody who knows everybody else. Lets just say that you might hear some mother talking about that Miller kid, just like his folks around a dinner table if you listened out side the window. In short, Northfield is like the Simpsons Springfield: medium-sized, but lucid of its own citizenry. [work on this para. two references to tv-show locales is one too many]
That being said, Northfield, as compared to its Shelbyville-like neighbor Faribault, embraced its college students and everything they brought: Theres only one liquor store, but the town had decent curry and even better coffee before such amenities prevailed in most of the Mid-West.
Thusly, the cosmopolitan zeitgeist of Northfield raised the ethic of juvenile shenanigans to a higher aesthetic level. While the less ambitious contented themselves with ding-dong-ditch or even if they raised their game to the old paper-bag-on-fire-filled-with-doggie-doo-doo gag, we were always on the hunt for new variations on a theme. When cable TV came to town, we embraced the technology of the cable remote control not as a distraction from trouble-making but as a fresh instrument of mayhem.
When cable came to Northfield somewhere around 1986, everybody and their ex-wives couldnt sign up for service fast enough. Back then the average television wasnt cable-ready, so you had to plop a box on top of your set to run the signal thru to the TV. However, this technology was for a simpler time; nobody in their right mind bothered designing the cable boxes to be mischief-proof, because nobody looked at the special remote control that came with the box as a tool for the adolescent legion of doom. Im not sure how my brother and I figured it out, but if the cable remote was packed with good batteries, it could be used to control any cable box since nobody thought to assign different codes to different boxes. In short, every cable box across the city accepted signals from every remote, no matter if the channel-changer was grandma sitting in her chair or me (trying not to piss my pants laughing) pressing buttons directly outside her window.
Imagine the endless hours of cable TV-inspired entertainment of "correcting folks viewing by randomly flipping their channels. Not only could we make use of the remotes power by diddling the channels, but if a little discipline was reserved, we found that people were happy to disconnect every connection, unplug and re-plug their TV and wonder "what the Christ is wrong if we let them patiently go through the motions with this new-fangled technology. (As an aside, not everybody had remotes, which led the victim to assume the cable box had some kind of internal malfunction. Part of the reason was that most folks didnt have remotes for their TV anyway, as remote controls werent standard equipment with TVs until the late 80s. Besides, the cable company charged three dollars a month to rent the remote, so that luxury wasnt necessarily automatic.)
Before long, my brother and I learned to conduct these god-fearing denizens of TV Land like a cheap orchestra: Turn the TV off, watch them get up and turn it back on, turn around, sit down, only to flip it back off at the exact moment they get comfortable, leave it off, then flip it back on the second before they turn it on themselves, and then and only then turn it off again right before their ass hits the Lay-Z-Boy for the second, third, fourth time. Rinse and repeat.
As good as this was, the introduction of props was just the beginning. As far as any kid takes anything, one has a hard time proving that their actions are malicious. More often than not, victims arent victims because they deserve it. No: Its because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time unless they crossed my brother and I. Then everything that happened to a chump happened not just because they deserved it, but also because my brother and I had nothing better to do, lots of beer to drink and a seemingly endless amount of time we have to do it with.
SPAM FREEDOM FIGHTERS
It wasnt long before me and my brother fell in cahoots with a new addition to the Northfield community. Tim," as Ill call him, moved to the rich and fertile lands of Northfield when I was in seventh or eighth grade. Closer to my brothers grade, the two befriended each other, and before long, I weaseled my way into their companionship. What we had in common was a love for fucking with people. What Tim contributed to our shared fascination was the responsibility to become an assistant manager at the local grocery store. With his exalted title came the ability to redirect the purpose and spirit of groceries within the sphere of his influence, namely abduct and then utilize household products for midnight capers.
What products? Spam, of course. Remember, I am from Minnesota.
To keep this tale concise, Tim willingly lent his ability to procure Spam when it became necessary to fight no to punish evil. Okay, our causes were never very righteous, but this bully once pushed my brother into a locker, thus necessitating a behavioral adjustment, which we were so happy to provide. The subject of our attentions hadnt calculated the relative importance of his most prized possession (a not-quite-cherry early 70s Ford Mach I that he constantly worked on in autos class) when he so rudely assaulted my brother.
To revisit and redress his foul demanded the emergence of something more than a band of midnight pranksters. Yea, this crime demanded that a new force rise: one that never bargained right and wrong, one that didnt cry for mommy or file police reports. One that took great pride in reading their deeds in police log This demanded the introduction of the Spam Freedom Fighters."
To carry out an Operation Spam mission, we needed three ingredients: First of course, is the Spam. The other was a standard issue powder fire extinguisher. These were easily available from the local colleges, so acquiring them was no trouble. The third thing we needed was patience. Patience to wait in the shadows for the sorry dirt bag to come home from fucking his cousin or cow-tipping or whatever the hell else he did on weeknights. After he beat off and all the lights in the house went dark, that was the time to go to work.
The most important characteristic of Spam is that you can spread it like "frosting with a paper knife," yet its uncommonly absorbent. Simply take the tin, remove the top and evenly paint the car until every square inch of the body (and windows!) is sealed with Hormellian goodness. Then call in the second wave to unleash every last particle of extinguisher powder onto the Spam coating. Now, Im no chemist, but the Spam reacts with the powder and sets up on the paint like some kind of Krazy Glue/concrete carapace. As far as we knew, and by the hangdog look of that piece of shit when he limped it back into the auto shop garage, nothing short of sand blasting would peel that crap off his car.
The ironic thing about this whole affair is that after he stripped the Spam, primed and re-painted his pride, he made the sad mistake of picking another spat with my brother. It was nothing big, but it was enough. Enough to call for another Operation Spam on his brand new paint job and much like Operation Enduring Freedom compares to Operation Desert Storm this time double Spam, double powder, triple the pleasure.
For the record, he never knew who did this to his car. If he did, no doubt the three of us would have been the recipients of a world-class beating. As it turns out, he probably was just taking out some leftover aggression because someone fucked up his paint job.
THE FATE OF THE POOPIE CARNY
Among the few claims to fame Northfield has notched in her belt is that in 1876, the famous outlaw Jesse James and his gang got their ass handed to them after attempting to rob the Northfield Bank. Little do most people know, but Northfield was a secondary target. He originally planned to raid the bank in Mankato Minnesota, which held ten times the monetary reserve appropriated for the years fall harvest. However, just prior to executing the robbery, he lost his nerve when his gang spotted seven-to-ten men standing in front of the Mankato bank. Mistaking them for a local vigil that had caught wind of his raid, James turned his men around and headed for Northfield. What he didnt figure out is that the group in front of the bank happened to be an association of business leaders from the community that had met for a monthly meeting. By chance of fate, the most feared gang of bank-robbing outlaws had had been thwarted by a few paunchy middle-aged Rotarians picking donut crumbs out of the mustaches. So off to Northfield they went, where they met bitter defeat at the hands of half-drunk Swedish Lutheran bachelor farmers.
Because nothing of note happens in Minnesota in general, and Northfield in particular, my hometown transformed her singular glory into an annual event complete with four days of bank robbery re-enactments, rodeo, Masonic corndogs, comically bad country bands in a beer garden*, and of course, a carnival. (*See Real True Confessions 2: Are We Big Yet? for details of those musical misadventures) [put footnotes at the very end of the piece]
The carnival was one of those dodgy transient outfits with an impossibly dumb name like "Dons Amusements." As if anyone in right mind would want to be recognized as "Don." Even allowing for the dingy aura of creepiness inherent in carnie culture, everything about Dons Amusements gave off the stink of something terribly wrong. Complete with a greasy fifteen-year-old runaway wearing a shirt that read: Its Doobie Time," Dons Amusements was like a Venus Fly Trap for herpes and felony cases.
Every year the carnivals arrival was a harbinger for new opportunities, both financial and mischievous. To compliment a carnys most enduring qualities beside the fact that he will be long gone within forty-eight hours is that theyre perfect marks for all kinds of nefarious teen-aged behavior. Since the Defeat of Jesse James Days is held annually the first weekend after Labor Day, easy money was to be made selling chumps like the "Doobie Time kid ditch-quality weed that grew rampant by the local AM radio station, located on what was affectionately known in those bygone days as Reefer Road." Although it was a bit risky pawning worthless grass to carnies, we could give them a little bit of the Jedi mind trick, telling them that it was no ordinary weed; it was no less than the "famous Rice County Thunder Bud." We used to think of the carnival as an ATM where you wont get a fee charged to your account for being overdrawn; youd just get your teeth kicked in.
When we werent attempting to lighten the carnys wallets, we were busy losing the money back to them after getting juiced up on bottles of Sun Country Wine Coolers. After drinking ourselves silly, we would bet the carnies cash on their own games. I remember one of us had been on a hot streak, hitting double-or-nothings slamming a rubber mallet on a small teeter-totter that launched a plastic frog into a bucket about six feet away. The carny was at least twenty dollars down, and when my friend call in his marker, he refused to pay up.
After the usual amount of tough talk and retaliatory threats were boasted by both sides, we were all left at an impasse. The carnies were far tougher than we were and would prefer to avoid bringing the law into anything. Meanwhile, we had to sit and spin because gambling is illegal, so tough tittie getting any justice through the regular channels. We had about given up on getting the money, believing that perhaps wed have to pull out the old "water-balloon-filled-with-urine strike to settle the score, when someone had seen the light of a much more thorough method of retaliation. Instead of seeing carnies as something different than us townies, it was rightly observed that we are all people, sharing relative strengths and vulnerabilities. Like anyone else, carnies had to go potty. It was at that moment of clarity that this welshing loser became doomed.
Utilizing the same patience exercised on a Spam Operation, we bided our time, hanging back until the carny in question took a break. Following him out to the port-o-potties on Fifth Street, we wanted to make sure of what we were about to do.
Before I finish the story, I need to put a word in concerning the engineering and design of the port-o-potty. Since they are constructed for outdoor use, the port-o-potty runs the same risk of sinking into ground that has become too soft as any other large and heavy object. A port-o-potty holds at least 150 gallons of water, and water weighs about eight pounds a gallon. Thus, a full unit can weigh up to 1200 pounds literally some heavy shit.
The problem with outhouses that sink into turf is not the damage they cause to the ground itself, but everything else that could be used to haul it out tends to sink as well. Of course, the most common way to transfer the weight out of the john it to pump it out like usual. However, the designers of the port-o-potty have come to realize after years of tinkering that if the ground is soft enough, the truck will inevitably sink as well. Thus, if the situation is dire enough and the port-o-potty absolutely must be moved, the holding tank below the seat may be manually drained by tipping the unit forward on to its doors. Although this creates a hell of a mess, the unit can be moved without damaging its structural integrity and the waste can be suctioned up later.
While Im sure the particular potty the carny chose for his sit-down wasnt filled to the brim "festival style", it most certainly had been put to work over the weekend. Even if it had been half-full, thats eighty gallons of feces, urine, vomit from dizzy kiddies with upset tummies, 3.2 Bud Light, Masonic corndogs, semi-digested bits of cotton candy, mini donuts and smoked turkey legs and it all came pouring over that motherfucker like Satans own tidal wave when the group of us pushed the port-o-john onto its front door in the hot September afternoon sun.
The last thing I remember seeing was a thick puddle of vile blue viscosity spreading out from the bottom of the overturned biffy. An inhuman voice began bellowing the most god-awful screams of anger, surprise, disgust and horror from inside the overturned crapper. That was when it hit me what we did. Almost as if someone had clamped leg irons on me, I was running in slow motion, utterly unable to move faster than a turtles pace because I was laughing so hard.
As much as it hurt, none of us showed our faces downtown for the rest of the weekend. If any of us were found by the carnies, the price would have been high. But the price of justice is steep because its effects are as long-lasting as they are pure: To this day, I bet that midway hawker of foul wagers thinks twice before bilking the locals, and I can recount the fate of the poopie carny.
This months Old Zealot isnt drinking any Old Style these days. Thats because Mike Lahti moved to Vermont where he brews an excellent line of beers for Harpoon. Whether hes trying to inject some Ronnie James Dio into the set list or kindly offering mustache rides for the low price of five cents, Mike is a heck of a guy. Incidentally, several cases of Harpoon India Pale Ale fell into the hands of the Big Wu van last week while on tour in the North East. None of us has been sober since.
Drive safe, drink your milk, and be nice to your Mother,
P.S.: Next month- Election 2005 Special!