Maybe He'll Grow Out Of It - presale-ish thing coming tonight.
I sat in the back pew with a couple dozen other children. We
tugged at our polyester collars. I think parents pass down the cruel
tradition of dressing their children in clothes that slowly become
sandpaper ants the moment you walk through the blessed doors. I
wasn’t really sure why I was there.
Every Tuesday for the past few years, my mother pulled me away
from watching G.I. Joe after school to sit in a partitioned room in the
back of our church to memorize the names of a bunch of dudes in
funny hats while I counted down the minutes on my Pac-Man watch.
Only the promise of being closer to God, not burning in hell and a
sweet party where I was promised cash and prizes kept me from
turning into a flailing mess of tears and teeth when my mother
ordered me into the car as the end credits for He-Man flashed across
the television screen.
Growing up Catholic, some of my first memories were of asking
God’s forgiveness for sins I had no idea I was committing. Every
night, my mother and I would close our eyes, intertwine our fingers
and say “Hail Marys,” “Our Fathers” and plead to Jesus to watch
over our family while I struggled to recall the names of second
uncles. Saving our favorites for last and preceding their names with
“and especially,” it was the equivalent to a spiritual guest list with
my mom and grandfather getting the all-access passes.
Somehow, all of the begging and nightly admissions of guilt were
intended to win favor with some really pissed off dude who lived in
the sky to give us, well, I wasn’t really sure. I just knew that if I
didn’t pray to a ghost, God would see and send me under the ground
to burn forever. Lots of stress on that word “for-ev-er.” Hey, if
assuming fault to some dude who died a long ass time ago and
remembering the names of his crew would put a new Atari 2600 with
Asteroids in my room, I was willing to stand in front of the church
and tell them I put monkeys in my butt and loved it. Trust that
8-year-old boy wasn’t above committing his soul to the Christian
I stood when they told me to stand, I kneeled when they told me
to kneel and sang along to “On Eagles’ Wings” as loud and
mockingly as possible. They asked us to grab the “body” and
“blood” of Christ from the table and approach the altar. This
terminology scared the fuck out of me. So much so, that after one
class of Catholic indoctrination, I approached my mother and told
her that these maniacs were eating people and drinking blood. They
were trying to make me do that shit too, and I wasn’t having it.
She laughed and said it wasn’t “really” Jesus.
I said, “Then why would they tell me this?”
“It’s representative of Jesus.”
“Um, why would I want to eat Jesus and drink his blood?”
“To bring you closer to God.”
Wide-eyed and unable to respond to my normally levelheaded
and intelligent mother, I simply backed away slowly.
I arrived to the table late. The dark-haired know-it-all of the
class, who consistently blurted out passages from The Bible when I
was being disrespectful, already grabbed the Eucharist. At the right
of the table, the prettiest blonde girl in class grabbed God’s golden
pimp cup, which left me empty-handed. I turned around and saw that
the rest of the class stood back in the packed church and waited
because clearly everyone knew there were only two things to grab
but me. Oh hell no, I wasn’t about to be that asshole and do the walk
of shame back. So I squatted down, grabbed the base of the table,
lifted and in all of the grace of an 8-year-old lifting a table that
weighed more than most kids his age, started lugging that shit up to
the altar. The church erupted in snickers and my mother covered her
face. I smiled back because, sure, I might look like a moron carrying
a table up to an altar adorned with candles and tapestries but hey, at
least I didn’t drink blood.
I raked in almost $200 from my first communion, which on the
third grade conversion scale, translated to roughly to $2 million. I
thought about moving out, emancipating myself and sailing around
the world in my new yacht, or maybe buying my mom a car, but I
settled on hitting up the local superstore where I was known as the
little creep who lurked around the store clerks as they opened cases
of new Star Wars figures. I would peek over their shoulder and ask if
the case included the new Jedi Luke figure or even any Ewoks. They
knew me well. When I absolutely had to have some toy that my
mother couldn’t afford, she would pacify me by putting it on layaway
and said we would make payments on it until it was paid off, so I
could drool over it in private. My mother was a genius because it
shut me up, and I was stoked because at least it was off the shelf and
no other kid would get his greasy little paws on my prize. This time,
I fast-walked past the stack of new Ewok villages and went directly
to the Atari aisle, where I pointed, grabbed and ran.
At the counter, I made it rain 154 singles. Hugging the huge box,
I sprinted across the parking lot like a kitten on meth to our tan
station wagon. Of course, my mother didn’t understand the high
chance that my little chest might explode if she didn’t drive fast
enough, so I was forced to assist her sense of urgency by leaning into
the front seat and yelling directly into her ear. A surprisingly
When the wires were attached to the back of the television, the
room lit up and the game came to life. I may or may not have
squirted a tiny stream of puppy-like piss in my pants. It’s been far too
long for me to accurately confirm this, so let’s just pretend that it was
all in my mind. I proudly came to school the next day with what was
referred to as “Atari thumb,” which was the inevitable blister that
came along with mashing the one orange button, game after game,
on the single-stick plastic controller.
Sure, the graphics were nothing like the arcade games they
emulated, and the design on the game cartridge bordered on lawsuit
deception. But it was like mad scientists drilled to my core, learned
the secret to my fuel, tapped into it, reformulated it, cooked it up in a
pot, mixed it up with baking soda and the essential ingredients found
in over-the-counter cough syrup and fed it back to me in cartridge
Retailers could’ve charged as much as they liked. They had no
idea of the depths of my begging. In debt to my parents for months
of advance allowance payments, I sold my old toys for game money
at recess. I think my ingenuity impressed my parents more than
offending them with how I took advantage of the kids with
disposable dollars. But like any addiction, the high soon grew weak
and I needed the strong shit. I needed the arcade.
The dark, smoky, drug-dealing dens of the ‘80s were filled with
flashing lights, nunchucks and Iron Maiden back patch jean jackets.
The sights and sounds of adolescent titty grabbing and underage
smoking. Names posted at the top of the Galaga high score held as
much weight and status as kissing on the playground, doing a
table-top on a hutch trick-star at the BMX track or fighting off three
guys at the local dirt lot with moves learned from Ninja III: The
Parking lot muggings for arcade tokens weren’t unheard of,
which only added to the danger and allure of what was the
elementary school social equivalent of Studio 54 crossed with a strip
club. But the magnetism of the danger, added with the crack-like
fervor that came with an absolute need to have your name affixed to
the top of the Zaxxon game came at a high price. Literally. Hundreds
of quarters to learn the skills, tactics and patterns. Most kids in my
lower middle-class suburb received no more than $5 a week in
allowance. Add that to the $5 for lunch, we had 40 quarters, which
were easily spent in one frustrating afternoon trying to get past the
elevator stage on Donkey Kong, especially if you made the mistake
of walking to unlock your bike with a pocket full of bulging quarters.
The parking lot hoodlums often made the younger kids jump up and
down to ensure no one jingled and didn’t pass without paying a toll.
Gauntlet arrived quietly while I was at school. I walked through
the familiar doors and was overwhelmed in its glory. There were four
joysticks. Was this a mistake? You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you
telling me that four people could play at once? My brain shook and I
approached slowly in awe.
The future was now. I needed this. I reached into my pocket and
found nothing but lint. I slung my Return Of The Jedi backpack over
my shoulder and sprinted home. I scoured the house, between the
couch cushions, through my mother’s secret money hiding spots,
ripping the house apart like an addict who was absolutely certain he
dropped a rock somewhere.
Many addicts can recall hitting bottom, and I vividly remember
where I was. Standing with clenched fists in the middle of our
basement living room, looking up at the three frames that adorned
our wooden fireplace mantle. A gift from some distant relative, they
held what my parents referred to as “an investment.” Coins from the
1900s, silver pennies and buffalo nickels. Rare, out of print,
exclusive coins. Hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars worth of
collectables. I hesitated and contemplated the repercussions.
I was high on blinking lights and slow moving ghosts. This kid
needed a hit.
With all the precision of a drunken surgeon, I reached up, slowly
unhooked the frames and began popping the round plastic protective
coverings out of their framed trappings. Hunched over and on my
knees, I grabbed each quarter and bit down on its plastic casing. The
first quarter dropped to the floor and I grabbed another, frozen and
awaiting freedom. The quarters fell from my mouth and clanked into
the pile of silver and splintered plastic fragments below.
I looked at the silver treasure and immediately thought about the
consequences. It’s not like I could hide something like this. I was
young and impulsive. All the best people usually are. So I scooped
up the quarters, filled my pockets, hopped on my bike and rolled up
to the bowling alley. I flipped my bike upside down, locked it to the
stop sign, ran inside and shoved quarter after quarter into the
machine. I shot arrows and killed ghosts with my lone friend that
afternoon. After the elf’s health was completely spent, signifying the
end of the game, I walked into the dark evening and unlocked my
bike. On the short ride home, all I could think about was the ass
whoopin’ I was about to receive. The porch light was left on for me.
Telling me that not only was my mother home, but that she was
expecting me. I timidly approached the door and walked inside. My
mom was cooking hamburgers and I could smell the grease in the air.
“Where were you?”
“So, what happened to the quarters in the frame downstairs?”
Excuses ran through my mind. I was the only one home outside
of the cats, and my mother was a reasonable woman. I knew that I
couldn’t convince her that the three cats hatched a plan to not only
pull out each individual quarter, bite them out of hard plastic, then
take them all somewhere and spend them. I wouldn’t be able to say
the last part with a straight face. I figured I would take the well-
deserved slap to the face and own up to what I did.
I wanted to shout out, “OK, I know that you’re upset, but you
wouldn’t be if you saw this new arcade game, Gauntlet! It’s amazing,
Mom. Four people can play at the same time! You understand,
But all that came out was, “I took them out to play games.”
The grease sizzled next to her and she shook her head. “You
know that was a gift, right?”
“Yes,” I said, hanging my head.
“And you know it probably wasn’t supposed to be used to play
video games, right?”
She sighed, turned back around and said, “OK, well, dinner is
going to be ready in 10 minutes. Go wash your hands.”
It was one of those moments where you search for a hidden
camera. I walked in expecting a straight up ass whoopin’ or at least a
slap across the face, but instead, Caesar just waved her hand and
said, “I pardon you.”
I paused, stared at her pushing the hamburgers around in the pan,
ran up and hugged her leg. “I love you, Mom.”
The smell of hamburger grease has always felt like home to me.
Maybe He'll Grow Out Of It - 45 of the best short stories 2005-2011
5 stories each from on the upswing, a life deliberate, notes from the deep end, demonstrative monsters, 4 am friends, the direction of home, in addition to 15 rare/unreleased stories plus the entire bulletproof hearts minibook.
presale-ish thing available tonight with multiple purchasing options.
*formatting weirdness is because i cut and pasted from the PDF