Sunday, November 28, 2021

A Country Boy Can Survive (Hank Williams Jr.)

It was Monday night, the first official tailgate of the season. Friday would be the first official game of the season. The late summer air buzzed with insects as country music blared from the stereo. Down the hill, the marching rehearsed their half time show.

Enjoying the sights and sounds, my younger sister Skipper and I loaded our plates with ribs and other fixins from The John Wayne Diner-a western themed restaurant that always catered the booster events. Decked out in our black and orange-the school colors of the Whiskey Rebellion Blackhawks- we were in our glory as we were among the cheerleaders and football players. Wendell had begged our mom not to dress us up as he was a mere undersized sophomore and didn’t want to be picked on by the upperclassmen. All was forgiven when a busty blonde cheerleader named Tracee Yanowski said to Wendell, “Your sisters are adorable!” It was official, Skipper and I had arrived. We were on the A list with the rest of the heroes of the fall.

The event had one villain, the new coach, John Ezekiel Matthias. An import from West Virginia, he was already butting heads with the boosters and the season had not yet begun. A lot was riding on this tailgate. Everyone seemed to be ignoring the drama and having a good time. That is, until Coach Matthias decided to turn off the country music to make an announcement. We all breathed a sigh of relief because we couldn’t hear a song about a broken heart or a broken pickup one more time. Standing by coach were Douglass and Stephens, two former players of his that served as Matthias’s assistants. Both were gigantic boulders and Matthias stood in front of them, half their size, like a red neck mob boss.

Douglass was my reading teacher down the hill at the middle school. This in itself was ironic as Douglass had misspelled several words on the blackboard-public school education at it’s finest. Stephens was a tall, dark drink of water that all the ladies lusted after. I whispered to Skipper, “I get first dibs, I’m older.”

Skipper, three years younger and often light years smarter said, “With the advancements in cloning we could both have one.” We both high fived at this compromise as the cheerleaders silently swooned and the lonely, long married booster mothers snuck a peak.

Then Coach Matthias began to speak in his thick West Virginia accent, “I just want to say I am proud of these boys for all the work they have done this summer when they could have been going after fillies, sitting on their butts or playing those doggone video games. We are going to win this Friday. Now let’s get fired up!” Everyone clapped. This was nice.

Confused, Skipper said, “What’s a filly?”

I said, “I think it’s a female horse.” The look on Skipper’s face was priceless, but I had a copy of Black Beauty to back me up.

Coach Matthias continued, “I realize things have not been so good with the boosters. And I know I ain’t the most diplomatic of fellas, but I got a fundraising idea everyone can be excited about cause we need new equipment. It’s called Cow Pile Bingo.”

My dad, who was elected booster treasurer because of his taxation background raised his hand, “Coach, what is Cow Pile Bingo?” Everyone nodded, relieved my dad had asked because out of all the parents, he got along the best with Coach.

Coach Matthias said, “Wendelin, glad you asked. Cow Pile Bingo is when you get a cow in the middle of the field and bet on where it is going to poop. It’s a lot of fun and the winner gets a lotta money. Now let’s get fired up!” Coach Matthias raised his hand expecting applause but instead what he got was dead silence.

Rochelle Kelly, the beautiful red headed cheerleading captain and current senior class secretary said, “Eww Coach, that is animal cruelty!” The cheerleaders nodded in agreement.

Douglass said, “Now ladies, I know it sounds gross, but it’s how I learned my numbers growing up. It’s an effective teaching tool.” Last week, Douglass had told our class in addition to reading he was also certified to teach math. The visual as well as that other information made me worry for the future of the youth of America.

Mr. Latham, who’s son Kyle was on the starting line, was head of the math department in the district. A former football player himself, he tried to be diplomatic, “Coach, I admire the enthusiasm of you and your staff, but this is not how the kids learn math in this district.”

My mom raised her hand, “Coach Matthias, I think it’s great you want to raise money for the team and we know you care, but in our district we have a grounds staff that our tax dollars pay for that manicure the fields. We don’t even let dogs go on there because it destroys the green where the boys play. Cow poop produces trichinella.”

Douglass said, “Trica……waaa?!”

My brother Wendell, known as the brain of the team, raised his hand, “Coach Douglass, it’s a bacteria from animal poop…..”

Kyle, who acted as Wendell’s surrogate big brother/guardian angel on the team made the sign for Wendell to stop talking. Wendell shot a look of anger at our mom. It was official, she had ruined his tailgate after all and his nightmares about being on JV forever were about to be a reality.

While my mom and Mr. Latham tried to be supportive with the no sandwich, Mrs. Andrekis who’s son Tom was starting kicker, went in deep, “This is Whiskey Rebellion High School, not the film Deliverance.”

Mr. Andrekis, who was clearly whipped by his overbeating wife said, “Coach, c’mon, where would we get a cow anyway?”

Tom, wanting to keep his starting position said, “Mom! Dad! PLEEAASSSEE!!!”

Mrs. O’Shea, who’s son Ryan was the starting quarterback, rolled her eyes, “Coach, can we discuss this when we aren’t eating?”

Mr. O’Shea, who was an intolerable blowhard said, “Coach, Whiskey Rebellion is a blue ribbon school. Most kids here go to college, they don’t work in the mines like you did growing up.” Ryan, horrified and also wanting to keep his starting position, let out an audible groan.

Coach Stephens, with his million dollar good looks decided to help out, “I understand ya’ll are alarmed because this is out of ya’lls comfort zone. But this is an event that could help the less fortunate. When it’s over, we can kill the cow and donate the meat to the families that need it.”

Mr. Capalano, who was booster president, famous for his vanity plate CAPS and had a son Bobby who was second string center said, “Coach, the boosters and the coach always worked together. You have no interest in that. You have completely gone rogue.”

Bobby, ever the suck up who wanted to get off second string said, “I am all about cow bingo or whatever this is. It sounds great!” Then his cheerleader girlfriend Ashely Grant punched him in the arm and Bobby bowed his head in defeat.

Coach said, “I have no idea what rogue means but Cow Pile Bingo is a hit where I come from.”

Mrs. Andrekis said, “Where you come from is West Virginia where our church’s kids went on their last mission trip.”

Coach was now furious, “Y’all think I might be crazy, but when I came to this district ya’lls boys were about as prepared for action as Bambi’s mother was in the first ten minutes of that movie!”

Suddenly, all hell broke lose. Mrs. O’Shea, blitzed out of her mind, took her plate of ribs and threw it at Coach, “YOU ARE A DISGUSTING BARBARIAN! GET OUT OF OUR TOWN!” As the ribs hit him in the face, Matthias stood shocked. Cow Pile Bingo might have been a hit in Coach’s old district, but it was sure as hell a miss here.

For the next few days, everyone in all of the grade levels talked about what was known as Bambi-Gate. The story morphed so many times that in one version the coaches and parents even got into a food fight. Skipper and I, because we had been witnesses, became minor celebrities for the week because we saw the train wreck up close and in person. Later that week, as I was telling the umpteenth person that there was no coach/parent food fight, Coach Douglass asked to see me. I said, “Am I in trouble?”

Coach Douglass said, “No. I just am curious, where do you live?”

The question was weird, “Why, Coach Douglass?”

Coach Douglass said, “I always see Wendell walking home after practice and figured it had to be somewhere close.”

I said, “Up the hill on Foxtail Road three blocks from school. Ours is the one with the ivy and flowers.”

Coach Douglass changed the subject, “You know Coach Matthias didn’t like it when Bambi’s mother got shot. His daughter always cries at that part.”

I said, “Yeah. But I also get what he was trying to say. The team was pretty unprepared and we got eaten alive last year. Welcome to The Whiskey Rebellion School District where parents are drunk on themselves.” Coach Douglass laughed. Cow Pile Bingo had been a horrid idea, but we both agreed that seeing some of these booster parents who were hard to take lose their proverbial shit was entertaining.

That night, I rushed to complete my homework while helping my mom and Skipper cook the porkchops when the doorbell rang. Skipper, who was setting the table was too far away to get the door, and Wendell, who took double math that fall because he had tested up a year, had not one but two big tests. My mom said, “April, would you like to get that?”

I said, “Do I have a choice?” This was a running gag between my mom and me.

She said, “No.”

I said, “Dad is gonna be home in a few. We can just pretend we aren’t home?”

The doorbell rang again and now it was followed by an urgent knock, “April, if it’s a band kid tell them we will take two hoagies. If it’s a religious nut tell them you are Catholic. And if it’s a serial killer, scream.”

Making my way to the front door, I didn’t see a serial killer but saw the next worst thing, Coach Matthias. Standing there, despite the rain and the typical cold snap of early September, he was still in his gym shorts and t-shirt that said “Coach.” While I pitied the man for being in the inclement weather, I also didn’t want Bambi-Gate under my roof.

Grudgingly I opened the door and said, “Hi Coach….”

Coach stepped into our foyer, “Your daddy home?”

I said, “Not yet.” Then I called to Skipper and my mom, “Coach Matthias is here!”

My mom ran to greet coach with a smile like she wanted to kill him, my dad for volunteering to be booster treasurer and then herself, “Hi Coach, what can I do for you? Sorry the house isn’t a little cleaner.”

Coach said, “Don’t worry Grace, I grew up on a hog farm and live with a two and four year old. But I’m glad I found the place. Coach Douglass told me April said the one with the flowers and the ivy.” I turned bright red. Maybe he couldn’t spell but Coach Douglass had totally just punked me hillbilly James Bond style.

My mom shot me a look of death. I shrugged, running up the stairs and pulling Skipper with me who said, “I wondered how he knew where we lived.”

Wendell, who had circles under his eyes from studying, emerged from his room, “Girls, am I hallucinating or is Coach Matthias downstairs?”

I said, “He’s downstairs. Want to go and say hi?”

Wendell rolled his eyes and shook his head no, “Not really.” After Bambi-Gate, the team had been forced to do an ungodly amount of physical exercises as punishment for the unbecoming conduct of their parents.

Skipper said, “April told him where we lived.”

Wendell said, “You’re stupid. Big surprise. Because of Mom, I had to run extra laps and had a week that made the Hanoi Hilton look like a dream vacation. Now we have Bambi-Gate under our roof because of you!”

Angered, Wendell sneered inches away from my face. I said, “Hey jagoff, Coach Douglass saw you walking home. He asked if we lived close to the school because he always saw you walking. He’s my reading teacher. What was I supposed to do, huh?!”

Wendell sputtered, “Oh yeah… still brought Bambi-Gate under our roof.”

I said, “No, you did. He’s your coach. You’re the one who wanted to play.”

Wendell rolled his eyes, “No, Dad wanted me to play!” It was true, our father was living vicariously through Wendell, another reason he accepted the position as booster treasurer, “This is all his fault and I hate Mom, Dad and YOUUUU!!!!!!” He then walked in his room, threw his math book across the room and began to punch his pillow. So much for studying.

The garage opened. Dad. Skipper said, “Dad’s home. Now you both stop it before we all get in trouble.” Wendell and I sighed. She had a point.

From upstairs we listened. My Dad said to coach, “A beer?”

Coach said, “Nah, the wife would kill me and mine wears the pants when I’m home. Wendelin, I ain’t no Einstein like your boy Wendell, but I know we need to raise money and I know I need to work with y’all. I want to make this right. I moved my family up here for this job.”

My dad said, “I think you meant well, but cow poop and food and Bambi’s dead mother werent a good combo, especially for some of these folks.”

Coach said, “Clearly they ain’t hunters.”

My dad said, “Coach, I know it looks bad but you need to see the forest for the trees. You have a lot of strengths, like Coach Stephens. He’s single. Why not have an auction where women can buy a date night with Coach Stephens?”

Coach said, “I like that. He likes the fillies and the fillies like him.”

My dad said, “Would he be up for it?”

Coach said, “He will be. I’m still his coach.”

It was settled. That Friday night, the auction for a date with Coach Stephens was a success. Not only did it raise five thousand dollars, but it was one of the highest grossing events in booster history. Miss Renreski, a lonely science teacher who had just gone through a terrible divorce, was the winner. The two would have a tumultuous cuffing season romance and would break up the following spring when Mrs. Renreski left him for Mr. Topper, a tech ed teacher who had lost his left thumb in an industrial accident.

The team would win that Friday night as well as the rest of the season. Coach learned to work with the boosters which made him the ultimate hero of the fall. And no one spoke of Bambi-Gate or Cow Pile Bingo ever again.

For more on me go to AprilBrucker.TV,and to buy my books go to Amazon. xoxo

Monday, November 15, 2021

All Fired Up (Pat Benatar)

When fall comes in Western Pennsylvania, it means one thing, football season. In the rest of the country, football is a sport but in Steeler Nation it is a religion. The South Hills, my particular area, known as “The Quarterback Cradle,” produced some of the greatest stars the gridiron ever saw such as Joe Montana, just to name one of many. Behind ever great player is a great coach, and often that coach comes with a great big personality. Case in point, our very own John Ezekiel Matthias.

For years, I saw Matthias’s antics up close and in person as my brother Wendell played for him throughout high school. My mom cursed Matthias as Wendell slaved, training his body to get faster and stronger only to be continually banished to the hell of JV on Saturday mornings and then promoted to the purgatory of Varsity special teams his junior year. As revenge, my mom put Matthias’s picture in her ice cube tray in an attempt to freeze his soul to make him a more compassionate human being. Things changed Wendell’s senior year when he was finally awarded a much deserved starting spot on the defensive line. Happy he finally had the chance to prove himself under the spotlight, Wendell became one of Matthias’s best players that season, shattering strength, speed and tackling records.

Wendell shined in the classroom, too. His top notch academics and athletic prowess earned him a spot at Brown University as a chemistry major, but also on their Brown Bears football squad. The local paper did a story on the future Ivy League athlete. Coach Matthias was quoted as saying, “The kid is an example of a role model that never gives up. Always worked hard in that weight room. He was real smart but I thought he wouldn’t amount to much a player. I’m just as surprised as you are that this is happening.” My mother was thrilled. NOT!

You see, our district got Matthias by accident. Before Matthias, Coach Stoltz had been our town’s long time head coach and long time embarrassment. Stoltz, who’s signatures were his beer belly and his clipboard, gave an interview to a local news outlet where he said several questionable things about Jewish people. After getting a letter from the Anti-Defamation League, the district was forced to publish a public apology in not only that news outlet but every one in the area. In addition to being a bigot, Stoltz was an asshole who bullied players, favored the kids of booster officers going as far as to take bribes from said parents so their kids could start, dating several mothers of players at a time and bragging when these women got into fights over him. While this was all terrible, the racism, sexism, anti-semitism and xenophobia was not what did him in with the administration, but the fact we were one of the lowest ranked teams in the conference. After a no win season, the school board decided it was time to put Stoltz and his outdated opinions out of a job.

Many of the active booster parents, happy with the nepotism despite the team’s poor record, hoped one of Stoltz’s lackies would succeed him as head coach. Candidates included such classics as Coach DiCarlo: Super Catholic who had his photo taken with Mother Theresa and mentioned it in every conversation ever, Coach Marian: Remedial math teacher who waxed nostalgic about the days when public school teachers could beat their students and of course Coach Link: Loveable cigar chewing gambling addict who spent time either dodging a bookie, any one of his three ex-wives or any of the strippers he was currently dating. The school board was between a rock and a hard place, they wanted fresh blood but there was none to be had. So they resigned themselves with the fact this was the best they could hope for.

Then a dark horse entered the race. Hailing from small town West Virginia, Coach Matthias arrived at the interview in a loud pick up truck. Stepping out in a suit and tie, Matthias pitched himself to the schoolboard in his trademark back country twang, “I aint the handsomest man or the smartest man, but I will work hard and get these boys to win! Let’s get fired up!”

Fired up they were because Matthias was hired on the spot. Matthias immediately got to work, cleaning house and replacing the old staff with his former players. (The running joke became that Wendell and the players started a West Virginia to English dictionary to understand what their coaches were saying to them). The days of booster nepotism went too, as Matthias started the players he felt earned it by hard work and talent. When parents protested, he told them how he felt of their offspring, favorable or not. When Matthias heard of players not doing homework or behaving badly in class, an epidemic that had gone unchecked in the days of Stoltz, he made them run laps until they puked. Needless to say, academic eligibility and behavior were no longer a problem. Suit and tie became required wardrobe to school on game days as well as for travel to away games and off season camps. Skeptics soon became believers when our town had it’s first winning season in about a decade. Together, as a community, we adopted Matthias and his battle cry, “LET’S GET FIRED UP!”

Always high octane, Coach Matthias was prone to superstition, especially during football season when we were playing Clairsville, our most bitter rival in the conference. One brisk October day, on the week of the game that determined which teams advanced to the first round of the playoffs, the door to my gym class burst open. Standing there, as if he crawled out of Army of Darkness with something cradled in his hand, Coach Matthias declared, “CLAIRSVILLE DID THIS! THEY WILL HAVE BLOOD ON THEIR HANDS FOR KILLING OUR BELOVED MASCOT!”

As our teacher Mrs. Mason turned down our aerobic dance music that served as a strange soundtrack to see what the fuss was about, several of the female students shrieked. Glancing towards Coach Matthias, I saw he was holding the carcass of a dead black hawk! Coach stood, undaunted that the corpse of our school mascot was crawling with bugs. Mrs. Mason, the tall beautiful, universally liked former swimming star who had several records in our school’s pool that had yet to be broken said, “Coach, while I realize you are upset this is extremely unsanitary. You should really consider washing your hands!”

The class nodded in agreement at her attempt of sanity in this insane situation. However, Mrs. Mason’s best efforts were an epic fail as Coach said, “I aint gonna wash my hands of the blood of our slain mascot! Clairsville is goin’ down! This is MURDER!”

Mrs. Mason got a FML look across her face as she struggled to maintain her diplomatic smile. Colleen O’Grady, a red head who attended regular meetings of the anime club said, “Coach, I think you should look at all the facts before you accuse Clairsville of murder. In AP Bio, our teacher was saying sick animals die in nature all the time. The hawk could have very well died of natural causes.”

What Colleen said was probably correct and was extremely well meaning, but she didn’t know Coach Matthias which meant she didn’t know when to shut up. Coach Mattias said, “THAT IS BIBLICAL BLASPHOMY RED! ONE MORE WORD AND YOU’RE ON THE CLIMBER!” The climber-an exercise machine in the weight room-was Coach’s favorite form of punishment. He would make offenders go for an indeterminate amount of time depending on the infraction but also his mood.

Justin Gurrecca, a skater boy who had a very visible crush on Colleen said, “Coach, it’s just a game. It’s not about winning but about having fun, right?”

Coach screamed, “Wrong answer, boy! Are you STUPID?! TO THE CLIMBER WITH THE BOTH OF YOU!”

Colleen, who had never gotten a detention let alone a tardy ever, began to cry. Justin glanced at Mrs. Mason for help. Coach continued to hold the dead black hawk undaunted. Mrs. Mason said, “Okay, no one is going to the climber because we still have 15 minutes left of my class. And you know what the principal would say about sending someone who’s not on the football team to the climber. You agree, right Coach Matthias?”

Coach seldom listened to anyone, but Mrs. Mason’s father and husband were his hunting buddies and she was his wife’s best friend. Coach knew if he went any further it would be a very unpleasant evening at home. It was common knowledge Mrs. Matthias wore the pants once Coach stepped foot off the field. Grudgingly, he nodded in agreement. However, he was not ready to give up just yet, “Brucker, you’re smart. What do you make of this! What is the cause of death of this animal?!”

Seeing the desperate glance from Mrs. Mason and knowing the balance of the situation rested on my shoulders I approached Coach Matthias and the dead black hawk, “Coach, while my findings are inconclusive without a complete autopsy, I feel based on the evidence, timing and motive that the hawk was murdered by Clairsville.”

Coach nodded, “See Brucker, I knew I wasn’t crazy. Tell Wendell hello from me when you talk to him.”

“Will do,” I said heading back to my spot as Mrs. Mason flashed me a thumbs up sign.

Coach jogged out the door, dead bird in hand but none in the bush, “SEE, I KNEW IT! WE'RE GONNA MAKE CLAIRSVILLE PAY TOMORROW NIGHT! NOW LET’S GET FIRED UP!”

Mrs. Mason attempting to restore order said, “Alright everyone, this has been an exciting class but now it’s time for our cool down.” That night, I relayed the story during Wendell’s evening phone call to the family from his dorm room. Via speaker phone Wendell said, “Wow, guess it’s good to know some things don’t change. I’m just glad he wasn’t trying to keep it in the locker room to surprise the team with like he did the dead rat.”

We all made the silent agreement to move on because some stories are best left untold. My mom said, “I will admit it took a while, but I love Coach. He’s right, Clairsville murdered that hawk. I know it!”

My dad said, “Come on, Grace. That’s just crazy. I’m sure the animal died of natural causes, or maybe one of his assistant coaches shot it by accident.”

Wendell said, “Could be. Coach Douglas always told us because he had a farm as a kid, when there was nothing in the refrigerator he sometimes killed dinner.” Coach Douglas, one of Matthias’s assistants, taught English at the middle school down the hill. The irony was he was barely literate himself.

Skipper, my impish 13 year old sister who was regarded as a young Sheldon before there was such a show said, “While his enthusiasm is to be admired, Coach Matthias could have come in contact with bacteria that could not only caused severe neurological issues that led to impaired cognitive function but ultimately killed him. The Blackhawk was in a state of rigor which means the post death pathogens were present.”

My dad said, “I don’t think that’s an issue. Cognitive function is limited for Coach Matthias as it is.”

My mom said, “But April is the hero for giving the right answer. Props for that.”

I said, “Nah, the hero is Mrs. Mason. She kept two people off the climber. She deserves a metal.”

That Friday, Coach and his squad battled Clairsville on one of the coldest, rainiest October nights in Western Pennsylvania history. Going into triple death overtime, our mud caked boys beat Clairsville by a surprise touchdown earning them a spot in the playoffs. That Monday, as Coach did his victory lap in our gym class he said, “That black hawk wasn’t murdered. Just like Jesus, he died for our sins but granted us salvation with that final touchdown and gave us a victory!” We just nodded and agreed. No one likes the climber, right?

Coach went on to have the Blackhawk, who spent the weekend in his deep freeze, stuffed and mounted in his office. Until his retirement, he was the winningest coach in school history and one of the most respected in the conference.

I had forgotten about Coach and this story until years later, I was trying to clear up some writers block while drinking my coffee on my back porch. Out of no where, I saw a Blackhawk fly overhead and squawk loudly in my direction. He was saying, “GET FIRED UP!” So in I went to write…….

Monday, November 8, 2021

Goldfinger (Shirley Bassey)

In ninth grade, right before Christmas, Mr. Angle decided to take the theatre arts class on a field trip. We were going downtown to The Byham Center to see the matinee of “a real play.” After that, it was back to school. For weeks, my friend Mikki and I had been plotting our adventures, but alas, true to form she picked that week to get mono. As I dreaded the long, friendless trip I thought, “Damnit, Mikki, your timing sucks.”

Aside from being the coldest day of the year so far, the play was a real bust. The acting was great, but the plot was unremarkable. It didn’t help that I sat near David Gehring-lacrosse co-captain- who spent the whole play snoring. Not only was it annoying, it distracted from the theatre going experience for the rest of us.

Last year, my brother Wendell had been forced to tutor David at the behest of the lacrosse coach. Wendell described the lost cause by saying, “When I look at David, I know somewhere, a village is missing their idiot.”

The reason the Theatre Arts Curriculum had inherited David was his parents-painfully aware their souffle didn’t rise to the top-were trying everything they could to change their son’s friend group. This past summer, David had been busted smoking weed with the lacrosse team in Simmons Park-where all good things happened in town. After a trip to the magistrate and probation, David’s parents, worrying for their son’s safety and salvation began their mission to save him by bringing him to their mega church’s youth group. The Teens For The Testaments had a conversion program. For every new convert, Teens For The Testaments got a point and with enough points got a pizza party at the end of the month. Helping this cult fill their quota, Teens For the Testaments welcomed their newly converted wayward reprobate with open arms.

Another reason David was in theatre arts was his girlfriend, Bethany Kensington: Abstinence Queen Bee. The reason being was The Teens For the Testaments did plays and concerts to teach people about Jesus and she wanted David and his “movie star good looks” to be ready for his big role. Bethany was hard to take even on a good day with her big, vacant smile, scarecrow skinny frame, brown hair pulled back into a bun and crucifix front and center. Making it her mission to convert her classmates regardless of how much it made them uncomfortable she said, “Jesus has called me to save people and save people I will.”

Unlike David who risked not graduating, Bethany already knew what she wanted to do with her life. She had already applied early decision to Grove City, a Christian college where students had to sign a pledge not to have pre-martial sex, could be expelled for homosexuality and the parents of perspectives had to be interviewed to make sure they came from a Godly home. Bethany said, she wanted to, “Bring Christ to the pagan children of Africa.”

While Bethany, who viewed David as a project, could not have been more different than her boyfriend they agreed on one thing, instead of celebrating Halloween, the devil’s holiday, they had exchanged promise rings. Taking the abstinence pledge in front of their pastor and youth group, they swore to wait until they were married to have sex.

As we walked out of the theatre and boarded the bus, snow fell. I was being introduced to a new sensation, being genuinely pleased to return to school in time for math. Taking a seat close to the front of the bus I thought, “Damnit Mikki, your timing sucks.”

Turns out Mikki wasn’t the only one with craptacular timing. Taking the seat behind me was Alyssa Clayton, school super tramp. Alyssa had badly dyed jet black hair and skin that was an alien orangish color courtesy of Alta, the local tanning salon that was the home of the rest of the super tramp crowd. I could tell Alyssa dreamed of Miami Beach on this Pittsburgh winter day where the mix of snow and rain fell from the sky, but was she aware those dreams could give her skin cancer? Alyssa wore jeans that were three sizes too small, a shirt that could have probably fit one of my baby cousin it was so tight and frosty lip gloss. I felt a smell hit my nose and began to cough. Then I realized it was Alyssa’s perfume. Before we got on the bus she had snuck a cigarette and this was how she was going to disguise it, a scent so strong she could have killed a small animal. Alyssa’s sexual exploits were always the subject of rumor and intrigue. Or as it was said, “Alyssa Clayton was in bed all weekend but didn’t get much sleep.”

It would only make sense that Alyssa was a super tramp as her mother was known as the most super, duper tramp of the town. Mr. Clayton, a former school administrator, was known as a conservative hard ass. Her mom was the opposite. Darlene, who had her children and their friends refer to her by first name, a questionable parenting decision that negated all boundaries, taught yoga and pole dancing, carried healing crystals and made her children meditate daily. While the coupling was strange, their older son Eric was a star swimmer and got a full scholarship to Ohio State. When Eric went away to college, Darlene began to feel the pangs of empty nest and realized that she had fallen out of love with Mr. Clayton and had been in love with her son’s swim coach, Mr. Rendell, all along.

Apparently Mr. Rendell, the twice divorced men’s coach with a winning record and even more winning toupee collection, felt the same way. The two began an illicit affair that went on for months. However, they were busted when they were discovered after hours when Bob the Janitor, afraid the school had been broken by unruly teens, followed protocol and called the police. What Bob the janitor and the cops discovered was not unruly teens but Darlene and Mr. Rendell doing some very X rated dry land exercises closeted in the kickboard room.

Angered that he had been cuckolded, Mr. Clayton was merciless during the divorce. Darlene, citing what she termed years of emotional distress, attempted to retain my father so she could begin her life with Mr. Rendell. Darlene and my father had creative differences: he wanted paid and she wanted him to work for free. Suffice to say, it seemed the apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

As the last of the students came on the bus I heard a voice say, “Is this seat taken?” It was David Gehring, my most unfavorite theatre ruining peroxide bottle blonde.

Alyssa said nothing as David slid in. When the bus pulled away David said, “What you think of the play? I thought it was lame.” How would you know, Sir? You slept through the whole thing!

Alyssa said, “It was alright, I got out of my math test. I’m failing anyway.” Eye roll, of course she was. Wendell was tutoring her now too. While she was another lost cause she was a better student than David. Then again, who wasn’t?

David said, “The entire show, I kept dreaming of you on top of me.” David remembered his dreams, nice. Too bad he couldn’t remember to dream quietly.

Alyssa said, “What about Bethany? Didn’t you exchange promise rings? You can’t have sex or even talk about it and stuff, right?”

David said, “Nah, that’s more her thing. My parents just make me go to that weirdo cult because I got busted smoking weed with the guys. But you see, the Promise Ring…..we haven’t been keeping the promise if you catch my drift.” Holy mother of God, Jesus take the wheel!

Alyssa said, “That doesn’t sound like Bethany.”

David said, “Nope, the God girl is a front to keep her parents happy. Bethany’s a nympho. I went to her house when her parents were gone and she answers the door naked. Before I can talk, she just tackles me. We did it in every room of her house. She even nicknamed my dick 007 because he’s the spy that loved her.” I faced front pretending not to listen but wow, this was some good scoop. Bethany Kensington, the ultimate God girl, was a slut on the low. Move over, Super Tramp, you have been dethroned.

Alyssa giggled, intrigued. David continued, “We didn’t just do it there but in the pew of the church one day after youth group and in the hot tub.”

I didn’t want to bring up the episode of Seinfeld about shrinkage as Alyssa giggled again with that familiar, super tramp giggle. David said, “Those church chicks are off the chain. I am telling you. But I am sick of her and those church weirdos. I want someone like you. I am settling for someone with a flat chest but what I really want is someone like you because a man needs something he can grab on to.” Bethany Kensington was irritating, Alyssa was a super tramp who was currently suffocating me and David had destroyed my theater going experience. I wanted to vomit. Alyssa giggled again as David said, “I could just eat you out if you so desire. Do you want my digits so we can get down?” Sigh, now I knew who and what she would be doing this weekend. David and Alyssa then exchanged numbers.

Cheating was trashy but so was Alyssa. David deserved garbage. These two were a perfect match. However, Bethany being a slut on the low was something I couldn’t keep to myself for too long. Gosh, I could not wait to tell Mikki! The promise ring had been promised, and the promise had been broken. Oh what tangled webs we weave. As I exited the bus I thought, “Damnit, Mikki, your timing sucks.”

The next day on my way to third period, I saw a crowd gathered in a circle in the hallway. This could only mean one thing, a fight. The day was young and had been rather uneventful and Mikki was not back to school yet. Risking a tardy but wanting to see what dumpster fire was taking place, I inched my way in to get a peep.

In the center of the circle was Bethany Kensington. She had tears streaming down her face, and David on the defensive, “Baby, you know Alyssa is a lying slut just like her mom.”

Bethany said, “Maybe Alyssa hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ into her life and her mother broke the commandment about adultery but she was one of my best friends in middle school and is still a good person which is more than I can say for you! And lying is against the Bible too!!” While I didn’t agree with Bethany on practically everything, it was clear those tears streaming down her face were real and the tales David told about her being a slut on the low were vicious fiction.

David said, “Baby, c’mon….you know I love you and took that abstinence pledge for real.” Sigh, as a silent witness I knew he had not.

David moved into hug Bethany but she swatted him away, “Liar! I told you how important this was for me, for us, and you agreed! When you tried to pressure me, I told you I wanted to wait until we were married because that was what God would want and you said you loved me and understood! Instead, you lie and tell everyone I had s-e-x with you because you were mad I wouldn’t put out as you guys say. And what… claimed I named you THING!!!! 007! You broke a promise to God and now you will have to think about where you want to spend eternity!”

I disliked Bethany most of the time, but I understood her anger because David’s behavior had been wrong. As revenge for her not putting out he had lied about them breaking their abstinence promise to sound cool and then tried to cheat with Alyssa. When Alyssa turned on him, he tried to use Alyssa’s sexual history and her mother’s infidelity as weapons. Bethany was right. David was a jerk face.

Bethany was now angry. Her voice being replaced by that similar to the possessed Linda Blair from The Exorcist, “MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOUL!”

David, trying desperately to control the situation said, “C’mon, Baby, you sound crazy.”

David was about to learn the 13th commandment, thou shalt not call an upset woman crazy. Winding up, Bethany decked David right across the face with the hand that had her promise ring and knocked him down. Impressed by her right hook, the crowd applauded. The promise was broken, and now the promise ring had become a weapon. David fell to the ground knocked down by Goliath sized rage. Hell hath no fury like a God Girl scorned.

As David lay whimpering on the ground it became apparent that Alyssa might have made some mistakes but she was never trash. He was. Instead of sleeping with David and creating a situation that resulted in a catfight she told her former middle school friend the truth and now the real villain lay on the ground suffering. However, I felt like trash for judging Alyssa as badly as I did, especially without knowing her. The peanut gallery of our peers had determined her reputation, but her character was pure gold.

Bethany, victorious, wiped her tears away and made a dramatic exit like a boxer who had just won a prize match. Sure, her beliefs were outside of the realm of my understanding, but she wasn’t letting David pressure or humiliate her which I respected. On her victory walk, Bethany received high fives from people who shared my sentiment and were also surprised she had that much of a swing, myself included.

The bell rang and the portly history teacher, Mr. Donotelli, who doubled as the JV football coach said, “Okay everyone, break it up. Get to class. Show’s over.”

David, who was still on the ground said, “Mr. Donotelli, she cold cocked me on the hand with the promise ring. That thing is gonna leave a scratch. Send her to time out or my parents will sue.”

The students who were dispersing booed David, and Mr. Donotelli said, “Son, you are lucky that is all you got. The way you have been running your mouth if this was my sister, you wouldn’t have any teeth. Get to class.” David and his injured pride picked themselves off the ground and skulked away.

I finally spoke to Mikki that night who’s health was on the mend. She said, “Damnit April. Is it just me or does my timing suck?”I told her it did, but she could make it up to me by getting back to school pronto as our was more rife with drama than an English countryside on a BBC murder show.

After Bethany dumped David, she received the happy news she had been accepted early decision to Grove City. Not only did she thrive at Grove City, but met her future husband and married him shortly before graduating. The two became missionaries that traveled around the globe before settling in Texas. Bethany voted for Trump, is pro-life, anti-vaxx and Christian home schools her four kids. I would tell her that her views suck on facebook but I have seen her right hook.

Alyssa, with the aid of my brother Wendell’s tutoring, brought her math grade up from a D to a C. She graduated from high school, got her cosmetology license, moved to Ohio and married a biker. Alyssa, by all appearances on facebook, looks like she mastered hair dye and the proper use of the tanning bed, now owns a full service salon that is highly rated. She looks happy and I am glad, because it makes me feel good when okay people are happy.

As for David, he ended up playing lacrosse at a party school who’s name escapes me, flunked out and pretty much fell off the map. I don’t know if David still calls his dick 007, but unlike David, Bond was a true gentlemen. Taking his martini shaken and not stirred and always getting the girls even at the peril of the security of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he knows a true spy never lies let alone kisses and tells.

That’s all folks.

Visit me at AprilBrucker.TV

Friday, November 5, 2021

Brenda's Got A Baby (Tupac)

I grew up in a school district where we had abstinence education. Unsurprisingly, we also had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the area. Every fall, the local crisis pregnancy center was a guaranteed sale for the school’s football program. Council For Life ran a commercial on our televisions for years where an actress, portraying a woman who had gotten an abortion as a teenager, apologized to her ghost son who was riding a bike and catching a baseball. The commercial ended with, “Life is a beautiful choice.”

Off screen, teen motherhood had reached a near epidemic to the point where the high school home economics class set up a day care center so that not only could students receive childcare while they completed their studies, but their classmates could receive credit for taking care of their offspring that were probably conceived in the backseat of a Chevy.

In addition to cheerful advertising and subtle enabling of the pro-life message, we always had that girl who was the trend setter, the first to get knocked up in the class. We all had ideas of who it might be but never said out loud because we were Rust Belt Folk, hardworking and honest yes, but never rude.

At the end of eighth grade, it appeared we had a candidate. It was the last week of school, and my friend Kat Lovic-the local boy crazy gossip-told me her mom could give us a ride home. As we got into Mrs. Lovic’s station wagon, Brenda Capelli swooshed by with her caramel mane, bust that made her jailbait and short skirt that treaded the guidelines of the dress code. Seeing Andy Patrick-the class clown-she flipped her hair and giggled as if she were auditioning for a Pantene Pro-V ad. Kat, in a breathy faux Marilyn Monroe voice, imitated Brenda’s career day pitch to her guidance counselor, one that had become comedy fodder among our peers, “I want to dye my hair blonde, get breast implants, move to Hollywood and become a big, big star.”

Kat and I burst out laughing as Mrs. Lovic-a straight shooting trauma nurse from McKeesport who worked at Mercy Hospital with my Aunt Margaret-lit a cigarette, “Nah, ain’t gonna happen. My next paycheck bets she graduates from high school with a baby.”

Despite the fact it was mean, Mrs. Lovic’s cynicism always made me laugh. I said, “How about this, if it happens I will personally collect your paycheck, Mrs. Lovic.” We all burst out laughing, because it was year end and it was fun to take a shot at the junior high honey trap.

When the fall came and high school started, Brenda and I found ourselves in theatre arts class with Mr. Angle like every other wannabe thespian. On the first day of school Brenda said, “The only way my Hollywood aspirations can become complete is if I know the basics of acting.” Unfortunately Brenda didn’t understand that meant reading about the beginnings of theatre aka Greek Tragedy. Wanting to learn as much as possible, I did the reading and always eager to participate in class. Brenda made it clear this did not sit well with her as she rolled her eyes whenever I spoke. Of course-mind you-I rolled my eyes in return-especially as she bragged about not doing the reading.

Instead of rewarding my hard work, Mr. Angle would say, “April, cool it. You are over anxious, obnoxious, somewhat robotic and had to swallow.” Then he would turn to Brenda as she batted her fake eyelashes, “Brenda, darling, you might not believe it, under there is an artist and performer waiting to come out.”

While it hurt that my talent and hard work were doing cast aside in favor of the lesser sister of Jessica Rabbit, I redoubled my efforts outside of class because I was determined to make being a multi-disciplinary artist my life path. As my mom often assured me, the Brenda Capelli’s of the world would peak in high school, and my efforts now would assure a victory later when it actually mattered.

Brenda, a self-assured femme fatale because of Mr. Angle, began to date Matt Richards-the proverbial boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Matt’s dad was serving a lengthy sentence in prison, and his mom often worked double shifts bagging groceries at Foodland. Following family tradition, Matt was in regular trouble with the law himself. Brenda’s friends felt Matt was bad news, but she would coo, “You might think so, but you don’t know him the way I do.”

Brenda’s father, Marine Colonel Capelli, had recently been deployed to Iraq, her brother was at boot camp and her mom worked long hours as an office manager downtown. Since Brenda lived blocks from school, that meant the lovers could “get drunk and get fucked,” at her house during lunch, as the mullet wearing Prince Matt so eloquently described to his friend group. Brenda often returned to school smelling like a distillery and disguised it by wearing drug store perfume. Matt cheated often, and it was no surprise to anyone except Brenda when she got jumped outside of the Eat ‘n’ Park by a rival paramour one town over.

The following Monday, as she arrived to class with her newly wizened battle scars, Brenda randomly announced to everyone, “Jessica can run her mouth all she wants but Matt said he wants to be with me!”

Gina Bongiovani-who sat behind me said , “Say what you want, Brenda, but what chose you was a burning bag of shit!” Her boyfriend, Vito, who went one district over and was known as a universal asshole, had cheated with Brenda over the summer at a party in the South Park Grove therefore there was bad blood.

My friend Mikki Donato, a transplant from Long Island, and I laughed because Gina’s delivery was so good. Brenda turned and glared, “Shut the fuck up, April Brucker!”

I ignored her figuring she had another one of her liquid lunches. Gina said, “Yoo hoo, dumb bitch, it was me. April’s loud but she’d be too nice to tell you you’re a super slut who got what she deserved.”

Brenda said to Gina, “Could you please refrain from this, Gina. I was talking to April….”

Mikki said, “Ummmm……why are you going off on April when it’s Gina who insulted you? Are you drunk again or did that girl from South Park hit you in the head that hard?” Gina and I were now nearly peeing ourselves because Mikki was always so sweet and soft spoken.

Brenda said, “That’s it, April! Let’s go!”

I said, “Big talker for someone who just got reconstructive surgery performed on her face and probably couldn’t pass a field sobriety test.”

Brenda let out a loud squawk, and then Mr. Angle entered killing the climax of the scene. Mikki whispered, “She has really gone psycho. I have third period with her and you should have seen her then.”

Mr. Angle began the class, “Brenda, why don’t you just come to drama club and make better friends and nurture your talent? Try out for the fall play. You could be a leading lady.”

Rob O’Rouke, the local loudmouth and shit starter said, “April Brucker’s your leading lady. She’s already on public access, and the only place I hear Brenda could ever be a leading lady is a porno cause Matt told us you got those skillz!” This was followed by a him making a gagging sound and all of us breaking out into hysterics. I appreciated Rob’s endorsement, but it was coming not from a place of friendship but because he liked the pre-class cat fight. Mr. Angle sentenced Rob to time out and Brenda flicked him off as he left. End scene.

Over the next several weeks temperatures started to drop. Brenda’s short skirts and low hanging shirts were replaced by sweats and other baggier selections. This didn’t register as odd as everyone was wearing warmer clothes, especially as we were a Los Angles style open campus just outside of Pittsburgh where it rains and snows.

It was now cold outside, but Brenda and Matt’s romance was red hot. Unfortunately, Cupid had other plans for the lovers when Matt was arrested for burglary. Brenda, began missing class with “the stomach flu.” It was okay with us because she had regularly become moody and argumentative. When she was at school, she was barely present, complete with vacant zombie stare. As her looks vanished and she became more morose, Brenda, unsurprisingly, began to drop off Mr. Angle’s favorite list.

After Christmas break, Brenda came to school in a snow white dress with new makeup, a present she claimed was from her deployed dad. She glowed, but there was something that stood out like a sore thumb, her weight gain. Mikki, Kat and I passed her in the hall and Kat said, “Wow, I knew Matt going away was hard but talk about eating your feelings.”

Walking into Mr. Angle’s class later that day, Brenda entered. We all exchanged a side stare afraid her too small outfit on her too large body would rip. Seemingly oblivious, Brenda chowed down on a bag of Cheetos. Mikki leaned in and whispered, “This is her third bag today. Should she be doing that in white?

Dan Long, Mr. Angle’s unofficial senior teaching assistant that was headed to Penn State in the fall learned in to join our gossip, “Guess she’s not getting a date to snow ball.”

Jake Kebs, a snoody jerkoff who was the assistant to the assistant student director on the fall play said, “No date for the next few years, Matt is looking at being charged as an adult.”

I said, “And how do you know?”

Jake rolled his eyes, “He’s my neighbor, Dipshit.”

As we were getting to the meat of the story, Mr. Angle walked in. He said, “Participation is a huge part of this class and a few of you are really not cutting it. April-while hard to stomach-gets an A. Mikki you get an A minus. Gina, A minus. Dan you always get an A in my book. Jake, B plus.” We all nodded at each other pleased we were endorsed.

Mr. Angle said, “But I believe in second chances and extra chances, so why don’t get some folks who are failing up here.” Sure, this was a violation of The Buckley Amendment, but Mr. Angle was unaware that I knew that.

“Dylan, get up here.” A skater boy with his hair in his face, Dylan was notorious for smoking weed and falling asleep in class. Yawning, Dylan made his journey to the front of the room. Mr. Angle said, “And you Brenda.” Rolling her eyes and throwing her empty bag of Cheetos down, Brenda joined Dylan.

Mr. Angle said, “We are going to do an improv. You two are a couple, and Brenda, you have to tell him you are pregnant. GO!”

To begin the improv Dylan said, “Yo shawty, wassup.” The class laughed because everyone liked Dylan and he was a character.

Saying nothing, Brenda turned bright red, began to tremble, looked at us, burst out into tears and ran out of the room. Slamming the door, we all sat in stunned WTF silence. Dylan, visibly confused said, “Mr. Angle, dude, she messed up the scene.”

Mr. Angle rolled his eyes, “Dylan, you have raised your grade to a C. She is still failing and gets a time out.”

Dylan made his way back to his seat. Then it clicked. The weight gain, the cheetos the mood swings, the stomach flu, the baggy clothes, the fact she ran out upset, Brenda wasn’t depressed because Matt was in jail but because she was having his kid and was keeping it a secret! SHIT!

We all were sex obsessed, but Brenda was the pregnant girl, the negative consequence, the monster no one wanted to acknowledge but everyone wanted to pillory. Class proceeded and no one mentioned it again, it was as if we were all afraid a mirror would shatter.

I kept my suspicions to myself, but they were confirmed the next day after gym class while Kat and I were changing in the locker room. Brenda was talking with her bff, Danielle Mills. I didn’t know Danielle well, but I was on the literary magazine with her sister Shelly. Brenda said, “Mr. Angle is such a dick. I mean, do you think he knows?”

Danielle said, “Um, everyone knows. I mean hello! Look at you!” Kat and I learned in to listen.

Brenda said, “I have been trying to keep it a secret because people talk.”

Danielle said, “Um…..they are talking. Did you tell Matt?”

Brenda said, “Yeah, and he says when he gets out in two months, he is gonna take me to live with his uncle in California and we are gonna get married.”

Danielle said, “But…..why don’t you tell a guidance counselor or something? You need to go to a doctor and get vitamins and stuff. You are pushing a person out of your vagina. My stepmom just had a baby and there’s a lot to it.” Kat and I nodded in agreement. While Danielle was known as the dumber Mills sister, this was probably the smartest thing anyone was saying to Brenda right now.

Brenda said, “Nah, Matt is gonna be out in two months, we’ll go then.”

Danielle said, “Brenda, why don’t you just tell your parents? I mean, c’mon.”

Brenda defiantly said, “I am never telling my parents!”

Danielle said, “What are you going to tell them when this kid pops out of you?!”

Brenda took her things and rolled her eyes, “By that time I will be in California with Matt and they won’t have shit to say.” Exiting with Danielle behind her, Kat and I exchanged a glance that seemed to last until eternity.

Finally Kat said, “Well April, looks like you’ll be collecting my Mom’s next paycheck.” Kat, knowing her, would make the rounds with Brenda’s misfortune. I didn’t need to, Brenda’s life, in many ways, was effectively over as she was now a walking cautionary tale.

Brenda continued to live in her cloud of denial that she could keep her pregnancy secret long enough for Matt to be acquitted and rescue her, and Mr. Angle redoubled his efforts by making her the butt of his mean spirited roasts. In turn, Brenda became a shell of a person in class when she showed up. The fact Mr. Angle didn’t support me no longer came as a disappointment but as a relief. Instead of helping Brenda, he was bullying her for sport, that wasn’t just cruel but predatory. His behavior, to say the least, was extremely disappointing.

Matt fought the law but the law won. Due to his lengthy juvenile record, he was sentenced as an adult to five years at Western Penn. The downside was that Matt and Brenda’s California dreams had died, but the upside was that he was reunited with his father who was doing a 40 year sentence in the same facility.

That summer, Brenda’s father returned from Iraq. At Colonel Capelli’s welcome home celebration, Brenda went into labor. Brenda was shocked as she never had prenatal care so didn’t know when the due date was, and her family even more so because they had no idea she was even pregnant. Continuing another generation of good decisions Brenda named her daughter Destiny Beyonce.

Colonel Capelli, angry that all had imploded while he was away serving his country, decided it was best to get his family out of the place where his daughter had become “that girl.” Upon hearing Matt was in prison for five years, Colonel Capelli hired a lawyer and was victorious in pressuring jailbird baby daddy to give up his parental rights. Brenda, now living three hours away in the town her father grew up in, began attending an online cyber school under his supervision. Her mom and grandmother helped her learn to care for Destiny Beyonce. When not in school, Brenda worked at the family’s bakery where she could earn money and be productive in a way that didn’t result in the creation of another human being. Eventually becoming a medical assistant, Brenda married a firefighter who adopted Destiny Beyonce, bought a house, had two kids with her new husband and seems to be living happily ever after.

I laugh now and think if MTV had 16 and Pregnant then, Brenda could have made it out to California with Matt after all. This story also makes me cringe, too. As lawmakers legislate how women use their bodies, I know a Planned Parenthood and trusted, non-judgmental adults were what Brenda really needed. I hear the Christian Right talk about abstinence education and know first hand how not only is it harmful to women and children, but ultimately ineffective. While I am no fan of teens having sex, if Brenda would have known about proper use of birth control her life would have been drastically different. Bottom line, just because you can have a kid doesn’t mean you should. Or in the immortal words of Tupac, “Brenda’s got a baby, but Brenda’s barely got a brain.”

Check out my comedy and merch at AprilBrucker.TV