Mom put her hands over my ten year old sister Skipper’s ears. Al continued his tirade. Dad, along with some of the other fathers grumbled, “C’mon.”
“Five hundred yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct,” The referee responded. My brother Wendell and the rest of the JV squad made face to palm motions on their helmets, not even bothering to hide their annoyance.
“Sad thing is, the kid is fast. He could play varsity. He’s just nuts.” Dad said. Pender was notorious for both his hot feet and hot temper, being what Coach Matthias referred to as, “unpredictable like a dog in heat.”
The next play began. Feet away, Al Pender Sr-or Penderhead as Dad referred to him-sat with feet away with his newest wife, Mrs. Pender Number 5. The former Chastity Beddonfield had graduated and cheered as a Lady Hawk three years ago. She was attending the local community college before she got wrapped up with a crook, took part in a check cashing scheme and found herself on the wrong side of the law. After getting convicted, the only place that would hire her was The Jefferson Lodge, the seedy strip joint on the edge of town.
Penderhead, who was a frequent customer, boasted to the down and out dancer about his successful construction business. Looking as if he escaped a casting for Boogey Nights, Penderhead told the young woman what he told everyone who met him, “I make an obscene amount of money.” This was her first trip out of the house since getting her electronic ankle monitor off.
Then Al got the ball. Penderhead yelled, “Go Al!”
Chastity, her bleach blonde hair with black roots showing used her cheerleader voice, “MOVE THAT BALL!” Behind the Penders sat Dina Almoni. Al’s squeeze of three years, last spring, her water breaking in home room, Dina gave birth to their son Rock, named after their favorite professional wrestler. The long suffering Mrs. Almoni, who had lost her husband two years before in an industrial accident, had her hands full working two jobs and did her best with her out of control daughter. As he ran with the ball and Dina bounced Rock on her lap, Mrs. Almoni said, “That bum is fast. Hope he’s as quick to get a job as he was to saddle you with a kid.”
Penderhead turned around, “Nah, your daughter is the trash who trapped our son forever.”
Dina rolled her eyes. Her jet black hair with peroxide highlights flowing in the wind and clothes so tight it was a wonder she breathed said, “Ignore them Mom, Daddy’s on the field, right Rock?” Mrs. Almoni rolled her eyes.
Then Dina yelled, “Go Snookums Pie!”
Of course this pet name was a never ending source of fodder for the varsity Blackhawks, who had watched game tapes that morning and had come down to support their JV brothers, chowing on hot dogs feet away. Making it the call and response portion of the show they sang, “DINA DA DING DING DING DING DING!” The guys did this because just as Snookums Pie was Dina’s pet name for Al, Dina Da Ding Ding Ding was Al’s pet name for Dina.
Al was running until BAM! He got tackled. The ref blew the whistle. Al, frustrated, threw down the ball, ran over to the opposing player on the Reds, grabbed his face mask and attempted to punch him. The Reds families gasped, but the Blackhawk families rolled their eyes.
The ref, who had given Pender tons of many penalties already, finally ejected him from the stadium. Al, never one to miss a dramatic exit threw down his helmet, grabbed his crotch and screamed, “FUCK YOU, YOU FUCKING COCK SUCKING, CUNT LUCKING, DEMOCRAT MAGGOT!”
I was impressed because Al might have managed to offend most if not all people in the stands. Dina yelled, “Snookums Pie, you tell him!”
Mrs. Almoni groaned. The varsity guys yelled, “DINA DA DING DING DING!”
Al stomped off the field and Dina flicked off the varsity guys, nearly dropping little Rock who was now crying because his mother was neglecting his most basic of needs. Luckily Mrs. Almoni caught the little boy and struggled to calm him down. Dina and the varsity guys went back and forth until Coach Stephens, the easy on the eyes dreamboat who coached JV, called a time out, left the field and approached the stands, “Next to say a four letter word has to run. Blackhawk Nation does not roll that way, especially with grandparents and children present. And that means you too, little Rock.”
The stands broke out laughing. Coach Stephens was a treasure who could diffuse any bomb. Mom looked at me and whispered, “Think before act with a boy. I am not going to be Mrs. Almoni, you hear?”
“Yes Mom,” I said. The game continued, we lost.
Skipper and I had swim practice the following Tuesday. As usual, it was uneventful with speed drills and conditioning. What made this day different was our parents were at a house party for one of Dad’s clients so it meant Wendell was ordering a pepperoni pizza from Sal’s Italian Too.
Mom, because she would be at the party with Dad, talked Jenny Hoffman’s mother into giving us a ride home. Jenny was one of Skipper’s best friends on the team, but one of my least favorite people on the planet. Like Skipper, Jenny was a STEM genius beyond her years. Once, the two had an hour long conversation about dead bodies, rigor and the bugs that showed up based on how long the person in question had been deceased. That’s not why I disliked Jenny though. If she could screw up something she did. Two weeks ago at a swim meet Jenny, after badgering us for days, talked us into letting her anchor our relay because her freestyle was “strong” She finished dead last costing us any trophy. Then there was the incident in CCD where Jenny asked the priest, and she was completely serious, if Jesus did LSD. We had to do extra catechism because our teacher was so appalled. When she talked at Constitution Middle school, we all yelled, “SHUT UP!” It was because it might result in us getting extra homework because our teacher would be so royally pissed. But I could do ten minutes in the car with them. I just had to ignore Jenny like I always did.
In the back of the van as Mrs. Hoffman drove, Jenny and Skipper were talking about a recent study about smells and finding your soul mate that Harvard had conducted. I successfully tuned them out until I heard Jenny say, “Since their smells are so different Mom and I are fixing Meredith up with Al Pender.” Meredith was Jenny’s less academic but more socially skilled and easier to take older sister.
Without thinking I blurted out, “NOOOO!!! STAY AWAY FROM SNOOKUMS PIE!”
As she drove, Mrs. Hoffman said, “I understand April’s point because of Al’s reputation, but he has been my student for years. He’s a nice boy. Just misunderstood and needs the love of a nice girl like Meredith.” Serving as the emotional support teacher at Whiskey Rebellion High School, Mrs. Hoffman had a good heart but now I was beginning to see lack of sense was genetic.
Jenny said, “And the science backs us up. The smells are very different yet compatible.”
I said, “Correction, you mean different yet combustible like fire and gasoline.”
Skipper said, “Ignore April. She’s bitter. Your hypothesis is probably correct.”
As Mrs. Hoffman pulled up, Jenny said, “April, I know you don’t grasp science but the facts and research will prove naysayers like yourself wrong.”
As I closed the door I said, “Naysayers like you don’t grasp reality. Have fun watching your dumpster fire blow up.”
When we got into the house Skipper said, “Why are you so unkind?”
I said, “They said the same thing about the guy who told them to put life jackets on the Titanic. Did you not see Snookums Pie and Dina Da Ding Ding Ding last Saturday?”
Wendell approached, “Pizza’s gonna be here any second. What are you squawking about?”
We told him. The look on Wendell’s face was priceless, “WHAT?! I rarely agree with April but the only thing this smells like a terrible idea.”
Skipper said, “But the hypothesis is on our side.”
Wendell said, “My hypothesis is these two a Red Neck Romeo and Juliet. They might break up today but they are back together tomorrow. Last girl who got in the middle of Dina Da Ding Ding and Snookums Pie had to change schools.”
I said, “And they have a kid which makes this day time talk show complicated.” Mom and I agreed, that despite Skipper’s intellectual supremacy, she was tender and naïve, so when she asked the plan was to let her believe Rock was Dina’s brother, not her son. But desperate times called for desperate measures.
Skipper said, “Rock is their son?”
Wendell nodded as the doorbell rang, “Yeah, treat it like the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones, Squirt. Don’t look and keep going.” We walked to the door and got our pizza. Never a dull moment.
Mom was angry Skipper had found out the truth about Rock, but Wendell came to my defense and told her about Mrs. Hoffman and Jenny’s plan. Like me, Mom tried to stop the bullet train by trying to warn Mrs. Hoffman and Jenny but with no success. Mrs.Hoffman and Jenny, determined to prove everyone wrong, arranged for the date when Al told her he ended things with Dina the day before. Meredith and Al went to the food court, had a great time and Al said he wanted to "do it again." What could possibly go wrong?
Two days later Dina and Al reunited before home room. Al came clean about the date with Meredith but defended himself by explaining that she “meant nothing.” Dina went bezerk.
She found out what Meredith’s first period class was, waited for her to go to the bathroom, and jumped her. Meredith got a fat lip, black eye and bloody nose. Dina was suspended for two weeks and told the principal not to bother because she hated school anyway and wouldn’t be returning. The Hoffmans thought the worst was over. Nope, it had only just begun.
Figuring he could make the new circumstances in his life work for himself, Al told his Blackhawk friends that Meredith could be his “school sweetheart” and Dina could be his “squeeze when the bell rang.” The plan backfired when Meredith, who wanted as far away from all this as possible, rejected the offer. Determined as ever, Al began to follow Meredith around school threatening any guy who came near her. Meredith was not only unable to get a date, but her social life suffered.
Back at the ranch, Mrs. Almoni, who was less than thrilled that her daughter dropped out of school, told her to get a job or get out. So Dina sought employment at The Jefferson Lodge. While they disliked each other, Chasity Pender agreed to serve as a reference. Always willing to stir the pot, Chastity casually told Dina that Al not only planned on seeing both women but bragged about it. Al of course denied any of this, but the friends Dina had at school backed up Chastity’s claims.
Dina, dancing under the name Pebbles, who lied about her age to gain employment, became very popular with the clientele at The Jefferson Lodge. Making many friends in low places who would easily do her bidding, one lonely gent in particular, who lived up the street from The Hoffmans, casually gave her Meredith’s home address after a seductive private lap dance. That’s when Dina began her reign of terror.
After work at The Jefferson Lodge, Dina would show up at The Hoffmans calling Meredith out. Yelling a barrage of insults, The Hoffmans figured the distraught dancer would burn herself out. Soon Dina upped her game though, littering their lawn with tampons, egging their door and lighting a bad of dog poop on fire.
At the end of their rope, The Hoffmans visited Dad’s law office. Dad, who marveled that the Hoffmans willingly let Snookums Pie and Dina Da Ding Ding into their lives persuaded them to seek out a restraining order. It was granted. At school, Jenny was a shell of her former self, quiet and tired. I wanted to tell her my hypothesis had been correct but life was doing a better job of that than I ever could.
Al, in an unrelated incident, punched a teacher and got expelled because why not? Seeing the perfect excuse to get rid of their problem child, Penderhead and Chastity kicked Al out onto the street. With no where to go he showed up at the Almoni’s. At this time Mrs. Almoni had discovered her daughter was working at The Jefferson Lodge and blamed Al, who she told could live in the treehouse, and could come in the house to use a computer to look for a job. When Al complained about the cold she said, “Tough shit.”
Despite all that had been happening, Al convinced Dina this made them stronger as a couple. Once spring came, he planned on marrying her in a proper ceremony at The Whiskey Rebellion Magistrate where Rock could be ring bearer. However, Al still wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He messaged Meredith online, calling Dina “a fat, breeding lump” and said the only reason he was still with her was baby Rock. Meredith let him down easy but when that failed she blocked him. This would have remained a secret but Al unfortunately left the internet window open making it easy for Dina to find. To a scorned woman, a restraining order is a mere piece of paper. Hell hath no fury like that same woman behind the wheel.
Cut to our family dinner that night and when suddenly the phone rang. Dad picked it up and I could tell this was bad, very bad. Dad said, “LOIS! I AM NOT THE LEGAL HELP YOU NEED RIGHT NOW! YOU NEED THE COPS! SHE’S DRIVING A CAR THROUGH THE FRONT OF YOUR HOUSE!”
Mom said, “The Hoffmans are officially The House Without a Brain.”
I said, “Hmm…..and the facts weren’t on my side, right guys?”
Wendell said, “The fact is, these people are like Melrose Place except with missing teeth.”
Skipper said, “How can you two laugh? This is horrible. Al and Dina weren’t ready for the responsibilities that came with having a child and now little Rock is going to pay.” Whether she knew it or not, Skipper had summed up teen parenthood in all of it’s glorious splendor.
The cops arrived and Dina was arrested. She was charged with destruction of property, attempted vehicular homicide, harassment and violation of a restraining order. As an added kick in the gut, upon her arrest, Dina tested positive for oxy and crack cocaine. She faced up to 30 years in prison.
It was Meredith Hoffman though, who advocated on Dina’s behalf, insisting she had been pushed as Al was determined to pit both women against each other. With the help of Mrs. Hoffman, the mother daughter duo insisted that the prosecution seek treatment, not punishment. Dina was sent to a long term facility for women with mental health and substance abuse issues for two years.
Mrs. Almoni was awarded full custody of Rock, moved several hours away with the boy, and told the lad his father died in the war. Turns out Mrs. Almoni was almost correct. Al died in a police shoot out at the age of 25, but being the gift that still keeps on giving he left behind six different children to six different women, none of which he ever supported. By forever tainting the genetic pool it can be argued he lived a short but full life.
Meredith finished high school quietly, attended a local university and married a boy she met there. She moved back to Whiskey Rebellion, has three kids and like her mother before her teaches emotional support at the high school. Jenny abandoned her smell theory but not science. Admitted to West Point and inspired by the events of her childhood, Jenny decided to become an FBI criminal profiler. Her senior thesis was on the Al/Dina/Meredith love triangle, and Chastity, who had long since divorced Mr. Pender and returned to work as a stripper, agreed to be interviewed as witness to the events for a reasonable fee.
In treatment, Dina earned her GED, got extensive counseling and realized that Al, not Meredith had been the real problem. Determined to get her life on track, she worked to regain custody of Rock. Once released, inspired by the people who helped her, she got a license to become a drug and alcohol counselor. After getting her son back, she moved to West Virginia, met her Mr. Right in an NA meeting who not only loved her but agreed to adopt Rock and married him. The two would eventually have two more kids.
On facebook, Dina The Recovery Coach as she calls herself now looks so good she is almost unrecognizable. Standing in a family photo with Rock, who resembles his father minus the bad decisions, Dina bragged that her oldest has accepted an athletic scholarship to Wheeling Jesuit University to play football. Hugging her grandson, Mrs. Almoni has a big smile. Finally, something in this sordid saga smells good.
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