The Man Cave

The Man Cave
Jack's Man Cave (Click on the photo to enter the Cave)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Any Cars Coming?

Any Cars Coming?

It took less than a cell phone to distract kids in simpler times

Photo by Andhika Soreng on Unsplash

It was the weekend before Halloween, and there was still a sense of mourning in the neighborhood for the end of the Indian summer. It was overcast, and the air was crisper and cooler than before. People say there are no real changes of season in Southern California, but they are wrong.

We kids were riding our bikes in the semi-circular driveway in front of the Johnson house. When neither of the parents’ cars was parked in the driveway, we rode our bikes in one entrance and out the other back into the street.

Lifting the front tire over the lip of the driveway, we veered left up a gentle slope past the front of the house and rolled back down onto Sunray Place. It was like the drop-off in front of a hotel, but in my imagination, it was a suburban Velodrome.

In the middle of the semi-circle was a garden of sorts protected by a tall hedge with waxy leaves. The arc-shaped bush was bookended by brick columns on either side, one of which had a mailbox in it.

The hedge created an enchanted hollow, with ornamental Chinese grass and miniature footpaths, which would have been a perfect place for a few half-hidden garden gnomes.

Photo by Sarah Brink on Unsplash
Eric Johnson, or “E.J.” as we called him, was in the garage fixing his bicycle. I was bored waiting for him, so I rode my bike around and around the driveway. I imagined I was Speed Racer, competing against an evil motorcycle gang in a surreal cartoon landscape.

E.J.’s younger brother Colby climbed up on the brick column, which had the mailbox in it. Colby dangled and alternately kicked his legs as he held a paper towel under what looked like a soup can. He jabbed a fork into the can and shoved the contents into his mouth.

“Yuck! What are you eating?” I asked Colby.

“‘Beanies and Weenies,’” he said, holding up the can for me to see.

“Gross!” I said, completely stopped in my tracks. I gagged a little.

“Aren’t you supposed to put that in a pot and heat it up?” I asked.

“I like ’em cold,” said Colby.

I straddled my bike and stared up at Colby on his perch, contemplating the slippery, cold pellets in his mouth. I thought of my mom spooning ALPO dog food into the bowl for our untrainable Kerry Blue Terrier named 'Finn MacCool.'

I almost vomited.

To get some fresh air, I resumed my laps around the driveway. Colby was on my left as I came around the semi-circle down the slope of the driveway, then out onto the street again. As I re-entered the driveway, E.J. was still bent on one knee, working on his bike. The Styx song "Renegade" blasted from the radio on the smooth garage floor.

I came back around the front of the house, and this was the most fun part of the trip, reaching the top of the driveway and then hauling ass down the incline into the street. The problem was that the hedge of bushes blocked the view of the road.

"Tell me if any cars are coming, okay?" I said to Colby as I approached him.

"Uh-huh," he grunted, slurping some slime off his chin.

I popped out onto the street again and turned left, starting another lap. I entered the driveway, passed E.J. in the garage, went up the slope, and came around the turn.

"Any cars?" I shouted.

"Nope," said Colby, hunched over and engaged like an ape cracking open a coconut.

As I exited the driveway, I looked to my right and saw our teenaged neighborhood hero Pete Overlund hugging, and just about to kiss a girl near the Knudtson's lawn. Pete stood about two feet taller than the girl, and I found that funny, but I dare not make a sound.

I pedaled again up Sunray Place and entered the driveway. In the East County, a kid's BMX bike was as vital to him as a horse to a cowboy, or a surfboard to a beach kid. Unfortunately, I had a piece of crap bicycle at this stage.

It was a Huffy bike that was more of a toy than a real dirt bike. I longed for a Redline, Torker, or even a more lowly Schwinn. My bike did not even have hand brakes. Pedaling up the street took all my effort because the crankshafts were so short on the pedals, and the bike so heavy and unwieldy.

Exhausted, I made it back into the driveway, to the top of the curve, and I started cruising towards Colby again.

"Any cars?" I asked Colby.


I stopped cruising and stood to pedal harder down the slope to gain maximum speed. I exploded out of the driveway.

That’s when I crashed into the passenger side of a Lincoln Continental barreling down the street at about 35 miles per hour.

My front tire slammed into the car, like a Jet Ski into the side of a battleship. I felt like the guy falling off the ski jump on the introduction to ABC’s The Wide World Sports. Instead of flying over the hood of the car, however, I simply hit the steel beast head-on and helicopter-spun in a 360-degree turn, falling directly to the street.

The landing was gentle, all things considered. In fact, the collision went well but for the fact that the back tire of the colossus ran over and crushed my right foot.

The Lincoln Continental slammed on its brakes, laying down ten feet of smoking tire tread marks, then it stopped. I lied on the ground staring up at the dark gray sky.

Colby dropped his can and slid off the brick mailbox column. Eric ran out of the garage. I was whimpering but not crying. When Pete Overlund and his babe walked up near me, I leaned up on my elbows.

“Jackie Blue’s hurt,” said Pete. Pete’s nickname for me was Jackie Blue, after the AM radio song. It sounds cool now, but it irritated me back then. Pete would never have called me that if I liked it.

The girl wore Dolphin shorts over a one-piece bathing suit. She never spoke, but simply clung to Pete. I’d never seen her before, nor would I ever see her again. I wanted to hear her talk. We had no girls in our neighborhood.

“I’m not hurt,” I said.

“Yeah, you are Jackie Blue . . .” said Pete, with a smirk that told me he knew I was not going to die, and that whatever injuries I had, it was already a funny story.

“No, I’m nooooooooot,” and at that point, I started heaving and sobbing uncontrollably. Pete’s wisecrack broke the seal, and I started bawling.

I reclined back on the street and gave in to crying, not so much out of pain, but out of a primal realization that I had just escaped death.

The driver was the neighbor Mr. Avery. He had dark, slicked-back hair, big round eyes with thick glasses, and he looked like Lon Chaney. The Averys lived in a house on a hill that loomed over the cul-de-sac, at the end a long steep driveway. To us kids, it was like the house from Psycho because it was hidden, and we rarely saw its inhabitants.

Mr. Avery got out of the car, marched up the street, and scooped me up off the asphalt, like the Tall Man from Phantasm. He lowered me into the dark velour back seat, which had sconces on the padded sidewalls, like a haunted house. Placing my bike into the trunk, Mr. Avery pushed the door down gently, and the diabolical death mobile engaged and shut the trunk itself automatically.

Mr. Avery turned ‘The Car’ around and drove it up the hill to my house on the corner. As the hearse pulled into the driveway, my mother was where she always was, at the kitchen window, working over the sink doing dishes or cooking. I saw her eyes bug out of her head.

Mr. Avery walked my limp body up to the window and lifted me up, like Frankenstein offering up to the villagers the child he just suffocated by accident down by the lake.

My mom dried her hands, ran through the garage, and opened the side door for Mr. Avery to carry me into the house, and put me down on a couch.

 . . . 

Colby had failed to spot a Lincoln Continental, the largest U.S. production model of car ever made available to a non-President.

We did not call my Dad because it was the early 80’s, and you never called Dad at work unless it was a real emergency. I was still alive, so my Mom, my brother, and I all agreed there was no sense in pissing Dad off.

Dad was a doctor at the same hospital where they would put me in a cast. Mom figured we would probably see Dad in the parking lot anyway.

Photo by the FDA

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Only People Who Like My New Car Are Men Who Own Car Washes

The Only People Who Like My New Car Are Men Who Own Car Washes

Women don’t find my car sexy

Photo by Grahame Jenkins on Unsplash

I’ve leased the same car for nine years in a row

I’ve leased the same strange, niche model of BMW for three times in a row, amounting to nearly nine years with the same car. I have to get the identical car all the time because it perfectly suits my need to put surfboards in it on the two or three occasions per year now I actually go surfing.

I don’t like to put my precious surfboards on a roof rack because I do not want them to get stolen. These surfboards are not the foam boards from Costco. These are McCoy surfboards from Australia, and they are works of art. Never mind that I’m so fat now, the boards can hardly float when I’m sitting on them.

                                   The Author

The model car I get is called a 335i GT, and the “GT” stands for "Grand Turismo." The car is basically a 3 Series BMW, stretched out and plumped up into a hatchback, for more storage than a standard 3 Series sedan.

In exchange for losing the world-class sportiness and agility of a standard 3 Series, the GT has incredible storage space when you put the back seats down. The GT drives more like a truck on rails, and you sit much higher on the road than the standard 3 Series “Saloon” (fancy word for a car with a fixed back seat and trunk).

It’s not a sedan, or a wagon, or an SUV

In America, we have a stigma against station wagons, so BMW built the car to suit a niche market that I fall into. The Germans stretched out the chassis on the car, to make it longer and roomier.

The chassis is referred to as the “Chinese chassis” because, supposedly, in China, the people like all their cars stretched out with big back seats, so they feel like they are riding in limousines.

I like that concept too- the huge back seat. The backseat in my 335 GT feels even more roomy and luxurious than a 5 Series BMW, and, on the BMW blogs, it is more often compared to the enormous 7 Series back seat. Now, whenever I drive any other car, I feel like the rear seat passengers are sitting on my shoulders.

Europeans, and American car magazine writers, however, love station wagons. They make fun of my GT as being an ugly “Frankenstein” car, for stupid people who aren’t smart enough to like station wagons. The magazines and the blogs laugh at how supposedly unagile and awkward looking the 335 GT looks compared to a wagon.

Crusty old Douchebags (with a capital ‘D”) who have driven BMW’s for decades make fun of my 335 GT and say that the model is an insult to the BMW brand (“rondel” in the trade- meaning the emblem on the hood of the car). These bastards are all wrong, of course, and I am right, and I love the car.

BMW, unfortunately, must have listened to all those cretins, because in 2019, they decided to discontinue the car. So now I have to decide whether to keep mine at the end of my lease.

I may become that guy you see driving a SAAB from 1983. The SAAB that’s out of alignment, going sideways down the road, with the leather bra on the hood, the bent antennae, and the Supertramp bumper sticker.

. . .

I had to upgrade my car when I switched from being an insurance defense attorney to a plaintiff’s personal injury attorney

I used to drive a Mazda Protégé wagon that fit my surfboards just fine. I didn’t mind getting sand in the Mazda, or when the surfboard wax melted on the carpet in the back or on the back seats. The Mazda Protégé was my real “surf wagon.” The trusty ‘ol Protégé suited my job too.

Insurance companies don’t want to see the attorneys working for them driving fancy cars or wearing nice suits. The insurance claims adjusters report back to headquarters, “Hey, Clune seems to be living high on the hog.” Then you get the call from the CEO telling you to cut your fees or they’ll move the account to a cheaper law firm.

All of that changed when I switched to the other side to do exclusively plaintiff’s personal injury cases.

. . .

When you’re a plaintiff’s attorney, the clients want to see you have a nice car

Nearly fifteen years ago, I switched away from defending insurance companies to exclusively representing people injured in accidents, making claims against the insurance companies.

One day, I got a call from a man injured very badly when he fell in a poorly lit area outside a business. Both his arms were broken- so before you make any smart-ass remarks, this was no “Brady Bunch” episode about a fake neck injury. This man was very seriously hurt, and missing time from a high paying job, with his benefits running out.

On the way to the man’s house in my Mazda Protégé that evening, I was nervous and excited to sign up one of my first personal injury cases. I pulled up to the stately mansion in the fancy Banker’s Hill neighborhood. The city skyline lights of San Diego twinkled in the background. I saw a curtain draw back, and two men were staring outside at me as I approached the front door.

Photo by Ján Jakub Naništa on Unsplash

The potential client and his older husband looked me over in the foyer.

“What kind of car is that you drive?” asked the older man, dressed in a silk evening jacket.

“Excuse me?” I said.

“What kind of car is that?” he asked again.

“Um, it’s a Mazda Protégé,” I said. “Limited Edition, with the rubber floor mats.”

“A what?” asked the younger man, whose arms were in two casts, popping out from his silk robe.

“A Mazda Protégé. Silver.” I said.

“I don’t think I’ve ever even heard of that kind of car,” said the older gentleman, with a mildly disgusted expression.

“It’s sort of a hatchback. A sporty hatchback. It’s really good for my surfboards.”

“Oh, . . . “ the older gentleman said with a withering eye roll and a side glance at the younger gentleman.

They signed up with me, but I felt like I was on my heels the whole time. I knew I needed to get a nicer car.

. . .

When I decided to get the BMW GT, my wife Tracy was unusually supportive even though it was expensive

“Yes, that’s a perfect car for you,” said Tracy, lying in bed.

I was leaning over, showing her the YouTube video on my phone. The car reviewer was explaining that even though lots of people thought the BMW 3 GT was ugly, the car had amazing storage room and was fun to drive.

Something seemed off.

“I’m not going to lie, the monthly payments are going to be way more than the Protégé,” I admitted.

“Well, you’re a plaintiff’s attorney now. You said the clients want to see you drive a nice car — otherwise they think you’re not successful,” said Tracy, turning up the T.V. volume way too loud.

It’s true. I had said that. But now that Tracy was saying it back to me, I didn’t like it. Or I was suspicious, I should say.

“And plus, you’ll be able to fit all your crap in it. When you go to the beach.” Tracy said, over the T.V.

I turned back to my side of the bed. I could not believe how easy it was to convince Tracy I needed to upgrade my car.

“Now Shhh! This is the Housewives Reunion Finale. No talking! This is important. I need to hear this.” said Tracy.

. . .

It’s a very niche audience who likes my car

On a former friend’s advice, I used a car broker to help me lease the BMW GT the first two times. That’s a story for another day, though. Sadly, the story ends with my broker declaring in a very public place that he wished I go blind and develop low testosterone. I thought that curse was very Old Testament, and way too extreme of him.

The first few weeks driving the BMW GT, I got a couple of compliments- but far fewer than I expected, quite frankly.

“She’s a beauty!” came a gruff voice from behind me.

I was at the car wash, leaning in to grab the three or four straw wrappers off the passenger seat before I turned the keys over to the guy to vacuum the interior. I turned to face a gentleman who looked very much like Yassir Arafat.

“That’s the one with the big back seat- eh?” said the gentleman.

“Yeah. Yes sir,” I said.

“Very nice, very nice. We don’t get many of those here,” he said, making clear to me he owned the car wash and mini-mart.

“BMW’s, yes! Hatchbacks, no!” he said, laughing uproariously.
. . .

A few weeks later, I was pumping gas. Again, a male voice came from the distance behind me.

“Is that one of those new hatchback ones?!” said the voice.

I turned to look, and it was a guy who looked sort of like Brett Favre. He was in a work uniform, coming from a tanker trunk, which said “Danger! Explosive Contents Under Pressure! Stay Back!” on an odd-shaped storage tank.

“I ain’t seen one of these in person yet,” he said, wiping his hands with a small towel as he approached.

“Yes sir. It’s the ‘GT’,” I answered.

“You mind poppin’ the hatch for me to see?” he asked.

I proudly pushed the button on the key remote, and the hatch opened smoothly.

“Oh yeah, look. It’s got plenty of room!” he said. “Plenty of room.”

“Yep,” I said.

“And you know what?” he asked, putting a piece of gum in his mouth.

“What?” I responded.

“It’s not half as ugly as they said it was either.”

. . .

The day my whole world came crumbling down

Around the time I leased my first new BMW, a colleague of mine leased a new car too, so he called me to come and see it. Michael got a Jaguar, one of the real sleek, sporty two-seaters, and he was eager to show it off.

“I’m here, where are you?” I asked Mike, talking to him on my cell phone as I got to the office building downtown.

“I’m in the parking garage, coming up through the gate now,” he said.

Sure enough, there was Michael, rolling up the ramp to the street in a silver Jaguar that looked more like an Aston Martin “supercar.” The car was sleek and elegant, but like its namesake, it looked like a predatory animal. It really did look like a Jaguar on its haunches, doing that scary stalking thing that a cat does before it explodes off running to catch its prey.

Mike is about ten years younger than me. He’s a bachelor, and he’s about six feet two inches tall, dark-haired and handsome. Mike speaks with a syrupy Texas drawl, kinda like Matthew McConaughey.

Mike pulled the car up to street level, then he opened the driver’s side door and stepped out, dressed to the nines in his lawyer suit. I could not believe he even fit in the low slung car. The overall impression Mike gave made me think of just two words. Tom Brady.

“Why are you getting out of the car?” I asked.

“You wanna drive?” he said, smiling.

“No, I’ll ride shotgun. I want you to show me what this thing can do.” I said, teasing.

I scooted around the front of the car and got in the passenger seat.

. . . 

My God, this is such a tight squeeze, I thought.

I can barely fit. And the center console is so big and bulky. I can’t even get my left arm all the way up on it. I feel like I’m in a race car. I’m glad I don’t have this car! It’s uncomfortable! And I feel so low to the ground. Whew, Thank God! Thank God I didn’t buy a car like this! If I were in my car, I’d run right over the top of this thing.

Mike made a quick right turn onto a busy downtown surface street, then he accelerated fast through the first green light.

“Wow, great acceleration, this is awesome! It’s like the Batmobile!” I said, feigning enthusiasm, but really secretly happy that I liked my car better.

“What kind of wood is this?” I asked, running my finger along the lacquered wood trim on the dashboard.

“Dude, hold on a second,” said Mike. “Check this out.”

As we pulled up to a stoplight, three young women in office attire were standing on the right-hand corner, seemingly on their way to lunch. 

 “Watch what happens here,” said Mike.

The women gradually took notice of the car. Soon all three were all staring directly at us inside the car. One of the women lowered her sunglasses and made eye contact with Mike.

“Dude, what the hell is going on?” I said through my gritted teeth.

“Yeah, funny isn’t it,” said Mike. “This car’s a babe magnet.”

One of the other girls bent down to look past me and get a better look at Mike.

The light turned green, and Mike peeled out, chuckling and looking in the rearview mirror, smiling.

I looked in the side-view mirror and saw the women all turn to each other and start talking. About Mike, no doubt.

“Awesome, isn’t it?” said Mike.

. . .

At the next light, a car pulled beside us on the driver’s side. Two middle-aged African American women were in the car, and the passenger rolled down her window.

“Hey there! That’s a very nice car you have!” shouted the woman.

Mike pushed the button, and the automatic window rolled down smoothly. The driver of the other car waved at him from behind the passenger.

“Thanks! You ladies havin’ a nice day?” said Mike, with his smooth, goddamn Huckleberry Hound voice.

“We sure are. Did you just get this beautiful car?” the passenger asked Mike.

“Oh, I’ve had it for a little while now. You know, I’m just being lazy with putting the license plate on.”

“Well, that car looks really, really fine on you,” said the passenger, batting her eyelids.

I found myself blushing behind Mike.

“Wow! That’s very kind of you to say,” said Mike. “Well, the light’s green. Sorry to have to say goodbye, ladies!’ said Mike, as he slowly pulled into the intersection.

I thought I saw the passenger blow Mike a kiss, but I might have imagined it.

. . .

I was in complete shock. I felt like the curtain was ripped open to a secret new world I never knew about, or like someone had slipped me a tab of L.S.D. Not that I’ve ever taken L.S.D- but I have seen Yellow Submarine.

“Dude. Does this happen everywhere you go?” I asked.

“Yeah, it’s kinda nutty- huh?” said Mike. “I call this car the ‘Panty Dropper,’” he said, looking over at me smiling in his aviator glasses.

I don’t have any nickname for my car. It never occurred to me to give my car a nickname. What would I even call my car?

‘Bubble Butt?’ ‘The Pack Mule? ‘ ‘Daddy’s Home? ‘ ‘The Surfboard Stuffer?’

“How much is the lease on this car?” I asked Mike.

It was about $150 less per month than my car.

Now I’m pissed.

. . .

Confronting Tracy to get to the truth

“Tell me again why you think my car is so good for me?” I asked Tracy, in the kitchen.

Tracy was opening the mail, not paying attention to me. Finally, my question registered in her brain.

“You can fit all of your crap in it,” she said, distracted by whatever bill she was looking at.

‘Yeah, and what else?” I asked.

“Well, I don’t know, your car is just like you. It suits you perfectly,” she said, opening another envelope.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I asked.

“You know, it’s kind of oblong and chubby. You can shove a lot of crap in it, but it still looks presentable. You know, like when you put on a nice suit and go to court.”

“You just wanted me to buy that car because it’s not sexy!” I screamed.

“What?” says Tracy, looking up at me now.

“The only people who like my car are middle-aged Middle Eastern men!” I shouted.

“What are you talking about? Are you insane?” asked Tracy.

“Nobody compliments me on my car! Nobody except car wash owners!”

“You’ve seriously lost your mind!” said Tracy, now yelling back at me.

“Do you think my car is sexy?!” I screamed.

“What do you need a sexy car for?” Tracy yelled, now standing and folding her arms across her chest.

That’s when I was especially glad I hadn’t told Tracy that Mike called his car the “Panty Dropper.”

“That’s not the point. Don’t turn this around on me! Just answer my question, is my car sexy?!”

“No, it’s not sexy. Of course it’s not! It’s not sexy at all,” Tracy admitted.

“Ah ha! That’s why you encouraged me to buy it isn’t it?!” I asked, indignantly.

“What the hell is wrong with you? You bought that car to shove your dumb surfboards in it. The ones you use once a year!” said Tracy.

“Well, maybe I wanted a sexy car too! Did you ever think about that- huh? Do you realize how expensive the lease is on that car out in the driveway?” I yelled.

“Buy whatever car you want, what do I care? You buffoon!” shouted Tracy.

“Well, maybe I will next time!” I said.

“Good! ’Cause my lease is coming up in two months, and I’m definitely buying whatever car I want!” said Tracy, leaning into me and staring me straight in the eye.

Oh, God. I thought to myself. Oh, God, no. What sort of trap did I just walk into here?

“And my car’s gonna be real sexy! Real, real sexy. In fact, I’m thinking about getting a Maserati!”

Oh shit! Oh, God. Oh please, God, no. No!

“And guess what?!” said Tracy.

“What?” I asked timidly.

"I’m gonna nickname my car the 'Pole Position!' said Tracy with a wide grin.

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

Thursday, September 17, 2020

An Update from The Man Cave

 An Update from The Man Cave

This writing stuff ain’t as easy as it looks

      Photo by John Barkiple on Unsplash

Just wanted to thank the Followers

Yes, you know who you are, you wonderful and patient people. You took the plunge and hit the “Follow” button on the Medium Publication Jack’s Man Cave. Since then, it’s been nothing but cricket sounds. What happened?

I got a little ahead of myself. That’s what happened.

I just wanted to drop this line to update you that over the last two weeks, we here in the Home Office (still just me) have been working on the very technical stuff of setting up a Website, Blog, Newsletter, and the Email list, which are all considered necessary tools in the world of online writing.

Very soon, I hope to be cranking out weekly dispatches of such groundbreaking creative genius that you cancel your cable and Netflix subscriptions, and just wait by the computer for your inbox to “ding.”
I promise I’ll try my best not to leave you hanging like this again!

Exciting developments

In the meantime, the story about me getting bigger and bigger during the Pandemic was picked up and curated by Medium, on the Humor, Lifestyle, and Style pages.
“Curation,” though, is a bit more of a “slow burn” than I thought at first. I’m really learning something new every day about this whole “influencer” “blowing up” world of online publishing.


I would like to thank San Diego Porsche & Audi for honoring the 3-days “cooling off” clause of the contract.

I do see now that my Medium weekly earnings report is in, Tracy might have been right, and it was too soon for me to commit to a four-year lease. 

I promise though, Hans, what I said to you in the Manager’s Office is true. I really am sorry about the commission, and I’m going to make it up to you. I hope you will eventually respond to my texts when the time to buy is right.

Stay tuned for the full rollout soon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

What Not To Do On Your First Day of Elementary School

Don’t wear a neck kerchief

 Next week was my going to be my first day of First Grade. This was the summer of 1976, and my family had moved into a new house, in a new neighborhood. In the kitchen, my mom was reading a letter from the new school.

“Oh, how exciting! Your new school is having a Bicentennial Celebration the first week back. They’re having a costume contest on the first day. You can wear your George Washington outfit that Grandma Clune made for you!”

An electric current shot through my body, and my face got red and hot.

“I’m not sure about that one, Mom. I don’t think I want to wear that on the first day to a new elementary school,” I said.

“Oh God, are you kidding me? You have to wear it. Everyone will love it.”

 . . .

On the first day of school, we pulled up to Avocado Elementary School in Mom’s white Chevrolet Monte Carlo. Low flat buildings sat squat with a listless American flag hanging in the front. Yellow school buses pulled up and dropped kids off. I scanned the crowd, desperate to find someone in a costume. I did not see a single costume.

I was wearing a replica George Washington Revolutionary War outfit. I had a filigree neck kerchief, a vest, and a long coat with lace wrist cuffs. Grandma Clune made me the outfit when I was on a Revolutionary War kick. I used to wear it when I played ‘war’ with the kids in the street in the old neighborhood. That seemed like a very long time ago on this sweltering morning.

The Author

“Mom, nobody else is wearing costumes,” I said.

“Sure they are, look at that girl over there.”

A girl stepping off the bus was wearing some sort of Little House on the Prairie outfit, with a scarf around her head. One or two other girls, dressed similarly, climbed out of their mother’s cars or appeared walking along the dirt shoulder of the road from their houses nearby. No boys had dressed up. I sat frozen in the car.

“Yeah, see. There’s plenty of costumes,” said my little brother from the back seat.

“Shut up, Brian!” I shouted. “Mom, I wanna go home and change clothes,” I pleaded.

“Stop it. Get out. I have to get your brother to Kindercare.”

“Mom, I’m serious. I wanna go home,” I begged.

“Get out of the car, now! I don’t have time for this!” said my Mom, reaching over and undoing my seatbelt. “I’ll come back to the school with a bag of clothes for you, and I’ll leave it at the principal’s office.”

I climbed out of the car like a pilot getting out of a fighter plane that had crashed behind enemy lines. I closed the door, and looking through the car window, I saw my brother grinning like the kid in The Omen in the back seat.

. . . 

First day at a new school and I’m dressed in a Revolutionary War jacket with gold buttons, cravat, tri-corner hat, wrist kerchiefs, and buckled shoes, I thought. I’m basically asking to be bullied for the next six years at this elementary school.

I gulped and, carrying my Mead notebook and lunch sack, I walked away from the car into the fray. At first, the kids did not notice me, as they were too busy greeting each other after a long hot summer. Slowly, however, I felt the bright glare of kids staring at me.

“My what a wonderful outfit!” said a little old lady, as I walked by her near the Principal’s office.

“You’ll be in the running for best costume for sure,” the lady said. She looked like my Grandma McHugh, not the one who made my outfit, but the other Grandma. Then it dawned on me, this ancient lady was a teacher at the school.

Two or three boys and girls standing near her looked at me in complete bewilderment and horror. They were not in costumes.

Inside the school, I reported to my First Grade class with Mrs. Sanders. She too seemed very old to me, with her white hair. But her eyes sparkled with youth, and she smiled warmly when she did attendance roll call, and she saw me sitting there in my outfit, with my hat still on.

“Andy Bloom, there you are, . . . . John Clune, oh, there you are… .what a wonderful costume John!” said Mrs. Sanders.

I blushed.

“John, I have a note here that you like to go by the name ‘Jack’ is that correct ‘Honey?”

A couple of the boys sniggered.

“‘Jack Off, Jack’. ‘Jack Me-Off’ . . .” I heard them whisper.

“Yes, M’am,” I said.

“Well ‘Jack’ you are then!” said Mrs. Saunders.

All the boys laughed. Mrs. Sanders looked around with slight confusion. Even my name causes me grief. And now I’m sitting here in this costume, I thought.

Why do my parents torture me like this? Why is it my fate to endure things no other kid does?

“Charles Schmit . . . Charles, please take off your baseball hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

“Why does he get to keep his hat on?” asked Charles Schmit, pointing at me, in my tri-corner hat.

“Charles, I am not going to argue with you Sweetie, take off your hat,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Charles Schmit looked at me with contempt. Charles was shorter and smaller than me.

I’ll call him ‘Charles Shit’ if he keeps this up, I thought to myself. I’d have to get the lay of the land first, as this was a new school to me.

 . . .

The rest of the morning went okay, as the kids in my own class got bored staring at me. There was a 15-minute break, however, where we had to go out on the playground and that was a different story. I tried to hang out in the classroom, but it did not work.

“Jack, Dear, you have to go outside. The janitor is coming by to vacuum the class, and he needs all students outside,” said Mrs. Sanders.

This school was weird and different from my old school. All the classrooms had moving walls that the teachers could push around and reconfigure. The moveable “walls” were like thick vinyl drapes that moved on tracks.

I heard the janitor’s vacuum coming closer. Then he came around the corner, and he was scary looking. Dressed in a dark green work outfit, like a military man or car repair mechanic, the janitor had a flat top haircut and he wore big black boots. Tall and menacing, the janitor had a permanent scowl on his face. The overall impression on me was that he was Michael Myers from Halloween, without the mask on.

I willingly ran outside after I saw him.

 . . .

Standing in the prison yard now, I hugged the wall and ate the cheese and crackers snack my Mom packed for me. I was digging the cheese out with the red plastic stick when Charles Shit and the two or three other boys approached me.

“This is Jack Meoff,” said Charles, seemingly introducing me to the other kid next to him.

“Where the hell did you get this costume Jack Meoff?” said the tough-looking kid.

“My grandmother made it for me. I didn’t want to wear it, but my mom forced me to,” I said, regretting the words the moment I uttered them.

“Actually, the costume is pretty cool. Do you have a gun?” said the tough kid.

“Yeah, I have a musket but I left it home,” I said.

“Do you like Led Zeppelin?” said the tough kid.

He had a shock of black hair, twinkling light blue eyes, and a crooked smile like Mr. MaGoo. He reminded me of Charles Bronson.

“Yeah,” I said.

“What’s your favorite song?” he asked.

“That’s hard because they’re all my favorite songs. “Kashmir,” “The Ocean” “Trampled Under Foot.” But right now, ‘Dancing Days’ is my favorite.”

“Cool. That’s a good one. You know a lot of Zeppelin.”

The bell rang, and we went back to class. Knowledge of Led Zeppelin songs and trivia had saved the day for me for the first of many times. I had no idea that Chuck and the tough kid Paul Otis would become my good friends for the next eight years.

The Author

 . . .

Back in the classroom, Mrs. Sanders was teaching us something, when a woman came around the corner holding a brown paper grocery bag.

The woman approached Mrs. Sanders and whispered in her ear. Mrs. Sanders pulled back and looked shocked at the woman. Then both the women talked under their breath to each other and then turned to stare at me.

“Jack, would you please come up here, Dear,’” said Mrs. Sanders.

I got up and walked up the row of kids to see Mrs. Sanders.

“Jack, your mother dropped off these clothes for you,” said Mrs. Sanders pointing at the bag.

Thank God, I thought, reaching for the bag.

“But I simply will not allow you to change out of that wonderful George Washington outfit until after the Bicentennial celebration. I am in charge of the ceremony, and it would disappoint me so very much if you changed now, do you understand me?” said Mrs. Sanders, looking deep into my eyes.

She looked and talked like the old lady in the Sylvester and Tweetie cartoons.

“Can I change after it’s over?” I asked.

“Well, yes. After the costume contest is over, you can change in the boy’s bathroom if you still want to, after all the wonderful attention you are going to receive.”

“Can I have my bag now?” I asked.

“Yes, but do not change your clothes until after, do you understand?”

“Yes. I promise,” I said.

I clutched the bag to my chest, like Linus from Peanuts gripping his safety blanket.

 . . .

At lunch, all the classes gathered in the open-air courtyard for the Bicentennial celebration, and the costume contest.

My teacher, Mrs. Sanders was the master of ceremonies, and she approached the microphone.

“Students and teachers, welcome back to the Avocado Elementary School, welcome to a new school year, and welcome to our 200 Year Bicentennial celebration!”

Everyone clapped politely.

“We are going to have a few speeches from some of our Sixth Grade students on the meaning, and importance of the Bicentennial of our great country. But first, please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, and if you are wearing a hat please take it off.”

Chuck Shit leaned over and made sure I took my tri-corner hat off. I put my hand up to my heart, still holding tight to my grocery bag full of clothes.

“Thank you, students. Now, before we start the speeches, I would like everyone who wore costumes to please stand up and be recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

Oh, God.

I stood up and looked around. Five or six girls stood up, and they were all dressed the same, in their Melissa Gilbert Little House outfits.

“Would those students now please come up here to the stage, so they may be properly recognized,” said Mrs. Sanders.

There was no use trying to run and hide. I just had to go face the firing squad.

 . . .

The girls and I filed onto the “stage” which was really just the sidewalk in front of the cafeteria. We climbed a few steps up from the open-air courtyard where all the kids were seated on plastic chairs and picnic benches. I still hugged my grocery bag with the clothes in it like it was a parachute.

“Now please stand on the chairs if you would children. Thank you to Janitor Bruce, and the Sixth Grade boys for providing the chairs.”

Bruce, the Michael Myers janitor, and a few Sixth Grade boys dragged seven or eight plastic chairs behind us to stand on. I heard one of the boys behind me whisper “Pussy” in my ear as they pulled the chair up behind me.

“Initially, we were going to have a costume contest, but so few of you dressed up, and the costumes were all so good, we simply want to recognize everyone who dressed up, ” explained Mrs. Sanders.

I stared out at all the faces and realized the worst-case scenario had come true. I was the only boy in the whole school who was dumb enough to wear a costume.

“The only boy who wore a costume is Jack Clune, and what fine costume it is. Jack please stand on the chair and be recognized.”

I heard the crowd laugh at my name ‘Jack.’ I put my grocery bag down, and I climbed up and stood on the chair. I felt like “Carrie,” under the gaze of every child, teacher, and administrative person. I looked out and saw Bruce the janitor staring at me, chewing on a toothpick.

“Now girls, would you please stand on the chairs as I call your name . . . Suzanne Coke . . . Melody James . . . .”

Soon it was me and all girls standing there. Like Bob Barker and the Price is Right girls.

“Let’s give these students a big round of applause,” said Mrs. Sanders.

The sea of kids applauded very weakly.

“Okay, thank you, students, you may return to your seats.”

I dropped to the ground, grabbed the grocery bag, and ran for the boy’s bathroom.

 . . .

In the bathroom, I saw myself in the mirror as I ran to one of the empty stalls.

Jesus Christ. Why did I ever have this suit made?

I bounded into the stall and began taking off the hat, jacket, the cravat, and the vest first. Afraid the floor might be wet with pee, I started removing the costume from top to bottom.

I stood in a dry corner of the stall and got my corduroy pants on. Next came my favorite terrycloth shirt. I threw the buckled shoes in the paper bag and got my sneakers on. I felt relieved.

Then I heard the bathroom door slam open against the wall, and someone entered clearing their throat with grotesque sounds.

. . .

The intruder walked over to the sink, then it scraped up from its throat a big loogie and spit it out, retching. Then it turned on the water.

“Urgh. Urgh. Oh! Ooomph,” the creature was making guttural humanoid noises. Then it finally spoke.

“Urgh. Someone’s in here already taking a shit huh?” said the Klingon.

Whatever had just walked into the bathroom, it was talking to itself. I felt like I was in Jack and the Beanstalk, hiding from the giant.

“Hey how long you gonna be? I gotta take a shit too!” said the monster.

There’s another stall in here. Why is this happening to me? I don’t dare say anything, I thought.

“Hurry up! I want that stall!” said the beast.

Using two fingers, I turned the disc opening the stall and I stepped out tentatively.

Standing in front of me was a big kid twice my size, with an ugly face, narrow forehead, with strangely receding stringy hair. He looked like Ben Franklin, except he was dressed like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. He wore maroon corduroy pants and a puke green T-shirt. The boy’s eyes seemed to droop, and it looked like his red face had been scalded- recently. His mouth hung open.

“You’re the kid that was in the costume . . .” said the Toxic Avenger.

I gave up lying after the incident in Georgia when I got caught for breaking into my father’s car and stealing his doctor’s stuff- tongue depressors and penlights. I was on the spot here. I did not know what to say, but I instinctively knew to deny I was ‘costume boy.’

“No. No, no, no, that was not me,” I said, trying to buy time to think of what to say next.

“Yeah, it was you. And your costume’s in that bag,” said Quasimodo.

“No. No. No, there’s no costume in here,” I said, stupidly.

“Then what’s in there?” asked The Hills Have Eyes.

“This is my lunch bag. I have my lunch in here,” I said.

It was partially true. I had thrown my lunch bag in with the clothes.

“Let me see,” said the inbred from Deliverance as he reached over to grab my bag.

The bathroom door slammed open, even harder than when The Goonies came in.

“David!!! What did I tell you before, David! Are you ever allowed to go into the bathrooms without a teacher David?! No, no, no, you’re not!” shouted some angry man who looked like Neil Sedaka from the album cover Greatest Hits.

‘David’ cowered in fear and made whimpering noises like Marty Feldman in Young Frankenstein. It would not have surprised me if Neil Sedaka started whipping him. I ran out of the bathroom without even washing my hands.

. . .

That night I had my mother zip my George Washington outfit in a plastic garment bag in a permanent retirement ceremony.

Thankfully, within a day or two, Patty Hearst was captured by the police, and everyone forgot about me and my costume.

The Author

P.S. This story is an excerpt from an upcoming Novel which will be edited by someone who knows what they are doing.

Copyright © 2020 Jack Clune

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