I never imagined the day would come when anything was more important than pranks. But I have a new obsession. Bebe Hart. I spend every waking hour thinking of her…
Every sleeping hour, too. Thoughts of kissing her invade my dreams.
My desire overwhelms me and I construct elaborate fantasies of the two of us together on a date, in my bed, in her bed, in the shower, in the backseat of the car, at the movies. The possibilities are endless. In reality, the opportunity to spend more time with her looms large, if only Dad will agree to one thing.
That day we met up at the laundromat, Bebe made a proposition that Dad was still pondering. She explained to him that her brother left for college and she was looking for someone to take his position at her bar. It was an easy job, just cleaning the bar up on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
Dad didn’t say yes right away but he didn’t say no, either. He told Bebe he would speak to Mom and he wanted to check her place out. Then he started speechifying about responsibility and maturity and totally embarrassed me. Though I didn’t want to leave Bebe’s side, I had to drag Dad out of there before she changed her mind.
Dad tried to put up roadblocks to the idea at first. He pointed out to me that the bar was too far from home for me to ride my bike so I begged him to teach me how to drive.
I went out of my way to show them how responsible I could be. While Mom and Dad were out on one of their date nights, I vacuumed, washed all the dishes, did the laundry and even dusted the bookshelves. When they get home, they are so surprised to see the house in a spotless condition.
Instead of lounging on the sofa, hogging up the TV, I tell them I am going to bed. As I head downstairs, I overhear them making plans to visit Bebe’s bar the next night. My heart floods with joy and excitement. If they let me go along, it will be the first time I have seen Bebe in the flesh in nearly a week. I can’t wait.
The discussion I wasn’t privy to took place that night before they went to bed. It would have mortified me because while I was in my basement room, caught up in my dreams of Bebe, Dad was relaying his suspicions about my interest in the job. Unbeknownst to me, my father was fully aware that I was crushing hard on a woman way out of my league.
Mom and Dad made a compromise. If the bar proved a suitable environment and Bebe still wanted me for the job, I could work there. Meanwhile, they had a very distinct plan about getting me interested in girls my own age and if I agreed to go along with their plan, I was free to spend my weekend mornings with my dreamlover. But they don’t reveal all this to me right away. They just announce we are headed to Bebe’s to check things out and off we go.
Bebe meets us at the foyer with a dude about Dad’s age. She introduces him as her father and I snap to, standing up straighter and adopting an expression I thought would make me look mature. I even attempt to shake his hand but Gus Hart is gruff and abrupt, waving us towards the main bar and then disappearing upstairs.
Mom and Dad take seats at the bar and Bebe offers them a drink. I start to sit as well, but Dad stops me.
“Son, here are some quarters, why don’t you play some Shuffleboard while your mother and I talk with Miss Hart.”
I reluctantly agree and wander over to the Shuffleboard, making some weak attempts at the game and wishing I had supersonic hearing so I know what my parents and Bebe are saying about me. It is me they are talking about, I can tell because frankly, I can’t keep my eyes off my fantasy girl and it seems every time I look her way, she is looking back at me.
I am standing so far away but the air between us scintillates with passion–at least in my mind. My parents place their respective drink orders and chatter away, a good sign they are comfortable in Bebe’s bar. I think they were expecting a much rougher place but lulling Latin music and ambient lighting make for a respectable atmosphere.
Bebe enchants us all with her slick moves. Bottles sail through the air with ease and she never fails to catch them nor does she spill a drop of liquid. She has the grace of a dancer, the hands of an athlete and apparently a lot of charm because Mom and Dad seem enraptured by her every word.
Drinks are served not once, not twice but three times and Dad helps himself to every round. He is dominating the conversation and his voice grows louder and more exuberant but Bebe never loses her patient smile. I abandon the Shuffleboard and head for the men’s room, though it kills me to take my eyes off Bebe, even for a few moments.
The sight I return to is unreal. Flabbergasting, humiliating and hilarious all at one time. So shocking, I consider running straight out of the bar and all the way home. But like the proverbial train wreck, I can’t take my eyes off it.
My own father, on the bar, shaking his middle-aged butt with a very self-satisfied grin on his face.
Bebe is no longer behind the bar but is standing to the side with her father. He looks furious and my heart sinks. I’ll never get the job now.
Feeling desperate, I rush over to them and start sputtering.
“Mr. Hart, please…my dad, he doesn’t normally act this way–”
“We’re not hiring him, we’re hiring you,” Bebe gently interrupts.
Mr Hart shrugs. “Just promise to never bring him here again and you’ve got the job, kid.”
We all crane our necks back towards the bar and with immense relief, I see Mom has managed to get Dad down. I hate to leave the presence of my guardian angle, but I know I’ve got to get my parents out of there. I cautiously approach them as Mom is begging Dad to go home.
While they are bickering, I pick up Dad’s keys where he has set them on the bar. Standing behind him so he can’t see me, I dangle the keys in Mom’s line of vision but he hears the metallic clinking of the keys and whirls around, his face a distorted mask of drunken belligerance. When we make eye contact, something breaks through his fogged brain and the fury is replaced with sheepishness. Head down, and shoulders slumped, he follows Mom and I out to the car.
My father spends the next day in bed, intermittently groaning and often running to the bathroom to be sick.
I am still blissfully unaware of the compromise between my parents. So it is up to my mother to suggest what is anathema to me: spending time with kids my own age at the community center. A place in my mind not far removed from day care but when she makes it clear I must go if I want the job at Bebe’s, I am off like a shot.
I arrive at dusk to find a group of strangers gathered together telling ghost stories. I stand off to the side, pretending to be interested, but I’ve heard all these silly tales before. Hooked hands and ghostly hitchhikers scared me when I was five but I’m practically a man now.
I am amazed when we enter the recreation room to find the walls decorated with posters of the latest Simerican Idol. This place is goofier than I thought.
At first I make a real effort to participate. I share in a tedious, never-ending game of fooseball, hooting and hollering with my teammate, all the while in the back of my mind, thinking about my future with Bebe, conjuring up a brand-new fantasy of us at the bar, alone in the stock room.
But my reverie is interrupted by the overly-enthusiastic counselor who wants to know everything about me. I do my best to comply, answering each and every dumb question she lobs at me. But I am growing frustrated and bored. My mind wanders again yet oddly, not to Bebe this time. Instead, I am feeling an uncontrollable urge.
Counselor Jenna peppers me with even more questions but I am answering on automatic pilot because that old familiar twinge is taking over. I nod and smile and respond but my mind is making a mental inventory of the contents of my bookbag, which I stashed in the rear of Dad’s old surf wagon. I haven’t cleaned that bag out in sometime so the things I need should still be inside.
Just when I thought this gathering couldn’t be any lamer, Jenna calls out that it’s ‘Study Time!’ and the kids seem genuinely excited to begin their homework!
“Jenna, I’ll need to get my books out of the car,” I tell the counselor. I notice a pretty girl headed to the study-circle and for a second, that whispering, nagging word echoes through my head…CONSEQUENCES…but I shove it back into the recesses of my brain. The old itch needs to be scratched and I’m ready to make my move. I exit the recreation room furtively.
Upon my return, I discover some kids have already finished with study time and started dancing. Others are still struggling over their books and papers. I am pleased to discover no one, not even the counselor, is paying any attention to me. Now is the time to strike.
In a rapid succession of movements, I open my bookbag, shake up the beaker inside, remove it and set it on the floor.
But nothing happens to the beaker. It just sits there, fizzing a bit but the great billowing cloud of choking stink doesn’t appear. My failure at a prank is a surprise but nothing like the shock I’m about to receive.
“He’s trying to poison us!” One of the boys sitting in front of the beaker shouts out an alarm–he is close enough to smell the contents. Jenna waves the students out while grabbing me brusquely by the arm. Moments later, an overweight, elderly security guard enters the rec room. Jenna instructs him to guard me and then she leaves without another word.
The longest thirty minutes of my life pass. The security guard is silent and so am I but inside my head, a hypnotic chant goes faster and faster…CONSEQUENCES…CONSEQUENCES…I’m expecting the police but far worse, in walks the old man. He is angry and he does a lot of yelling but it isn’t until we are home that I get the full brunt.
For the first time in my life, I am subjected to the temper that had made my father infamous back in his talent agent days. Here is someone I have never seen before, a man wild with rage and puffed-up with scorn. His rampage went on for what seemed like hours. Then he withdraws his phone from his pocket.
With his eyes locked on mine, he dials three numbers. He holds the phone to his ear. Then he speaks.
“Information? I need the number for the General of Fort Starch Military School.”