An excerpt from the novel Keeping Your Cool: A tale of relations, frustrations, and bodily functions, which chronicles the misadventures of a hapless young goth from Chicago in 1989
About to move into his girlfriend’s apartment in the city, our hero spends one last restless day at his boyhood home in the suburbs…
My mood was considerably brighter as I shuffled about the garage gassing up the mower. The long hurdle of the day didn’t seem quite so insurmountable anymore. I hated cutting grass and loathed the whacking of weed that followed even more, but at least it would shave an hour. It was depressing though, the way our erstwhile cornfield was slowly filling up with houses.
I reminisced over the way it used to be as I mowed. Of wandering in comforting solitude amid the tall rows of corn in late summer. Of that Fourth of July when my dad and uncles had whacked cherry bombs into the night with tennis rackets, the explosions lighting the dark like artillery bursts. Of walking my dog along the edge of the field to the woods where our street dead-ended, pretending we were roughing it in the wild. That’d been during my Call of the Wild stage in sixth grade, when I’d longed to dogsled the frozen wastes of the north.
Which gave me an idea. I still had a box of books from those days in the back of my closet. Hardcover versions of The Call of the Wild and White Fang, along with copies of their dandy British counterparts, Lad, A Dog and Bob, Son of Battle. I also had paperbacks of the Big Red series by Jim Kjelgaard and about thirty similar books. Most magnificent of all though was the illustrated edition of The Wolf King by Joseph Lipincott and its sequel, Wilderness Champion. That’d been my favorite, about how the black wolf king befriends Reddy, a lost hound dog pup, and grooms him to be his successor.
Those books had to be worth something, I figured. That kid’s bookstore on Front Street in Wheaton, Never Never Land, was sure to be open, what with all the people in town for the parade. I’d stop by and see what I could get. Enough, I hoped, that I wouldn’t have to beg from mother. What a coup that would be.
Finished with the lawn, I went inside to shower but Lisa was taking a dump. Not wanting to wait, I grabbed a towel and washcloth from the hall closet and used the shower in my parent’s bathroom, thinking how ridiculous it was that we always had to use a clean towel and washcloth. Hang them on a rod and they’d disappear, tossed into the bushel outside the stall, which mother lugged to the laundry room every morning. How unnecessary, I sneered as I soaped up. Isn’t it more practical to reuse a towel a few times?
But not my problem anymore, I thought self-righteously as I stepped out of the stall to dry myself. At Barb’s I’d reuse a towel as many times as I wanted. And I’d keep a goddamn washcloth in the shower too—so I wouldn’t be screwed if I forgot to grab one.
Yet the superiority such thoughts engendered immediately withered when I spotted my mom’s brush on the counter. The bristly, mace-like Conair one with the plastic, rounded handle…
I winced, wishing I hadn’t seen it, for every time my eyes had the misfortune of chancing upon that brush I couldn’t help but remember that night my senior year of high school. I’d been working on an essay due the next day, but for some reason hadn’t been able to focus. So, naturally, I’d decided to take a jerk-off break. Having to pee first though, I went into my parent’s bathroom, where the handle of that brush had caught my eye. Hm, the thought had suddenly come out of nowhere, how would that feel up my butt?
Rather intrusive, I’d realized, like an unexpected, awkward guest you can’t quite figure out what to do with. Yet it had lent whacking, I’d thrilled to discover, a certain heightened intensity at the end. A heightened intensity that’d immediately devolved into intense shame. Yet the logistical nightmare I’d faced was even worse, for much to my horror, the brush hadn’t somehow magically vanished upon completion of the act…
Now what do I do, I’d despaired, hunched kneeling over the damp towel I’d purloined from the bathroom bushel and further soiled, my mother’s brush sticking out of my ass like a porcupine tail. I should’ve thought this through first, I’d sobbed and frothed, waddling like a desperate, ashamed penguin past the portrait of Jesus keeping watch outside my lockless door to the safety of the bathroom, where I’d finally calmed enough to perform a squeamish extraction. But panic had set in again as I’d scrubbed the handle with rubbing alcohol, wondering how to explain my inevitable bout of toxic shock syndrome to our family doctor. I’d even agonized over what to do with the brush. Sterilized or not, I couldn’t leave it out in the open where I’d found it! I’d hidden it behind a stack of toilet paper in the cabinet under the sink, where it’d remained out of sight and mind for days. But ah, the reminder of what I’d done like a slap in the face when it’d reappeared on the counter, the guilt at knowing my mother was brushing her hair with it!
Tomorrow, I told myself, focus on tomorrow, when you’ll leave all such artifacts of adolescent nastiness behind. Tomorrow you’ll start a new life, unencumbered by the flotsam and jetsam that trigger such memories.
Bullshit! Little Snidey snarled. I’ll never let you forget that brush!
All too true, I knew, so I tried to claim it was no big deal. So I stuck my mother’s brush up my ass, I shrugged. Who hasn’t? And I only did it once!
There were times you were tempted to do it again though, he needled. The only reason you didn’t was cuz you were afraid someone might walk in on you.
Well no shit, I shot back. I mean imagine that spectacle? How would I even try to explain that away? That I had a really bad itch?
Books, I reminded myself, stop rehashing that night and focus on selling those books. Then you can move out and put all your youthful humiliations behind you, from teenage self-buggery to those pre-teen sojourns at the dinner table, where you’d be forced for hours to contemplate evil green beans or Brussels sprouts or asparagus stalks before finally summoning the willpower to gag down the few you couldn’t sneak into your pockets. After tomorrow none of that will define you anymore. You’ll be free of that past, free of skulking about the house like a misshapen beast, free of your parents’ bafflement and disapproval, free to forge your life anew on your own damn terms!
Yes, yes, I sighed with weary gratitude. And thank fucking god…
By Bill Franz