Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fewer than Approximately 1,390 words

As I recently searched online for various website freelance writing opportunities, I came across a developing site called Fewer than 500. Fewer than 500's premise is to showcase short fiction and nonfiction stories in 500 words or less to keep and gain the attention of the Millennial generation's ever decreasing Twitter-effected attention spans. Having written a few short stories in the past, I revisited them with the possibility of submitting them. In doing so, I discovered two things: 1.) I'm even worse at estimating than I estimated because my stories were well over 500 words and 2.) I am pretty damn funny.

As I've stated in a previous blog, I'd like to occasionally take the opportunity to use this blog for a little storytelling and that's what I intend to do now. I'd like to make the disclaimer that my father has already read and may have distributed the following story to friends. So the story may not be brand new to some readers and to them I say- get over it. Also, I'm fully aware that I'm risking my very life by publishing this story which particular members of my family may be portrayed in a less than flattering light, but it's a good thing they know that I love them very much and find them hilarious and beautiful and smart and awesome. That being said, I present to you...

Shit Happens
My father closely resembles Santa Claus which makes it difficult to find him threatening in most situations. I find the same holds true for most men with full beards- except for Rob Zombie, who I believe would not hesitate to unexpectedly pull a knife on me should we ever meet. There’s something unintimidating about a beard, and my dad wears it well. He’ll occasionally pull a small black comb from his pocket, quickly run it through his hair and beard, and return the comb next to the felt-tip pen he uses to write checks, which, along with the beard, seems to be a dying fad among most men. In fact, even if he merely mentions the idea of shaving his beard, my sisters and I protest in a violent revolt.

In addition, my father stands at a rather unthreatening 5’8”. Coupled with the fact that he usually refers to my sisters and I by adding the suffix “belle” to our first names, it would suffice it to say that our weekends with dad were usually quiet and filled with MarioCart on Nintendo 64. So, when he did choose to raise his voice, it immediately gave a sense of terror and panic to any situation.

Something he found, and still finds, especially annoying is bickering between my sisters and me. Usually the quarrel would happen between my older sister and myself, and was almost guaranteed to happen if we were forced to sit in the back seat of the car together. You may be thinking, “But kids will be kids...”. However, these fights continued well into our teens and even currently in our twenties. And Sara is a big brat.

The fight would usually begin with Sara making a comment I found to be offensive because of my teen-angst and would escalate because Sara was unable to recognize the comment’s offensiveness. Talking would turn to yelling, and then my dad would intervene.

“You two are always fighting. Why are you always fighting?! Jesus.” He said these words as if our fighting was a personal insult to him. There would be an awkward silence before one of us chose to defend ourselves, to which we were usually told to “cut it out” and “let me finish.” This would go on for a few minutes and usually ended with one of us (most often Sara) being told to stop being a “smart-alec” along with the threat of grounding. All the while, our younger sister Grace would sit silently in the front seat, no doubt playing with her various Nano Babies or choosing what she would hide under the couch next. Bickering was, as they say, one of my father’s “buttons.”

On the occasions when Sara and I were not trapped in the backseat, my father took advantage of one of his favorite devices, “SmashFace.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. After a fight, when the tension in the room between Sara and I could be cut with a butter knife, my dad would beckon us over to him. Once in close enough range of his unsuspecting daughters, my father would excitedly and repeatedly shout, “SMASHFACE!” and proceed to take each of our heads in either hand and mush our faces together, cheek to cheek. This would last for about a full minute until we managed to squirm away. Of course, we wanted to laugh afterwards but doing so would have discredited the reasons we were fighting so viciously in the first place. Instead, I went with my usual route, pouting like a toddler and acting offended.

However, bickering was surely not his only button. What would be a quiet Saturday afternoon at my father’s townhome could quickly turn sour. In fact, it was inevitable that it would happen practically every Saturday.

As I sat downstairs watching television, I would hear my dad enter the upstairs bathroom. His footsteps would stop and there would be a slight pause before muttering whatever profanity he felt fit the severity of the situation. At that moment, we knew what was next. My sisters and I would nervously glance at each, either determining the perpetrator or attempting to hide our guilt.

“Alright,” he’d shout from the top of the stairs, “who clogged the toilet?” Even though we could only hear his voice, we could have guessed his expression. His tone had a slight sense of surprise, which in and of itself is surprising because, as I said, this was a weekly occurrence. He also did a terrible job of hiding the anger and exasperation that lay just below the surface of this question.

At some point along the years, it seemed as though he stopped being angry about the clogged toilet itself, but more so about the fact that none of us had learned our lesson. Weren’t we listening the last time the toilet clogged? Hadn’t he taken the time to walk us to the bathroom to demonstrate the correct amount of toilet paper to use when wiping? Weren’t we aware his townhome had weak plumbing?

After his initial question, Grace and I would usually shout something along the lines of “Not me!” while Sara chose the defense of “It wasn’t me this time!” It was usually necessary to include “this time” in Sara’s response because, more often than not, I choose to believe that it certainly was Sara each and every time. Usually, my father would attempt to remain calm and reassure us that, “I won’t get mad if you just tell me who did it.”

Even though at one point in my life I may have momentarily believed that water polo was a sport that did, in fact, involve the use of horses, but even I was not gullible enough to fall for that line. It was bait, and none of us were willing to bite.

Inevitably, no one ever ‘fessed up to the crime, as we all opted to hear the same speech about the perils of water leakage and toilet paper waste rather than learn what happen to the brave sole who confessed to such a deed. Having once seen my father heave a pocket knife at a running mouse’s spine and hit it with frightening accuracy, I was not willing to know the unthinkable things that the pooper would be subject to. So, I usually took this time to throw menacing glances at Sara and curse her incredibly active and efficient bowels.

This became such a regular occurrence that even when the toilet wasn’t clogged, my dad took the time to occasionally remind us just how much toilet paper was actually necessary for a proficient wipe: about two squares. However, perhaps his breaking point came when I was about fifteen.

Plans were made for the four of us to go bowling with my father’s friend, Mr. Krone, and two of his sons. As it happens, Sara had just begun dating one of those sons, Justin. Minutes before leaving, the shout came from the top of the stairs. As per the usual routine, the clogger never came forward. We were even called to the bathroom this time to face our offense. We stood huddled around the porcelain bowl, each of us vehemently denying ownership of what lay inside.

It escalated to a point where my father, so determined to find the culprit, threatened to call Mr. Krone and inform him that bowling would have to be cancelled on this particular night because one of his three daughters had severely clogged his toilet. We frantically looked to one another; giving eyes that said “someone just take the fall for God’s sake,” though none of us were actually willing to do so ourselves. Sara immediately begged and pleaded my father just listen to reason. Her voice became tense and high pitched as she wavered between tears and nervous laughter at the thought of her new boyfriend knowing our shameful family secret. Eventually she convinced my father to reconsider his threat, but I’ve always wondered why she didn’t choose to confess for the good of the family. We all know it was her doing anyway.

That was the last of any major plumbing issues at my father’s townhome. I’d like to say that we finally learned our lesson that night, but it seems unlikely. Rather, I think we were all just scared shitless.