On April 5th, 2011, I went, along with my wife, my best friend & his girlfriend, to a Frontier Ruckus concert in Omaha, Nebraska.
Something about that night, which is fully documented in a blog post here, changed me. Getting to see the guys in this band, who are my age (or younger) doing what they love, got into my head and wouldn’t go away.
The whole 2 hour ride back to Des Moines, all I could think about was how I wanted to be doing what I love.
I loved stand up comedy and I loved music.
When I was in high school, I played in bands and tried to release albums, but it never worked out. But I had never tried stand up. I had never gone on a stage alone and tried to make strangers laugh.
At my day job, I would listen to podcasts, every day, for 40 hours a week. Sklarbro Country, Nerdist, WTF, Comedy Bang Bang (then, Comedy Death Ray Radio), Never Not Funny and dozens of others, where comedians would talk about stand up and life and jokes and all of the inside baseball and I wanted to be a part of it.
The day after the concert, Wednesday, I posted a video of Frontier Ruckus on the Sklarbro Country facebook page. A couple hours later, they asked if I could get them in touch with the band. Which I could, because I had just met them. So I did.
Then, 3 days later, on Friday, I’m sitting in my tiny cubicle desk and during Sklarbro Country episode 38 with Scott Aukerman, I hear them say “This next song was brought to us by a friend on our facebook page, Patrick Hastie, this is Frontier Ruckus” and then they played a minute or so of the song “Mount Marcy”.
Again, everything changed. At that moment, I was in contact with a band I love and 2 comedians I loved. So I took it as a sign. I started trying to write jokes.
Then, on April 14th, 2011 (146 years to the day that Lincoln was assassinated & 99 years to the day that the Titanic struck the iceberg) I wrote a set list, and went to the Des Moines Social Club Open Circus open mic. It was located in the lobby of the Kirkwood Hotel at the time.
I put my name on the list, and then sat and waited for my turn.
My set that night was made up of 13 one liners. The topics were: child abuse, masturbation, rape, cancer, abortion, child death, cunts, and ending with a child abuse call back.
The crowd didn’t care. To them, I wasn’t even there. This was not a comedy open mic, but I didn’t know that. This was a play acoustic guitar and tell poetry open mic.
After my set, a guy came up to me and told me about the open mic at The House of Bricks on Tuesdays.
So, the following Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 (18 years to the day that the siege of the Branch Davidians in Waco ends in a fire, killing 81 people & 16 years to the day that the the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City is bombed, killing 168 people) I wrote a new set and went to the House of Bricks.
I walked in, and sat alone. I didn’t sign up, but I saw the guy in charge. This is what I imagined an open mic would be like. There were a lot of people, everyone drinking, everyone talking. Waiting to begin.
Suddenly, I got the urge to do it. It was about 8:05pm, and the open mic was gonna start soon.
I walked over to the guy in charge to submit my name, and just as I did, 2 guys cut in front of me. They are clean cut looking and young. They start talking to the guy in charge. I over hear them complain when they find out there are already 20 people on the list.
Man in Charge: “I am sorry, we already have 20 people, you guys can be 21 and 22?”
Young Guy 1: “Are you kidding? On facebook it says that sign up was at 8!”
Man in Charge: “Yeah, sorry, it fills up quick.”
Young Guy 2: “It fills up in 5 fucking minutes?”
Angrily, They signed up and walked away.
I then looked at the guy in charge and said something about how I’d like to sign up also. He introduced himself as Dan Umthun. I told him my name, but for some weird reason that I cannot explain, instead of saying my name correctly, as “Patrick Hastie” (pronounced Hay-stee) I said “Patrick Hastie” (pronouncing it Haz-tie).
I still have no idea why.
I sat at the bar and drank dollar cans of PBR, watching the comedy, and realizing there are a lot of really funny people in Des Moines.
After about 10 comics, Dan noticed that I was sitting at the bar, came up to me and told me that since those other guys were kind of being assholes, he was going to let me go before them. So instead of 23rd on the list, I was 21st.
That’s when I learned the most important thing about stand up comedy.
The following are my 7 Stand Up Comedy Commandments. I look at these as advice to anyone starting out, from a guy who has only been doing it 1 year. This is the stuff I wish I had known when I started.
Don’t be an asshole: As I said. Those guys were dicks to Dan and it got them no where. I never saw either of those guys again. But Dan and I became friends, and he is great comic and a huge part of the Des Moines comedy scene
Be kind: When I first started, we’d do stand up at this open mic at this now defunct bar called AK O’Connors. Toll McGrane (who is an amazing comedian who ran the open mic) and Ashley Huck (another great comic) would sit and talk to me after the show. We’d talk about stand up, the Des Moines scene, life. It was great. They didn’t have to be kind to me. I was a new guy telling rape jokes. But they were. They encouraged me, and with out them, I may not have kept going. Also, you may think “Don’t be an asshole” is the same as “Be kind”, but just because you are not being a dick to a person, doesn’t necessarily mean you are being nice to them.
Go to open mics: I 100% believe that you cannot get good unless you practice. Some people go to 4 of the 12 open mics a month and then complain when they don’t get asked to be in showcases. You’ve gotta work. A guy who shoots free throws 3 times a week is going to be a lot better than a guy who shoots free throws 3 times a month. It’s just that simple. And the whole thing about “one open mic being better than another” I don’t buy, because it doesn’t matter if you are shooting free throws at the Staple Center or in your back yard, you’re still practicing.
Always be writing: With this, I’m not saying you can’t do the same set 5 open mics in a row. That is fine. Polishing is a great skill that I don’t do enough. But if you are always writing, if you always have a pad in your back pocket or a note on your phone ready to go, you will always be energized. That will make you want to hit the open mics. That will keep you excited for comedy.
Be positive: The tortured soul of the comedian is a truth. But, negativity is a hungry monster. When you are not asked to be on a show, don’t let it get to you. When you have a bad set, don’t let it ruin your next one. It’s easy to talk shit and wallow, but fuck that. Just be positive and rise above. As Jermaine Fowler said on my podcast, “Beef kills son”.
Don’t jump the gun: After 6 months, I felt like I was a great comedian. I was cocky and proud. I wanted to do the big shows. I thought I was ready for the Funny Bone. I thought I was ready for New York. I submitted a video to RooftopComedy.com that was the BEST SET I EVER HAD! And then, a month later, I’m stuck with a mediocre video, full of jokes I don’t do anymore, where I’m kicking the mic cord & looking at my notes. It looks like the set of a guy who’d only been doing stand up for like 6 months, because that’s exactly what it was. So now, I don’t put ANY videos of myself online. It only hurts you. No matter how great you think you are right now, in a couple months, you will be so much better and hate that video. After 4 or 5 years it wont matter as much, but for now, just keep ‘em down. And just don’t jump the gun. If you want to book shows that’s fine, but be reasonable. If you think you have 30 minutes, you probably really only have 10. So don’t try and go do a half hour set. It’s not gonna work. All those quotes you hear are true. “It takes 5 years to be good, it takes 10 years to be great.” “It takes 7 years to be an over night success.” Stand up comedy is a long con. Buckle up. But that being said, don’t be afraid to ask for things. I sent TJ Miller a message on facebook once, explaining how lame I thought it was to send him a message on facebook and asking him to do my dumb podcast. He responded that it is not lame. And that you should never feel shitty for asking for things. He didn’t do my podcast at that time because of scheduling, but said he would one day. Which is good, because at that time I wasn’t ready to interview a guy like TJ Miller.
Make friends: I never made friends. My best friends in life are 10 or 15 people I met in elementary school. When everyone else went off to college and made friends, I never did. I have worked at the same job for 2 years and sometimes I’ll go 8 hours without talking to another person. But when I started doing stand up, I started making friends. There were a few cliques formed already. And it just happened that the guys I came in with & I all got along. And then new people started coming, and suddenly, you’ve got a bunch of people who you really like. And who you share this weird obsession with. Friends who you can get in fights with and then drink with. Friends who you can drive to central Nebraska or Mount Vernon, Iowa or Chicago with. Friends who will tell you when you’re being an asshole, because they know you’d tell them when they are. I now have a good amount of friends like that in this comedy scene. Even the people I’m not great friends with, I still like a lot. That’s because I’ve tried to follow these dumb rules. I’ve tried to be kind, I’ve tried to not be an asshole. So make some friends. If you start doing open mics with a couple people, talk to them. Even if you might not in your normal life, because you already have a lot in common
So, that’s my advice folks. No one asked for it, but there you go. Maybe next year, at my 2 year mark, I’ll write another one of these and have a different opinion. Maybe I’ll refute everything I put here. I don’t know. I do know that I will still be doing stand up though. Because I can’t stop.
So there is that. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I don’t pretend to know what I’m talking about. This is just my opinions/advice. Please don’t hate me if you disagree.
I want to thank the following people for helping me along this past year:
Everyone who asked me to do a show with them in this first year: Ashley Huck, Andy Hartley, Andrew Lopez, Dan Umthun, Alex Carter, Fran Moline, Don Tjernagel, Jack Lewis & Joey Ficken.
Jordan Tuerler for telling me to “Slow down.” after my first Funny Bone open mic. This helped me more than you’d think.
Toll McGrane for encouraging me at AK’s, even if he didn’t mean to be doing it.
Joel Fry for all the work he does to build this scene up. It’s weird to look up to someone who is so much younger than I am. Also, if you haven’t listened to Joel’s episode of TMSP you really fucking should.
Ben Herman for mentioning me on his radio show back in August when I didn’t think he even knew who I was at the time.
Billy Short for keeping it real and being my friend, even if he doesn’t want to be.
Marc Von Ahnen because I thought you hated me for a long time, and when I realized you didn’t, I gained a friend who is Bogus.
Anthony Lobaito because both times you came on my podcast, you made me think about things in such different ways and made me a better comic and person for it.
Travis Cherniss for always being extremely encouraging and for carrying an essence on stage with you that is infectious.
Scott Ver Mulm and Wes Cozad because I think you are both hilarious and I wish you guys could come out more.
Sireono Sheley for making me want to write more than anyone else in Des Moines. Now that you are gone, I hope I haven’t slipped. You are the one who got away Sir. I am jealous and proud.
Willie Fratto-Farrell because when you sat down with John and I on our podcast, I got to really learn about stand up comedy from someone who has been doing it successfully for 30 years. And I got to do it all in my little office at my apartment.
Everyone who has been on the podcast. Especially Jermaine Fowler and Drew Michael for teaching me about what’s to come in stand up.
All the newer people (and I don’t mean that to sound condescending, because I am still very new at this) PJ Dennis, Tommy ‘TJ’ Morgan, Matt Vondrak & Derek Moulds. You guys are funny and seem to be doing things right. Stick together.
Brandon Ream, Luke Ritter, Nick Costanzo, Gideon Hambright, Alex Carter & John Eide for being the guys I started with and the first real friends I have made since I was 7 years old. I am lucky to be around such funny and supportive people all the time.
Everyone else in the Des Moines Comedy Scene. If I didn’t mention you by name, it’s only because I have been sick all day and am currently drugged up on Dayquil and Claritin. But I love everyone in this scene, and I wouldn’t want to be doing stand up anywhere else.
And last but not least, my dumb wife Stacie. I love you dummy.
I’ve been working on this book for over two years. This is the biggest project I’ve tackled since college. It feels great to finally share it with the world. Thank you to my wife, my parents and everyone…
We were almost to the bridge. I was jumping, but I knew I wouldn’t get the same thrill today as I usually do. It wasn’t just Duane and I on the bus as usually at this time as we barrel down the hill in the giant yellow Lyons Community School District bus number six, Lonny was also with us. We were both 11 now, and still in the same class. Lonny had grown up to be quite a fat ass.
He had taken to wearing ripped up shirts that were way to big for him. On the shirts were pictures of bangle tigers and great white sharks, and they looked as though they had been washed a thousand times. Lonny also always wore grey sweatpants with stains on them. They weren’t piss or shit stains, but weird stains like spaghettio’s or chocolate malts. I can’t imagine the sweatpants had ever been washed once. I understood that his family was poor, but so was mine, and at least I wore clothes that didn’t make me look like the dirtiest kid alive.
At school, my friends and I made fun of Lonny. He was useless. In class, he would raise his hand and ask the dumbest questions. ”Mrs. Loverly, what is the worst planet?” he’d ask. Or “Mrs. Loverly, would a dolphin ever eat another dolphin?” I can only imagine that Mrs. Loverly, our 5th grade teacher, hated him as much as we did. She had to.
Mrs. Loverly was great. She lived next door to us, so I had known her for years. This was great, because if i didn’t get an assignment done at school, I could just walk it across the road and hand it in after school. However, if I wanted to play sick and skip school, I couldn’t go outside after 3pm, for fear of her seeing me. I don’t know what she would have done, but I’d feel bad making her do it.
My best friends, Joel Copper and Tyler Todd, and I would call Lonny faggot or queer or homo. I never thought he was gay, I just thought that he sucked and those were the words to describe someone who sucks. But then again, one time a few years ago Lonny told me that sometimes he’d stick his index finger inside his asshole, so he may very well have been gay.
When we hit the bridge, I did fly high in the air. I was happy and it was a lot of fun, even if Lonny was there. Duane was laughing from the drivers seat. I often wondered if this was the best part of his day. If he waited all day just for this moment. If this was why he was a bus driver in the first place, so that he could drive fast down the hill and launch me into the air. This was the only time he ever showed emotion, the rest of the bus ride he looked like he had a terrible tooth ache. he wouldn’t smile or say hello to anyone. I am guessing on days when i was sick he was terribly heart broken. Sometimes he’d even talk to me. When I’d step off the bus he’d say “We really got ya up there today didn’t we?” and I’d say yep. Then he’d say “Pertner hit your head on the roof huh?”, and i said yep again. then i said bye, and he’d shut the doors and drive off.
Lonnie didn’t jump. He was asleep with his head against the window of the seat next to mine. I could only imagine he was dreaming of Ross Perot, Captain Picard and Zach Morris playing baseball or of what it would be like to get trapped inside a giant volleyball. He had also started to snore, so I got up and walked the isle to the seat behind Duane and sat down there. I did this while the bus was moving, which would be completely against the rules normally, but since Duane and I were the only ones awake on the bus, he didn’t care.
I had taken a practice mad minute out of my maroon and black trapper keeper and stated going over it. How the fuck was I supposed to do 20 multiplication problems in a minute when the numerator was 12? 12 times 0, 1 or 2 was easy enough, but Jesus, you’d have to be a genius to know what 12 times 7 was. So I asked Duane what 12 times 7 was, and he answered back, “63”, and I wrote that down. Thank God, 1 done.
Then Duane said, “Turn around and look at Lonny back there.” so I put the mad minute down and turned around to see he was still asleep against the window. Duane told me to watch, and then he jerked the steering wheel of the giant yellow bus quickly from the left to the right. and back. This made Lonny rock up forward and then slam hard into the window. He woke up quick and looked like he had just fallen out of a tree.
“Are you ok back there Lonny?” Duane said, “a cat rain out in front of us and I had to swerve.”
Lonnie shook his head and rubbed the side that hit the window, and asked what the cat’s name was. That made me curious if someone could be really retarded without actually looking like that kid on that TV show.
The reason Lonnie was on the bus still, was because he was going to my house. It was one of my most embarrassing moments of 5th grade.
That afternoon, Tyler, who I had been friends with since first grade, had made the comment that Lonny smelled exactly like fromunda cheese. I wasn’t sure what fromunda cheese smelt like but I knew it was fermented under the ball sacks of sweaty french men, and it made sense that the smell coming off of Lonny was quite comparable, so for the rest of the day we called him “Scroat-meal”. Scroat-meal just accepted that we were rude to him, but he would still always be around us. It was as if he liked being picked on, or maybe he just didn’t care.
During silent reading, Lonny aka Scroat-meal, laid on the floor and read the book “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” while Cinnamon, the class ferret, sat on his face. Tyler, Joel and I were reading a “Where’s Waldo” book. Silent Reading had a great catch to it. We had to read, but, we could read any book on the class book shelves. Which had “Where’s Waldo” books, and “Guinness Book of World Records” and that sort of thing, along with Beverly Cleary books and Shel Silverstein books. So naturally, we would just look at a Waldo book.
Tyler said he wondered how his and my grandfathers, who were both named Keith , could be such good friends with Lonny’s father, who was the same age as our grandparents. We decided that old farmers could get along, even if one of them had a son who smelt like shit and was pretty much a retard.
I told Joel and Tyler, how I heard once from my aunt that Lonny’s older sister Maureen, who was my fathers age, was a drug addict and that she was actually Lonny’s mother. But Maureen was to fucked up to take care of him, so her mom and dad, Donald and Geraldine George, became his parents. At that time they were both in there late 40s.
Joel asked if Lonnie knew about all this, and we agreed it would be terrible to find out all of a sudden that your parents where your grandparents and your sister was your mother. We also came to the agreement that ol’ Scroat-meal was to fucking dumb to care anyways. He could be abandoned out in the woods with a note from his parents that said “Suck It, we hate you!” and he’d just stand there and eat his boogers.
After our conversation during silent reading, we got ready for Social studies when an announcement came over the intercom:
Receptionist: Mrs. Loverly?
Mrs. Loverly: Yes?
Receptionist: Is Patrick and Lonny there?
I immediately sunk in my plastic chair. An announcement that involved the both of us had to mean trouble. Had someone told on me for putting Cinnamon’s shit in Lonny’s bag? Or had he himself turned us in for stealing his bag and hiding it in the lost and found box during the Arbor Day Assembly this morning? No matter what, I knew I was totally fucked, and Joel and Tyler knew it too.
They were both staring at me, with faces straight as can be. It was as if they were pleading to me not to rat them out. I was sort of hoping that the receptionist would ask if Joel and Tyler were in the room too, so at least if I went down I’d go down with friends. But still, I could feel the stains in my armpits growing and i felt like i was going to throw up.
Receptionist: Will you tell Lonny that he is to ride the bus all the way to Patrick’s after school today?
Mrs. Loverly: I’ll tell them.
And just like that I felt a boulder lifted off me and replaced with a large rock. Joel and Tyler went from terrified to ecstatic. Tyler said, “oh Patrick, are you two gonna play dolls and make out” Some kids around us laughed, but I just put my head down.
I wanted social studies to take forever so that the day wouldn’t end. As if the schools bells were only to ring when Mrs. Loverly’s full lesson plans were finished. We were all reading from the text book aloud, taking turns after each paragraph. Tyler picked Lonny to read, and so he did. It took him forever to read a 3 sentence paragraph because he was retarded. And he would still pronounce words wrong, like he said “though” instead of “tough”. Apparently he thought the Indians chasing down a buffalo was very “though” to do.
Of course, when Lonny was finished reading, he picked me to read next. This made Tyler and Joel laugh, and I glared at them. I started to read my sentence about what the skin of the buffaloes was used for when the bell rang. I now had 40 minutes until it was just Lonny, Duane and myself on the bus.
When I looked up from the seat behind Duane, he was looking into the mirror as if waiting to catch my eye. When I noticed, he smiled and started to talk.
“The cat’s name was Blow Job”, he told Lonny, and Lonny said that was a funny name for a cat. Then Duane looked at me and i was laughing. Apparently Lonny didn’t know what Blow Job was, where as I had recently heard it had something to do with when a penis is put in girls mouth. And that was obviously funny.
The bus pulled in front of my drive way and Duane opened the door. Lonny and I got off and Duane said to Lonny before he shut the doors that if he saw the cat on the way home he’d pick it up for him, because he’d really like blow job. Then Duane said that he may just keep it for himself, cause he could use a Blow Job to. Lonny smiled and said thanks.
We walked up the dirt/gravel driveway and Lonny said that the ravines in it looked like the grand canyon, then i said his hair cut made him look like a faggot and started to run up the drive way.
I got inside and my mom was waiting by the door. She hugged me and kissed me and asked where Lonny was. I told her that I didn’t know. I really knew he was outside, probably on the porch by now, but it seemed cool to pretend that I hadn’t noticed he rode the bus to our house.
Lonny walked in the door and my mom said hi, and hugged him too. I thought that was really weird, because my mom never liked Geraldine and always talked about how gross Lonny was when she’d see him out in the yard playing. She would say that it was a shame that his life was sure gonna be tough.
My mom told Lonny and I to go to my room and play. I didn’t want to do that, I didn’t want him in my room. Thoughts of Lonny, thoughts of Scroat-meal taking a shit on my brand new NFL bed spread, or blowing his nose on one of my t-shirts made me crazy. But, I listened to my mom and we went in anyways.
I pulled the covers off my bed and sat on the sheets. Lonny sat in my Kansas City Chiefs camping chair. The chair looked like it was ready to tear and break from his weight. What a fat shit. What a fat smelly fucker.
I turned on the tv and it was on PBS. Sometimes I’d watch the shows on PBS because i liked them. If Tyler or Joel saw me watching PBS I’d be embarrassed, but I don’t know why. Since Lonny was the only one in the room who’d see me watching PBS I wasn’t embarrassed, but i don’t know why.
The show was about this scientist named Bill teaching us how to build things. On this episode he was showing how to build a volcano out of baking soda and vinegar. Lonny really liked the show, he kept looking at me and saying “that’s cool, idn’t it?” I didn’t answer, and he went back to watching the show.
It actually was kind of cool, the way this reaction, baking soda and vinegar with red food coloring, would make such a mess. I wondered if that’s how volcanoes really worked. Obviously, there isn’t baking soda and vinegar colored red under ground, but maybe 2 other things mix and make volcanoes blow up. I bet i could ask Mrs. Loverly about this, she’d know. maybe she would let me make a model like this and do it for the whole class. That’d be really cool.
Then Lonny looked over and asked if i thought it’d be cool if Mrs. Loverly let us build one of these models for class. and i told him that he was gay, and that volcanoes were gay too, and then i clicked the TV off. Lonny wasn’t phased he just looked at the window at the cows that were in the field behind our house.
I rolled my eyes at Lonny then started thumbing through my baseball card album i had on the floor. Joel and Tyler may know a lot more about baseball then me, but I have a ton more cards then them. Then there was a knock on my bedroom door.
I opened the door and my mom was standing there. It was weird because no one ever knocked in our house. My mom would usually yell from the kitchen. It always bugged me because she would yell, “PATRICK!” and I would yell back “WHAT?” and she’d yell back “I DIDN’T SAY WHAT, I SAID COME HERE!”. It pissed me off because that’s not what happened at all. She never said anything except my name. But, the fact that she was knocking on my door was different, as if my bedroom was my own apartment. Thoughts of installing a refrigerator and sink passed through my head, until my mom spoke.
She asked me to come into the kitchen, so i did. Lonny stayed in my room. When i got into the kitchen i could tell that my dad, grandma and grandpa were all in the living room. And so was Maureen, Lonny’s Sister/Mom. I hadn’t seen her in a long time. I always remembered her being skinny and pretty, but she was fat and ugly now, but I could tell it was her still. She was smoking long cigarettes, longer then my mom and dads. Maureen George was the only person i knew who smoked those.
My mom asked me to sit at the kitchen table, because we needed to talk. I immediately started the conversation, by asking why the heck Lonny was in my room. My mom just looked at me, and said to hold on a second. But i kept talking, I told her how embarrassing it was for me when the news came over the intercom, I told her how much Joel, Tyler and i hated him. How he let the ferret sit on his face. I think I even mentioned the Fromunda Cheese, but I can’t be sure. The whole time i was talking, my mother just stared at me with sad eyes. As if every word I said was hurting her feelings.
This pissed me off. Why would my mom be so defensive of this little shit. She herself said his life would be tough and that he was gross. So i kept talking I said, that I wanted Lonny to go. I didn’t want him in my room, or in our house. Never before had I put my foot down like this, I imagined my father and grandfather would be so proud, me sticking up for myself and my beliefs in such a way. My beliefs of Lonny being a piece of shit asshole who doesn’t deserve to be in our ranch style.
Then, after I said that about wanting Lonny out, i stopped talking. My mom still looked sad, and she had a tear in her eye. She grabbed my hands and held them, and told me to listen to her.
She said “There was an accident today Patrick. Lonny’s mom and dad, Geraldine and Donny, they died.”
I was floored. I felt sick to my stomach, like that time Joel and I drank the brown liquor we found in his grandpa’s garage. My mom cried now, it was no longer a few tears. All my hatred for Lonny was gone. All my angst and anger, was gone. I wasn’t the same kid I’d spent the last 3 years turning myself into. I wasn’t cool or popular. I was just a kid sitting at a table with his mom.
I asked her how. And she told me that this morning, after Lonny got on the bus, Don went out to help Grandpa Keith in the field and the two of them we’re working on the hay baler and something snapped, and it hit Don in the neck. It killed him instantly, and that Grandpa had tried all he could to stop the bleeding, but it wouldn’t stop.
All I could see was my grandpa in the field, in the middle of the hot day, trying the best he could to save Don’s life, while Lonny was in class laying on the floor reading “Sideways Stories from Wayside School” with Cinnamon perched on his face.
After a minute, I asked what happened to Geraldine. Apparently, my grandpa had put Don in the back of the truck and drove down the field road and over to Lonny’s house. He knocked on the door, and when Geraldine came to it he said that he was very sorry. Then she ran to the truck and saw Don laying there, and she couldn’t handle it. She had a heart attack and died right there in the driveway. For the second time that afternoon my grandfather watched two of his best friends lives end right in front of him, and he couldn’t do anything about it.
It hurt so bad. The news of what had happened this afternoon. It hurt me so bad, and it wasn’t even my parents. I barely even knew Geraldine and Don. Sometimes they’d go fishing in Minnesota and have a fish fry and I’d see them there. I always knew they thought Lonny and I were such good friends. I was really sad. I wondered if my Grandpa was ok, I knew that it’d be really crazy to have all that happen in one day.
Then I heard my bed room door open. Lonny must have gotten bored alone in my room, and he decided to come see what was up. That’s when it hit me that he had no idea. I mean, I knew he wouldn’t know. But when i realized he’d have to be told, it hurt. It seemed forever from the sound of him opening my door and when he finally came around the hall corner and into the kitchen.
“I’m hungry, do you have any tuna fish Sharon?”
That is what Lonny said when he walked into the kitchen. All he wanted was some tuna fish sandwiches, but that wasn’t what he was going to get. Instead, he was going to get news that would change his life. His terrible, smelly, tough life. I got up and walked out of the kitchen and right out the front door. I sat down on the porch steps. It was about 6:00, and it was still sunny out. The day was beautiful.
After about 2 minutes of me sitting on the porch, my dog Pokey came over and I started to pet her. After about another minute, Pokey and I heard a loud scream from the kitchen. It was so loud Pokey started barking. I didn’t know what the sound was at first, and when I looked in through the window to the kitchen table where my mom and Lonny were, I saw that Lonny was screaming.
He kept screaming “NO, NO, NO, NO”, and he was hitting his fists on the table. He started to move his hands around and knocked stuff off the table. The plastic bill holder that sat on the table, that my dad would use to keep track of the bills, it fell to the floor and I can only imagine it broke. There were papers everywhere, and I couldn’t see everything through the curtains, but I could see my mom was standing. She grabbed Lonny and hugged him, and he stopped moving, but he continued to scream. ”No, No, No”. He just kept screaming the same thing, over and over.
After an hour, I went back in side, it was now starting to get dark, and even though I was 11 years old, I hated being outside alone after dark. Inside, Lonny was in the living room asleep on the love seat. My grandma and grandpa were sitting on the couch, Maureen in the recliner, and my mom and dad were sitting on the fire place platform. No one was talking, not a word. I walked in and sat Indian style on the floor in front of my mom and dad.
I still felt sick, knowing what I knew. Knowing that Lonny’s life would never be the same. That his mom and dad, even if they weren’t his real mom and dad were dead. That he would never see them again. They would never get to hug Lonny, the smelly fat ass who was there son/grandson whom they loved. I felt like I could throw up, luckily I skipped on lunch today so we could stay on the playground longer. We had taken Lonny’s windbreaker and threw it in the mud during recess, and we knew if we went in for lunch we’d be in trouble.
After a couple minutes, my grandpa looked over at me and said, as if the day was like any other day ever, “What did you do at school today Patrick?”. That’s when I threw up all over the carpet, while Lonny, Scroat-Meal, slept on the loveseat.
This starts before the dust storm. The flash of blue, black, grey and then red, hasn’t happened yet. The terrible sounds and squeals hadn’t hit my ear yet. This starts before the dust storm.
It was October, but the snow hadn’t came yet. It was a brilliant day. The bus ride from Southwest Elementary School to our house was 50 minutes long. On the bus I sat next to Lonnie. Lonnie was in my class and I thought he was retarded. He wore thick glasses, like me, but they didn’t help him read, they helped him see things that were far away. My glasses helped me read, I could see things far away just fine. Lonnie lived up the road from us, it was a gravel road but the county of Lyons workers didn’t take care of it, so it didn’t have very many rocks on it. I often would day dream out the window of the large school bus, that I could roller skate all the way to town on the flat unrocky gravel road. But i didn’t like to roller skate. Lonnie liked to roller skate, but then again Lonnie also liked to eat crayons and then vomit them on the bus floor.
The last 5 minutes of the bus ride home were my favorite. There was a large hill a few miles from my house and at the base of the hill was a bridge. This was a very small rickety bridge, and our bus driver, Duane, would speed down the hill and I would jump up and down in the back seat until the bus hit the bridge and would bounce against the boards. This would send me high into the air. It was the best part of the afternoon, and I always looked forward to it. I never worried about the bus crashing, or falling off the bridge. It was like my own personal roller coaster, even though I didn’t like roller coaster. Lonnie liked roller coasters, but then again Lonnie liked to put his index finger inside his butthole.
When the bus finally got to my house, I was excited. The day was beautiful, and I wanted to immediately start playing in the yard. We had a giant yard, and I had many toy trucks. I had Tonka trunks, I had dump trucks, road graders, bob cats, and even a green road layer that had a large roll of plastic road that it would lay. I never really played with it, because it was green, not yellow, and because the road was useless.
I walked up our driveway, which had large deep holes in it, that looked like tiny ravines. To my mothers Ford Escort, these ravines were hell, but to me, the ravines were my own personal grand canyon. I would walk up through them and pretend i was a giant. I was Paul Bunyon, I was untouchable, I was happy. Then I saw my dad coming down the road in his red truck, which i called a pick-up truck, because he called it a pick-up truck.
When he pulled in the driveway he told me to get my sister, who was too young to go to school and my mother and have them come out to the truck because we were going to go into town. I went in the house, which was a giant A-Frame where you could step right up on to the roof from the grass. This was great in the summers for watching fire works, because on a clear night we could see all the way to Omaha. This was also great, because anytime my parents were not home, I could play with my trucks on the roof, which to me, was the most sneaky thing in the world.
We all got in the red pick-up truck, and Dad said we were going to into town to get dinner. We usually ate dinner at home, and it was usually cooked by my mother, so I was excited. My dad was driving, and between him and I was my sister. She was only 5 years old, and she wouldn’t even turn 6 for another month. My mother was sitting to the left of me, she was taking up a lot of room, because she was pregnant. I didn’t understand pregnancy, but I did know that it meant I was going to have a little brother or sister and that was a good thing.
My dad wasn’t my father. He was my father, in the sense that he was married to my mother and that I called him dad, but he wasn’t my father in the sense that he was named Eric and my real father was named Rodger. I also knew he wasn’t my real father because I knew my mother longer than he did and we had different last names. My mom also had the same different last name as my father. My sister and I had the same last name too. It was the same last name as Rodger, our “other” father who wasn’t our “dad”. I often wondered what the baby in my mothers stomach’s last name would be.
As we were on the road we passed Lonnie’s house, I expected to see him out in the yard playing with some toy trucks, but instead he was laying in the grass letting a cat sit on his face. If I were at home, I’d be playing with trucks, but instead, I was going to town to get dinner with my family. My Dad was talking to my Mother about how some guy at work was a real “funny nigger”. I didn’t know what his job was, but I knew it had something to do with cows. I didn’t like cows. They never really bothered me but I really liked pigs, and I felt you could only like one. Just the same as I liked dogs not cats. Which is another reason why I wouldn’t let a cat lay on my face the way Lonnie did. And I really thought Lonnie was retarded.
We were coming on the straight away, by the houses where the kid whose name is Steven but spelled with “ph” instead of a “v” lives, and my dad turned the radio up. The song on the radio was by Randy Travis. I loved hearing Randy Travis, because his voice sounded like he was trying not to sing but instead make a funny sound. I looked over at my sister, and she was counting on her fingers, I taught her how to count to 5, and so now that’s all she did. My mom was singing along with the radio, and my dad was just driving. I assumed driving the pick-up truck was hard, because there was extra pedals and gear shifters. it was cramped on the seat, but I felt comfortable. I leaned my head back so I could see the sky out the back window and started to day dream about what I would eat when we got to the restaurant.
This is when the terrible sounds hit my ear. I jerked my head forward, and all I saw was the dust storm. It was terrible, like driving through a fire only there was no smell of smoke. My father had one hand on the steering wheel and the other was stretched across my sister and I and it was holding my mothers hand. The pick-up was spinning and we were no longer on the road but in the ditch. My sister was screaming, my father was cursing, and my mom was silent. I looked around and my father was still bringing the car to a stop. And then all at once the car stopped, the engine died, and we were no longer going to town to get dinner.
Right before the car stopped, I closed my eyes tightly. Then I heard the door open and I could tell that my sister and my dad were no longer in the car. The door was still open and I could hear the dinging of the door ajar bell. I opened my eyes again, and my mother was no longer sitting on the seat next to me. She was on the floor curled into a tight ball and she had apparently gone to sleep. I then realized that my glasses were very broken, and I wouldn’t be able to use them to see far or near anymore. There was also something on them, that i couldn’t figure out what was. It was red like the color of the truck, so I figured it was the paint from the truck.
This was after the dust storm had settled. I heard my sister screaming far in the distance, and when I listened hard I could hear a car radio. It wasn’t coming from our speakers though, I even reached out to turn our knob up and sure enough, it didn’t make the music any louder. I was a little glad that it didn’t get louder, because it probably would have woken my mother up, and my dad has told me that its not nice to wake a pregnant women when she’s napping. I reached up for the rear view mirror and I was going to turn it so I could see how goofy I looked with broken glasses, but I knew that it would make my father angry if I moved the mirror so instead I slid over a little and looked at it, only to see that there was tons of red paint from the truck all over my face. And it was runny, like pancake syrup.
Then my dad appeared in the door of the truck and grabbed me, he was holding me tightly, tighter than he’d ever hugged me before and he ran with me, across the road which had enough gravel on it at this point roller skating would be a little harder, and sat me next to my sister in the grass. He told me to stay there, and I told him I would. He was very angry about something. Not so much angry as excited. Not the way I was excited about playing with my trucks or excited about having strangers cook my food, but excited in a different way. He ran over to the truck and and pulled my mom out of it. She didn’t even wake up, I thought her dream must be good if she didn’t wanna come out of it. I also though how silly it was that my dad was going to wake her up after he warned me not to.
I looked at my sister and she was pale, she was as white as the sheets on my parents bed. I imagined that people would drive by and see the two of us and wonder what was going on. I also imagined we had another person with us, who looked blue. Because my sister was very white, I was covered in paint from the truck and a blue person would make us look just like a flag. And I think that would look neat. I would hope someone would take a picture and it would be on the cover of one of those country farm magazines my Grandma Sue read.
My dad started to drag my mother across the gravelly road and yelled at me to come help him, so I jumped up and grabbed my moms feet. When I walked on the gravel I realized there was no way I could ever roller skate on it. There were tiny rocks you couldn’t see that would make it really hard. We laid my mother in the grass next to where my sister was sitting and my dad sat with us. He asked if I was in pain, and I said no. But I did have a sudden headache. He was cradling my mothers head and trying to wake her up. I almost told him to let her sleep, she must be tired, but my sister talked first.
She said, “Who’s in the back seat?” and I giggled, the truck didn’t have a back seat, then she pointed past us and I noticed for the first time where the music was coming from. There was a broken blue mess of a car further down the road in the ditch. It looked like someone had taken a car and wadded it up into a ball. My dad told her that no one was in the backseat and he told my mom that we were all okay, but that it was terrible. He kept saying, this is terrible, this is terrible. I looked up at the sky, and then all around, at my father, my mother, my sister, our truck, and the blue mess of a car, and I realized exactly what had happened. we were in a car accident. That’s when I closed my eyes and took a nap.
I woke up and was at a hospital. My sister was in the room with me, but she wasn’t in a bed like me. My dad and her were standing next to each other and they were really happy I had woken up. My grandparents were also there, which I liked cause they were fun, and my dad told his dad, who I called Grandpa, that the baby was fine and that they wouldn’t have to take it. Everyone was very happy in the room. Except my dad, he looked like someone had told him to smile even when he didn’t want to. My sister came over to me and grabbed my hand and said that mom was fine. I was happy. I didn’t know anything was wrong with her, but it was good to know she was fine. Then she said “The lady died.” and I asked what lady, and she said “The lady in the blue car, she died and went to heaven with god and jesus.” I was really intrigued by this. Someone died and everyone in the room had started talking and everyone looked less happy. No one had expressions at all. it looked like a bunch of people wearing Halloween masks of people with no faces.
Then my sister said, like she said on the side of the road, that there was someone in the back seat who died too. And my dad quickly corrected her saying there wasn’t anyone in the back seat of the car. He said that just the lady was dead. But my sister knew better. She saw it and she told all of us that she saw someone in the back seat, and that they were small, not moving, and covered in red blood. I wondered if it was a little kid like us, maybe someone from class.
My father told my grandfather that he had ran over to the car while holding her and looked in to see that the women had been decapitated in the accident. He then leaned in and whispered something to my grandfather and my grandfathers face cringed like he was eating a grapefruit. Then my sister again told me that she saw a person in the back seat. She wasn’t happy or sad, she was just telling me. As if she was telling me about something she saw on tv. I laid back and went back to sleep and I dreamed about the accident. I dreamed that I was my sister and I had seen the lady in the car without her head, but I didn’t see anyone in the back seat. Instead, I saw the woman’s head. And she was crying. I felt really bad for looking, but I also felt really happy that her face wasn’t my mothers.
I woke up and everyone was still in the room, my grandfather hugged me the way he did so that he seemed like the largest person in the world, and my grandma kissed me and my sister a lot. I noticed my mom was now in the room in a bed like me, she was reading and had tears in her eyes. I wondered if what she was reading was sad, or if she was crying about the woman from my dream, the woman from the accident. Then a nurse came in and had a tray on wheels, it wheeled right over my bed, and it smelled like chicken. I took the top off and it was a piece of chicken, some veggies, some fruit, and french fries. but I wasn’t hungry anymore, like before when we were first heading to town to eat dinner.
So I just laid there and thought. I think this was the first time I ever thought like an adult, because I was thinking about life and death, and I had never thought of that before. The dust storm was over, and I wasn’t the same as I was before it. When I road the bus with Lonnie now, I’d feel different. I thought everything would feel different. And it did.
So, I was trying to figure out what the first movie I remember seeing in a theater was. I knew it was either “Batman” at the Mall of the Bluffs theater in Council Bluffs or “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” at the Royal Theater in Glenwood. I looked them up to see which movie came out first, and turns out they were both released on the same exact day, June 23rd, 1989. That’s weird, right?