What’s it all about? And why would anyone want to read it? Well, let me try to explain without losing your interest too quickly. Basically, it’s all about me. Shameless self-promotion: of my writing, of my novels:
Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? and Reis's Pieces, of my amazing ability to come up with clever captions on photos of my travels . . . And also, a blatant representation of my stupidity when it comes to spelling, editing, and computer-type stuff.

My debut novel:
Where are the Cocoa Puffs?: A Family's Journey Through Bipolar Disorder was released in September of 2010. My second novel: Reis's Pieces: Love, Loss, and Schizophrenia, was released May, 2012!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Best, the Only and the Unexpected

This is a little piece I wrote last year. I thought it apropos for the holidays. Sadly, as this was written a year ago, everything listed may not be available from Hammacher Schlemmer this year. Enjoy! Warning: This story does contain some 'mature' scenarios and words that might offend sensitive sorts.
The Best, the Only and the Unexpected
by Karen Winters Schwartz

I guess the best place to start something is at the beginning, but since the beginning is really impossible to define, it gets a little tougher on just where to begin. I could start this with something like: ‘I was born,’ or ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . .,’ or ‘I am an invisible man,’ or even, ‘Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.’ But since only one of the four statements is true, and even that one seems questionable at times, I guess I’ll just start with early Christmas morning and Aunt Sharon’s startlingly massive tits.

So there I was, in the throngs of Aunt Sharon’s “hello” with my face pressed into that startlingly impressive mound of flesh. It wasn’t like Aunt Sharon was big and fat and gross. No, she’s beautiful, for an aunt, and her tits are truly amazing. Oh, you think, a fifteen year old boy’s dream, his face nestled into the pure sexual pleasure of her hello. Well, you would be wrong -- dead wrong. It was awful! The inability to breathe, the leering look on my older brother’s face, (I could just make it out over the soft pink flesh) the coarse laughter of my father -- these, the least of my problems. What got me, what shook me to my adolescent core, was the actual withdrawal, the shrinking away of what little bit of manhood I sported between my legs; and with that withdrawal, the sudden irrefutable conclusion that my brother, Mike, was right; I was a frigging fagot!

Oh, all the signs were there! My love for literature, the arts, my obsession with music, movies, my skinny hairless body . . . There wasn’t a nanogram of testosterone anywhere and there was little hope there ever would be. Not that my lack of manhood has anything to do with this story. And not that being gay would frigging kill me or anything, but really I did long for something ‘normal’. At least, I’d like to believe that . . .

But here I was, nine months, three weeks and thirteen hours away from my sixteenth birthday, and I looked like I was twelve -- some sort of screwed-up Peter Pan Phenomenon. Even the most disrespectable gay man would not look twice at me. The only hope my sad little body had of getting any sort of sexual attention was from priests and pedophiles.

“Merry Christmas, Allen!” said my aunt, releasing me from her grasp with a wicked grin, her hands still caressing my brown unruly mop of hair. “Maybe later you can unwrap them fully!” My father and brother laughed mercilessly.

“Leave him alone, Sharon!” came my mother’s voice to my defense, but it was hard to understand her words through her own laughter. Merry frigging ho ho ho!

And then came my cousin, Jeff, right behind her, shoving me ‘hello’ good-naturedly with his broad massive manly hands; and me, proving Newton’s second law of motion, almost falling into one of Mom’s innumerable potted plants. More laughter from the peanut gallery -- it was nice to know that I was a steady source of entertainment. But I laughed the loudest, because if you can’t laugh at yourself life is going to seem a whole lot longer than you’d like. (Garden State, lest someone sue me. God, I loved that movie!)

My little cousin, Megan, looking terrified by the possibility that she might actually be alive, was close behind Jeff. She looked nothing like her older brother. (Aunt Sharon’s men were sort of like my Mom’s potted plants -- innumerable.) Megan’s little spider fingers were nestled between the mixture of baby teeth and naked gaps and a few hopeful permanent teeth; her red hair was pinned on top of her head like a troll doll; her worried look was perpetually etched into her face. “Megan! Get those fingers out of your mouth!” said Aunt Sharon, rudely ripping Megan’s fingers from the safety of her lips.

I made my way over to Megan and tugged gently, lovingly on her crazy pony tail. “Ow!” she cried, but then she smiled her even crazier semi-toothless smile. Someone smaller and weirder than me. I loved this little girl!

Finally the door was shut, coats were put in the closet, presents were put under the tree, and the dog settled down. Because, let me tell you, I was eager to get all this ‘Hello, glad you’re here’ bullshit out of the way and get right to the presents. And I don’t want you to think it was because I was the least bit eager to see what people had picked out for me, because I knew from the fourteen Christmases I’d been through, that the older I got, the likelihood of getting something that was not intended to be placed on my body, (socks, underwear, ugly old man shirts, fluffy faggy mittens . . .) and something that I actually wanted, was as likely as Aunt Sharon growing a third tit. (Which would really be rather interesting.)

What I was eager to do was to pass out the wonderful gifts I had purchased from the most incredible mail order catalogue ever -- America’s Longest Running Catalog . . . Offering the Best, the Only and the Unexpected for 160 years . . . Hammacher Schlemmer! I had worked my butt off bussing tables at Schmidt’s Sausage House all summer and now on weekends. I must have seen ten thousand hot steamy Bahama Mamas, laying stiff and pink and tasty on their bed of sauerkraut go passing by, and scraped ten times as many sausage remnants into the garbage. Oh, how the rats of German Village must have waited each night with their whiskers quivering with gastronomical anticipation! But it had all been worth it, for I now had the financial means to give everyone the Best, the Only and the Unexpected.

Agonizing hours had been spent perusing their catalogue -- eye numbing sessions on the computer studying their website. But ultimately, decisions had been made, money had exchanged hands, packages had been UPSed, gifts wrapped, and finally Christmas had arrived. So it was with great altruistic enthusiasm that I gathered this family of mine and sat them around the Christmas tree. Megan insisted that she play postman, which was annoying as she read like a retarded trout might read, and the name tags proved to be a slow and arduous task. I tried not to fidget excessively as I watched Megan’s lips tremble -- her brow knit in concentration as she tried to sound out ‘To: Mike. From: Mom,’ but my father still found my disposition disturbing. “Will you sit still? You’re sloshing my coffee about!” he growled, placing his hand firmly on my knee and forcing me into stillness.

Mike unwrapped the package of tidy whities. “Thanks, Mom,” he said, dropping the packet down by his chair and not even feigning enthusiasm.

“Well, it’s something you need!” Mom’s voice chirped.

“Gosh! I hope I get some!” My capacity for sarcasm amused me to no end. My father’s hand tightened on my knee until it flirted with pain, and I was forced to squirm away to help Megan. I think we all agreed that Christmas should not run into New Years.

“Let me help you there, Meg. I’ll read the tags and you can deliver them.” She seemed pleased by this arrangement, and things began to move along in a reasonable fashion.

The first of my wonderful gifts to be delivered to its lucky recipient was my mother’s gift. She held the large heavy package on her lap and her face glowed with anticipation. “Whatever could this be?” She teased me by lifting it and shaking it about and dragging out its unveiling.

“Open it! Open it!” I finally blurted out.

My brother shoved me hard in the back. “Christ! Stop being a f-ing fagot!

“Mike! Language!” cautioned my mother.

“What’s wrong with f-ing? It’s not even in the dictionary!” quipped Mike.

My father sighed. “We all knew what you meant.” Megan looked around in her usual confusion. Mike rolled his eyes. Finally my mother ripped the paper apart with gusto. My father mumbled, “What the fuck?” as he took in the lovely gift that sat on my mother’s lap.

“It’s The Pop-Up Hot Dog Cooker!” I announced.

“Oh my!” she exclaimed.

I jumped up and pointed to the picture on the box. “See! See? You put the hot dogs in the middle holes and the buns in the outside ones. Its 660 watt electronic heating coil has time settings so you can heat your dog to your taste preference. And it has a removable crumb basket for easy cleaning.”

“Wow! We might just have to forget about the roast and have hot dogs for Christmas dinner. Thank you, honey.” She hugged me, and even though I knew she was joking about hot dogs for Christmas dinner, there was no doubt that she loved it.

“Jesus Christ,” mumbled my father. His attitude did not concern me in the least. He liked hot dogs just as much as the next guy, and the first time he had the pleasure of biting into a dog cooked to his taste preference -- oh, I knew his attitude would change. And besides, I’d purchased him the perfect gift as well.

More gifts were unwrapped. My grandmother loved The Full Bottle Wine Glass, which held an entire bottle of wine. No longer would she have to concern herself with my mother’s insistence that she limit her intake to one glass of wine. My cousin, Jeff, seemed pleased The 40 Foot Marshmallow Blaster. Aunt Sharon pushed the soft cloth of The Turkish Shower Wrap against her soft chest and thanked me. I only hoped I’d get the opportunity to see it on her wet substantial body. I’d almost ordered the life-like Remote Controlled Tarantula for Megan, but decided last minute to spend the extra $30.00 on The Remote Controlled Flying Pterosaurs, which was a good thing, as even the harmless looking dinosaur freaked her out at first.

I was thrilled to procure my own tidy whities along with an impressively large bag of white tube socks, a new winter hat (light blue, with a yellow stripe, if you can believe it), a couple pairs of Sears ‘special’ jeans and a red plaid button down shirt. I was barely keeping my enthusiasm contained, when I finally unwrapped something that squelched my sarcasm; Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol 2 for Xbox 360. Now this is something I secretly wanted, but had not told a soul -- not something I was willing to admit to, and certainly something my father and brother would not endorse.

You see, I fancied myself a bit of a singer. My mother loved my voice, so I knew that it was she who had purchased this gift. I smiled at her with gratitude, my new treasure secure on my lap. “Thank you,” I told her, and I could just make out the look on my father’s face with my peripheral vision and felt the rough shove of my brother’s hand.

“Fagot!” he said.

Could he not come up with something a bit more original? Certainly there must be other adjectives that even his minuscule brain could come up with to describe me.

I went to the dwindling pile of gifts and pulled out my brother’s box. I handed it to him and watched as he tore the wrappings aside. He looked at me incredulously as he sat with my gift perched on his knees. Mike shook his head. “I don’t even have a fucking fish.”

“Mike!” my mother warned, but she could not be heard over everyone’s laughter.

Okay! Okay! I admit this gift was more for me than Mike. But really, he was a pain-in-the-ass. Why should I spend my hard earned money on an ass? “You can borrow Ralph!” I told him, and grabbed the box off his lap, as I was eager to hold its precious contents in my hands.

As I opened the container of The Fish Agility Training Set, Megan slid over and we took out the amazing tiny football and soccer ball, the soccer goal, the hoops, the slalom course and even a limbo bar! Final gifts were being unwrapped as we absorbed ourselves with the possibilities. Could Ralph, who was rather small for a goldfish, really learn to slam dunk?

My attention was pulled away from the training set when I heard my mother (who had taken over the postal duties) say, “Here’s your gift from Allen, Carl.” Her smile was something more than a smile as she handed my father his gift.

I believe everyone in my family was afraid for me, even my father, as he sat there with his package on his lap; but I was not concerned. It was not going to be a repeat of last year when he found The Pocket Sized Germ Eliminating Light, which set me back $69.95, the most ridiculous thing he’d ever seen. No, this was going to be good. I’d wisely passed on The Million Germ Eliminating Travel Toothbrush Sanitizer, balked at The Men’s Extended Reach Body Hair Groomer, and chosen something truly useful this year. So that it was with the utmost pleasure that I watched him tear away at the package.

But before I reveal the gift, let me build reader suspense, and characterization, and all that crap, by telling you a little about my father. My father is a Buckeye. Now in most societies if you called your father a nut it would not be considered a compliment, but in Columbus, Ohio it’s a given -- almost everyone here is a nut. The few individuals in Columbus (I think there are twenty-seven in total) that poo poo the football team -- believing that it actually detracts from Columbus -- sucks away attention and moneys from the other things that the city and the university offers -- art, music, theater, learning, research, betterment of man . . . These individuals, who refer to the game as a barbaric extension of man’s hostility against man, are, according to my father, fucking fools. And according to the other 747,753 other people living in Columbus, the fact that my father makes a living, and a good living, at being a Buckeye, rates him right up there with doctors and lawyers and in some circles, equivalent or superior to the President of the US of A and the Pope. Maybe you have to live in Columbus to understand this phenomenon, but as an ex-football player with The Ohio State University football team and recruiting coordinator of the best damn team in the entire universe -- well, my father was a demigod.

Now my dad spends a lot of time traveling, watching prospective players, sitting in his office; talking to high school coaches on the phone, messing with his computer and doing God knows what else. Only something like a heart attack would cause him to miss a home game and he somehow manages to travel to most of the away games. So he spends an unreasonable amount of time sitting on his ass, especially on cold metal benches, and even more time bitching about the recent eruption of hemorrhoids, so as I said before, it was with the utmost pleasure and great confidence that I watched him expose The Portable Gel Seat, $59.95. A lot, I know, for a cushion, but this was a special cushion.

It’s compact, with an integrated handle and a center groove that eliminates contact pressure of delicate soft tissue and has 16 small vented openings to allow for adequate ventilation. And I told my father all this, as I watched him slide the seat from its box, and slip it under his derrière. “Hey, this is nice,” he smiled as he shifted his massive frame about on the pad. “You worked really hard this year. Thanks pal!”

Mike was quite behind me -- didn’t punch me or anything. My mother beamed. Grandma was swirling imaginary wine in her glass. Jeff was studying his marshmallow blaster. Megan was investigating her right nostril. Aunt Sharon’s beautiful face was smiling above her breasts. And, me? I was grinning at my dad. Maybe you don’t think giving my dad something that made him call me pal was such a big friggin deal, but let me tell you, when my dad smiled down at me from his new gel cushion with something close to pride in his eyes, all the money I’d spent, all those long hours of lugging around sausage remnants, all the ribbing I’d endured, was nothing, and Christmas was everything it was meant to be.
Give the Unexpected !