Potluck

 

T H I S    W E E K

Poems by Jessie Janeshek

 

It's A Shame

It was late in the year of our lord, 1992; co-workers still talked around water coolers, instead of through Instant Messages...

*****

Robert Karp went to the water cooler as soon as he got into work. Robert Karp always went to the water cooler as soon he got into work. Robert Karp drank his coffee after having brushed his teeth, and it left a bad taste in his mouth. Robert Karp always drank his coffee after having brushed his teeth, and it always left a bad taste in his mouth. Bob Burke was leaning on the water cooler, SOLO® Disposable Cold Cone Cup in hand.

Bob Burke is Robert Karp’s co-worker. Bob Burke is not Robert Karp’s friend. Bob Burke is electrifyingly uncool. He tucks his firm gelatinous gut into his trousers (on Bob they are "trousers" not "slacks" or simply "pants"). On Robert's first day at Consolidated Cardboard Inc., Bob introduced himself as "Bob," but Robert has reason to believe that Bob was waiting to try a late-in-life conversion to Bob from Robert, and was using the introduction of a new Robert as his stepping off point.. On his first day Robert Karp’s ears perked up when he had overheard some of the other co-workers describing a Robert as a "ham-colored dumpster" and Robert believed that description matched Bob instead of him (it did, they were talking about Bob, or "Blob," an unfortunate byproduct of his attempt at a name change).

Bob Burke was not always waiting for Robert Karp. At first, Bob Burke would only wait for him when he had something specific he wanted to say to Robert. Once Robert caught onto this, he would actively avoid Bob when he would see him orbiting the water cooler (they were co-workers, not friends). To compensate for this, Bob adopted two new tactics: 1. He would sometimes wait at the water cooler, and not say anything to Robert, besides general greetings. This was to throw Robert off of his scent. 2. He would approach while Robert was at the water cooler, rather than wait for him. This way, there was no polite way for Robert to shake Bob, and Bob could say his peace. This always puzzled Robert. If Bob adopted this tactic of sneaking up on Robert, he had to know that Robert didn’t want to talk to him. Why would he insist on speaking to Robert, a man who clearly doesn’t like him? Robert could formulate a million different answers to this, but none of them were ever verified. Robert eventually just assumed that Bob just operates on a lower level than he does. Blob lacks the social graces of the average man.

On this specific morning, Robert had no real reason to evade Bob. Robert was in a good enough mood (at least a 7.3 out of 10), and his distaste of Bob did not outweigh the taste left behind by that nefarious marriage of Tropicana and Crest.

“Mornin’ Pal," Bob croaked, the sound seeming not to emanate from his vocal chords, but instead from some sort of sac or pouch lodged between his second and third chins.

Robert did not respond. This was his last chance to lube up his throat and vocal chords before engaging in an endless conversation with Bob, and he wanted to make it count. Smothering the silence, Bob got right to the meat and potatoes of the conversation: “Debbie tells me that you’ve got a quite a surprise lined up for your son’s birthday.”

Unlike Bob and Robert, Bob’s wife Debbie and Robert’s wife Linda were indeed friends, as opposed to simply co-workers.

In a normal conversation, this would be the time where Robert would respond with a confirmation of what his surprise for his son was. However, Robert was still on his third, and final cone of water (after around three rounds the SOLO® Disposable Cold Cone Cup loses its structural integrity), and Bob clearly knew what the surprise was, so he barreled onward before Robert has said a word.

“Isn’t he a little too young to be going to a concert? Even though you’re supervising, he’s going to be too overwhelmed to even enjoy the dang thing.”

Robert was pretty certain that Bob was not genuinely concerned for Robert’s son. Bob just wanted to insert himself into Robert’s life.

“I don’t see the problem with it,” Robert said, finally conceding to conversation, “12 isn’t really all THAT young, especially with how fast things are moving now. Cable TV and the Simpsons and Married with Children are pushing our children to adulthood quicker than ever. It's not like it was when we were kids. If he doesn’t like it, he doesn’t like it, and that would stink, but I'm sure I could make up for it with some ice cream or something. But if he does like it, it’ll be something that he remembers forever. You don’t forget your first concert.”

Robert Karp had not forgotten his first concert. He didn't have a hip-happening Papa, or an Arthur Fonzarelli friend to break him into the cool stuff early. When he made it to 10th grade without having gone to a concert, Robert feared he had missed the boat. He had no knowledge in the field of concert decorum. Do people dance? Sing? When was it appropriate to clap? What were you to do if your back started to hurt from standing too long? For years he passively avoided concerts in order to comb over the bald spot in his cultural knowledge. If his friends were going to a bar or a club that might have a live band at it, Robert would balk, feigning a weak stomach or a caved in gallbladder.

But he knew this was unacceptable, so decided to try to ease into it. He scoured the newspapers for the perfect concert. It had to be right. It couldn’t be an underground show at a dank club, and it couldn’t be a massive pop show. Neither would break him in properly. It had to be cool.

On July 28th 1973, Robert Karp finally attended his first concert. Led Zeppelin was playing at Madison Square Garden. He made a conscious decision to invite his father and brother, instead of his friends. This was a test run; he didn’t want to risk anything. For Robert’s purposes, this was the best-case scenario. It was an arena rock concert: there were thousands of people standing in front of their seats, while the main floor was general admission, where people would be standing and looking up at the stage. Robert could stand comfortably at his seat, watching what the people in general admission would do. He studied them as if he were Jane Goodall, noting when folks would sing, when they’d dance, when they’d stand still, and when it was appropriate to put up a lighter. He realized all of his trepidations had been for naught; nobody had any idea what they were doing. Some people were dancing, some were singing, some were completely still. He was not alone. A weight was lifted off his shoulders at 22. He did not want this same weight to be on his son’s shoulders. He wanted to break him in the right way.

 *****

Jesse Karp was a mini-mastermind. It's hard navigating the lunchroom wielding the power he had, but, wanting to.

He would finally be seeing Kris Kross, who, in his mind, was the only rap group worth mentioning, live and in concert.

It wasn't a mere coincidence that things panned out this way. In the weeks leading up to his birthday, Jesse laid down the ground work to create a most formidable intelligence network. Numbers were crunched, rudimentary spreadsheets plotted, and a network of spies and informants (read: neighbors and relatives) were recruited onto Jesse's payroll (read: he asked them nicely). He waged psychological warfare of the highest caliber. A three point plan of attack was laid out:

Phase One: Casually, he left his copy of “Totally Krossed Out” on the living room table, in the exact spot where his Mom would put her legs up.

Phase two: Just as casually he would leave the cassette single of “Jump” in the stereo of their Toyota Previa.

Phase three: Even more casually, he would “accidentally” walk out of his room with his shirt on backwards, and casually say to his father: “Aww man. What a goofy mistake I made! Though I do look pretty cool. Just like Kriss Kross. Right Dad?"

It was the methodical genius of a truly cunning mind. He was the short-stack Sun Tzu. He was the puppet master, stringing up his parents as if they were the middle-class, suburban Thunderbirds.

In any other context, his stomach would implode and his skin would radiate from the shame and guilt of playing his parents like this. Typically, he wasn't even the type of kid to attempt to sneak a peek at any sort of presents in advance. He would close his eyes through the movie previews for fear of spoiling future releases for himself. Jesse Karp was not a great kid, but he was a good kid. Nice as can be, but totally middle of the road as far as the Middle School Landscape was concerned. He knew this Kriss Kross move would be  He adapted a personality that wasn't his own: he became a baby Bobby Fischer.

The news came over the wire (read: Ryan told him during homeroom) that his father was spotted down at the box office purchasing three tickets for an unspecified concert. Because the metallic plate in his Mother's head could cause feedback problems for any wireless equipment (a "power" she had discovered at an Aerosmith concert in which she was sloppily simultaneously cursed-out-and-hit-on by Steven Tyler), Jesse's third ticket was up for grabs. The lunchroom knew this. Jesse knew the lunchroom knew this, and it showed in his gait. Jesse Karp was aflame. Every denizen of that Cafetorium, be it nerd, doofball, or cutiepie, wanted a piece of that ticket.

"How cool is this?” honked Ryan Jibson, Jesse’s excitable cohort, the Six to Jesse’s Blossom, though both would totally gag if they heard it expressed that way. Jibson, like many other children at the dawn of puberty, had a motor mouth and looked like large swaths of his body were poorly sculpted out of Play-Doh. “Look at that! Chelsea Drimpkin is staring right at you! The last time I remember her looking at me is when I got a nose-bleed and it dripped into her chocolate milk, And you know what else? Earlier today I heard Peter Krampus say, and I quote, ‘I wish I was going to that concert,’ You hear that Jesse? HE’S JEALOUS OF US. PK IS JEALOUS OF US. HE WANTS TO BE US.”

It was a foregone conclusion in Jesse's mind; Ryan would be joining him. Ryan was the Mac Daddy to Jesse's Daddy Mac. Countless sleepovers and slumber parties (there is a huge difference between the two) scored by Totally Krossed Out had forged a brotherhood between the two that neither disagreements over favorite faux-cream-based desserts (Twinkies vs Oreos) nor disagreements over which member of Jem and the Holograms was the cutest could dissolve. They were brothers who had been through hell together. Ryan had given Jesse a shoulder to cry on when Jesse's Sega froze during the final Dr. Robotnik fight, and Jesse was Ryan's emotional rock throughout the entire "We may or may not have found a deer-tick on Scruffy" saga (the Jibson family, and all of Crampton Street, were let free of Fear's fiendish clutch when the potential parasite revealed itself to be a dried-out blueberry). They had gone through heaven and heck, skinned knees and Chuck E Cheese together and Jesse certainly wasn’t going to leave him behind now.

However, Jesse Karp and Ryan Jibson had made a shadow-pact under the light of the blood moon (read: they spit-shook after baseball practice) that they wouldn’t reveal who the third ticket would go to. Karp, the mastermind that he was, wanted to maximize his time in the sun. It was not often that a kid like him found himself at the top of the cafetorium caste, and he was going to milk it for all it was worth. When the time came to reveal to whom would be bequeathed access to this most hallowed of child-rap concerts, Jesse had prepared an elaborate, intricate plan in order to properly navigate the potential turn of the disappointed hoards. By regaling the masses with war-stories of their time in the hip-hop concert, and possibly placing bribes of air-brushed tour t-shirts and cassingles on a few choice children in positions of power, Jesse hoped to firmly establish himself as a new powerhouse in the Middle School Landscape. This was his coup d’ecole FIX "I can't wait to buy a t-shirt at the concert," he said, ostensibly to Ryan, but loud enough for Becky Stewart, Cheerleader and all around cutie patootie, to hear him, "Maybe I'll buy two…" he mused aloud, and he couldn't be sure, but Jesse Karp was pretty positive he felt Becky swoon.

*****

“How does Linda feel about this? If I know her, and I think I do, she doesn’t seem like the type to agree to this sort of a thing. A rap concert?”

Bob’s wife knew Linda. Bob did not know Linda.

“It was her idea Bl… Bob," Robert caught himself before half-inadvertently ruining this man's day "About a week ago she said to me ‘Look, Jesse has been playing this album by a guy named Chris Cross. Clearly he’s trying to send a message. If it’s not too expensive, you should try to bring him to a concert.' So I went to the box office, asked them for tickets to see a man named Chris Cross. The tickets were much, much cheaper than I thought they’d be for a man this popular, so I got three. One for me, one for Jesse, and one for Jesse’s friend Ryan. I’m leaving work early today to surprise him. If all goes according to plan, and if Jesse loves this guy as much as Linda thinks he does, it’ll crack his world in half."

“I dunno man, I still don’t think…”

Robert did not want to talk to Bob anymore.

“It’ll be fine. I have to get to work. Old Man Dalrimple says if I’m going to leave early to pick up Jesse today, I have to finish filling out some order processes for the new V-Series 1229 Corrugated Cardboard boxes. I’ll talk to you later Bob.”

It was not an invitation to resume chatting at a later point; Robert was merely stating fact. They would talk later. It was inevitable

This conversation had stuck out among the worst of Robert’s interactions with Bob. Bob had said some ridiculous things, but they were, for the most part, harmless. In this case he was directly telling Robert how to life his life. Bob, the man who carries around three different types of Barbeque Sauce in his briefcase (one domestic, two imported), and who made it a personal mission to eat precisely his own height of the 10-foot sub at the company picnic every single year, was telling Robert Karp how to handle his business. This needled Robert in the back of brain. Who was a man once referred to as resembling “two anthropomorphic walruses making love” to tell Robert how to raise his kid?

The real reason that Robert had cut off this conversation early (whether he would admit it or not) is that somewhere in his body there was a chunk of Robert that believed Bob might be on to something. Maybe bringing his almost 12-year-old son to a concert was not a good idea. Even the clerk at the box office seemed to have his doubts. When Robert told the clerk it was a birthday gift for his son, the clerk said:

 “Are you sure your son wants to go to this concert? It doesn’t seem like it’d be geared towards him. I don’t know how popular this act is with kids.”

But Robert insisted. He had to make Jesse’s birthday great. Robert Karp, Jesse Karp, and Ryan Jibson were going to see Chris Cross.

*****

Though the tendrils of Jesse's information network had infiltrated the very cockles of the town of Newbridge, there was one bit of information that Jesse Karp couldn't get his hands on: he had no idea when the concert was. Nobody seemed to. He put in desperate calls to his cousin, and his grandma, begging them to find out when he'd finally see this concert, but they remained mum. It wasn't because he couldn't wait to see the concert; the lack of a specific date drastically altered the approach he had hoped to take when it came to using the concert to boost his Middle School mettle. It made it hard to stick the landing properly.

When he and Ryan simultaneously got the call to the main office, is when he realized something was afoot. This was not the big reveal that Jesse sketched out on the back of a Pizza Box , but all that falls

By the time he got to the main office, and saw his dear ol' dad standing there with three tickets in his hand, Jesse Karp forgot entirely about the other 238 members of his grade who were cheesed off that they weren't invited.

The trio got in the car, and his dad popped on “Party” (track number six on Totally Krossed Out). Jesse Karp’s Birthday Sense was in full swing. His body vibrated in joy. The fact that he once again predicted his birthday gift only added to his elation. If it weren’t for Ryan’s presence, he would have wrapped his arms around his dad and planted a big ol’ smooch on his cheek. But he had to be cool. So he didn’t.

By the time they pulled into the parking lot of the venue, Jesse’s buzz had not subsided. His molecules were vibrating very rapidly. It was a wonder that he was able to get a grip on the door handle; he expected that the atoms in his hand would part around it.

By the time his particles re-assembled in the foyer of the venue, his buzz was bogged down. Something was amiss. The smell is what hit him first. The air they breathed in was not oxygen, but some potent marriage of barbeque sauce, Coolwater cologne, and obese cheese-sweat.

*****

The signs were there. Robert Karp should have noticed them. He was not an idiot. He was the cool dad. He did not operate on a lower level. It should’ve been obvious. The venue was too small for a rap act this popular. The tickets were alarmingly cheap. He could hear country western music from the parking lot. The biggest tip-off, the thing that Robert kicked himself for months for ignoring, is that for a popular rap act, featuring two young black teenagers, the audience in the lobby was alarmingly elderly and Caucasian. But he kept his mouth shut, and prayed silently that he was not hearing what he was actually hearing.

                                                            *****

Jesse Karp was a wreck.  He had taken this all very poorly.

It’s not as if he didn’t notice. Quite the opposite. He was very sensitive to all of the warning signs. However, he pushed it all out of his head. He suspended his disbelief. He had to. Nobody wants to accept the fact that all their best laid plans are falling apart. It was a delusion that has seized many before him. When they got to their seats, and saw the stage, Jesse’s body seized up. It was akin to staring into the direct center of a nuclear blast. The end of times.

The clientele of this concert were amorphous, obese, and misshapen. Their lines were blurry and ill-defined. The only way of differentiating between human beings, to pry their disgusting bodies apart, was by noticing where their unique ten-gallon hat lined up with the rest of their denim-clad, old laundry shaped torsos. They swayed. Oh how they swayed. Fatty inconsistent pockets of skin dripped away from their bodies and slapped against the pockets of skin of neighbors with every directional shift. There was enormous amount of friction between blotchy pocked dermis.

Nothing worked the way it was supposed to. His lungs, heart, and stomach were filled with an intense combination of dread, fear, hate, and sorrow. He couldn’t move. He was paralyzed in Section 6C. There was nothing he could do but accept his fate. The sound entered his pores and agitated his molecules, this time in rage rather than elation. When he finally re-obtained control of his rapidly decaying body, he turned around, left the building, and calmly sprinted back to his Dad’s Toyota Previa. His molecules were vibrating just as powerfully as they were before. He was surprised he could get a grip on the car door. Robert immediately ran out after him, while Ryan lingered a few seconds longer, unintentionally gawking at the crowd of Caucasian borderline geriatrics sway to the opening act’s twangy cover of “Fire and Rain.”

                                                            *****

Though his heart, and his spirit, felt shattered, Jesse did not blame his father. Even as an almost twelve-year-old, Jesse Karp was levelheaded. He spent a few hours being absolutely furious at his father, but after sitting down and collecting his thoughts, while reading the first issue of Batman: Sword of Azrael (his mother had it waiting for him when he got home. He couldn’t tell if it was an early birthday gift, or some sort of Band-Aid to cover up the Kris Kross debacle), Jesse Karp recognized that his father definitely did not intend for this to happen. Jesse Karp mostly blamed himself. He should have seen something like this coming. He planned for everything else, he didn't plan for this.

After he finished collecting his thoughts (and finished reading the comic book), Jesse got to work on damage control. He swore Ryan to secrecy. If the kids at school were to ask why Jesse and Ryan were called to the main office, Ryan was only to say "Principal Kremble says we're not allowed to talk about it, the lawyers might get upset at us." A brazen attempt to look like badasses, they knew, but at this point they were clawing their way out of a hole.

But even Ryan Jibson wasn’t immune to Amanda Kelly, and her pubescent pseudo-curves. Put yourself in his shoes. If Amanda Kelly comes up to you, in her cut off halter-top and her denim vest, with her body parts jiggling all over the place, and she asks you a question, you don’t turn her down. She’s Amanda Kelly for Christ Sake! She never promised Ryan anything, but he felt that it was implied that if he told her about the concert, then she’d tell him which girl in homeroom had a crush on him. So, 75 hours and 38 minutes after being sworn to secrecy, Ryan Jibson broke. Amanda Kelly and her pubescent pseudo-curves were at the center of a large web of middle schoolers. The news moved through the grade like lightning. Vindictive middle schoolers are incredible conductors of horrible news. Amanda told her friends, who told their friends, who told their friends, and by Tuesday, October 13th 1992, the entire school knew what happened to Jesse Karp and Ryan Jibson. For the entirety of his 12th birthday, Jesse’s molecules vibrated so rapidly that he was surprised he could grab the door handle when his mother picked him up after school. Jesse Karp’s childhood suffered a horribly discouraging blow

For weeks, Jesse Karp, and by extension, Ryan Jibson, who never found out who, if anyone at all, had a crush on him, might as well have had gangrene. They were the lowest of the low. But they were at the bottom together.

That is, until they were replaced at the bottom of the pole by, Timmy von Trimble, when he inadvertently called their female health teacher "Daddy."

                                                            *****

             “So much for not breaking Jesse in the right way! Did I call it or did I call it? Bahaha.”  Bob Burke did not so much laugh as he phonetically pronounced the syllables BAH-HAW-HAW

On this morning, Robert Karp did not try to avoid the horrors of a conversation with Bob Burke. He deserved it. It was his penance for potentially decimating his son’s young life.

“I’m only teasing you, ya goofball. Honestly, all jokes aside, I want you to give me a blow by blow of what happened. Don’t hold back: give me the works. Where did you go wrong?”

Robert Karp had asked himself the same thing. Where did he go wrong? It had been entirely a miscommunication. Did that make it his fault?  

“I don’t know. I have no idea. It was a mess. Good God Bob it was a mess. I feel absolutely terrible. If I had just gotten him a bad action figure, or a lame CD, it wouldn’t have been a big deal. But this… I did this. This is something I did to my son. He’s not ever going to forgive me. He’s gonna look back on all of this with a therapist in a decade or two and say ‘All I got for my twelfth birthday was a horrible emotional scar.’”

For the record, this was the most Robert Karp had ever said to Bob Burke at one time.

“Aww come on man. It couldn’t have been that bad. I’m sure he’s cheesed off right now, but he’ll come around. You’re a good guy, and your son will see that.”

Robert Karp did not know why he was confiding in Bob Burke. He needed somebody to talk to, and Bob was always there.

“Bob. It was like a car accident. You know what? It was worse. An accident is unavoidable. This is something I actively chose to do. I brought him there. There were so many signs. I shut them out. Oh God Bob. This is hitting me way harder than I thought it would. I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be the cool dad.”

“Look man. I want to tease you right now. You know I do. You know The Bobster loves to have a laugh. But I can’t help but feel for you brother. Have I ever told you about my kid Timmy?”

No, Bob had not told Robert about his kid Timmy. Normally, Robert had preferred to imagine Bob as an isolated figure who did not exist outside of the walls of their building. This is the closest he had allowed himself to get to Bob.

 “Let me tell you something pal, I’ve done my fair share of horrible things to my kid. I’ve yelled at him, I’ve dropped him and I’ve broken toys. Hell, once I even sat on the kid while he was taking a nap on the couch. All 287 pounds of me plopped down right on my boy’s tummy. It was a goddamn hoot to me, but he and Debbie did not feel the same way. It was an awkward dinner to say the least. But at the end of the day, the kid knows I don’t do those things on purpose. After squashing the poor kid, I sat Timmy down, looked him dead in the eye and said ‘Timmy. I’m your dad, and I’m pretty perfect. But I’m not perfect perfect. So I’m sorry.’ And he looked right back at me, smiled and said ‘You suck Dad!’ Bahahaha. I’m just goofing pal. He didn’t really say that. The Bobster was just trying to have a laugh. He really said ‘Dad, I know. It’s okay. Just try to lose some weight before you squash me next time.’ And I said ‘No can do pal.’ BAWHAWHAWHAWHAW! Aww man. I really did say that to him too. He got a kick out of it. But do you see what I’m saying Robert?”

Robert Karp could not believe it. He had let Bob speak. Bob Burke had said more than 200 words in succession, and Robert Karp did not interrupt him, lose interest, or walk away. And the most bizarre part is that Robert Karp saw what Bob was saying.

“Bob…That was… That was surprisingly helpful. Thank you. Thanks a lot pal.”

“Hey no problem man. I’m here to help. You know I’ve always said to Deb, ‘Me and Robert are not just co-workers Deb, we’re friends!’ We’re buds, me and you. A Bob and a Robert against the world. Hey I got an idea, if you’re still down in the dumps after work, let’s say me and you hit the Hooters for Happy Hour. Whattaya say?”

There were so many things that Robert Karp had wanted to say.

“Yeah Bob. That sounds cool. I’ll have to call Linda and tell her, but I guess I’m in.”

“You’re darn right it sounds cool! Great! Just great. Let’s carpool. I’ll drive though; I don’t want to hop into the car with you behind the wheel. You might tell me we’re going to Hooters then actually bring me to the dentist. Bawhawhawhawhaw!”

*****

It was late in the year 1992; country artist Christopher Cross was touring in support of his new album Rendezvous, while at the same time popular rap group Kris Kross were touring in support of their hit album Totally Krossed Out.

 

Conor Burnett is handsome and strong. If you give him 5 minutes, he'll try to convince you to like pro wrestling. He will fail. You can like whatever you want I guess. And he just wants you to be happy.