David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Speed Dating With 'Janeane Garofalo'
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Americans Need to Pull Together
· Voices of the French Revolution, book review
· Great American Scandals
· Odd Man Out, book review
· Portrait of a Killer, book review
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
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A lonely accountant bites off more than he can chew when he falls for a bowling partner.
"Beer Frame, Blonigen," Adams said. "Got enough to cover it?"
"I donít plan to lose," I said with false bravado.
Iíd met Jack Adams, a tall bozo with Buddy Holly glasses, a few hours earlier; I was the newest member of the mixed bowling team.
Adams pushed his specs back on his nose. "I know one person who wonít have to pay. Iíve been bowling with Samantha ever since she came to Eau Claire, and sheís never had to buy a round."
"Iíve never seen a woman throw a hook like that," I said.
"If you want, I can pick you up Sunday and we can practice."
Adams was an assistant supermarket manager, apparently just as socially inept as I was.
Iíd joined the bowling league for something to do. My accounting job at Eau Claire Machine wasnít exactly what youíd call a chick magnet. "Whatís Samantha like?" I asked.
Adams moved closer and hunched down soís we were on the same level. "Kinda bossy," he said. "Sheís always on me to improve my game, and I carry a 175 average."
The woman on the next lane dropped her ball behind her and everyone on her team began to razz her. "What does Samantha do for a living?" I said.
Adams took off his glasses, blew on them, wiped them off with a tissue. "Sheís an elementary principal. Want me to line you up? Sheís not married."
Samantha was certainly cute enough, with frosted blond hair combed down over eyes the color of a Wisconsin lake. She had the highest backswing Iíd ever seen and was a left-hander to boot. She threw a hook that hung on the rim, then darted toward the pocket just as the ball arrived at the pins. This time sheíd miscalculated a hair and the ball went in the channel.
Channel not gutter. "A gutter is a place dairy cows go poop," she said when Iíd thrown one earlier, referring to it as such.
She stamped her foot and showed her dimples, then picked up nine pins on her next toss. The temperature at Don Carter Lanes went down a good ten degrees when she missed that spare.
I got my only strike of the night. Adams, Linda and Nora, two teachers who worked with Samantha, all marked as well, and Samantha had to pay. Linda and Nora went wild, giving each other the high-five, howling like coyotes, until Samantha gave them a look I hadnít seen since The Godfather. She didnít have enough money and I volunteered to loan it to her. Thatís how I came to ask her out the first time.
Samantha showed up at my apartment the next morning, me still in my plaid bathrobe with my hair all mussed. She was wearing a blue jogging outfit and a red sweatband. I thought she was the cutest thing Iíd seen since our spaniel had pups back home on the farm.
"I canít stand to owe anybody money," she said.
I took the five dollars and put it in my Bulldog cookie jar where I kept all my loose change. "Would you like to come in?" I said. "Iíve got coffee brewing."
She sat on my ratty couch with the stuffing coming out of the cushions. The Benedetto twins in the apartment next door were banging on the wall againĖ-they play living room hockey whenever their mom goes to the corner groceryĖ-so I had to strain to hear what she said.
She said she only drank decaf; she had to watch her nerves, considering what she did for a living.
"Heard you were a principal; Iíll bet thatís an interesting job."
She stood, noticed the newspaper on the coffee table. She folded the paper over and began to read the front page. I couldnít believe she was as old as Adams had said; she looked no more than nineteen to me.
"The job gets to be a hassle at times, but itís better than teaching. I was a high school English teacher; the last straw was when the administration wouldnít let me teach CATCHER IN THE RYE."
"I read that for freshman humanities. Donít remember much about it, though. Holden Caulfield, he had pimples and used the "f" word a lot, right?"
She folded over a corner of the newspaper, picked up this scissor I had lying on the coffee table and cut something out without so much as a by-your-leave.
"I hope you donít mind," she said. "I donít get this paper and it has a pretty good crossword puzzle in it. What were you saying? Oh, yes, CATCHER IN THE RYE. They made you read it, right? I think a student should have some say-so in what she reads, donít you? Donít get me started, though; Iíll talk your ear off."
I gave her my last Dr. Pepper, decaffeinated of course. "No, this is very interesting. Youíre so easy to talk to. I donít mean to be forward or anything, but would you like to go out sometime. I havenít met many people . . ."
She set the soda down and crossed her legs. "Isnít Eau Claire the pits? Sure, Iíd love to. Is tonight too soon? Iíve been wanting to see Fried Green Tomatoes."
A chick flick. Oh well, you couldnít have everything.
I actually liked Fried Green Tomatoes, although I couldnít figure out if the lady who ran the restaurant was a lesbian or not. Samantha, whoíd read the book, assured me that she was.
The next evening, after sheíd scoped out my cupboards and found them bare, she made us lasagna, the best Iíd ever had. We saw each other every night for the next week.
There were warning signs galore. On Thursday I suggested we stay home and watch Cheers and she said, "I refuse to let you vegetate in front of the TV; youíll help me with Meals on Wheels."
"Arenít you happy you listened to me?" she said, when old Mrs. Swenson, a woman in a wheelchair, made us take a carrot cake sheíd baked. "Theyíre all such darlings."
I couldnít tell her those poor people gave me the willies.
That night she gave me a book to read. It was entitled LESS THAN ZERO. "Itís for our reading group. Youíre coming with me. Iím going to make sure you get rid of that TV. I wouldnít have one in my apartment. Youíll thank me for it later."
That book was the strangest Iíd ever read; it was about bisexual, teenage druggies.
During the book discussion, I got involved in a heated argument with this blue-haired barracuda. I argued that the characters in LESS THAN ZERO were not representative of our nationís young people, that most of them probably didnít have sex until they were married. "The media has distorted reality," I said. "Are you denying the existence of the drug culture?" Blue Hair said. "No, but I think they slant those polls theyíre always taking," I said.
"I was so proud of you," Samantha said, later that night after weíd had sex for the first time.
"I really hated that book," I said. "It made me feel bad."
"Poor baby. Mama will make you feel better."
I had been worried that she didnít have any breasts because she always wore baggy clothes; I had also been apprehensive about our sexual compatibility; she didnít exactly light my jets when we necked. Let it suffice to say that my worries were assuaged, although she did like to be on top and she did provide a running commentary about what I needed to do to turn her on.
A few days later she asked me if I planned to work for Eau Claire Machine all my life. I told her Iíd always wanted to open my own accounting firm, but that I needed to pass my CPA test first. She made me start studying and set a date to take the test.
The next week the weather turned cold and she took me pheasant hunting. Iíd never been hunting before; to be truthful I was afraid of guns; she bagged a couple of roosters. When I fired the gun, it kicked so hard I damn near lost control of my bowels. She thought that was awfully funny. In November we went deer hunting; she shot a twelve-point buck that she gutted herself.
One Saturday morning she brought me roses, two dozen; I was so flustered I didnít know what to do with them. I didnít even have a vase to put them in. Finally, I washed out a couple of old jelly jars from the back of my frig.
We were engaged to be married a week later. She asked me, and it was as big a surprise to me as the flowers had been.
"I donít know what to say," I said. We were shopping for Christmas presents at the time, something else Iíd never done the day after Thanksgiving with wall-to-wall people.
"Donít you love me?" she said. I couldnít believe she was asking me to marry her in the middle of the Target toy section with hundreds of people rubbernecking on our conversation.
Those blue eyes were getting all misty-looking and I thought she might actually start to cry. If she had, I would have surrendered immediately. "Itís just that I thought we might wait until I passed my CPA test and got settled in my new business."
She stalked out of the store and left me to find my own way back. I walked home; I needed to have a real heart-to-heart with myself anyway.
Youíll never find anybody better than Samantha, I told myself. Sheís not only the best-looking girl youíve ever gone with, but sheíll also most likely become the first female president of the United States.
But sheís so damn domineering, I argued. Now I know why all those guys develop impotency. Run for it, while you still have a chance.
When I got home, I had blisters on my feet from walking in my street shoes, but I called Samantha and told her Iíd be the happiest man in the world if sheíd marry me.
She sniffed, Kenny G. playing his clarinet on her radio in the background. "I think weíve been seeing too much of each other," she said. "Youíre tired of me and you donít really love me or you never would have hesitated like you did."
I wasnít tired of her; just a little afraid of her, but I didnít dare tell her that. There really should be a class in high school to prepare a guy for situations like this.
The Benedetto twins came over after she hung up, and we played penny-ante poker. Ten years old and they were already drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. They took a $1.75 off of me; it just wasnít my day.
All that week I sent flowers and candy, and on Saturday, she forgave me and we agreed to get married on Valentineís Day. She had some news. Sheíd been offered a job in Minneapolis and sheíd accepted.
I could not believe sheíd taken a new job without checking with her fiance first. Dump her, dump her, dump her a little voice said. But I didnít want to go through another week like Iíd just experienced, so I didnít dump her.
Valentineís Day drew closer and closer; I began to develop dandruff and a rash; I had difficulty breathing. I thought it was tuberculosis, so I went to a doctor who told me there was nothing wrong with me physically, that I was most likely having an anxiety attack.
Around the end of January, we were having dinner at her apartment, a two bedroom that she paid $450 a month forĖ-I paid $150 for mineĖ-when she suddenly got up, took out this needle and gave herself an injection. A frickiní drug addict, too, the little voice screamed. Thatís it, Iím outtahere!
"Diabetes is such a nuisance," she said. "It took me forever to get used to giving myself a shot." I didnít know if Iíd ever get used to seeing her give herself one. I needed to have another heart-to-heart with myself. The woman was giving me a nervous breakdown.
February 5 was my thirtieth birthday and Samantha threw me a little party at the Legion Club. All of the teachers at her school were there and sheíd ordered a cake that looked like the Tower of Babel. The whole soiree must have cost us a fortune. And this pretty little brunette named Althea, who taught first grade at Samanthaís school, started giving me the eye. She had to know I belonged to SamanthaĖ-and when Samantha was preoccupied, Althea swooped in for the kill. Now that I had an actual girlfriend, I was Godís gift to women.
When the party was over, that control freak Samantha had to hang around and supervise cleanup, which gave me and Althea time to go out to her car for a quickie. Subconsciously I had emancipated myself. When I confessed to Samantha about Althea, it would be over between us.
The next day at my apartment, after Iíd told her what a cad I was, she said, "I donít think I can forgive you for this, Donald. I havenít even looked at another man since we started dating."
That was something else she did that irritated me; no matter how many times I told her I preferred to be called Don, she persisted in using that name I associated with a mushmouthed duck. "I donít blame you," I said. "I donít know what came over me. What is that perfume she wears?"
She left and I was so relieved that I went down to the corner liquor store and bought a bottle of Scotch. I was three sheets to the wind when she called.
"I think I know whatís going on with you," she said. "Itís called the New Cow syndrome. Men need more than one mate. Just look at the animal world; thereís one bull and a herd of cows; thereís one rooster and a chickenbarn full of hens. I understand, I really do."
I was as good as shackled to a whipping post.
She put preparations for the wedding into high gear, renting the Legion hall for the reception, ordering the flowers and the invitations, picking out patterns for our china and silverware, announcing the banns in the church, and ordering tickets to the Virgin Islands for our honeymoon, informing me that her mother was divorced and we had to foot the bill for the wedding.
One day we both took the day off to visit her new school in Minneapolis; she was also going to shop for some items for her trousseau, and we were going to try to catch a play at the Guthrie if we could get tickets.
I remember it was foggy that day and that we were passing one of those junkyards with a mound of bald tires; I was about to mention that I hadnít seen a place with those stacks of tires lately and that Iíd heard they shredded them and used them to fill potholes, when she brought up the subject of a name change. The car radio was playing an oldies tune, "Iím Your Puppet," an awful omen. She said, "Iíve always felt that when I got married Iíd keep my name and Schell-Blonigen just doesnít sound right. How do you feel about changing your name to Schell?"
Sheíd brought this hamper full of vegetables and fruit alongĖ-one of her dictums was, "five vegetables and fruit per day to keep the doctor away." I choked on a banana when she mentioned the name change.
Samantha managed to slam me on the back and maintain control of her Maverick at the same time, despite the turbulence raised by a semi which chose this time to blow by doing ninety.
When I recovered, I said, "If it was only me . . . I have to think about what my parents would say about this. My older brother canít have any kids; our name will die out if I agree to this."
My brother Nick, who still lives on the family farm, has nine children, five of whom are boys. I was surprised she didnít sniff out the lie.
"How about you keep your name and I keep mine? Thatís agreeable to me. We could call the boys Blonigen and the girls Schell."
She hunched over the steering wheel, increased the speed, caught up with the semi, giving him a honk on the way by. "Youíre missing the point, Donald. For thousands of years the woman has given up her name. Why canít you stand up and show youíre a real man? This is important to me and youíve always said you hated your last name."
I couldnít recall saying that. It was my first name I hated.
"But Iíll have to change all my credit cards and my driverís license."
She gave me a quizzical look. "Think about what youíre saying, Donald. Why should I have to change my cards?"
We went by a billboard advertising Virginia slims. It said, "Youíve come a long way, Baby!" The fates were conspiring against me.
When I broached the name change at the office during a coffee break, Bill Koontz, the other accountant at Eau Claire Machine was adamantly against it.
"If my wife had suggested something like that," he said, "I never would have married her. I canít let you do this. If one guy does it, the rest of us will be expected to follow suit, and before you know it, theyíll have us all wearing bikini underwear." Bill was a roly-poly sort of guy, bald with hair growing out of his ears. His wife, Patricia, had brought him dinner once when he and I were working late. They looked so much alike I was convinced theyíd been separated at birth and were carrying on an incestuous relationship.
"If you let her get away with this, sheíll get rid of your truck, confiscate your season tickets to the Brewers, and move her mother in with you. And when she gets sick of bullying you, sheíll run off with some lounge lizard and all your money."
"I donít know," I said. "I rather like the sound of Don Schell."
"Nuts grow in shells," Bill said.
When I woke up the morning of February 14, my left arm and right leg were paralyzed. I decided I had to make a break for it, whether she sued me for breach of promise or not. My arm and leg loosened up when I made the decision. When I changed my mind, I developed a severe stomach cramp. I threw up; I threw up again; then I got the dry heaves. I couldnít go through with it. The symptoms let up when I decided to go downstairs and tell my landlady thereíd been an emergency in the family, that my father had had a heart attack and I was the only one who could run the farm. She could keep all my furniture if sheíd let me out of my lease. I threw some clothes in a suitcase and put the rest in a garbage bag and I was out of there like a shot. I drove all day and wound up in Rapid City, South Dakota, where I took a job working for H&R Block.
A few years later, still unmarried, loneliness having drawn me to the Mall of America, I saw her again. I would have run, but I didnít recognize her. She knew me though, and miracle of all miracles, she wasnít mad at me. "You havenít changed a bit," she said. "I was sure youíd at least have the decency to get a few gray hairs. This is my daughter, Donna. Sheíll be four years old in September." I immediately began to count backwards. No, it couldnít be.
Samantha was a good twenty pounds heavier and had let her hair go brown, which is why I didnít recognize her at first.
"Iím not teaching anymore," she said. "Armand and I agreed that I should stay home with Donna. Children need their mother."
"Armand?" I said.
"I met him at a diversity workshop; it was love at first sight. Heís an executive for Cargill and Company, the big grain outfit. We live in Edina."
What a coincidence. Iíd applied for a job at Cargill once and was turned down. She was telling me she was as rich as Midas, that she hadnít run the poor beggar to the poor house, that I was a big ninny.
I had an eerie sense of deja vu until I realized that Dan Fogelberg had written a song similar to this once; "Auld Lang Syne."
"How are things with you?" she said. I was taking a closer look at Donna. She had my pug nose, my upraised eyebrows, even my Elvis sneer; And her name was Donna! Could Samantha have been saving that little tidbit to spring on me after we were married?
"Iím still a wage slave," I said. "I never did get around to taking my CPA test. Look, Sam, I want to apologize for whatĖ-"
She put her arms around the little girl and hugged her up against her thighs. "Oh that. I will admit that I hated you at the time, but you really did do me a favor, didnít you?" She turned around, with the little girl in tow, and disappeared into the crowd. Donna was looking back at me as if she should know me but couldnít quite place me.
I felt as though Iíd been post-mauled, the humane method my dad had used to dispatch a steer before butchering. I did several aimless turns of the immediate area, looking in the window of a womanís apparel store, a topless mannequin looking back at me. The sounds of the Camp Snoopy Roller Coaster were pounding in my head. I gawked at a fat man and his skinny wife, ordered a hot dog I didnít eat.
And then I went to B. Daltonís and picked up a study guide for the CPA test. Maybe Iíd take another whack at the thing; I already had a set of study materials some place, in one of the many unopened boxes Iíd collected moving around so much, but I didnít have the energy to look for them. Maybe Iíd take a class in ballroom dancing, too; Iíd always been light on my feet, and maybe Iíd volunteer to tutor math at one of the locals schoolsó-Iíd always been good with kids; I still got Christmas cards from the Benedetto twins, who were at the Lake Geneva Home for Wayward Boys.
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|Reviewed by Cynthia Robertson (Reader)
|Oh my gosh--this is just about the funniest short story that I've ever read! Blue-haired barracuda? Mushmouthed duck? The Benedetto twins? There's just so much here to like! Great job!|
|Reviewed by Jean Pike
|Another excellent story. I really liked the way you characterized these people. Samantha certainly was an "Alpha Female." And Donald was so real and honest I couldn't help but like and identify with him. Wonderful!|
David A. Schwinghammer