I Am Your Dealer

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Play time stopped when we found a glossy picture of a naked woman splayed on a satin bed sheet in a seductive stance.

In fourth grade the swing set was passé.  We lacked the physical strength to launch a basketball over a ten-foot rim.  Our only option for entertaining ourselves was jumping over the fence behind the park and pretending we were a special ops S.E.A.L. team inserted deep into Viet Cong jungle country with only a machete. 

“Boobs!” Lou yelled as we starred at our first naked woman.  The paper had been through at least one rain leaving it frail, but the full glory of its image was in plain sight.

“There has to be more,” I said as a raised my $4.99 mail-order machete ready to hack my way through the forest to find more nudie pics.

“Here’s another one,” Lou said holding up another crumbled trophy.

“What is he doing to that woman?”

“Why would you ever put that…there?”

“Gross…. Let’s find some more”

Shreds of porn were discovered as we transitioned from children to perverts.  We came across a narrow creek and a duck blind.

“I bet someone lives there.”

“Lou, go check out.”

“No way.  What if he lures kids to his home with these pictures then he grabs the kids and sells them to parents who want to replace their own kids with other kids?”

“If he grabs me, I’ll cut him,” I said raising my dull machete.

A noise rustled from the guy’s hideout.  We screamed in fear and bolted to safety of network TV and Legos.

After dinner, I snuck to my room to sift through my stash of tits, ass, and dudes with outsized cranks.  I came across a subscription postcard to Playboy magazine.  I filled it out:

✔ BILL ME LATER

The next day I dropped it in the mail.

A couple of weeks later I came home from school to find the newest edition of Playboy magazine sitting on my kitchen table.

“You order Playboy now?” my dad asked.

“Yes,” I said hoping my confident tone would deflect any mischievous behavior, “I’m going to sell it at school.”

“Great idea,” my dad said.  Never in this teachable moment did he talk to me about the difference between boys and girls, explain women are not objects, or the downsides of gonorrhea.  Instead, this lecture would be saved for my wedding day some twenty years later when we were on the dance floor and he said, “It’s time I tell you where babies come from.”

My mother said nothing.

I priced my product at five dollars, a dollar over the retail sticker.  The magazine was turned into cash before the morning bell.

Econ 101:  Scarcity drives demand

Over the next month, I was bugging my parents if they had seen the invoice from my supplier.  My customers pursued me for more magazines.  I knew I hit gold with this venture.  Maybe I could order two subscriptions simultaneously? 

Years later, my dad told me as soon as the black plastic wrapped magazine showed up, my mother was writing letters to Hugh Hefner:

DEAR PLAYBOY CUSTOMER RELATIONS:

YOU ARE SENDING A MINOR YOUR GRATUITOUS MAGAZINE.  DISTRIBUTION OF PORNOGRAPHIC MATERIAL TO A CHILD IS A FEDERAL OFFENSE AND I DEMAND YOU CANCEL THIS SUBSCRIPTION IMMEDIATELY.

Two more magazines arrived in subsequent months.  Twelve issues cost eighteen dollars, so I needed four sales to put me in the black for the year.

I was playground rich.  With an annuity stream like this, who needed fifth grade?

What Econ 101 doesn’t teach you:  Perpetuity is a term coined by academics who live in a bubble where models rule and your mom isn’t trying to kill your thriving wealth and undermine your business acumen. 

The invoice never arrived.

My supply was extinguished, customers were mad, revenues stalled at fifteen dollars, and fifth grade for me was certain.  After some deep thought, I realized I needed to change my course of action to reach financial independence. 

I recruited Lou and we charged into the woods.

The pedophile had been active scattering more material over the last couple of months.  Maybe I could sell the scraps for $.25 each—too many transactions at a low cost per sale.  What about a porn safari where I could lead groups of kids deep into the jungle?  This would require waivers plus I might have to answer to parents when Little Billy is kidnapped by the pedophile-too much in the way of logistics and potential unwanted media exposure.  Then I found my answer on a torn porn page, “Get your free video of Who Shaved Ajay? only $4.99 to cover shipping and handling”.  I stuffed the page into my pocket and told Lou the mission was a failure. 

At night, I pulled out the same typewriter used to kill my magazine business and wrote:

DEAR SIR:

I WOULD LIKE TO ORDER 1 [ONE] COPY OF WHO SHAVED AJAY? ON VHS.  I UNDERSTAND THE BETA VERSION IS ALSO AVAILABLE, BUT I PREFER THE HIGH QUALITY OF VHS TO BETA.  ENCLOSED IS A MONEY ORDER FOR $4.99.

SINCERELY,

THE HOMEOWNER AT…

The next day, with letter in hand, I rode my bike to the currency exchange and purchased my money order.  The clerk knew me from past purchases of machetes, nunchakus, Chinese stars, and butterfly knives from the U.S. Cavalry “Many Missions, One Source” catalog, so he didn’t question me when I had him make the money order out to Sin City Distribution.

The wait began.

I couldn’t expect my parents’ indifference to nudie magazines to be the same response to videos of real people bumping uglies, so I stalked the mailbox.

I was banking on a Saturday delivery when I could intercept the mailman before he reached the front door, because my dad usually grabbed the mail during the week when I was at school.  While waiting, never did I ask my parents: “Did you grab the mail?” or “Anyone open a package with a skin flick called Who Shaved Ajay?”  Figuring I had a one in six shot of clean drop off, the odds were not in my favor.

I was in the front yard on Saturday when the postman handed me an ostentatious brown package.  I didn’t have to read the address label.  I landed the product.

The rest of the mail was discarded on the kitchen table as I bounded up to my room to tear into the package. 

There was Ajay—getting shaved on the cover of the VHS box.  I said a quick pray to Ben Franklin for creating the US Postal Service enabling a poor suburban kid like myself to earn a decent buck by running a porn distribution network helping the under served market of grade schoolers.

I was the Porn King of Elementary School

At the next opportune time, I burned the movie packaging in the fireplace leaving no evidence of my purchase.

Knowing I needed customers, I recruited my second-grade brother to sell tickets: “$.25 to see the movie you’ll remember forever”

We worked out a commission split.  Within a day, I found my brother sprawled out on the couch while Ajay got shaved.  It was as if he was watching the newest Doogie Howser episode and not the raunchiest, low-budget porn ever made. Thinking I was Mom, my brother fumbled with the ‘Off’ button on the remote. 

“You owe me a quarter!” I yelled as a gauntlet of fists wailed on him.  Ajay’s purported screams of ecstasy masked the two of us beating on each other.  After we ran out of energy from fighting, we reached an agreement.  He would get free viewings and I wouldn’t get turned into our parents. 

I realized going into the retail theater business compared to selling product direct to customers was going to present new problems: security at the door, avoiding persecution by parents, cramming up to twenty kids in a room for each show, and getting ‘new features’, like one I had my eye on Yo! We Be Humping IV, on a regular schedule.

The risk wasn’t worth starting a movie theater. 

I sold the tape to a conglomerate of fifth graders because no kid alone could come up with $10.  I knew I left at least $5 on the table, but even running a porn empire has a learning curve.

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Another Saturday Night

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The alarm clock down the hall wailed for his two a.m. feeding.  My wife smacked me with a limp arm, “Your turn.”  I rose from my slumber and careened down the hallway.  As I passed the baby’s room, I wondered what my single friends were doing two blocks east at Burton’s Bar.

Tommy’s signature pickup move, “Horseshoe meet tennis ball, tennis ball meet horseshoe” while alternating the flexing of his biceps and triceps had forced another girl to reconsider that date with her mother’s co-worker’s son.  Digger was sending out a mass text to all three of the girls he had hooked up with in the last decade for a chance at redemption of his whiskey-enhanced performance.  Danzig’s ‘Mother’ reverberated throughout the bar.

I entered the kitchen where I prepared myself a delicious snack of hand-carved Gouda, a tangerine, and a scoop of peanut butter.  The baby’s milk warmed on the stove.  The crisp night air rushed through the open windows bringing in the city’s sounds; a primal yell from the downhearted drunk, the rustling of wild dogs patrolling the streets, and the muffled clip-clapping of the ‘L’.  I took in the food and sounds ignoring the screams from the adjacent room.  A voice broke my moment of calm.

“We’re all doing shots!” Digger yelled out while waving a lone finger in the air, “none of the premium stuff; rot-your-gut tequila!”  Unfazed by another over-served yuppie waving his Visa card, the bar-backs readied themselves near the kitchen tightening the grip on their mops waiting to slop up the vomit and urine at closing time.  With the single girls fleeing from Tommy’s advances, he transformed into his alternate ego, “Thomas Toughguy.”  Mr. Toughguy grabbed Digger’s shot off the counter, took it down without the typical salutations, and smashed the glass on the floor.  His nose flared as he tried to draw eye contact from anyone shorter than him.  Having overestimating the number of people who would want a bottom-shelf booze, Digger choked down the four unclaimed shots and extended Sunday’s hangover through lunch.   Meanwhile, Thomas’ eyes locked in on a target.

“We’re all doing shots”

I guess this is fitting.
I guess this is fitting.

“What do you think you’re doing?” my wife unloaded into my serenity.   “You’re eating and drinking while my baby is starving,” she scolded.  Didn’t she see what I was trying to do?  I was shaping new life by teaching delayed gratification, the joy of simple things, and demonstrating that abundance is not the source of happiness.

“Airplane rules,” I declared.  Her quizzical look let me know I needed to explain.

“Airplane Rules”

“The stewardess always says ‘when you are travelling with a child, secure your mask first, and then assist the child.’”  I had her; thank you FAA.  I shoved the final piece of cheese in my mouth, grabbed the warmed bottle, and glided past my wife to tend to my child.

The savage yell erupted from his mouth.  Thomas owned the night.  No one dared confront the Red Bull fueled fighter.  Digger and Thomas closed down Burton’s.  The bouncer stood guard at the door while the bar-backs flipped the chairs on top of the tables and canvased the floor with bleach water.  Two of Digger’s text messages bounced back as undelivered; the third, unanswered.  Digger resorted to hitting on strays stumbling down Addition Street.  None of the girls acknowledged his pick-up line of, “I’ll jump into your back seat if you’re driving.”

The fighter and reveler walked down the quiet sidewalk to Clark Diner to recount the night and reminisce about stories of yesteryear.

As the bottle emptied his half-closed eyes signaled he was ready for his crib.

Special thanks to C.A. for this article suggestion.

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Catholic School Kids Fight with Swords? Part II

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This is the outstanding conclusion–hang tight, it is shorter than part I.

After school on Friday, I went home and asked my mom if I could go to Tony’s.  “Sure, but be home by dinner time,” she said.

“I might be home a little later than normal.  Tony’s big gang fight is today,” I added.

As soon as I spoke of Tony’s gang fight, my mother had me on lock down.  There would be no brawl for me.

After I had a nice conversation with Tony’s grandmother, she put Tony on the phone.  Tony completely understood that parents don’t like to see their children in harm’s way.  If he lived through the night, he assured me we would still be friends on Monday.  He ended the phone call abruptly.  His mercenaries had arrived.

Tony walked outside to two dozen classmates lining the street.  It felt like The Battle of Bull Run but without the historic significance.

Deep in suburbia, Mike Lenten led his troops down Morse Avenue towards Tony’s waiting army.

“Hey John Paul!  Where’s your 12 foot sword?” Steve barbed.

“Tony hiding behind the girls?” Mike retorted.

As the groups converged, Tony and Mike met in the middle of the street to discuss the rules of the fight.  No weapons.  Hair pulling is fine, but only from a defensive position.  Only ripping T-shirts; not flannels or designer shirts.  No double teaming a guy if he has glasses.

As the ground rules were getting laid out, Harry Konstanov snaked through the crowd.

Punches to the head can only be open handed.  No nut shots.  Pushing is ok, but biting is not allowed.  Eye gouging and scratching are forbidden.

Crack!  Harry connected a right hook to Mike’s temple.  Mike hit the ground with thud.  He never saw the punch.  The fight was over.

“Let’s go.”  Harry said with a casual wave to Derek.  The Junior Varsity Latin King member had lived up to his image.  Harry was a badass-like Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke type of badass.  With one punch, the public school kids controlled the neighborhood.

The rest of Mike’s gang was frozen.  Their leader was down.  They scraped him off the street and rushed home to their mansions.

Within minutes, you could hear sirens.  Kids jumped on their bikes and fled.  They were trying to make it home for dinner, but at the same time avoiding getting arrested for violating the R.I.C.O. Act.

On Monday at school, over a hundred kids claimed to be at the fight.  By noon, over two hundred kids saw the battle that caused over $50,000 in damage .  By the last bell, seventeen kids had been detained by the national guard and the marital law had been declared in the town of Tessville over the weekend.

Fast forward 20+ years.  Here is what these guys are doing now:

  • Tony is now in the Gang Leader Hall of Fame along with Al Capone, El Chapo, Freeway Rick Ross and ‘Pookie’ from the movie New Jack City.
  • Harry Konstanov was busted ten years ago for using stolen credit cards to fund his pedicure habit.
  • Derek Mendez finally graduated from high school at age 26.  He is currently at M.I.T. teaching algebraic topology at the graduate level.

Recent Photo of Mike Lenten
Recent Photo of Mike Lentin

  • Mike Lenten still lives in his parent’s basement.
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Catholic School Kids Fight with Swords?

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Disclaimer:  The names in this story have been changed.  Parts of it have been been embellished for your pleasure.

“The Queen’s kids jumped me!” Tony yelled as he ran towards Steve and me.  You would expect a limp, maybe a bloody nose, or a broken arm from a guy who just got pummeled like Robin Ventura after bull rushing Nolan Ryan; not a guy charging down the street in a full sprint to tell you how he just got attacked.

“You know John Paul Foster has a 12 foot sword,” Steve commented as Tony caught his breath.  Steve was our quiet friend, who enjoyed death metal and blowing things up.  He later went on to become a member of an elite US Special Op’s team, but as a teenager he liked stealing sand from the park to build bunkers in his backyard.

As Steve and I went back to riding our bikes around the neighborhood, Tony plotted his revenge against the catholic school kids.  For Steve and me, it was just another made up story by our Italian friend, whose grandfather owned a successful company that made the plastic covers for couches in front rooms (pronounced “fröunch”).  Tony had a streak of stories that pushed the limits of believability.  Once he tried to convince me that his uncle’s college roomate’s girlfriend’s son worked out with a guy who owned a dog that was once boarded at the same kennel as Harry Carray’s purebred.  Or the time he tried to tell me that our smokeshow teacher, Ms. Baken, asked to be his date at one of those awkward junior high dances, but he turned her down because she wouldn’t put out.

We walked to Mike Lenten’s house and rang the doorbell.  His mom answered.

“Hi Mrs. Lenten, is Mike home?” Tony politely asked.

“Oh sure Tony, let me get him,” Mike’s mom said. “Mike, your friends are here,” she yelled up the stairs as she went to the kitchen.

When Mike walked to the door, Tony got serious, “Morse and Albion, four o’clock this Friday.  Bring any of your friends who wanted to get beat up.”

“No, you bring any of your friends that want to get beat up,” Mike shot back.  We weren’t really good at taunting, but we tried.

Tony was about to unleash war in the town of Tessville unlike anything seen since the years of prohibition.  Tony needed experienced guys; guys who knew how to fight and were not afraid to take heat from their parents when things went bad.  Steve and I were not those guys, but Tony let us in his gang anyway.  Then he recruited the toughest kids in our school.

Tony--All Grown Up
Tony–All Grown Up

Harry Konstanov, a gypsy, was rumored to be in the ‘Junior’ Latin Kings.  His parents supposedly had a counterfeit machine in their basement.  No one ever saw it, but everyone knew about it.  This kid was so tough that he never fought anyone in school, he just looked at you, causing you to ‘fight club’ yourself like Edward Norton, and then he watched you head to the the nurse’s office.  At lunch one day, he showed me a cut on his hand that looked like a deep gash from landing too hard on the woodchips on the playground.  He claimed he got it from punching a rival gang member in the mouth on a Tuesday night.  I wasn’t about to call the toughest guy in school a liar, but I couldn’t believe his parents let him stay out after dark.

In the movie Heat, we learned you need a getaway driver.  If you needed a ride to junior high, you called Derek Mendez.  He had his driver’s license in 7th grade and a mustache two years prior.  An import from the Philippines, the school system held him back a couple of years so he could catch up.  It is pretty cool when you can bum a smoke off a teacher in the parking lot while all your friends are buying Clearasil by the case.

For the next three days at school, talk of the fight was running through the halls like a case of gonorrhea at a chain of truck stops in Kentucky.  Tony strutted through the hallways with his chest out and his shirtsleeves rolled up.  Kids approached him, kissed his pinky ring, and paid homage to the new king of the school.  The popular girls looked at him as if he were Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse.  Even the older kids acknowledged him with a high-five instead of booking him.

After school on Friday, I went home and asked my mom if I could go to Tony’s.  “Sure, but be home by dinner time,” she said.

“I might be home a little later than normal.  Tony’s big gang fight is today,” I added.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion…

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Underage Bar Fighting with Special Mention of the Marlboro Man

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Back when men worked for scale and magazines still allowed ads with the Marlboro Man, my father used to regularly take me to “Kathy’s Bar” at Damen and Lawrence.  I was only four, but I realized that this working man’s bar would be my Friday nights of the future if I didn’t graduate from eighth grade.

After a long day at preschool, I was at Kathy’s throwing back a Coke and snacking on peanuts.  A commotion arose from some of the regulars by the pool table.  Two ironworkers came to the forefront of the group and squared off in the center of the bar.  The intensity of their slurred speech and violent finger pointing told me this was not an argument over the Cubs game.

Make it a double
Make it a double

I knew this wasn’t normal bar behavior and I looked to my father for how to respond to this potentially life threatening situation.  My father abruptly turned his chair.  He was now in the perfect position to watch the throw down.  I was so close to the action, the spittle could land on me.  I kept glancing back at my dad for clues to run out of the bar for our safety, but my father was ordering another beer from the waitress as if he was sitting ringside at the Spinks-Holmes fight.

“Dad, dad, what’s going to happen?” I asked as my spine tensed up and adrenaline pumped throughout my body.

“They’re going to fight,” he retorted while tossing some popcorn in his mouth and leaning back in the chair as he perched his shoes on top of the table.  “If you don’t turn around, you might miss it.”

I had seen preschoolers bitch slap each other on the playground, but this was a real, unsupervised fight.  There were no teachers to break it up, no helicopter parent able to airlift Little Billy out trouble, nor a code of honor to stop once one boy starts crying.  These were two full size dudes about to go full tilt drunken bum fight.

Suddenly, a maiden appeared between the men. I wondered if they were going to beat her up too.  I glanced back at my dad.  He stood up and walked away.  What was he doing?  A real life version of Van Damme’s epic movie, Bloodsport, was unfolding in front of me.   My dad abandoned me.  Was this one of those early manhood tests?  Survive a bar fight and become an adult?  If I could survive, I knew what story I would be sharing at ‘Show and Tell’ on Friday.

The standoff, like two wild elks squaring off over a mate, continued.  They circled each other while the woman stood in between begging them to back down and resume the pool game.  The intensity built as one of them grabbed a beer bottle.

“Please there are children here!” she shouted as her missing teeth came into my view.  No longer part of the peanut gallery, I was involved.  With that desperate plea, the men backed down.  They exited with a few vulgar words as the bar returned to its normal state of affairs.

My father returned and sat in his chair.

“Dad, where did you go?  These guys fought each other,” I exclaimed as the intensity in my voice had yet to subside.

“I went to the bathroom.  And these guys didn’t fight,” he calmly stated as he took a pull out of his beer, “as soon as a girl gets in the middle of two guys arguing, it’s never going to happen.”

I took in this vast wisdom.  Other classmates of mine where playing with Legos and watching Sesame Street with that stupid yellow bird.  I was learning how the real world works.

“Besides,” he continued, “there was way too much talking.  Real bar fights happen with a punch, not a bunch of yelling.”

Kathy’s Bar is now a T-mobile, the Marlboro Man has retired to that great cattle ranch in the sky, and the union worker has faded into the history books much like Jack Dempsey.  However, I still have the memories of surviving my first bar fight.

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