I Hate Everyone, Except You, page 1
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You, plural, know who you are. I can’t imagine clinging to this enormous, minuscule, spinning sphere with anyone else. I thank my lucky stars for you every damn day. No lie.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Auditions, the Universe, and Other Whatnot
Turd in the Punchbowl
Freakin’ Fabulous, The Sitcom
Clinton for President!
You Young, Me Restless
The Way It Went
Your a Psychopath
Rich and Famous
About Clinton Kelly
In the spring of 1982, I got it into my head that I needed, more than anything in the whole world, to visit Action Park in New Jersey. The commercials, which played every seven minutes during reruns of Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch, spoke to the deepest desires of my thirteen-year-old soul.
“There’s nothing in the world like Action Park,” the jingle jangled. Golden-skinned teenagers frolicked in the world’s largest wave pool, flashing their symmetrical white teeth. Others shrieked with glee and unconsciously flexed their abs as they whipped through the turns of a water slide. They seemed to be having the best collective puberty ever, free of pimples, braces, and social awkwardness, all of which plagued me more than I cared to admit.
If I could just break into their social circle, I reasoned, my skin would clear up, my teeth would magically align themselves, and I could be the most popular kid at John F. Kennedy Junior High School in Port Jefferson Station, New York. And maybe, just maybe, I would develop even the slightest hint of muscle tone. Currently, when shirtless, I looked less like a boy than a xylophone, but I would occasionally amuse houseguests by grabbing two spoons and playing “Frère Jacques” on my rib cage.
Mike and Terri must have understood the magical powers of Action Park, because when I asked them at dinner one night to take me, they actually said yes.
“Awesome,” I said. “I need to buy a new bathing suit. I was thinking something white.” (I had recently seen an ad in which a very tan male model wore white Ocean Pacific short shorts. He bore a striking resemblance to me—insofar as he too was bipedal—so obviously we should have identical wardrobes.)
“We’ll shop for summer clothes when school is out,” Terri said. That was the usual routine. On the first weekend after the last day of school, Terri, my mom, would drive my sister Jodi and me to the mall, buy us whatever we needed to get through the summer, and then we’d head to the beach. Though it was never articulated as such, the ritual felt like a reward for surviving yet another year in the public school system. Just the three of us, buying new rubber flip-flops and bathing suits. Jumping waves on Long Island’s south shore. Wolfing down hot dogs with extra sauerkraut from the concessions stand. It was pretty much the best day of the year, every year. The next such outing would be our last, however. Terri was pregnant and due in early August.
“Aw, man, I can’t wait that long. I wanna go to Action Park this weekend,” I whined.
Spearing a chicken cutlet with his fork, my stepdad, Mike, said, “It’s mid-May. I doubt Action Park is even open.”
He was right, of course, which filled me with rage.
Mike was a tough-talking, bearded hairstylist who, much to my chagrin at the time, had married Terri the previous fall. He wore black leather jackets. I dreamed of collecting cashmere sweaters. He rode a Harley-Davidson. I prayed nightly for a Volvo. He was a quintessential Long Island Italian. I yearned to convert to any form of Protestantism, not because of a firmly held religious ideology, understand, but just so I could officially call myself a “W.A.S.P.” He and I had absolutely nothing in common, except for an apparent love of my mother.
The first time I’d met Mike, three years earlier, I had been thoroughly appalled. We were living with my mother’s friend Lynn, also recently divorced, and her two kids, Candice and Craig. Another single woman, Heather, and her son, Justin, a year or two older than me, also migrated in and out of the house. Three single women, five kids, three bedrooms. And although everyone knew the arrangement was temporary, it was still pretty weird. And sad. Saturday morning cartoons, for example, are considerably less enjoyable when your mother is asleep under a crocheted afghan on the living room couch.
Mike had stopped by the house one night to pick up Terri for a date. When he arrived, she was still in the bathroom, putting the finishing touches on her hair and makeup. She must have seen him pull into the driveway, because she shouted, “Can one of you let Mike in? Tell him I’ll be right out.”
Nobody responded. The house was unusually quiet; the other kids were visiting grandparents or dads for the weekend.
“Clint! Did you hear me?”
“Yes,” I said and reluctantly got up from the kitchen table, where I had been sitting by myself eating flourescent-orange macaroni and cheese and flipping through the latest issue of Cosmopolitan. I opened the door and Mike entered. He wore black leather boots, faded jeans, and a black button-front shirt open about three-quarters of the way down his slim torso. He sported at least three gold chains, dark aviator-style sunglasses, and feathered black hair. Honestly, I would have been less shocked if a 5-foot-10-inch coho salmon had stepped into our foyer.
“You must be Clint,” he said. “I’m Mike. Nice to meet you.” He extended his hand to shake mine, but I was so flabbergasted by his appearance I could barely lift my arm. My hand just sort of hung there like a limp cabbage leaf. He shook it delicately, as one might have done upon meeting a fancy Victorian lady.
Jodi came running over. She was a cherubic seven-year-old with a perpetually stained face. One day she might have an orange Hi-C smile that extended well past the boundaries of her mouth. The next she could have fallen asleep on a lollypop so that it left a semipermanent green kiss on her cheek. Today she appeared to have been lining her lips with chocolate, at least I hoped it was chocolate. I resented her ability to make her Halloween candy last well past Christmas, even into early spring. She ate a half a piece or less of it every day, whereas I ate a pillowcase-worth before November first. A single gobstopper was a weeklong event for Jodi. Sometimes I’d find a half-sucked one hiding in the Connect Four box and roll my eyes. If I was particularly desperate for sugar, I’d rinse it off and eat it myself.
“Bye.” She ran off, back to the TV or her Barbies or the Milky Way she’d been sucking face with.
When it struck me that my mother could possibly marry this dark, hairy man—after all, he was standing in our foyer—I decided it was my responsibility to end their budding relationship immediately. Not for any personal reasons. I was just looking out for the best interests of my mother, who at the age of thirty was obviously experiencing some kind of midlife crisis. My biological father might not have been perfect—far from it—but at least he wore a suit to work and shaved every day, like a productive member of society. This degenerate was probably on welfare.
Mike attempted to make small t
“My mom’s dating a lot of guys,” I blurted. “Like, a lot.”
“Really.” He seemed unfazed, but it was hard to get a read through the aviators.
“Yep,” I said. “She told me last night that she doesn’t like any of them.”
Still no reaction. “OK,” he said.
“So, you’re wasting your time with her.”
“For sure. It’s just, you know, I don’t want to see you get hurt or anything.”
“Gotcha,” he said, nodding his head. “I appreciate that.”
Like a cool breeze, Terri rounded the corner to where Mike and I were standing. Most of the time I took her appearance for granted, but she really was quite beautiful. Tall and slim with curves in all the conventionally desirable places. Her shoulder-length black hair was feathered, quite similar to Mike’s, actually, and she had big green eyes that were heavily mascaraed in the style of the time. Her smile always looked the slightest bit mischievous, even when she was wasn’t. Tonight she wore dark jeans, a white blouse, and a black satin bomber jacket. As she kissed him hello on the cheek, they struck me as a very exotic couple, perfectly styled to go to a discotheque or knock over a liquor store.
“Sorry to keep you waiting,” my mom said. “I see you’ve met Clint.”
“Yeah,” said Mike. “We were just having a little chat.”
“About what?” she asked, looking at me.
“Stuff,” I said.
“What kind of stuff?”
“I was just saying how I got detention this week for running to the school bus,” I said.
“Why’d you tell him that?” I couldn’t tell if Terri was horrified or amused. She explained to Mike that I was having a hard time in this new school district. “That’s his second detention this month. He used to be the perfect student, until recently.”
“He seems pretty perfect to me,” Mike said. If he was being sarcastic, I certainly didn’t know it at the time, because I believed I was indeed as perfect as a ten-year-old could be. And why my mother would choose to go out to dinner with this man rather than stay home with me was beyond my comprehension.
Mike and Terri left on their date, and three years later we were a family of four (plus one in utero) living in a much nicer, less-crowded house and eating a lot of chicken cutlets.
Maybe we could go to Action Park some time in July, they said.
“July? I can’t wait until July! It probably opens Memorial Day weekend! I need to go then!”
My begging and whining did little to convince them that donning a bathing suit in 60-degree temperatures would be a good idea. We would make the drive to Vernon, New Jersey, in July.
Oh, shit, I thought. They’re coming too. I hadn’t accounted for that possibility. I had figured they would drop me off at the front gate so I could make new and gorgeous friends who loved me for my God-given potential to be cool. But now, Mike and Terri were coming with me and we’d have to walk around a water park together. In bathing suits. With my little sister Jodi in tow. Aw man, my life sucked so much I could barely breathe.
For the next two months I kept Action Park at an emotional distance, the way a kid thinks about Christmas in September or an adult thinks about that STD test they should probably get after a long weekend in Miami. The commercials would play every day, and I had no choice but to regard those wet teenagers as long-lost cousins who didn’t know I existed but who would embrace me as one of their own upon first sight.
July arrived, eventually, and brought with it a heat wave, as is typical of Long Island summers, and—after some gentle reminding on my part—we loaded into the Chevy Blazer destined for New Jersey. Mike drove, as usual, and didn’t seem to mind at all that Jodi and I sang along loudly to Donna Summer’s greatest hits album as it played on the built-in 8-track. He wasn’t a singer, he said, when we tried to cajole him into joining us.
“Mike! ‘Bad Girls’ is next!” Jodi yelled. “You can do the toot toot beep beep part! It doesn’t matter what you sound like! You just say toot toot awwwww beep beep!” He smiled and politely declined. She sang it instead, rocking her head back and forth while she did so. She also squinted her eyes and pouted her lips, in what I assumed was a prepubescent attempt at sexiness. I silently wondered if I should care that my ten-year-old sister was really feeling this song about street-trolling hookers. I didn’t.
Much to my surprise and disappointment, Action Park wasn’t brimming with perfect specimens of American adolescence. Most of the people were either kind of fat, or droopy, or hairy. I mean, really disturbingly hairy. Men sprouted hair out of their lower backs and on their shoulders. Hair grew under their arms, across their bellies, up and down their legs into their groins, necks, knuckles, like mold spreading across a shower curtain. The women provided little respite from the assault on my senses. Some had giant, pendulous breasts and thighs the texture of chicken chow mein. Others looked broken or bowlegged, like life had really knocked the crap out of them.
Of course, I had been to the beaches of Long Island countless times, so I knew that human bodies came in all different shapes and sizes. But I had never seen so many half-naked people this close-up. They were practically touching me, making me anxious. I wanted to go home, back to our split-level ranch in the suburbs, where everyone was at least moderately attractive. Where skin clung tautly to our frames. Where hair grew in the appropriate places. And where there were no open wounds.
See, Action Park wasn’t comprised solely of water rides. It also featured an attraction called the Alpine Slide, a concrete half-pipe-shaped track that meandered down a mountain. People would sit on little nonmotorized sleds, controlling their speed with a joystick. You could pull the stick closer to you to apply the brake or push it forward and let gravity whisk you along the path.
The Alpine Slide had no seat belts or roll bars, just one built-in, state-of-the-art safety system: your epidermis. If you were to fall out of your sled or jump the track, the only structure that might slow your descent down the mountain was your skin.
I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that one-quarter of the people mulling around Action Park did so with a moderate to severe case of road rash, which the first-aid team would cover liberally with Mercurochrome, a bright-red antiseptic that made bloody wounds appear even gorier. One might assume the management of Action Park would forbid, or at the very least discourage, people with fresh cuts and scrapes from entering a communal water ride. Nope. They might as well have posted signs reading, SKINNED HALF YOUR ARM? DON’T BE A PUSSY. JUMP RIGHT BACK IN THE POOL WHERE EVEN MORE OF YOUR BODILY FLUIDS CAN MIX FREELY WITH THOSE OF PERFECT STRANGERS. WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER!
Another problem with this place was that to ride the Alpine Slide you had to get to the top of the mountain, and the only way to do that was to take a ski lift, which ran above the track itself. Pretty straightforward in its design, sure. Go up ski lift. Go down slide. Now add a few thousand teenage boys to the equation.
See any inherent problem with that?
Well, let me help you out. What do teenage boys like to do from high places?
So, as you’re zooming down the Alpine Slide, maneuvering around turns, adjusting your speed accordingly using the hand-held brake-joystick, you must also dodge innumerable loogies hocked by New Jersey’s future rocket scientists.
When I rode the slide, I was lucky enough to be hit with sputum on the back of my left hand. It could have been much worse, but I was still furious. If anyone was going to goober on me, it should be an attractive person, not some greasy-mulleted punk wearing cutoff jean shorts.
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the teenage boys tended not to spit on the pretty girls. Instead of mucus, they would hurl compliments, maybe something as subtle as, “Nice tits, blondie!” Or a polite offer to “Sit on my face, bitch!”
On the ride ahead of me was a reasonably attractive redheaded girl of about si
Between the hairy men, the loogie-spitting boys, and the open wounds, this day trip was turning into a disaster, and it was all my fault. Terri was eight months pregnant and waddling around uncomfortably in shorts and a maternity top. Mike wouldn’t go on any of the rides because he didn’t want to leave my mother alone in her condition. At least that’s what he said. That meant I had to supervise Jodi, who wanted to do things that prepubescent girls do, like splash around the shallow end of the wave pool and scream in a pitch that could shatter Austrian crystal.
Usually Mike was a big proponent of “getting our money’s worth.” That is, arriving at dawn and staying until forcibly removed. But by two in the afternoon everyone was ready to leave Action Park. Even Jodi casually remarked, “Let’s go now to avoid rush hour.” You know your whole family is having a crappy time when the ten-year-old feigns concern over the traffic patterns on the Long Island Expressway. But it was Saturday, and the rest of us knew that if we left at 2 p.m., traffic would actually be worse because of the beachgoers. Nevertheless, we all jumped right on Jodi’s bandwagon.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!”
As we started to leave, though, I was overcome by the feeling that the day was incomplete. I had been deceived by the ad executives who produced the commercials for this place. I had not made any new beautiful, good-natured friends, because there were none to be found. “There’s nothing in the world like Action Park,” the commercials said. Indeed. There was nothing in the world like this place—if you wanted a staph infection.
I knew what had to be done. I could save this day. By riding Kamikaze.
Kamikaze, suspiciously absent from the TV commercials, was a waterslide conceived by someone with little regard for human life. Shaped like a giant curved L, the slide required its rider to climb a one-hundred-foot tower and, once at the top, enter a cage and cross his arms. The ride operator would then press a button, releasing the floor of the cage and dropping the rider into a free fall. Because the slide is completely vertical at first, the rider’s body does not touch the slide until it bends to 90 degrees and enters a series of shallow hills and approximately six inches of water.