Dear friends and once-strangers: I know I’m posting this tale a week later than intended. I just started a new position at a video game studio and firehose-drinking demanded all my spare bandwidth until like, yesterday now. BUT NOW I’M BACK and I’ve brought home with a fun new yarn for all you good children called…

Pity the Fool

At the first ring of the elementary school bell, I was on my feet, mobilized: I'd take the strategic route to avoid Adam, a sour-breathed bully who'd gut-punched me in the cafeteria line at lunch. I'd done nothing to deserve it, or last week's cheek-reddening slap in the locker room, or the knee to the balls at the mall food court, or the shin-kick that bled through my jeans.


Adam lived right across the street from me. We used to have sleepovers with a few other kids from the neighborhood: we’d order several Domino's Pizzas, drink two-liters of Jolt! cola, stay up until dawn watching weird movies we’d taped off cable. That was before Adam’s stepdad Avi moved in: an Israeli podiatrist who was military-strict with him and his older sister.

Maybe that was the reason for the beatings? That I knew his dirty secret? Before his muscle tees and Dio poster, before his wispy mustache and his Supercuts mullet, Adam used to be a nice kid like us. Whenever his mom worked late, he'd come across the street to hang out our house and my mom would bake fresh peanut butter cookies. She never baked cookies just for me.

The new Junior High Adam had appointed himself "Nerd-Pounder", scanning the streets of our housing development after-school, itching to beat up any four-eyed, four-foot late bloomer in his path. Including me. Especially me.

And for some reason, like a fool, I took it. He used to be one of us, and I covered for him, lied about my bruises to teachers, guidance counselors, parents.


I'd avoided Adam this afternoon by staying off streets and sidewalks entirely, crisscrossing between houses, trespassing through backyards and screened-in pools, ducking low as I crossed the vacant lot with the old haunted banyan tree. It added fifteen minutes to my walk home, but it beat a beating.

At the home stretch, I hid behind some landscaping a few houses down the block and parted some palm fronds to scope out my own driveway: the coast was clear, but I didn't have a house key. I was only eleven, and according to my folks, keys were for twelve year-olds.

I booked it, until I stood in our driveway and rang our doorbell twice. Before I even glanced over my shoulder, I could feel eyes — heat — on the back of my neck. Sure enough, there was Adam on his porch, red-faced and brooding, lanky elbows on lanky knees. He wiped his nose on his wrist, eyes locking with mine as the deadbolt turned behind me and my mom opened the door to let me in. She waved across the street:

MOM: Oh, hi Adam!

He waved back, showing a sprout of armpit hair I didn't remember.

ADAM: Hey Mrs. Goldman--

Wait a goddamn second. My hands nerve-fired into angry claws. Was she about to--?

MOM: Adam...? Why don't you come over and wait for your mom here?

She did. I shook my head so hard at her naive betrayal that my neck was sore days later.

ME [through clenched teeth]: Mommmm, what are you doinggg???

MOM: Chill out, honey! Who tinkled in your Cheerios?

There was no way I wanted my opwn bully in my house, in my room, making fun of my toys, every second a hairs-breadth from a full-blown beating erupting with nowhere to escape to. But there he was, already halfway across the road, his rat tail swishing against the neck-tag of his muscle tee.

She invited him over and let him inside, like a vampire. Everyone knows you don't do that... but my mother did that. She held open the iron security door open for Adam and he shouldered past me towards the kitchen with a smirk and a wicked wink.

One thing I did know: he wasn’t going to hit me in front of my mother, so I parked myself at the kitchen table while Adam leaned against our chipped formica counter, feigning interest in whatever my mother was going on about. With her back to him, Adam wagged his middle finger at me, goblin-snarling with his tongue straining past his chin and reverting to sweet-boy when she turned back to the oven to remove the peanut butter cookies.

Glasses of skim milk were poured, cookies were piled onto a plate, and the three of us went to the living room to sit on the couch around the TV. My hand instinctively went for the remote control.


My after-school life at that time revolved around whatever was on TV. Cable was still new and too expensive, but we had a two rabbit-ear TVs in the house: a 32-inch color set in the living room that my dad claimed absolute domain over when he was home: if I was watching a show and he wanted to use it, there was zero discussion. He paid the bills, he held the remote like a king's scepter and watched what he wanted, when he wanted.

We had a little 12-inch black-and-white set in the guest bedroom -- never any guests -- that my mom watched soap operas on while ironing laundry, and I spent my afternoons camped out in there watching reruns of 1970s sitcoms, my favorites with "Produced by Norman Lear" in the credits: Good Times, All in the Family, Sanford & Son, The Jeffersons, and Diff'rent Strokes.

I'd camp out alone in front of the twelve-inch guest room TV, doing my my homework in spiral-bound, wide-ruled notebooks while livelier families from the past transported me from brain-baked Florida to worlds where folks challenged each other with sass and humor while the studio audience clapped, gasped and clapped some more, where everything was always okay by the roll of the credits.


Before long, we'd burned through cookies, milk and three sitcoms. The local news was on and it was getting dark outside. But Adam, the quasi-welcome visitor, was still sprawled on our couch, one elbow over the headrest, his armpit hair scenting the upholstery where I laid my cheek at night when it was almost time for bed. Every fifteen minutes he'd spring to his feet up to look out the window at his driveway, checking for a parental car that never showed, before sitting again in a huff.

When my mom went to use the bathroom, he puffed his chest at me:

ADAM: So, do you faggots watch good shows here or just old shit?

The tone switch was so sudden -- facing Street Adam, Bully Adam, Nerd-Scourge Adam on my living room couch -- I didn't know what to say, until I grokked what he meant with a glowing grin:

ME: Oh yeah... it's Tuesday night…

ADAM: You do know… I thought I was trapped in Nerd Hell over here…

Tuesday night was a special, practically a ritual across America. Tuesday nights were for THE A-TEAM -- charismatic soldiers of fortune who kicked ass and blew shit up week after week. Not just my favorite show, it was every kid in school's favorite show.

My mother, who did not like THE A-TEAM's glorification of violence or the sound of nonstop machine guns and exploding car crashes, took Tuesdays off from making family dinners that we wouldn't pay attention to anyways. Tuesdays we ate Gorton's frozen fish stick dinners in front of the TV, where I had my weekly single can of Coke.

MOM [coming back into the room]: Adam? Your mom and Avi still aren't home yet. Do you like fish sticks?

He glanced over at me and grinned:

ADAM: Actually, Mrs. Goldman... I love fish sticks.


So there we sat, my bully and I, eating fish stick TV dinners, drinking Cokes on the couch together. Since my mom had retreated to her room -- leaving me vulnerable to any pummeling fists -- I kept my eyes on the TV screen and my mouth full of Gorton's.

Onscreen, the black-and-red A-Team van screeched to a halt on the Venice boardwalk. Mister T.’s character B.A. Baracus climbed out in tight jeans and a thousand gold chains, snarling at a gawking surfer holding a can of Budweiser:

B.A. BARACUS: Grrrr, I pity the fool that drinks in public!

He grabbed the can of beer from the onlooker's hand, raised it in both hands, and with a growl, tore it in half. My mouth full of fish sticks, I laughed until nearly choking, loving the shit out of such stupid, harmless machismo.

ADAM [mouth half full]: I bet you can do that, dummy.

I stared down at the Coke can in my left hand I'd drained but was too hypnotized to put down. No way.

ME: No way.

ADAM: I think you can. I'll bet you can! You rip that thing in half like Mister T., and I'll never punch your pussy little face again. Swear to God.

Again, I regarded the New Coke can. Did I have it in me?

With a cat-like swat, Adam took my can from me and crumpled it in two hands. Handing it back to me, an hourglass shape now.

ADAM: No more beatings -- don't you want to be a man?

I did want to be a man. But weirdly, I also wanted us to be friends again. I hated that whenever I saw him these days, I walked away with bruises.

Straining, I tilted my elbows up, bared teeth curling into a smile as the aluminum crumpled in the middle and I twisted it back, forth, again and again, working it until a tiny point appeared. More wiggles and a pinhole opened up in its tip. Adam watched my can intently, licking his lips once, like a dog.

With Mr. T. looming onscreen above me, I gripped both halves of the can, gritted my teeth and twisted hard in opposite directions. It rattled, warped and finally gave. The tiny tear expanded quickly as the can ripped in half, its ragged edge slicing through the ball of muscle underneath my left thumb, opening it so fast I didn’t have time to scream.

ADAM: Oh shit..!

I sat there staring at the canyon in my hand, my palm butterflied open from the base of my thumb almost to my wrist. I actually could see inside my own hand: striated muscle tissue like stretching like cables, exposed and pale, the pale of bone visible for a moment in the open air. Then, quickly, pink. Then a deep ruby red as the canyon soaked and filled up, spilled over with blood. Tiny drops began to jet from the cut too -- two fat drops per second, flinging like spit into the air.

ADAM: Oh SHIT, man!

At that moment, onscreen, B.A. Baracus braced himself in a wide stance and fired a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher at a gasoline truck and turned the world on TV to flames as I stood up, realizing something serious had happened. Blood, my blood, ran down my arm in rivulets, fell in wet drips from my elbow to the beige carpet of our rental home where it would stain and later cost my father his security deposit.

Silly machismo was definitely out the window now:

ME: Um... Mom? [listened for response] MOOOOOOOOOOMMM!!!

Holding my arm against my chest, soaking my t-shirt, I ran barefoot through our house to my parents' bathroom. My mother sat in front of her makeup mirror wearing her cute blouse to greet my father in when he got home. Laser-focused on applying eyeshadow and mascara to her right eye, her unmade left eye went wide in the mirror as she saw me in the doorway behind her, pale with fear as my blood flowed down my shirt and spurted tiny dots on the wall behind me in time with my heartbeat.

ME: I hurt myself.

To her credit, she was a champ. With neither nurse training nor military service, she put down her makeup pencil, sat me on her knee, and pulled my arm away from my chest so she could inspect--

My whole arm was red, blood-slicked from fingertip nearly to my elbow, and as she turned my thin wrist in her fingers, half-inch curtains of ragged muscle tissue hung down from the wound, dripping down and jetting up all at once.

Her eyes met mine -- both magnified behind prescription glasses -- as she asked:

MOM: Jesus honey… what did you do to yourself?!

ME: I-I ripped open a C-Coke can like Mr. T. on--

MOM: Oh… you stupid idiot. [inspecting] This is not a Band-Aid fix, you're going to need stitches. At a hospital.

I nodded, terrified. I'd never had stitches that I could remember, but that thought was pushed out of my mind when the tip of her index finger brushed the exposed nerve endings as it stuffed the hanging muscle tissue back into the open pouch of my palm. She grabbed a clean face towel and wrapped it tight around my wounded paw.

From the hallway, our dog's nails skittered on the tile as he jumped against the front door, barking like a good boy. Keys rattled in the lock: my father, coming home from work.

He walked in absently, looked up to see a trail of blood drops leading from one side of the house to the other... and sheet-white Adam standing in the hall, a tiny dot of my blood on his face.

ADAM: H-hey, Mr. Goldman.

DAD: Who are you? And what are you doing in my house?

ADAM: I'm Adam, remember? I l-live across the street. We were... eating fish sticks--

Silently, my dad started putting together the facts, until—

MOM [from the bedroom]: Honey? Can you come here please?

Adam slipped past my dad without a word and went back home. My father sighed loudly. Whatever he was needed to handle was something that needed handling right now, and he was already exhausted after a long day working in the hot sun. He shuffled down the hall and into the bathroom, where his eyebrows leapt up to tap his hairline.

My blood was everywhere: puddles of it on the bathroom counter, soaking my t-shirt, absently wiped on my Mom's arms and face, droplets smeared into brushstrokes on the wall. His eyes flicked over to Mom, with one made-up eye like A Clockwork Orange:

MOM: I-- I know this looks bad. He cut himself doing something stupid and needs to get stitches at the E.R.

DAD: Oh. Okay. [No biggie, I guess?] You ready to go?

My cheeks were hot with shame and fear and I was started to get woozy from losing all that blood. I started to cry, silently, and nodded.

DAD [pointing towards the driveway]: Get in the car.


We drove in silence. He still smoked cigarettes back then and the car interior smelled of ash and blood. Cradling my arm to my chest, the towel was soaking through with my blood. Tension started to curl in my stomach, a spiky rattle I could taste on my tongue, feel in my teeth. I was so angry at myself for doing this, something so dumb, such a stupid idiot, such a stupid child! Angry at myself, at forcing my tired dad to drop everything and drive me to the emergency room, it was just too--

ME: Fuck!

The moment the word escaped my lips, I realized I'd never said it aloud in front of either parent before. Without taking his eyes off the road, my father regarded me from the corner of his eyes. He reached into his shirt pocket, lit a fresh cigarette, kept driving.

Well then, if there were no consequences, then I’d let ‘em rip:

ME: FUCK! Ohhhh, ffffffuck fuckfuckfuck FUUUUUUUUCK!

And then: a click of the right-hand turn signal, a slowing down, a pulling-over onto the shoulder of the road, a killing of the engine.

A father turns to a son:

DAD: Let's be clear: just because you're bleeding doesn't mean you can use that kind of language. Understand me?

I trangressed, I was scolded. I nodded, he nodded. He turned the key again, began driving back towards the hospital.


We spent a few hours at the ER. Hospitals were less about insurance coverage back then, more about getting the right care. I was attended to, my butterflied palm smeared with iodine and sewn back together with thick black thread. I watched the miracle workers intently as they tied thread into knots and snipped off the excess, leaving prickly sprouts.

The doctor spoke slowly to me as he explained wound care, healing time, dangers of infection. I'd have to come back to the hospital in a week to get the stitches out. I was fixed, relieved and grateful.


We left the hospital just before midnight, driving through the only place still open that late -- Miami Subs -- for their battered french fries. As we came in the door, I showed off my stitches with greasy fingers to my mom and brother -- until I caught an elbow in the ribs. My father's elbow.

DAD: Didn't you forget something? [off my blank stare] How about, I dunno, 'thank you, Mom and Dad'...?

I blushed, ashamed all over again.

ME: Thank you, Mom and Dad.

DAD: '...for taking care of me when I was bleeding everywhere…'?

ME: '...for taking care of me when I was bleeding everywhere.'

DAD: '...and for being the smartest, coolest and best-looking parents in Unincoporated Dade County.'

I giggled, about to repeat that last bit, when they pulled me in for a group hug, all of us frazzled but together, though I held my hand high over my head so nobody pressed against my stitches. We stayed there for a warm minute until my mother started to quietly chuckling like a crazy person. My dad looked me her, then at me, as her snickering gained power and she lost all control of it:

MOM: Oh God... I just can't stop thinking about the muscle tissue just... hanging out of your hand... and the squirting! Oh God, please, don't ever do that again!

Then it was time for bed.


The next morning, I walked through our subdivision a wounded warrior who’d seen some real shit towards a new day at school. My stitches tugged a little against the skin, and also itched like hell. I was told that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should I scratch at them, which only made me want scratch them more.

Turning a corner towards school, I faced down Adam, towering over my scrawny friend Eddie, hands up and pleading, blubbering through a bloody lip until Adam's eyes caught mine. He grinned like an alligator, all teeth:

ADAM: Morning, dork. Didja get stitches?

I tried to parse where this interaction was heading: into kindness or into violence?

ME: Yeah. Seven.

ADAM: Awesome. Lemme see.

Kindness then? I relaxed as I walked over and rolled up the dressing, showed him the prickly nylon threads, the ragged flesh they held together.

ADAM: Gnarly. [in Mister T. voice] I pity the fool that can't rip a can in half! [patting my shoulder] You won that bet fair and square.

He laughed and I laughed, and we were like, cool again. I was truly and genuinely happy my stupid bloody accident could bring us back together as friends.

ADAM: I promised, I’ll never punch your pussy little face ever again.

And then he kneed me hard in the balls.

Womp Womp, The End

It feels like I’m learning how to structure these a little better lately, I hope you’re seeing that too and enjoying the ride. As always, holler at me and let me know. I’m out here like a wizard on my electron cloud sparking neurons and gluons and wax-ons to entertain you-all, and myself, until the Singularity comes to erase all boundaries betwixt us.

Be seeing you,