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CHAPTER 1 - GLENN

I failed the entrance exam twice, the second time in early 1988. Those stupid multiple choice tests with the fill-in bubbles (blue or black ink only) trip me up every time. Even the ones requiring a #2 pencil suck because I erase so much I end up tearing holes in the automatic scoring sheet. Machines don’t read holes, the holes in my mind that work their way to the page. I read slow, so the test takes longer in the first place. Then I find the right answer, say, B. My hand goes to the score sheet and fills in the circle next to C, and I can’t figure out why the hell this happens. I know the fucking answer, but my hand puts it in the wrong place, and I’m screwed. AGAIN.

Mrs. Muller taught my English class sophomore year in high school. “Glenn,” she said. “I know you know the material. You just aren’t paying attention. You’re being lazy, careless.” Blah, blah, blah. I tuned out the rest. She could go fuck herself, just like all the rest of them. It’s like listening to a broken record for my entire life. Don’t even get me started on my parents. After my dad gave up on beating some sense into me, he chalked me right up there with the Prodigal Son, only never hoping I’d return, period. My mom went along with what my dad said. It was easier for her that way.

Most pass college entrance exams the first time, even if by a thread, but I manage to fail. Fail. Failure. That’s what I am, a failure with a capital F. Why it’s so easy for everyone else and so hard for me is the million dollar question. Wait, I just answered it. Because. I’m. A. Failure. I’m pretty sure that’s what my parents had in mind when they named me Glenn F. Conroy. Yes, that’s right. I only have a letter for my middle name. I get to fill in the blankety-blank, blank.

Glenn Failure Conroy.

I did manage to graduate high school by the skin of my teeth back in 1976. Oh, and by a few winks and charms for the teachers. Who could resist holding charisma like that back a grade? They passed me. Worked every time. Maybe they were the stupid ones and not me.

I punched the wall with my fist, venting my frustration about the failed exam, leaving a dent in the drywall. I felt better. It gave me a rush. Apparently it gave Mom a rush too because she came rushing into my room. “What the hell is going on in here?” she asked, like there’s a problem. She stared at the fucked-up drywall and started to cry. Moms can get so emotional, and I had no idea why. She probably wished I’d never moved back in. You know, after my failed marriage and a failed stint in the Navy, she probably didn’t want to deal with Glenn Failure Conroy back in the house. Mom put her hands on her hips in that pissed-off-mom pose. “I will not tolerate that behavior in my house. Do you understand?” She looked like she was going to blow a gasket.

“I didn’t mean to,” I said, which pissed her off even more.

“How old are you?” she said, which was really stupid because we both knew I was thirty. We were both there when I was born. I couldn’t figure out why she changed the subject, and that pissed me off because she can never stay on topic, always throwing in bullshit that has nothing to do with anything, and then she gets mad at me for not following her train of thought. “You should know by now, throwing your fist at the wall never solves anything,” she said, drilling her gaze into my head. She pointed to the drywall. “You’re fixing that. With your money.”

There she went with the consequences again, erroneously thinking I’d eventually learn my lesson. With me, life lessons didn’t stick. “You know I don’t have any money,” I said. I started to panic and was hurt because she was being unfair.

“You should have thought of that before you hit the wall,” she said then walked out the door.

“I didn’t think. I just did it,” I called after her. She stopped, spun around on her heel.

“That’s your problem Glenn. You. Don’t. Think,” she explained like she was exasperated, but I thought she was overreacting.

Actually, I had thought this over way too much. I typically didn’t sit around thinking things through or mulling them over. What a boring waste of time. My time was better spent going out, so I hopped in the new sports car I emptied my bank account for last week and left. Thinking Mitch or Ron might wanna join me for a beer, I drove twenty miles into town to find out because it was easier than looking up their numbers in the phone book.

                                                                  *     *     *

The guys weren’t home, so I drove back to the house, popped open a beer. “You want one?” I asked my dad who had just come home from work. He scowled at me. I was just being nice, offering a beer, and he freaking scowls at me. What an asshole.

“Your mother tells me you punched a hole in the wall.”

Oh, that. He brings that up. They really ought to relax. I stared at him, waiting for the rest of his blah, blah, blah. I took a swig of beer, making his lame drivel go down better, and then my ears perked up when he said something about me getting a job at the St. Louis Arena. Gotta love hockey.

“So I’ll call Blakely and set you up. You can start Monday.”

I think dad said something else about buying time until I could take the college entrance exam again, and me fixing the hole in the wall, but my mind honed in on Blakely. He was the “it” man for St. Louis Blues hockey and I was already planning how to get all the players’ autographs. They’d probably give me a real Brett Hull jersey on my first day, I thought, that I could have them sign. And if they didn’t offer, I’d ask for one. Dad still blathered, “. . . fixed before Monday.”

“Yeah, Dad,” I said, looking him straight in the eye. That’s how I always answered my dad because if I didn’t look him straight in the eye, he’d think I wasn’t listening. Most of the time I wasn’t listening anyway. He didn’t know that, although I’m sure he suspected as much. The direct-eye approach was my best bet, otherwise the continuing lecture was, to me, like nails on a chalkboard.

                                                                  *     *     *

“If you’ve got any extra jerseys laying around, I’d take one off your hands,” I said after Blakely’s people showed me the mixing board and sound equipment I’d be working on. They kind of laughed at me for some reason, yet by the end of my shift I sported one and had gotten two players to sign. Score! I’m not as useless as everyone thought, and I had to keep giving myself that pep talk because no one else that mattered did. After work, Mitch and Ron met me at the bar where I showed off the goods.

“Awesome!” Mitch said, his eyes bugging out. He reached out his hand for a high-five. “Dude, you rule.”

“Yes, I do.” I took another swig. “Margaritas all around,” I said, in the mood to celebrate my new job. We clinked our glasses.

“To hockey,” Ron said, still admiring my jersey.

We BS’d about the season’s stats, talking smack about nothing, but it was fun.

“To Brett Hull,” I offered after our third round.

“Screw Brett Hull,” Mitch said. “Those Blackhawks have a chance this year.”

“Bullshit.” That’s when it got exciting, me defending the Blues like I owned the team, but Mitch and Ron got torqued, leaving me with the bill.

“Dude, you need your head examined,” Mitch said as he left. Motherfuckers. Some friends.

“One more,” I said, raising my glass toward the bartender. He eyed me like he had a problem with that, but I touched my index finger to my nose and bugged my eyes out at him. He sighed, pouring me a drink. “Got a light?” I asked, suddenly feeling the urge for a smoke. He produced a lighter from under the counter, flicked it on for me to light up. I took a long drag, making sure my cigarette was good and lit and then blew smoke everywhere. “You ever feel like no one understands you?” I asked him.

“All the time,” he said. Bartenders are the closest I’d ever get to a shrink. Sometimes I thought I wasn’t normal, but mostly I thought other people wasn’t normal. That bartender eased my mind. And I knew the phrasing, “other people wasn’t normal” wasn’t normal, but it’s a habit I never worried about breaking.

“One more for the road.” I drained the last of my margarita, sticking my tongue way out to catch the last drop and then pushed my empty across the bar. “On the rocks this time. Extra salt.”

“No can do,” he said, removing my empty glass from in front of me. I gave him a look, wondering what his problem was. Then he freaked out. He raised his hand in some sort of signal; then a bouncer came after me. The bartender said something about if looks could kill. Hell, I didn’t give him a murderous look; I just wondered what was up his ass.

The bouncer threw me out the door, roughing up my hockey jersey a bit too much. I smoothed it out just as a minor earthquake hit, causing me to walk unsteady. A few girls walking by didn’t seem to notice what I swore was the ground shaking. Weird. I got into my car, cranked “Come Sail Away,” and then sailed down the highway, using the dashboard as a drum, keeping rhythm. Blue and red flashing lights in the rear-view mirror fucked up the whole evening, which I had thought went pretty well.

“Damn,” I said, pulling over. The cop appeared at my window in two seconds flat. “What can I do you for, ocifer?” I said, trying to be polite and jovial. He didn’t smile.

“Did you know you were doing eighty in a forty-five?”

“I was not.” Who the hell did he think he was? Probably out to get me because he had a beef with my dad. His radio made one of those white-noise farts as he called for backup.

“Ten-four.” It farted back.

“License,” he said, ignoring my protest. I produced my driver’s license. He then scrutinized it until a second cop arrived. “Out of the car with your hands up.”

What the hell? They really knew how to take the joy out of a joy ride. I got out of the car, very nonchalant, like this was all a big misunderstanding. Truth be told, I was scared as shit.

Cop two said a bunch of legalese crap, but I heard in my mind, breathalyzer or you’ll go straight to jail.

“I’m not drunk.”

After some more legalese he said, “Prove it. Deep breath,” and then jammed the thing into my mouth. At least that’s how I remember it. Mommy, a little voice piped up in my head, which was really stupid, because I was a grown man.

When they got what they needed, they put their little pea brains together and decided to take me down to the station. Where’s the joy now? I didn’t know, but it sure was exciting. I’d add “booked into jail” to my list of exciting life experiences. Can’t get enough of those. That’s what’s livin’s about.

Eventually they called my dad, who was less than thrilled, arriving at 2 a.m. with a look on his face that said he thought these days were long over for us. Normally I didn’t know what the hell type of look was on someone’s face, but when the excitement revved up, I could read faces pretty well. And that’s when I was really living. What a rush.

“Russell,” cop one said to my dad, shaking his hand. My dad nodded, a serious look in his eye, like he had some business to take care of. They stepped out of sight. When they came back, my dad stood there with both hands in his coat pockets, expressionless.

“Come on, son,” he said to me. That’s all he said. Silence the whole ride home, and it wasn’t until morning I learned a good chunk of my first paycheck would be going to pay my speeding ticket. Whatever magic my dad worked, I was grateful for. No charges pressed. Apparently, I wasn’t driving drunk after all.

Then my mom started in. “Haven’t you patched that hole you punched in the wall yet?”

“I plan on doing it when I get home from work,” I said. She rolled her eyes like she didn’t believe me, but it was true. I planned to do it right after work.

“I packed you a lunch.” She crinkled down the edge of a brown paper bag.

“Thanks.” I headed back to my room to fetch the hockey jersey for more autographs. Then I headed out the door, leaving the lunch mom packed behind. And she sure let me know it.

The second I got home, “You forgot your lunch,” she said, miffed.

“I plan on taking it tomorrow,” I said, figuring I couldn’t undo what was done. I grabbed a bag of chips, plopped down on the couch, and turned on the TV. I glanced over at mom who was drilling her eyes into the back of my head. “Wha—?” I said, mouth half full, me confused. What did I do now?

“I thought you were going to fix the hole in the wall.”

Christ, can’t a man have a few minutes break? “I’ll do it,” I said. My head started to hurt.

“You said you’d do it right after work.”

Jesus, a literalist. “It was a figure of speech.”

Mom shook her head then left the room. I called after her, “I plan on it!”

                                                                    *     *     *

On payday I took my jersey in, hoping to get the only signature I was missing. I made sure I had brought the jersey every day and hung around after practice, getting the players’ attention. My boss handed me my check. “Man, did I get ripped off,” I said well within earshot. “I was expecting a whole lot more than this.” My boss looked at me like I had “crazy” written all over my face. He looked over my shoulder, pointed to the hours and wage, confirming that’s what I’d been hired in at. Then I noticed the “deductions” section, which I’d forgotten all about. That stupid speeding ticket took my entire check. I had nothing in my pocket, and my gas tank was empty.

“Can I borrow some money for gas?” I asked my mom. She glared at me.

“Where’s all your money?” she asked, like I was still a kid, which annoyed the hell out of me.

I went over the tax problem, reminded her about the ticket then said, “And I had to buy my lunch, so I don’t have any cash.”

Mom grabbed her forehead between her fingers and thumb, looking down like she was in pain and then opened the fridge and pulled out a brown lunch sack. “You HAD to buy your lunch,” she said, rubbing in the fact that I’d forgotten to bring my lunch every day except the day she physically put it in my hand as I headed out the door. I thought moms were supposed to be nice, but she was a downright bitch about it.

“Since when is forgetting something a sin?” I asked her. What’d she expect me to be, god dammed perfect? Then she ripped me a new one about how I remembered my jersey every day and filled it with autographs, yet I was totally irresponsible about basic money management. She mercilessly pointed out that if I had remembered my lunch each day I’d have money for gas. And wouldn’t have to borrow from her.

Easy for her to say.

More than likely, if I had money, I’d have spent it on a more immediate need anyway, like a night out on the town. She acted like borrowing from her was a huge deal and even made me sign a promissory note. “Way to show confidence in your son,” I said to that. By then, all I wanted to do was go out for a beer, but with the cash problem and all, I just threw myself on my bed, staring at some hole in the wall, wondering why life was so fucking hard and why someone was always on my case. ALWAYS on my case, like I did these things on purpose.

                                                                        *     *     *

Six months later, I was able to take the Parks College entrance exam again, and by the grace of God, I actually passed. Hoorah! I knew I knew the stuff. I’m just a terrible test taker and that day was my lucky day. I think my parents broke out the champagne, celebrating the fact that I’d finally move out. Again. But I resolved I’d make it up to them. In my heart, I wanted to make them proud.