The Red-Headed Stranger…

Jenny didn’t shit just anywhere when she had a statement to make…she was very selective. She wouldn’t shit in Craig and Robin’s room. On those rare occasions she actually came to visit them, she didn’t bother to shit upstairs in Fred and Dan’s room. In Larry’s and Gary’s room? My room? She never shit in any of those places. In fact she was a perfect guest to most of us at the WAFU House. It was more than a little surprising that a visitor who oozed great looks and obvious breeding like Jenny’s would find it acceptable to shit anywhere except where she was supposed to.


The WAFU (We’re All Fine Undergraduates???) House was a three-story behemoth that was a cross between two great movie sets…Animal House and Psycho. Ten of us called this place home at the same time. Eight dudes and two ladies…three, once Jenny moved in. The only rules revolved around Top Raman Noodles and toilet paper. Otherwise, it was everybody for themselves. We were a living, breathing television script way before the advent of reality TV. We were drunk and disorderly at the dawning of the MTV age. And all was peaches and cream, until Rod brought Jenny home one late winter evening with barely a story other than she needed a place to stay for a while. For her entire stay, she remained an enigma to us.


It was only Chris with whom Jenny seemed to have serious issues. We never knew why this was the case. Chris certainly didn’t ask and Jenny wasn’t talking. Still, on more than one occasion, Chris came home from a long day on campus to find very un-ladylike calling card plopped right in the middle of his area rug. Maybe it was just some kind of evil chemistry between them, but tension was palpable.


Maybe the problem was that Rod, her liberator, paid way more attention to his girlfriend Pam than Jenny was willing to put up with. After all it was Rod who had taken it upon himself to save her from her “situation” with that last guy. He had bonded with Jenny. He had brought her to stay with us…until arrangements could be made. Pam was unusually silent about all of this, but that’s how we rolled in the early 80’s. Jenny’s a bitch… Hunziker and Furman are assholes and sometimes you have to put up with Fred and BK.


Clearly, Rod was a sucker for redheads and Jenny was a long, lean one. The deep-set hazel that glittered in her eyes barely masked the anger and resentment she had for her last guy. I suspect this is what she really loathed the most about Chris…his physical similarity to some guy none of us had ever seen, but who had become painfully imprinted on Jenny’s psyche. We never quite learned how Rod came to befriend Jenny and that had to grate on Pam’s already delicately stretched heartstrings. If Jenny noticed this resentment from Pam, she kept it to herself. Jenny seemed to have a lot on her mind. She was quiet and kept to herself. She slept almost constantly, only waking to stroll into the kitchen and eat whatever food Rod was willing to give her, and then back to the couch for another round of shuteye. As it turned out, she was carrying more than deep, dark concerns about her living situation.


It took very little to entertain our little household of misfit toys. We’d survived on beer and Fred’ sense of humor for so long that when MTV premiered earlier that fall, we felt like we had been lifted to a higher cultural plane. Most of us viewed MTV as a way to become more informed on the social and political renderings of our various musical heroes. Dan, on the other hand, viewed MTV as a gateway drug to better sleep. One unusually cold, still snowy March night, Dan outlasted the rest of us, who had sauntered off to our own beds, and passed out on the couch while Martha Quinn, on the screen across the room, introduced each video with a back-story lost on this audience. The furnace, when it ran correctly at the WAFU House, did little if any good, so before fading completely to black, Dan had at least grabbed the afghan lying on the floor by the couch. He didn’t remember that the afghan belonged to Chris and as such, was considered a target.


Dan was wakened to the tune of a whimpering chorus. Four soft, wet, newly born puppies were crawling around on his chest and legs trying to determine if he was their new mother or if it was indeed, our temporary house guest, Jenny, the Irish Setter with a grudge to even. Jenny had crawled up onto Dan and the afghan and littered, while Dan twitched and snored his way through it all. Chris’s afghan took the brunt of the birthing process, but Dan, who shortly after this episode traded his pre-vet major for forestry, had not gone unscathed. He quickly freed himself from the mess he found himself in and woke the house with his colorful expressions. Jenny was a new mommy and Dan, at least in the eyes of the puppies and his roommates was the de facto new daddy.


After the cuteness of the puppies wore off, that is to say in about a week. Jenny and her offspring were farmed out to a place much more capable of handling the day-to-day demands of parenthood. Rod took them back to his parents place and the rest of us, especially Chris, started living a mostly normal life again. We had all been included, if ever so briefly, in the “circle of life.” Spring brought the customary thaw and our windows opened to warmer southerly breezes. The songbirds began to fill the trees in our yard and the nasty insects that find every hole in the window screens started to join our daily adventures. But the flies this spring seemed to be thicker than usual…even for the WAFU House.


Finally, one day, while Fred and I sat on the “puppy couch” as it had been dubbed, eating our tuna fish sandwiches, we could stand it no longer. There were too many flies and as the warm weather had brought a pungent odor to our television room. Fred and I were convinced that there was a dead mouse in the vicinity. We slid the couch away from the wall. There was nothing to be seen there. We flipped the couch over and were horrified to find a jelly-like mass stuck to the inside of the underskirt of the couch. Cream-colored maggots crawled over most of the underside of the couch. Oh well… we were familiar with gross. This was just another chapter. But then we both saw it at the same time…the petrified, but unmistakable paw of a long-dead puppy poking through the skirt. The sickness forming in the back of my mouth chased me out the door and into the yard, with Fred close on my heels. Larry who had been watching the search with an egg-salad sandwich in his hand, didn’t make it three steps before his lunch resurfaced. A full month after she had left our lives, Jenny, or at least one of her offspring, had struck again. The puppy had obviously fallen through the back of the couch and died shortly thereafter. It’s a testament to our lifestyle that we didn’t notice it for several weeks.


Being the soulless wretches that we already were, Fred and I tore off the skirt of the couch and tossed it in the yard for the elements to destroy. Eventually the couch was restored, thanks to a can or two of Easy Bake Oven Cleaner. In the end, the WAFUs may have lost whatever we once had of our dignity, but we had our couch back… and you can’t watch MTV sitting on your dignity.




Ship of Ghouls…

Amoral vs. Immoral:

Both have to do with right and wrong, but amoral means having no sense of either, like a fish, but the evil immoral describes someone who knows the difference, doesn’t care, and says “mwah ha ha” while twirling a mustache. If you call someone immoral, you are saying that person knows better. (



Not long ago, I posted a piece on my ideas about spirituality and the redeeming, even purifying powers of nature to wash away my inner guilt and leave me with a hope for a meaningful afterlife. As much as I’d like to confess that those were just some especially strong feelings, meant to lift the soul of anyone who took the time to read my online blathering, I can’t. You see…I’m a sinner, floating out on the social waters at one of the darker edges of our social globe in a ship of fools. You see…I bet on dead people. Well, actually, that isn’t true. I bet on living people that may or may not die in the near future. Let me explain.

About five years ago, having been plied with ample amounts of dark ale, I was lured into a quasi-secret society of adult ne’er-do-wells. It was explained to me that for a mere monthly installment of five dollars I could join this merry band of outlaws in a game that required so little of me it seemed immoral. I was right, it was immoral, but I didn’t hesitate to join them. I plunked down my five dollars (which for the sake of convenience and permanence, would soon be converted over to an automatic withdrawal from the bank account of my choice…modern immorality is THE best) and simultaneously carved away a slice of my soul. I blame it all on the Brit.

John was born and raised in England and had brought this concept of a Ghoul Pool across the puddle when he and the Beatles invaded our fair land. Okay, he isn’t as old as the Beatles, but his impact on our little patch of American soil is just as meaningful as theirs was. John is clever, polite, charming and more than a bit devious. Back in the motherland, he had belonged to a group of blokes who bet on which world-famous celebrity might expire first. That’s right, a member can pick any person famous enough to be noted in the New York Times upon said person’s demise and hope that this chosen one is the next to go. First ghoul wins the pot. The Ghoul Pool, it was called. A quid dropped here and there, a florin spent now and then, a couple of innocent pints with close mates then they’re betting on death and before you know it, Bob’s Your Uncle…here comes the Hell Express and it’s waiting carry us all asunder.

Now, granted, our American souls had been on line, waiting some time for that Hell Express to load us up and drive straight into the river Styx, but creating our local version of the Ghoul Pool (which is the exact wording of my monthly Quicken entry, by the way) has probably put us in some sort of express lane. We easily qualify for the commuter lane, as we’re now approaching double figures for enrollment. Though it might seem intuitive to suppose that a group so debased as ours might be primarily made up of unshaven plasma-sellers and bottle collectors, such is not the case with this group. Some of us even shower on a regular basis. Indeed, we have at least five educators, two lawyers, and a dentist among our crew. Educators (full disclosure: me) are simply innocent bystanders too easily sucked into whatever muck is closest to them; most frequently it’s just middle school. Lawyers, although one of ours is now technically a judge and as such may or may not have risen to a higher principled ground, are too often, the brunt of tasteless jokes all the while doing more good than harm. Just the same, you would have thought they might have known better.   Most dentists are just communal medicine men/women just trying to help us all in the least painful way possible. Yeah, that never works out like planned, but I think they really do try. Unfortunately, Bernie, our GP dentist and chief financial officer is also a Cardinals fan, which can already get you to hell quicker than shooting the Pope. Overall, we’re good people with a weak spot for tasteless entertainment.

While I have pointed my finger at John for infecting our moral fiber, it was actually Sully who thought that the idea was too good to keep a secret and set about to create what is now our version of the Pool. We needed a legal outlet for our poisoned souls and the Ghoul Pool seemed to be the perfect vehicle for us. That plus we were looking for a good reason to gather and drink once a month. The Pool was started a year or two before I was asked to audition. Sully explained the concept and told me to meet him and the boys, numbering about four strong at the time, for a beer. Oh, and by the way, make sure I bring a list of candidates from which to choose. The existing members could veto anyone they thought would be too likely to die before his/her time. That ruled out Willie Nelson right there, which in hindsight, turned out to be a good thing. So I kept my ears open, did my homework and showed up that fateful night ready to swing for the fence.

It didn’t seem right to pick someone that I actually would not miss if they keeled over, so I dropped Dick Cheney and Fred Phelps (Westboro Baptist Church…) out of what guilt I had left to muster. I liked Jim Nabors and Keith Richards too much to choose one of them. It needed to be someone about whom I was fairly ambivalent. Eventually I gave them a name that they all accepted with suppressed snickers all around. They nodded knowingly at one another believing that I had chosen poorly…but I was a rookie…could they expect less?

After about ten or eleven months of tithing, the Pool voted to grant me full vestment, which meant that if I now won, I’d be eligible for the entire pot, not just an actuarial percentage of whatever I’d personally invested. In mafia terms, I’d become a “made man.” The Poolers were smug in the assumption that my choice was a long shot. Within weeks, the roulette wheel of disgusting events stopped squarely on my number when Amy Winehouse, my selected celebrity, unfortunately lost her battle with sobriety and slipped from this world. Cha-Ching!

There is no way to feel good about “winning” the Ghoul Pool. I think we all secretly hope that our choice, usually someone with glaring problems, can get straightened out and make us look silly. Of course, we only think this way until the Cubs win the pennant and one of us needs a couple thousand in windfall cash to buy a nosebleed seat at Wrigley (I’m looking at you Sully). Don’t get me wrong. I took the money. I paid the bar tab for the boys that night, as is customary. We toasted the memory of Ms. Winehouse and moved on. But whenever I hear her nearly perfect bluesy voice telling me that “…no, no, no!” she ain’t going back to rehab, I sigh and wish she might have said “…yeah, yeah, yeah!” instead.

Just the same, the Ghoul Pool moves on even if life doesn’t. I’m a sad soul with much to answer for when my own number comes up, but I’m betting that isn’t soon. Looks like a need to take a walk down a mountain path and see what nature can do to cleanse me again.

By the way, anybody know the current state of Meatloaf’s health?