Monday, July 30, 2012

Fun Credit Vendetta

      John of Stallville, a young man of just twenty four years of age. Grew up there, and by dint of that, he had had little but the typical Stallvillian outlook upon the world- basically, that beyond the county line was nothing but a vast sea of un-navigable waters the boundaries of which were marked only by the stars at the end of the very much flat earth.
     John was small. His feelings were to face the wall. Outside the city wall, where everything else including the city wall was tall, tall, tall, John of Stallville paid little heed to customs, trades, tarriffs, or journeymen. Stallville was, for once and for all, after all,
a place for men to turn and face the wall. And by the hour of their demise, perhaps  they’d have figured out their preciously short existence. Or perhaps not. But small little Stallville was , if nothing else, a place to stall.

    Within this small world that was Stallville, after all, there were many who lacked
 the suitable preferences in abstract discussions of things such as: the price of eggs,
the price of corn, how much it costs to feed a duck for six months, what you need to get for your get-up-and-go, and much more. They rarely asked John what it all meant to him. After all, for being small, there was not much fun to be had at all, no, not at all.

    And that was the way it was when John was awakened one morning by his ringing phone. Answering it, he heard a strange woman’s voice.

     “John? John of Stallville? This is Narleen Nidugudiddi with the National Department of Fun in Washington D.C. I am calling you to tell you that your supply of Fun Credits has expired, has been revoked, you know what I mean? You no longer have sufficient Fun Credits to maintain any more fun in your life at this time, until you re-earn them. I am sorry to have to notify you like this- nobody likes hearing they can’t have fun anymore- but fun has its limits and the US taxpayer can only afford so much fun to go around anymore, if you know what I mean?”

     She had barely allowed him to get a word in edgewise. What was this, that his fun credits- what the heck was a Fun Credit? He had not even heard the concept. Apparently after he was 18 he did not open his Fun Credit Account like a normal boy, and he had become, after five years by federal waiver, ineligible to collect any longer what most American kids had grown up to feel was their birthright- free Fun Credits when they achieved 18 years of age. The statute of limitations had expired, and now, John of Stallville would face a future that was no fun at all.

   The fun train had passed John of Stallville by in the night. With no means to make his way through the tall trees outside the tall wall and no means to move from Stallville to anywhere else out there, across the wide prairie and the ocean of unnavigable waters at the edge of the starlit sea, John of Stallville would now pretend that having any Fun Credits did not matter anyway, because he was going to invent new ways of making fun for himself, without anyone’s oversight or contribution.

     The other residents of Stallville who were John’s own age had held on to their frames of reference for social interaction, and had made exchange of Fun Credits a kind of fantasy reality game, where credits got exchanged for sex, for liquor, for cars,  amphetamines, chrome wheels, for satin gowns and Gucci purses, and worse. Among those were few who counted John as a friend. Why? Because perhaps, growing up in his own little universe, there was no need for John to know more than those who wanted to know him. He never bothered to ask if this was Antisocial or not, and nobody said he was, either. That was just how things had worked out.

     Needless to say, by allowing his Fun Credits to expire, John would have little chance to explore relationships with the opposite sex. Oh, there were one or two girls who liked him or called him cute among their friends, but they never  thought to get too close to get to know him, and usually, walked alone home from school with their schoolbooks tucked into their arms, silently humming songs from the Top-40, and dreaming of owning a house.

     The voice at the other end of the phone was now calling him back to reality.

    “Mr John? Yes. I am sorry that we had to call you to inform you of it, but, from now on, your life will be selectively monitored and you will be placed on a list of those who might need reevaluation of Life Patterns. We will be informing you when our examinations will take place. In the meantime, don’t you dare try and have ANY FUN! This is your government, speaking.”

   When the line went dead, John held the phone in his hands for several minutes and stared at the tall trees the tall wall, the un-navigable sea at the edge of the starlit ocean, the little stone saint that sat in his parent’s garden and looked heavenward, and he made a vow.

    Nobody else is gonna have any fun if I can’t have any, either. And it begins now.

   Starters, he set his phone to reject all calls, and  started his car. He didn’t think much about the gas money, he was happy just tooling around with no particular place to go. Other kids had plenty of everything (including fun) but since John’s fun had been quite minimal, even before the loss of his Fun Credits for good, John’s attitude now was- they think they’re all so high and fine. They’ll see.

    He took a high school yearbook from his senior year and leafed through it. He selected five people who he had felt were some of these up and uppers- the five most popular and not necessarily studious kids, one of whom had been a particular thorn in his side. He took a blue felt tipped pen and defaced their faces in the rows of pictures, with a smirk, he gave them devil mustaches and horns, goatees, crossed out their eyes, drew stitches on their foreheads and Frankenstein bolts in their neck, drew Hitler mustaches and swastikas on their lapels, Injun arrows through their heads, and other nefarious, if cliché’d, vandalisms to their likenesses. This did not give any of his subjects any particular pain, but maybe the voodoo would help some.

     John not being naturally the bully sort, he went to the local neighborhood bar to take some advice from the bartender. “Yeh, my advice to you, kid, is just let it go, you know? If I had any Fun Credits myself (because now I am too old to apply anyway) I would probably just piss them away in a place like this. And how come you’re in here, anyway, at your age? This is an old-people dump. Most of the guys I see they’ve had years more of abuse than you, you’re just starting out, getting your feet wet. I can’t teach you how to become a bully, kid. It just… comes naturally to some people, that’s all.”

     John could see he was not quite the bullying kind, nor would his diminutive height give him any help there, either. But the five kids he picked from his yearbook lineup, at least one of them was the kind. And he didn’t really know how to become friends with that kid, after all, he’d been the one to point out he had a pimple on his forehead as big as a dime, in front of the entire health studies class in his sophomore year. Yeh, that kid.  The one with the bigass shoes and the cigarettes he stole off his mother and used to gain favors with the hall monitors.

    That kid’s name was Don Traxel. Traxel had a lot of moving around in his early life so when his parents got to Stallville and stayed stuck, he was not going to take their lives as an example. Once he got out of high school, he fled the Tall Wall and the Tall Trees and Stallville and struck out across the western prairies to the endless starlit sea and came to the end of the road, where he found a little town that welcomed him. They used him to paint the outside of the hardware store, the American Legion, and the two Banks. He had it good, still. A little apartment on the west end of Stallville, now, a couple of years back from his big wahoo out west, held Traxel’s car, its parts all decoupled and sitting in big glass jars all over the shelves. Meanwhile Don slept on the floor on a foam rubber pad.

     The difference to Don’s new life in Stallville after fleeing and returning, a few  hundred dollars richer in painter’s fees, and John’s, who had barely had the energy to punt, let alone paint, and whose little car meant a lot less than Don’s did but at least was in running condition, was not in wheels, but in women.

     Don Traxel had a harem of girls who all dreamed of one day buying a house with him.
The plan for John would be to mess up Don’s Fun Credits so that the girls not only would refuse to ride in his car (once he rebuilt it) but mess with their dreams of owning a mortgage with Don, when the storied fabled day of Princess Happiness fell upon them, as it should, for  all Good Girls.

    Where to start! Well, John knew that Don liked the minor league baseball team of Stallville, the Stallville Stallions, so much that he was now working as a bat boy and groundskeeper over at the Stallville Stadium. And if Don had Fun Credits, he would most likely spend them more often than not attending the Stallions games. When the out-of-town team buses pulled in, Don would have already spent the morning getting the outfield grass cut and the infield dirt watered down, and the lines re-chalked. His Fun Credits bought him seats at the ballpark- for his harem. Hell, his own seat was free, he worked for the team.

     John’s detective work- which consisted of going to two weeks worth of Stallions games, paid for with His Own Money, and finding out where Don’s harem was most likely to sit. He discovered there was a block of seats near first base that Don liked to reserve for them. If he could break the streak, by buying up all those tickets for a couple weeks, the girls would get tired of going to the games and getting turned away, because the seats belonged to John. And once Don saw those seats empty ten days in a row – he might find other ways to waste his Fun Credits.

    It was easy getting the seats, really. It turned out that the guy in the Stallions ticket office who was Don’s connection really despised Don, and in fact, had been angling to have him dismissed for a few weeks now. Only a decision by the Vice President however, stood in the way. The Vice President had gone off on a trip to the Baseball Association offices in Buffalo, New York, however, and was not available to hire fire, request,or recommend.

     And so it was an easy thing for John to buy the whole block of seats, usually five in one row, the front row at first base, for a full ten days. John didn’t even blink about the dint on his own pocketbook, since his rent was paid, and his Mom supplied a lot of the food he ended up eating, anyway.

   And so, the experiment began. John himself bought his own single seat a few rows back beneath the overhanging upper deck, near the tall steel strut support that reinforced that upper deck, to the left of the empty girl’s seats.

   The first night, he watched John when he came out to drag the infield with the grounds crew. The usual flip and wave of the backwards-brimmed ball cap John gave his chicky-wickies was missing. In fact, by the time the work was done, he noticed that John had a very red face and was a lot sweatier than the rest of the fellows hauling the drag maul. He was probably wondering what to say when he would get on the phone after the game and call one- or all- his girls and find out why they didn’t come. Didn’t they know that this weeks series with the Portsmouth Ploughs was going to make or break the Stallions season?

    John was pretty happy knowing he’d begun making someone else uncomfortable. Soon it would get to be a habit.

     After getting Don Traxel into a funk, and actually, Don Traxel did soon lose his job- John moved on to the others on his list. Amelia Dalton, the most popular girl in school, who had done some rather hideous things to John in the fifth grade, would be the next pick for payback. Amelia had long brown hair she liked to dye the top white and walk around two-toned. Some years she would dye a white stripe in the middle of the brown, but she preferred looking like a paintbrush mostly. She had a nice father and mother, who were embarrassed when they learned the hideous thing Amelia had done to John, right there in the hallway at lunchtime. At least John felt they were good enough to spare.

    Amelia’s popularity stemmed from her knowing many of the rock and roll stars who came to play at the Stallville Theater, the only game in town, actually, for any distance between Stallville and Colackima, the only nearest other town. Colackima was a little smaller and the trains never stopped there anymore, the town was too few in petticoats, and the little engines didn’t like the water tower. Only wild goats and stolen cars came to Colackima, and in Colackima, the grade school crossing guard was the entire police force.  Amelia liked to meet with them take their pictures, interview them for the high school paper, and once she was out of high school, she had talked the man who ran the newspaper into giving her a job writing a column about the rock stars who stopped in Stallville to play the Stallville Theater.

     It just so happened that Amelia’s dreams of one day driving in her car all the way to the edge of the flat earth to the shining city by the edge of the sunset, starlit sea, and maybe leaving all memory of Stallville behind- would be  the usual rite of passage for the typical Stallville youth. Once their Fun Credits kicked in, and they’d found some suitable college to hide out in for a few more years, it was Off to LA, Off to Cancun, Off to Dubai, Prague, Paris, wherever their Stallville-stunted minds could- grabbed hold of by wild, searing, youthful exuberant imagination. When it could reach out, break free and find expression for itself. For few they were, those who dared fly. Most only dreamed of flying.

    She wanted to be an actress. She had been drama queen of the Drama Club, and that was where John encountered her, when he got to high school, a year behind her. Remembering the hideous act, and feeling full of himself, he had managed a bad practical joke at her expense. In her mind, they must have been even, but for John , now the fun was only beginning.

     He knew that she liked a certain guy in a certain band and that the certain band was certain to be playing the Stallville Theater soon… He had a friend *”who shall not be named”* living in Colackima, and that friend knew the certain guy in the certain band.
In fact he was a roadie with the certain band. The certain band that was certain to be playing the Stallville Theater soon was certainly talented, but John thought that his friend, actually, was more talented than anyone in the band.  He gave the friend a call. Sure. That could be very easily done.

    What it was that John wanted done was for the certain guy from the certain band, when they played the Stallville Theater, to do a real put on for Amelia. Lead her in and on and to the very verge if need be, only to – leave her wanting for more at the end. John called Amelia and offered her backstage passes (with comp tickets, if there was any trouble with the Theater)- and soon, Amelia was standing at the stage door, gathering her wits for the moment she could be in the presence of… a certain guy in a certain band who was playing at the Stallville Theater that very night.
     It was now time to put Amelia through the test. John went to the Stallville Theater with his picture phone. He ended up hanging out backstage, too, part of the time next to Amelia, and later, after the show, he snapped a picture of her leaving with the certain rock star and- would post it to his Antisocial Network.
     It was all over for Amelia the next morning, though, by mid afternoon she had recovered, and written a scathing review of a certain band that had passed through town the night before and a certain lead singer who was a creep and a douchebagsexistpig and a male chauvinist to boot, and there were better bands out there than that certain band that had passed through the Stallville Theater the night before.
    As a byproduct of helping to crush Amelia’s crush on the certain lead singer, John watched as the effect of Amelia’s column and scathing review of a certain band sent their fortunes downhill on a very certain curve.

     It was coming clear to John that. with all this blood of other people’s fun on his hands, could be leading him toward a guilty conscience. He needed to confess- and there was only one church in town, the spiritual last resort of all Stalvillians,- the New Secular Church of the Flat Earth, Life Force Lottery and Bingo.
     He was sure he would find more than a couple of his next victims there. Because Betsy Bolonski and Rachel Radozicz were both members.

     They grew up in the shadow of the old oak tree outside the church, on Sundays they had held hands on the swings, and been taught their Sunday Lessons by a tall grey woman, whose name was Mrs. Trotz. Mrs. Trotz’s Sunday School class usually revolved about lessons on the Flat Earth which we all share, and all the sea serpents that live on the far side of the infinite starlit sea. These mysteries, and more, were the founding tenets.

     And, John believed in a great deal of it, himself.
     On the Sunday morning John showed up at the New Secular Church of the Flat Earth, Life Force Lottery and Bingo, it was a sunshiney day. Birds were singing outside in the tall trees. The whole congregation looked to the apse, where the minister stoked the fire dedicated to the God of War and asked for God to Bless the Government in its war on Everything Bad for Everyone...

    So that John knew, even, that he too knew not everything could be 100 % Good and nothing could be 100 % bad, there is always a little bit of yin in the yang an a little yang in the yin. Such was not, however, the opinion of the minister.
    The two girls, old high school friends, every Sunday could be seen flogging their children and husbands to the Church, where their families shared a row in the pews, the Bolonskis on one side of the aisle, the Radoziczs on the other. Keeping an eye on everyone else in the church, too, for they guarded the Holy Lottery Ball from thieves and idolaters, and Betsy actually was the church treasurer.
     In this case, John thought, maybe no fun for these two means no Bingo tomorrow night!

     Monday Night Bingo at the New Secular Church of the Flat Earth, Life Force Lottery and Bingo really brought ‘em in. They came from miles around, even Colackima, and on two wheels, four wheels, eight, ten, twelve, and eighteen wheels.  
     Stallvillehad a way to bring the Interstate Commerce its way after all, its just that… Once a trucker to Stallville did stroll, troll, or crawl, he’d soon find that in Stallville it was all stall after stall.

    When it’d get going again, of course, as after the Monday Night Bingo, and the Monday night load out and return of the Holy Lottery Ball to its Holy Sepulchre Repository in the back room of the Church Office, by Betsy and Rachel. John realized that it was the Sacred Lottery Ball that he had to apprehend. Once the Monday Night Bingo was over…

On Monday night he came, bought a ticket to a Bingo Card, came close once or twice, but didn’t get a big payout, since one of the Girls (Betsy, actually) called “Bingo!” at the same time he did, and in a tie like that, the payout was shared. He only won 40 Food Credits. He didn’t need Food Credits. But once the girls had rolled away the Holy and Sacred Lottery Ball (he had been hiding behind a curtain and a potted plant) he snuck into the office, grabbed the Sacred, Holy Lottery Ball, and hid it, in his parent’s garage, inside of a box of Christmas ornaments.
     Of course, nobody would miss the Sacred Lottery Ball until next Sunday, and with that Sunday, Betsy and Rachel’s fun was quite derailed, as well.

     So the score was now John 4, Them 1. He needed one more cranky-pants prank to be- in some satisfactorily existential way- even with the Others, the ones he couldn’t leave, because he never manufactured enough inner imagination within himself to either Leave or Be Satisfied, living as a Stallvillian, on the edge of the wide plain  just over the mountains from the endless starlit sea and  the end of the Flat Earth.
      The last victim, most especially, was perhaps the least deserving of any of small John of Stallville’s Fun Credit Vendetta.

     That would be Thorney Henderson, a little guy who, despite his nickname “Thorney” was one of the kindest, meekest, and guiltless young men one could meet. If John had been a model student, Thorney had been even more a winner.
     Thorney knew the Encyclopedia Britannica backwards, forwards, side to side, and inside out. With that command of the knowledge pool of Earthling Concerns, he managed to do very well at Jeopardy, at age twenty, and come home with –not only 2,000 more Fun Credits,
than he had when he left Stallville in his small coupe- but Thorney Henderson was about to get a very thick thorn in his side.
     That would be John, who, while small, was still hoping to make his presence known as tall, to all.

     John made a promise he would get one half of those Fun Credits, somehow, by hook or crook, crook, mostly. He decided he would get Thorney reported to the Cullers.
     The Cullers could come for anyone, at any time, but usually only for those who had maxed out their Food Credits five straight times. The Government had decided that three chances was too few, and that five chances was more fair to the financially challenged, of whom there were millions, living on the land of the great prairie over the mountain from the ever-evening starlit sea, by the tall wall, and the tall trees.

     When the Cullers came a’Culling, a woe-cry would go up, the women would set to wailing, even the wolves wailed with the babies and the hideous sounds filled the Stallvillian night and echoed out across the tall dark trees at the woods on the other side of the Tall Wall.

   The Cullers took the marked-for-processing away, in thickly armored and well guarded old panel trucks with a Government seal on the side. The Culled would be granted a last two wishes, then the Government would politely, kindly, and gently, remove their life force with an electronic probe, and send it into the Great Circuits that lived inside the Tall Wall whose force-field kept Stallville- and the Whole USA!- free from invaders.

     John would get Thorney culled.

He watched Thorney for a week or more as he went grocery shopping or spent his Fun Credits at McDonald’s or the movies. He started going through the trash outside Thorney’s house, knowing that sometimes the Littlest Clue could help someone get a real bead on someone else…

    He discovered the Trojan Horse and the Achilles Heel to Thorney. Thorney, despite his youth, his intelligence, and his luck at quiz shows,  was a blooming alcoholic. His garbage would be filled each morning with a quart bottle of Tequila, and Thorney was apparently indulging in quantities that staggered the mind. He was never seen raging, or staggering shirtless down the sidewalk, but Thorney loved the stuff, he ate maguey worms like they were gummi worms, and with relish. John decided the best way to get Thorney’s Fun Credits was to get him to swap for a carfull of cases of tequila. The price was high- fully half of the 2000 Fun Credits that Thorney had won on Jeopardy, and that would leave Thorney with not a lot beyond, because, he had been spending  Fun Credits since he won the game show at a furious rate as well.
     Because the balance on his Fun Credits dropped at such a rapid rate, the watchers in the Government Bureau of Fun put a little red tick on Thorney’s Lifestyle ReEvaluation score sheet. The little red tick was noted in the office of the Department of Cullers, and one night, the little black trucks showed up in front of Thorney’s home, and Thorney disappeared into the night and fog, and the Great Circuits in the Tall Wall along the edge of the town of Stallville by the tall trees near the great lain leading to the mountains beyond which stood the shiny city and the endless starlit sea.
     John finally had enough Fun Credits, but how could he spend them? Since there was no record of him having his own Fun Credit Account, and Thorney’s account had already been vaporized, John was left holding a cat without its skin, a fish without its spine. The entire episode in his life- this had all taken only a matter of weeks, after all, from his day at the Stallions Stadium to the evening of the Cullers coming for Thorney. He decided to exchange the 1000 Fun Credits to his friend in the certain band in exchange for the right to travel on the road with them. It did not matter that the certain band was a failure. John knew he was a failure, now, too, because there is no winning for losing, when you set out to send real people down the tubes. Facing the wall, small John of Stallville knew his life was very small. Someday, he might even fall, after all.
      And that fall was not long in coming. Tormented, eventually, by the knowledge that Thorney’s culling had been a permanent removal of a very valuable (in the big picture) element of future Stallville culture- the boy who now would never complete graduate studies, receive a teaching credential, and come back to mold small minds in the Stallville Unified School District- John’s guilt began to take manifest form. He slunk away from others, hid more often behind his own small walls and even refused to walk to the corner bar after sundown for a nightcap, lest he show his face, and lest his angst be writ in scarlet letters across his forehead.
    He needed to confess. Wasn’t that what he was about to do, when he got distracted by the thought of the Sacred Lottery Ball ? And there it was, after all, anyway, up in the attic storage, under a wad of tinsel in the Christmas ornament box his parents would always turn to around the last week of November… 
    He knew what needed to be done. He tossed the Holy Lottery Ball into the backseat of his coupe and drove to the New Secular Church of the Flat Earth, Life Force Lottery and Bingo, in high gear, and when he got to the edge of the parking lot, wouldn’t you know it, but, the car seemed to take on a life of its own, as it bucked through the juniper bushes outside and crushed down the hollow plywood front doors, and landed- smack dab- in the midst of the Bingo crowd, improvising with a shoebox for the Bingo buttons.

    The impact with the final row of pews was fatal. Just as Betsy Bolonski yelled “Bingo!” the car had come breaking through the wall like Moby Dick on a steroid rampage, its antenna whipping about like an abandoned harpoon, a pair of folding chairs and a card table scrunched up into the windshield had pounded right through and taken John’s head off, in just a short second. There had been no time at all to contemplate one’s purpose…
     All the Bingo players stood up, yelling, screaming, panicked, At least half the older women were. The other half, strong, calm, quiet, manly men, rose as one and with a great deal of force and pressure, they managed to maneuver the car back out of the building, and dragged it to the front lawn, where they laid John out spreadeagled, and the minister said a few final words of Last Rite, and John’s soul crossed the tall wall and the tall trees, soared out over the wide prairie, over the mountains, and off across the starlit sea to the land that Lies Beyond Us.

Read this story and more in As I Was Telling You While Sleeping, a collection of short stories available at


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