By Larry Schulz
First Serial Rights
This time, I think she's right. Maybe she's right when she tells me that sometimes these things backfire and everyone gets burned. If that's so, then right now we're all scorched.
Pranks, that's the way it starts with me and the guys. Pranks and nothing else I swear. My wife, Jass (that's short for Jasmine), is the one who tells me that one day one of my pranks is going to backfire and I won't be able to get myself out. This time I think she's right.
Don't get me wrong, she's forgiving and all that. J.H. Christ, we've been married now for more than 27 years with two kids grown and out of the house, but this I swear, that if it wasn't for Jass, my stupid-ass pranks would get me into more problems then I'm already in now.
So I'll confess that this thing began with nothing more than a prank, I swear on all the Bibles in Motel 6, only a prank. Frankie J., Mad Mountain Mike and Ronnie Rascal and I were all drinking at the Club 22 near the freeway after work weeks ago when this all started. Pranks, you see, keep this group going.
"Boredom" Ronnie says to me after squashing down his cig against the bar like to punctuate a sentence. "Boredom is the seed to all good pranks," he proclaims for everyone to hear. "And I tell you right now, gang, I'm bored." I know it's illegal this smoking stuff in California, but Club 22 don't care much about the laws.
"Ronnie" I says to him, not wanting to start anything too bad because the word around the warehouse is that he did some hard time when he was a kid. "Boredom and pranks are the reasons we keep going to work, stay married and die. If it wasn't for the boredom there would be no need for pranks and if it wasn't for the pranks, there would be no need to break the boredom."
"Sounds like the best logic I have heard yet," Frankie J says. "So what you got planned?"
"Simple", I tells him. Along the same lines as putting syrup in the gasoline tank or dog shit in a bag and lighting it on fire on the front porch. Only this is tossed up-a-notch to get some action going.
It went like this:The evening after payday, we'd take Hank Lewinski (or Lame Lewinski or Lamey as we like to call him) to the Castle Strip Club on Harbor Boulevard. There we'd get a girl and tell him we got a woman to marry him. Let me let you in on this secret, Lewinski couldn't get a woman to go with him even if he paid one (and I'm sure he has), let alone marry one. Get him drunk and married. That would be the prank and like all good pranks, we wouldn't let on that the woman was a stripper until after the ceremony. Cruel, yes. Mean, yes. Okay, I plead guilty to all that. To watch his face when he found out all the razzmatazz was a jokepriceless.
"We got to have some magic to throw in" Mad Mountain Mike says, waving his hands like a magician. "I'm betting Lamey's not going to believe it. I mean, has the guy ever dated? Noooooo!"
This may or may not be true as far as I know. Lamey is pushing up the 40-side pretty fast. He lives in a hotel by himself off Garden Grove Boulevard. His face ain't much to look at, but there's something in his eyes that tells me he's seen better days like all of us. Working in the warehouse has its challenges. You can stay awake through a whole shift of working there without damaging yourself, that's a challenge. If you can work a whole shift without something falling on you then that's a miracle. Just showing up sober day after day is an accomplishment in itself.
"So, Da Bomb, what kind of magic do you think we can throw in?" Ronnie Rascal says to me. That's my nick name, Tom Da Bomb, which is short off my real name. Tom Bombarda. Nickname is what all brings us together in this cool club.
"Hot Hands warmers," I tell them. They look at me as if there just may be something to this idea that comes to my head from out of nowhere. I heard somebody on a talk show say that ideas are in the air and we just catch them. I just caught this idea. "We buy him some Hot Hands. We tell him that if he uses them just before his date, he'll get married and live happily ever after."
"Yeah," Mad Mountain Mike also catches the idea. "We'll tell him Hot Hands warms. Warm heart is what women really want to love."
"You really think he'll go for that? "Frankie J says, taking a drink so deep I don't believe a human can do it and still finish a sentence.
"I went hunting with those things once with my brother-in-law in Wisconsin and it works" Ronnie Rascal says. "We must have stayed in a tree stand for three hours waiting for a buck to come down for a drink by the creek. I couldn't have shot the thing unless I would have had the warmers inside my gloves."
The three of us hit on how this scene is going to happen. We spend the rest of the evening plotting out everything for this prank. This is going to be the best one yet! Since Frankie J is always hanging around with strippers at the casino, it will be perfect. He turns down more than most men dream about. We drown down some more brewskies and begin to assign tasks.
My job is to buy the Hot Hands and give them to Lamey right before the date. Then we introduce him to the girl at then casino, but before he meets her, I tell him to put his hands in the pockets to keep them warm. I tell him the how warm hands can lead to marriage and a bunch of great things with women as long as he keeps his hands hot. Since I'm the best liar in the group, I know this whole show is going to go fantastic. Ronnie Rascal and Mad Mountain Mike are going to set up the location for all of this to happen. The only condition that we are asking is that Lamey tells us the exact, and I mean the exact, details of what goes on during the night.
I go home to Jass that evening and she has dinner waiting for me to heat up. We talk about what's happened during the day and she tells me I must be up to something because I got this stupid-ass grin on my face.
"You must be up to some more stupid pranks with you and your buddies because you're smiling so much," she says. Oh, how she knows me so well.
Two days before the prank takes place I go to Turner's Sporting Goods in Norwalk and purchase a bunch of Hot Hands warmers. A dozen, just in case Lamey screws things up.
So it works out this way: Right before we meet with Lamey, the four of us meet at Club 22. We are going to drive over and head up to the casino to meet with Frankie J who is getting all the arrangements set. The four of us are there and Lamey shows up looking better than usual. He's got a turtle neck sweater and a sports jacket that match his pants. He looks like a guy who's going out to enjoy life instead of the usual floor guy who works with us all day.
"Hey, Lamey.Looking sharp!" I tell him.
"Thank you guys for setting me up on this date," he says with a sincerity that would break your heart. "A long time since I've been with anyone."
"Hey," Mad Mountain Mike steps in. "All of us here are married with the exception of Frankie J. Now you got to tell us how it goes. See, us married guys live through the adventures of you single guys."
"The last girl Mad Mountain dated had a big Adam's apple" Ronnie says as the rest of us (except Lamey) crack up.
"There's something I got to tell you about this girl before you meet her. "I says. "I think you might want to know this." The rest of the crew looks at me as if I'm going to mess up the biggest prank yet. I pull out the warmers and say "It's these."
"What are these things?" Lamey asks.
I explain to him what Hot Hands warmers do and how they'll keep his hands warm. "Now we know for a fact that womenall womenlove a man with warm hands."
"It's the truth, Lamey" Mad Mountain Mike tells him. "I met my wife,Sally, 15 years ago and I looked as sharp as you do tonight. The only thing that turned me from a single to married man was Hot Hands warmers. You use these just before you meet this woman and I swear to you---hell, all of the guys here will tell you the truth---that this girl is going to meltfall in love with you."
"Amen!" I exclaim and the rest of them join with me. We tell him to follow us down to the casino where Frankie J will introduce us to his date.
At the casino we spot Frankie J at the poker table. Like all casinos, this place is noisy and the racket reminds me too much of work. Frankie J is playing cards but stops and waves us over. Lamey is there with us too. I feel like Oceans 11 minus a few guys as we stride through the place. Only one problemno girl.
We make the greets when Frankie J turns to Lamey and asks "You got your car here?"
"Sure do,"Lamey says.
"You got your Hot Hands going? "I ask. Lamey assures me he got them going in the parking lot and put them in his jacket's pockets. He takes them out to show the rest of us. I touch the top of his right hand. "Baby, this man is hot tonight."
The rest of us high-five because we know this prank is working the way we got planned.
Frankie J makes this cell phone call and says "You readyyeah, come over hereyeah, it's okaycome on over." He clicks it shut and stuffs it in his shirt pocket like a pack of cigarettes. "Get ready for some good times tonight, my boy. I'm going to introduce you to Carol Jenkins. She's a friend of mine. She's just broken up with her boyfriend and is back on the market. I told her about you."
"What did you say about me?" Lamey asks. He may not be the brightest guy in the world, but he's not the dumbest I've met. Just shy and keeps to himself, that's all. Almost like something real bad happened to him that he doesn't want other people to know so he keeps his secrets like a poor kid keeps his lunch money.
"I told her you were a nice guy who works with us at the factory," Frankie J says.
"She doesn't mind where I work or what I do?" Lamey is talking slow like he has to pay heavy for every word. I'm starting to feel sorry about the prank,a major no-no.
"She's more concerned about what's inside," Frankie J says touching the lapel of Lamey's sports coat and then the pockets with the Hot Hands. "Those warmers working? She told me she likes men who are warm and that she's into hands."
"Let me tell you something about those things" Mad Mountain says. "They're magic. They'll make her fall in love with you."
"Really," Lamey says like he needs something to believe in.
"Really," I confirm.
About this time, a girl walks toward us. Not a beautiful girl, not an ugly girl. No, let me tell you this, she was a woman. The kind you'd talk to in the supermarket line and not think about making a pass at but still be glad that you are talking to her. She has something more about her. If this is a stripper, then we have reached a sad time in our nation.
"Lamey" Frankie J says "I'd like you to meet Carol Jenkins. Carol, this is Hank Lewinsky. We nicknamed him Lamey for"
Lamey takes his hands out of his pocket and goes to shake her hand. By this time, we think his hands got to be like charcoals on a barbecue. "Hello, my name is Hank and you can call me that. It's a pleasure to meet you,Carol." This time the words come out like he's rehearsed everything except the name.
This woman, Carol, smiles the kind of smile that makes me think this thought "loneliness ends here tonight" and I try to get this thought out of my mind because this is a prank. Her smile is happy, sincere, and I know she's going to scream when she shakes his hand.
Except she doesn't.
She smiles like something wonderful has just happened. "It's a pleasure to meet you too Hank. Frankie has told me a lot about you. Maybe we can talk a little if your friends don't mind."
The four of us look at each other like dumb birds that should have been extinct long ago. "Yeah, sure," I tell them. "Be sure to stay warm." I expect at least a small laugh from the rest of the group. Instead I get nothing.
"On, don't worry," Carol says as Lamey drags her off to the restaurant on the other side of the casino. "We will. And thank you." We watch them disappear through the crowd and into the restaurant.
I didn't want to say the word because I know it would make me sound stupid. Under my breath I murmured "magic" and I hoped the rest of the guys couldn't hear me. The rest of us look at each other in amazement. What just happened here? We look at Frankie J for an explanation and he just shrugs his shoulders like he don't know anything about nothing.
"You gave him the Hot Hands,didn't you?" He questions me like I'm the bad guy in all this.
"I picked them up at Turner's and gave it to him. Look. Feel." I throw him one and he puts it on his hands. "They're hot. They work."
"The backfire," Mad Mountain says looking at all of us. "We had the prank backfire on us. This girl, Frankie, this girl ain't no stripper. I mean I've seen stripers before and this girl is no stripper."
Frankie J stares at the floor as if trying to see an excuse that might be down there. Then he tells us something and from the look in his eyes, I know it's not an excuse.
"This girl" he says referring to the woman who just went off with Lamey. "She's my mom's best friend's daughter. She lives near me about two blocks down. She's really quiet and my mom's always trying to get me to set her up with somebody."
"So you picked Lamey?" Mad Mountain said, with his voice raising several notches. "Lamey ain't nice. He's stupid.
"He's not stupid" I shoot back, defending him. "He just keeps to himself more than other people. Don't talk much. That's what happens when you don't talk much and just keep to yourself." I know if I keep this up the rest of the gang is going to start to feel bad. "Hey, listen, gang, we really are caught up in the backfire. I mean, Lamey used the Hot Hands warmers, but that wasn't him tonight. It was somebody else."
"No, "Frankie J corrected. "That was Lamey and they worked. It's just something snapped out of him and he believes these Hot Hands warmers are going to help him. I say more power to him and let's call it a night."
"No," I tell them. "We got cheated out of our prank. I mean we set it up and now, likes you said, we got the backfire. Maybe something's happened. Let's go spy on them. I told Lamey that all during the night to keep putting his hands in his pockets and see what happens. Maybe this chick got burnt enough and already left. Come on, let's go and check it out."
Now most adult men would have left right here, but then I never even made the claim about being adult. Instead we all go looking for them in the restaurant. We spies them in the back entrance of the restaurant. Sure enough, Lamey is sticking his hands in the pocket and touching her hands and arms. She is smiling the way a woman smiles when she appreciates the attention. We look at each other. This is a huge backfire that we were caught up in it and they had no idea.
"Come on, let's split" I tell the rest of the crew and we march off like solders from a lost cause. We don't go back to retreat and regroup. We don't even make it back to Club 22. We don't even talk about it.
The next day at work the four of us our leaning our butts near the ledge of the delivery zone on our break waiting for the sun to break through the morning layer of clouds when Lamey comes rushing up to us like he's just won the lotto.
"I know I'll never be able to thank you guys enough for this," He tries to catch his breath while he holds out his warmers from last night. "Thisthis changed my life."
Now this could be the reverse of the backfire. This could start out to be serious funny, "So how did it do that?" I ask him.
"This." He points to the Hot Hands. "This lasted for us a long time and as long as I kept my hands in the pockets with those thing in there, then it was okay." He's proud of sharing this with us. "I just got a little nervous when the thing started to cool down."
"Well," I says to him trying to keep from laughing. "I've been told this stuff is romantic magic for certain guys."
"Give me some others if you got it, please," he almost begs. "I'm going to see Carol again tonight."
The gang catches on and grants us permission. We go off to my car.
From the mess I have in the back seat (camping gear, fishing junk and three-day old hamburgers) I pull out a bunch of them and give him what I have left. By this point I'm just about ready to tell him what these things are used for and come clean.
Sometimes honesty is...no, whoever made that up did not know the pure joy of watching a prank bloom in to full glory. "You got to keep these in your pockets at all times. Even during the summer when it gets hot."
"They are magic" Lamey tells me slow and I know I got to at least give him a bit of a shove into reality.
I tell him where I brought the Hot Hands warmers and he looks at me like I just revealed something that is going to change his life.
"You mean I can purchase these anywhere" his voice sounds like Scooby-Doo when he gets surprised.
I tell him yes. "How can that be?" he questions. They're magic."
"They are magic because they only work this way on certain men," I tell him, creating my own prank. "They only work this way on men who gotyou know."
He looks at me now as if he has to know this secret or a big part of his life will be forever lost in mystery. I go up closer to his left ear. "They only work this way for men who gotyou know." I shrug my shoulders as if the secret is so dark, so hidden, that I cannot put it into words. Finally I let it out. "It only works this way for men who gotGSP."
"GSP," he says each word like a hammer hitting an upright nail. His brow furrows as if this might have been something he heard somewhere before. "GSP?" he says again. I could see that his mind was thinking if GSP was something like LSD, TSD or ESP. I motion for him to get real close so I can tell him the truth.
"It's G...SP, man," I tell him. "Great Sexual Power."
Lamey backs away as if he has been given the flame of truth for the universe (at least for us guys).If only the rest of the guys could see this. This would make up for the depressed mood they got into last night.
"You mean I got GSP and this"
"Helps it along, you know." I motion with my hands like I'm moving things upward. He looks now as if wisdom has been imparted to him and him alone.
"And I can get these packages"
"Just about anywhere, Lamey." I tell him. He then extends his hand in a handshake to thank me. Funny that I notice how warm it is.
"You know I never"his words halt as if they are coming from such a deep place within him that they should never be uttered to another human being. "I never knew that a group of guys here at work would be that friendly toward me."
"Hey," I tell him,not wanting to put down the prank. "We are also just helping a friend who needs it." He keeps shaking my hand saying "thank you" way past the break bell.
I hear him going back to his section of the warehouse muttering "GSP. I got GSP."
Back at the Club 22 that evening, I tell the gang about this and they roar and give out High Fives like we've all just won the Grand Prix or something. We congratulate each other for the prank that almost went nowhere and now gets a glorious aftermath. For the next week all we could talk about was each others' GSP.
That was a month ago. Funny that week I buy some Hot Hands warmers and Jasmine and I. wellGSP.
But last week, we experienced the aftereffect of the backfire and it took our prank to a whole new level.
At the lunch table off toward the west side of the warehouse where the gang and I eat and swap stories, Lamey comes up looking the best we have ever seen him. He's standing taller with shoulders held back as if there is purpose to his life now. His greasy, mustard-stain shirt that was always a size too big for him is gone. Instead there is a crisp, Jeans shirt that's been ironed with each crease like a road map line on a straight highway.
"I'm getting married," he announces to us. "And I want you people and your wives to attend. It's going to be in Las Vegas next month."
We look at each other, too stunned to make any type of comeback. Each of us must have had our mouths open because Lamey asks "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I finally come in. "It's just that"
"Congratulations," Frankie J gets up and pats him on the shoulder. "It couldn't have happened to a greater guy."
The rest of us get up and shake his hand (still warm) and when it all settles down, Ronnie Rascal clears his throat and says, "There's something we got to tell you about that night we introduced you to Carol."
Oh, sweet Jesus there has to be one in every crowd. No, please don't do this, I say in my head to Ronnie. This guy doesn't need to know the truth about what we were trying to do. Still, a man has to say his peace to a brother before the big step is made. I have to say this, we couldn't let even a former screw-up sap like Hank (a million miles from Lamey today) take this on without telling him the truth.
"We kinda had things planned differently for you," he says. "The night we introduced you to Carolwell, she wasn't the intended person you were suppose to meet."
"Yeah," I add. "And that thing about Hot Hands and GSP and how that's supposed to work, it's not true, Hank. I have to tell you, we have to tell you, it's not true."
He looks amazed as if he can't understand why we are talking this way. "Hank," Mad Mountain says as if this confession is too painful even for him. "Sometimes the four us herewe play these things on other people, and it seems that this is something you got caught up in it and we got caught up in it and it got all turned around crazy."
I'm the one who gets up the nerve to tell him the truth. "There is no GSP and we were going to hook you up with awell, somebody else who was not like Carol."
"Not like Carol at all," Frankie J says emphasizing the "at all" part only the way Frankie J can do it.
"What we are trying to say is that there's no magic in any of this at all, Hank," I tell him. "You can get those Hot Hands just about anywhere and all they do is keep your hands and feet warm. There's no such thing as GSP involved in any of this."
He looks down at the earth as if he can't believe us. This is when I expect fists to fly and I don't blame him one bit if he starts in on me. My wife was right.
"You guys," he scoffs looking at each of us in such a way that it would have been easier if he had hit me in the face. "You guys really don't believe what you really did for me."
And once again, we are all looking at each other not knowing what to think. "All this stuffthe warmers, the GSPall of this has made me decide to marry Carol. Imagine, me actually marrying somebody who is actually nice and believes in me."
"But it's not at all that, Hank" I tell him. "It's you. You were there for her all along. We just gave you some pointers. That's all; we just gave you some pointers."
"Everything is working now my way," he says looking at all of us. "The Hot Hands, the GSP, Carol, you guys. Nothing ever worked out for me for a long time and you guysyou guys made it work."
Then he said words that made me think alot about what we did. "You guys are the magic. You just gave some of the magic to me. Thank you."
So he goes around and hugs all of us. Great big bear hugs. Now I won't swear by it, but I thought I saw Mad Mountain Mike hold back a cry on his way back to the fork lift.
Right now, Jasmine and I are packing and heading to Las Vegas for the wedding. "We haven't been in Vegas in years." Just as she says this, I remember the last time we went there was right after the last one graduated from high school. It was a magic time back then.
"Yeah," I tell her. "It's been awhile since we've gotten away. We should do this more."
"What are you packing in that bag from the sports shop?" she asks.
"Nothing," I tell her. "Just some Hot Hand warmers in case we need some warmth. They're magic,you know."
She smiles at me and I find myself smiling back after I pack them in the suitcase. I read some place that people who been around each other for awhile (like married folk) can talk to each other without words.
There were going to be some great times for Jasmine and me. I didn't have to say a word to tell her this.