Having a Señor Frogs in the house didn’t turn out to be a great idea. During one of our emergency financial meetings, Whoopdale proposed that this ‘casual’ and ‘laid-back’ chain could open a branch in the closet in his room, claiming it would help pay the bills as well as improve the social life of the house. Though there were some detractors, Whoopdale’s impassioned speech swayed the fence-sitters gently down onto his side without any limb-breaking falls, and when the vote came in a big YES, Señor Frogs jumped at the opportunity. They had been looking to corner the spring break market in our neighborhood and had not been able to break the ice (or Styrofoam and pine-pitch) with the pack of Walruses next door.
Once they set up shop the first few weeks were fun, as they always were at a Señor Frogs, but when we ran out of money it wasn’t possible to board that plane to escape with hangover and a horrendous sunburn. There was no escape. We had to continue everyday life with the pumping music, the sweaty, inebriated couples making out in the bathroom and the mysterious shots that under-dressed waitresses continually forced down our lips.
But were they really so mysterious? Or even forced? No one could avoid seeing the cans of paint thinner and crates of Paul Newman salad dressing they picked up from the loading dock every morning. And we could have worn a sort of preventive pacifier or even a knight’s helmet while walking past Whoopdale’s room, but we often needed to use our mouths for other things during the day and lifting up a heavy, metal visor just to blow bubbles was a drag. Furthermore, no one really needed to walk past Whoopdale’s room — it was at the dead end of a hallway. But the Paperclipery was sort of nearby, and whenever you needed a fresh paper clip (for once you get used to fresh ones it’s almost impossible to go back) you found yourself only a few minutes away. Then, just thinking you would inquire on Whoopdale’s health, the blowing of the whistle would pull you in, followed by the shot, the dancing, the whistle, the shot, the whistle ad infinitum, or until your wallet was empty, whichever came first.
The whistling was the final pin in the balloon. Even Whoopdale admitted that the frequent use of cheap plastic whistles was probably irritating to those in nearby rooms, specifically the library, the meditation room and the silent debate arena. It’s a well known fact that constant whistling can destabilize even the strongest mind, and Señor Frogs employees often burn out after only a few months to join the ranks of marching band leaders, gym teachers and life guards in whistling disorder support groups. This is also why most birds are insane.
After enough underhanded comments and overhand serves were directed at him in the Breakfast Nook, Whoopdale decided to put an end to the Señor Frogs and evicted them with an industrial fire hose. Then Frank arrived with a yak-sized dose of Lysol and after a few hours of scrubbing it was back to being a normal closet.
But since Whoopdale didn’t own any clothes other than what he wore — a tight-fitting giraffe-skin suit — he decided to outfit the closet with a blanket and a lava lamp and find a roommate to fill the social void left by Señor Frogs, which at that point felt vast and unquenchable. Soon we opened the local newspaper and found our standard ad highlighted in the classified section:
Wanted: Adventurous spirit to live in a house among many others. Neighborhood is tepid but the school system beyond repute. Rooms remain uncountable and omnifarious. We hold family meetings regarding all decisions, and these often end with water balloons, square dancing or both. Sometimes we have fun, but mostly we debate serious world issues and clown farts. Those with experience in fountain maintenance and mariachi appreciation are given preference. Do not inquire if allergic to shellfish, the color orange or Jackie Chan. The house recently had a check-up and is considered habitable for those with a strong constitution. Construction workers frequently ogle its foundation and interior decorators will immediately mention the curtains. Generally speaking, we embolden the philosophy of the beanbag chair.
Only two days passed before we got our first applicant, a guy by the name of Dyson Bartlett. Along with his resume, he sent a studio-taken photo with a laser-beam background, a list of his favorite fruits/Nicolas Cage movies and a crayon drawing of a palm tree on a tropical island. Whoopdale was pretty impressed. He hadn’t asked for artwork as a part of the application, yet here Dyson sent in a fine piece which showed a sensibility of palm fronds and the glint upon the water was well beyond the halls of any preschool. But despite the impression made on Whoopdale, Dyson still had to go through a house screening process before he was formally invited to live there. This was where things got a little ugly, for he had to go through the preposterous, turbulent, unseasonable process known as the rumor mill.
The rumor mill was something we weren’t proud of but, like the liver or xiphoid process, it couldn’t be extracted without many serious, painful surgeries. Doctor Heartguts claimed he knew the procedure, but he probably just meant lobotomy which is his solution to everything from ringworm to a sore throat. So, as soon as the name Dyson Bartlett was cast from Whoopdale’s mouth to a casual passerby, the cruel yet fascinating horror of the rumor mill began to creak into motion:
“Dyson Bartlett,” said Gary, “Wasn’t that the name of the guy who stole Mickey Mantle’s left hand before the final game of the 1992 Stanley Cup which the Broncos lost in twelve?”
“My sister knew Dyson Bartlett,” said Sarah Bows née Bowson. “And he never used a chair. Not once. He had these beady eyes and big ears and constantly looked around, always hanging upside down squeaking and screeching about the number of mosquitoes he caught using echolocation. A real pain in the butt. She also said he lived in the upper part of the barn out back.”
“Dyson Bartlett, Dyson Bartlett . . . “ Grandpa said. “Sure, I knew a Dyson Bartlett when I was just a lad. Lived in the same neighborhood as me, and he’d come over some afternoons and we’d go fishing, or he’d come just for my mother’s corn pie because she had the best corn pie in town, everyone said so, even the good Pastor Kettington who was allergic to corn, blow up like a fish if a kernel touched his lips, but he couldn’t resist when my mother put a slice on his plate and we always had to call the doctor. My mother, bless that woman, she’d always have one just coming out of the oven when we were done with the whippin’s, for we didn’t have school back in those days, just a good whippin’ every morning from about about six o’clock to eleven o-clock and then sometimes from twelve-thirty to one o’clock, or until Pap’s arm got tired, and it didn’t often, for he thought that that a whippin’ did us a trifle better any summin’ or capital-namin,’ and afterwords we’d go fishing and I couldn’t even sit down, because of the whippin,’ and that other lad would be laughing at me and my sore keister the whole time. Actually, to think of it I never really did like him . . . what’d you say his name was again?”
“I’ve heard about Dyson’s mother,” said Merv. “Just bar stories, dirty old men having a laugh over a beer, and you know how they exaggerate. But if even half of what they say is true . . . “ (shakes his head). “What I’ve heard, it’s pretty, how do I say, adult. Not for kids. Apparently back in the day she was really something, but now she’s not as . . . ah . . . energetic as she used to be, you know? Pretty grown-up topics. Racy stuff. Don’t really know if I should . . . Any kids around? No? OK, like this: cataracts. They say she’s been having some trouble when driving at night and reading in low light, so she’ll have to get surgery soon. Good, right? This too: the carpel tunnel is starting to bother her on the keyboard. Like I said, just bar tales, and nothing for kids’ ears.”
“I’m a cream of wheat guy myself.” Zedekiah said. “And I don’t mind sitting at the table with the oatmeal eaters, but as soon as they try to push their rolled or instant business on me, that’s when everyone will see the ugly side of Zedekiah.”
“I’ve heard of Dyson,” said Samantha Sand. “My neighbor’s cousin told me about him once. She said her mailman had accidentally delivered a package to his friend Steven, whom he once went to Jambalaya Camp with, you know, the summer camp in Port Arthur, Texas, where kids learn about Cajun lifestyle and cooking. Well, Steven got the package and opened it to find a whole bunch of dirt without any note, and the return address was smudged, but he immediately thought Dyson sent it because of some inside joke they had going about the Pope. But then beneath the dirt Steve found documents containing some highly sensitive state secrets translated into fourteen languages, including American Sign Language. Well, red-beans-and-rice friend or no, Steve certainly called the authorities who took Dyson in for forty-eight hours of interrogation, followed by another session with my neighbor’s cousin’s mailman, during which my neighbor’s cousin as well as my neighbor were called in as a character witnesses, until they realized the whole thing was a big mix-up, the State Department had just mislabeled the box, and the authorities bought them a couple rounds of drinks at the Pentagon’s cafeteria which ultimately got them to the blackjack tables of Jersey City that night with Hillary Clinton, but that’s a story for another time.”
These rumors hung around the house for days, dirtying the hallways, soiling the carpets and even scumming up the sink as we tried to do the dishes. Finally Miss Hattie took each one of them by the ear to the washtub for a good scrub-down, and when they came out they didn’t look that bad. In fact, they appeared much like the neatly dressed, fresh-faced boy who appeared at the doorstep a few minutes before that week’s family meeting was set to start. He looked a bit nervous as Frau Boobeater led him in, and why shouldn’t he be when there were so many of us scrutinizing his every breath, but after perching himself on the stool he rubbed his hands on his khakis and cleared his throat to address us.
“Hi everyone, thanks for having me here. My name’s Dyson, I’m twenty-two years old, not married and I write code for an accounting software company out on the beltway. It’s a good job with a steady paycheck. I live at my parents’ house right now, and they’re pretty cool, but I think it’s time to move out, and I saw this in the paper.”
A flood of murmuring washed through all of us, but that happens in any proclamation, be it a fire in the bell tower or the bubble-tape flavor of the day is grape. Samantha Sand, who was in charge of Resident Application Services, stood up and adjusted her hairpiece.
“Tell us, Dyson,” she said. “What do you like to do with your free time?”
“Well, mostly just hanging out with friends and my girlfriend, Molly. Sleeping late on weekends is nice. Sometimes my friends and I get together, and we’ll share a bottle of rosé while watching some crazy movie like Ulee’s Gold. Or I know the bartender down at the Chili’s off the beltway, and he’ll sneak me out a plate of nachos which someone only ate half of. “
“Very good. We have now reached the question and answer session.” Hands shot up all around the room and Samantha pointed at Fred Boss, Esq.
“Do you find agronomy a futile pursuit?” Fred Boss asked.
“Um . . . “ Dyson scratched his neck. “My girlfriend keeps a spice garden, and sometimes I like to break off a leaf of rosemary and smell it.”
Hands again, this time Sarah Bows née Bowson.
“Is your left foot bigger than your right?”
“I am missing the big toe on my left foot from a vacuuming accident when I was little, otherwise, no.”
Many hands again, with some of them waving frantically. Fred Furtherschool was chosen.
“What do you think about Pluto’s role in the solar system?”
“I always kind of liked Pluto,” Dyson said.
Everyone in the audience looked from face to face and knew he had said all the right things, especially with Pluto which we were fond of as well, and as group mentality is wont to do, the final wave built up and burst through the dam and we began cheering for Dyson Bartlett, the newest member of our house. The secondary mariachi band marched into the room with a spicy number and everyone began singing, dancing and laughing through a storm of confetti and streamers at this joyous addition to our fair household. Dyson looked at the scene unfold like he had won the latest five-dollar radio giveaway and received many hugs, playful slugs on the shoulder and stinging high-fives. Only when the mariachi band began their second song did Dyson begin blowing in the plastic whistle hanging around his neck, bring out a salad bottle of clear liquid and pour a hefty shot into Whoopdale’s upturned mouth.
WILLIAM BLOMSTEDT is a geographer and animal enthusiast. Currently honeybees are his number one, but he also has worked shoulder to shoulder with grizzly bears, elephants and an occasional bird. He currently lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.