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Witty, wise coming of age stories.Wonderful.-
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Tom Perrotta lives outside Boston and has raught writing at Harvard and yale. His other novels are Joe Collage, Election and the Wishbones.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The Wiener Man
My mother was a den mother, but she wasn’t fanatical about it. Unlike Mrs. Kerner—the scoutmaster’s wife and leader of our rival den—she didn’t own an official uniform, nor did she attempt to educate us in the finer points of scouting, stuff like knot-tying, fire-building, and secret handshakes. She considered herself a glorified babysitter and pretty much let us do as we pleased at our meetings, just as long as we amused ourselves and kept out of her hair.
We had a den meeting the day the Wonderful Wiener Man came to town in his Frankmobile. When we expressed a unanimous desire to go down to Stop & Shop to meet him, my mother said it was fine with her, especially since she had some shopping to do anyway.
Before we left I ran upstairs and got my autograph book. My collection of signatures was getting to be impressive. Most of them came from obscure baseball players to whom I’d written fan letters, but a handful were from TV personalities who had recently visited Stop & Shop to promote their products. In the few months since the mini-mall’s grand opening, I had met the Pillsbury Doughboy, Mr. Clean, Cap’n Crunch, and Chef Boy-R-Dee. I found it exciting to meet these characters in real life, just a few blocks from home. They were friendly, too. Baseball players at the stadium sometimes looked hurt or angry when you asked them to sign your scorecard, but the TV personalities were always delighted to chat, give autographs, and hand out free samples. I especially liked Mr. Clean, who had let me squeeze his biceps and rub his shiny head.
I expected good things from the Wiener Man. He was driving his Frankmobile to supermarkets all across America “to spread the wonderful word about Wonderful Wieners,” a new brand of hot dog. In the past few days there had been a blitz of radio commercials publicizing his visit to our town. The commercials promised free food and lots of fun surprises.
* * *
IT WAS A warm October day in 1969. We marched in double file to the mini-mall, our feet crunching down on the red and yellow leaves carpeting the sidewalk. My mother led the way. Her partner was Harold “the Dork” Daggett, the newest member of our den. Harold had only been with us a few weeks. He had just switched to public school from St. Agnes, and Mrs. Kerner had used that as an excuse to kick him out of the Catholic school den, where no one liked him anyway, and dump him on us. When we heard about the transfer we presented my mother with a petition saying Harold was a jerk and we didn’t want him. My mother ripped the petition into confetti; Harold joined us the following week. We got our revenge by ignoring him when she was around and ganging up on him when she wasn’t. She got her revenge, at least on me, by becoming good friends with him. She claimed that he was the smartest boy she’d ever met.
My partner was the den freak, Allen Falco. Allen had hair down to his shoulders and refused to wear the regulation cub scout uniform—he wore the shirt but substituted bell-bottom dungarees for the crisp blue trousers and tied the neckerchief around his head in an attempt to look like Jimi Hendrix. We were the last pair in line. I kept my eye on my mother as we walked. She kept smiling and touching Harold’s shoulder. I heard her say, “That’s fascinating, Harold.”
Then Allen dropped a bombshell: a few nights ago, he said, when his Dad was out, he had seen his brother’s girlfriend with her shirt off. Allen’s brother was a hippie. He looked like Jesus and wore an army coat with a peace sign on the back. His girlfriend looked just like he did, minus the beard. Allen said that he got out of bed for a drink of water and she was just sitting there on the couch, watching TV with her tits hanging out. Allen was a good friend of mine, but I often had the feeling that our lives took place on different planets.
“So what happened?” I whispered.
“Nothing,” he said. “I got a drink of water.”
I walked straight into Billy Turcott, who bumped into Gary Zaleski in a chain reaction. My mother called a halt to our march.
“Harold has something he wants to share with us,” she announced.
Harold stood beside her looking worried, his pudgy body stiff at attention. He wore thick glasses, and the left side of his shirt was decorated with merit badges and little gold stars. He had a squeaky voice.
“Even though we often think of hot dogs as an American food, they were actually invented way back in the Middle Ages in Frankfurt, West Germany. That’s why we sometimes call them frankfurters. Another popular American food, the hamburger, is named for the German city of Hamburg.”
Billy Turcott raised his hand. “Is there a German city called Dork?”
My mother frowned and Harold turned red. He looked like he wanted to cry but wasn’t going to give us the pleasure of watching.
* * *
THE FRANKMOBILE WAS parked in the far corner of the lot, where Stop & Shop met Ye Olde Liquor Store. My heart sank when I saw it. I had taken the name seriously and expected to see a huge hot dog on wheels. But it was just a pink Winnebago.
My mother veered off from the group. “I’m going shopping,” she said. “I’ll meet you in front of the store in fifteen minutes.”
We crossed the parking lot and got our first glimpse of the Wiener Man. He looked like a human hot dog, and kids were standing in line to shake his hand. Next to him, a woman from Stop & Shop stood behind a hot dog stand and passed out free Wonderful Wieners. The Wiener Man was taller than the yellow umbrella on the hot dog stand. We started walking faster.
The line formed between two rows of orange safety cones. There were about twenty kids ahead of us, most of them with their mothers. Not far from the Frankmobile, in front of Brite Boy Launderette, a bunch of tough-looking teenagers were slouched against a black GTO, smoking cigarettes and scowling at the Wiener Man like they knew him from somewhere and hated his guts.
While we waited, I tried to think up some good questions to ask him. I knew from experience that if you wanted to have a conversation with a celebrity, you had to get the ball rolling yourself. I made a mental list of the possibilities: How did you get your job? Who do you like better—Joe Frazier or Muhammad Ali? Do you own a motorcycle? What’s your favorite TV show? Were you ever in the service, and if so, what was your rank? Have you traveled to foreign countries? Do you know Chef Boy-R-Dee?
* * *
WE WERE STUCK in the middle of the line when Ricky Stoner, a kindergartner from our neighborhood, walked past us holding a Wonderful Wiener with both hands. He seemed to be concentrating deeply, like it was difficult to walk and carry a hot dog at the same time. Ricky got picked on a lot because something was wrong with his head—people said it was still soft, like a baby’s—and his mother made him wear a Little League batting helmet all the time for protection. We called him Kazoo, after the martian on The Flintstones, who also wore a funny helmet.
“Hey Kazoo,” Billy Turcott called out. “Wait up.” Kazoo stopped. He tilted his head sideways like a dog to look at Billy.
“Whatcha got there?” Billy asked.
“Hot dog,” said Kazoo. “They’re free.”
Billy stepped out of line and put his hand on Kazoo’s shoulder, like the two of them were friends. “Can I have a bite?”
Kazoo glanced hopefully up at Billy and shook his head. Billy lifted his hand and slapped it down three times on the dome of Kazoo’s blue helmet. Kazoo just stood there with his eyes squeezed shut and took it.
“Kazoo,” Billy said thoughtfully, “do you want to be a cub scout next year?”
Kazoo nodded. He held the hot dog tightly to his chest. There was a little smear of mustard on his sweatshirt.
“Then you better give me a bite. It’s your initiation.”
“That’s right,” said Freddy DiLeo. “We all get a bite.” Freddy was Billy’s best friend.
Kazoo looked down at his Wonderful Wiener and up at seven cub scouts. The hot dog was only four bites big.
“He’s lying!” Harold cried out. “There’s no such thing as initiation.”
“Shut up, Dork,” Billy snapped. He glared at Kazoo. “Hand it over. Or else.”
“Leave him alone, Billy,” I said. “There’s enough for everyone.” I hadn’t planned on saying anything, but after Harold spoke up, things looked different to me.
Kazoo sensed his chance and trotted away. Billy didn’t chase after him. He got back in line and looked at me like I’d hurt his feelings. “What’s the matter with you? I wasn’t gonna take the little twerp’s wiener.”
“Oh yes you were,” Harold said. His voice was shaking. “You should pick on someone your own size.”
“Oh yeah?” Billy poked Harold in the chest. “You’re about my size, Dork.” He hauled off and socked Harold in the arm, right above the elbow. Just from the sound you could tell it hurt. Harold didn’t even say ouch; he just reached up and started rubbing. This time I kept my mouth shut.
* * *
UP CLOSE YOU could see that the Wiener Man was not as tall as he first appeared. His face was painted pink and stuck out of a hole in the middle of the hot dog suit. He wore a wiener-colored leotard and wiener-colored gloves. Only his dirty white sneakers kept him from being uniformly pink.
We were next in line. In front of us the Wiener Man posed for a picture with a little blond girl in a red-and-white checkered dress. The ...
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Book Description Bridge Works, 1994. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX1882593057