It was the warmest December anyone could remember. It definitely didn’t feel like Christmas. No talk of the big snowstorm or even the chance of flurries. Regardless of the temperature, the houses in Chadston, the Northern-most suburb of New York, were dripping with lights and lawns were covered with mechanical Santa’s, reindeer and a Grinch or two. Dan Riles was late to the decorating game, but was inspired enough to get out there and put up his best offering. He was teetering on the top rung of a 6-foot ladder, desperately reaching out to the gutter above with a string of sturdy but outdated non-LED lights. The ladder is not on level ground, so he’s trying to compensate by leaning forward, but has to keep putting out his hand to brace himself from falling towards the bay window.
“Fuck!” Dan screamed out, pushing himself away form the house. The Moulders house next door looks like the cover of the LL Bean catalog he just chucked in the recycling bin.
Callie, Dan’s girlfriend of two years, is inside the house doing a test run of a pineapple upside down cake she found online. Dan and Callie are going to her mom’s house tomorrow for Christmas Eve dinner. Callie’s mom is an excellent cook and baking is her specialty. Dan comes into the house. “Another fine job done by yours truly!” he declares. “How’s the sideways-over-under blueberry strudel you’re crafting?” Dan doesn’t understand why Callie needs to be a good baker just because her mother is. Everybody has their thing. “Smells like the Gates of Heaven in here. Since I’ll never get there, this is a pleasant surprise.”
A few houses down from Dan’s, a crazed serial killer slowly pulls up in a ’78 Dodge Scrambler and turns off the engine. Little do Dan and Callie know that while they are busy with a session of grab-and-feel in the kitchen, the serial killer, given name Baxter Bartholomew, is starting his ritual.
“If your fudge ripple side-splitting Swedish tort is half as decadent and tasty as you are, your mom is going to throw herself on the floor with spasms of wonder and amazement” said Dan.
“Please. You’ve already got your hands on my goodies. You don’t need to give me the snowjob about how wonderful my – did you call it a Swedish tort? You friggin’ clown,” she said, pulling his hands out from under her shirt. “Get out of here!”
Baxter, now sitting in the back seat of the Scrambler, opens his Tuba case. He methodically inspects then attaches the mouthpiece and starts playing his scales; Chromatic, Pentatonic, Diatonic. He has to lean over towards the passenger side of the car and open the window a few inches because the horn is too wide to fit upright in the car. After his scales he always goes right into the song that ignites his rage: Copacabana by Barry Manilow. He slows the tempo down to a chugging, deliberate 88 bpm. As he blows on his tuba, halfway through the second chorus, he’s distracted by a high-pitched shriek.
“Is that Copa?” an elderly woman asks, leaning towards the open window. “Sounds too slow, but I’d know that melody anywhere.” It’s Mrs. Slocum. She lives two doors down from Dan. She’s walking her Poodle, Barry. Barry has on one of those doggie vests that no dog needs. On the side of the vest is an impressive needlepoint rendering of Barry Manilow, circa 1975. “I can’t help but shiver a little bit whenever I hear a Barry Manilow song, even if it’s not performed properly. No offense.” As of yet, Baxter has been completely calm. Showing no signs that Mrs. Slocum has interrupted his prelude to murderous rage. “Bye now” said Mrs. Slocum and heads off on her way. Baxter does seven deep breaths then starts packing up his tuba.
A car pulls up in front of Dan’s house and honks it’s horn a couple times.
“Can’t he do anything without you?” said Callie to Dan. “You have 45 minutes till this Salmon is on the table. If you are not here, my Salmon will be on the table and yours will be under the table for Coco.” Coco is the cat Dan inherited when he and Callie moved in together. Dan is not a cat person, so he wasn’t thrilled about Coco, but she grew on him.
There’s a knock on the kitchen door.
Callie whispers to Dan,”Christ, for someone with zero responsibilities or ambition he certainly is very impatient.”
Dan opens the door. “Hey, Ronnie.” Ronnie enters. He’s 32. A year younger than Dan. 5 Foot 7. Wearing fatigues, Doc Martin’s and a trucker hat with a John Deere logo on it.
“Hey, Ronnie,” said Callie. “Expecting an ambush tonight?” She tries unsuccessfully to muffle a chuckle.
“You know, Callie, you could cut me some slack once in a while. I don’t like to talk about it, but since we’re pretty close I’ll share something you don’t know about me,” said Ronnie. He steals a quick glance at Dan. “Are you familiar with Dessert Storm? The US con…conflagration of Kuwait?”
“Conflagration? Do you mean Infiltration?”
“Jesus, Callie,” said Dan.
“Conflagration is a bad fire. Infiltration is more of a military deal. You know, stuff you’re versed in. What about Desert Storm?”
“Well, ever since Desert Storm…this is not easy…”
“It certainly isn’t, but it is entertaining.”
“Please get on with this” said Dan. “My dinner is ticking away towards an epic meal for Coco.”
Ronnie continued. “Well, ever since Desert Storm, I haven’t been able to…perform. You know,” said Ronnie, sticking out his index finger and then curving it, the universal sign for a limp noodle.
“How old are you, Ronnie? Same age as Dan, I would imagine?”
“Up! A year younger, I must say.”
“I’m sure you will use that extra year wisely and eventually join the rest of us in adulthood. Regardless. You are 32, correct?”
“That’s right,”said Ronnie.
“Well, Desert Storm occurred in the beginning of the 90’s. You are 32. It’s 2013. You were…9 years old when Desert Storm was happening.”
“And?” said Ronnie.
Callie chuckles. “So, you obviously weren’t in Desert Storm. How exactly did Desert Storm”-Callie mimics Ronnie’s curved finger and makes an exasperated face-“effect your ability to ‘perform’ as you put it?”
“My Uncle Maddox was staying with us at the time. He had lost his job and fallen on hard times. My dad was never around, so he sort of became my mentor.”
“A person who teaches you stuff-”
“I know what a mentor is.” Callie looks at the clock on the wall and then at Dan. “39 minutes.”
“Move it along, Ronnie.”
“Well, long story short, Uncle Maddox had a whole box of The World at War VHS tapes. We used to sit around watching them and they were very dramatic and…powerful. But then Desert Storm started and, you know, that was my war and the coverage was non-stop.”
“Well, I watched so much coverage of Desert Storm on CNN that it effected me to my very core. It paralyzed me.”
“From the waist down, physically, and the neck up, mentally. So you haven’t had a hard-on or a clear thought since you were 9. Both of you, get the hell out of here.”