“This is gonna be beautiful, my boy. We can’t lose. This Dinkins kid sounds like a real egocentric jackwad. Perfect for the operation. Another little Shah of Iran, down here in the bayou. And with this kid Graft, sounds like we got a bit of Armas thrown in for good measure. And Fimbler, the other one—what’s his name…? Ah, doesn’t matter. He could be Hindenburg making boom-booms in his steingrau jodhpurs for all we care…”
Basically, we were all set to go. Our headquarters had been established in an area of swamp preserve at the edge of Bobby Spiller’s backyard, and from out of it we ran our entire campaign. We had our footmen, our covert agents, we had our puppet regime’s leader in Jimmy Dinkins, we had our Joint Chiefs of Menace in Teddy Graft and his thuggish toadies, we had our figurehead to the cause in Chris Fibbler. We even had our battle cry, albeit one we couldn’t necessarily put on a campaign poster: “Pamberlingdong is a slut muffin!” (Pamberlingdong being a portmanteau of ‘Pam’, ‘Berkelstein’ and…I don’t remember what else. ‘Ding-dong’, likely. None of us ever questioned it.) Jerron Tingle came up with it, and I don’t think he understood the English language all that well. I mean, he spoke it fluently, he was just one of those mush-mouthed Southerners that even the most inter-generationally uneducated (and suspectedly inbred) of families can’t quite make out, whom half the adults they come across refer to behind closed doors as being “teched.”
And, yeah, he wore overalls. Until he was like 17. And a onesie. Under his clothes at school. Sometimes, the onesie was his shirt.
One time, his pants and his shirt. Because he forgot his real pants. And his shirt. One time, he forgot the onesie. And the pants.
Remembered the shirt, though.
That was a great day.
But overall, there was something missing, which none of us could possibly foresee being a factor at the time, not even grandad. And that was: we were all boys. And the entire student body wasn’t.
Plus, we were like eight.
* * *
Our little Gehlen Org was on the move. We hatched Operation: Boogernauts in June, and summer was just about over; classes were starting up again. The beginning of classes meant the start of the election season.
Frankly, I was amazed we were able to keep focus and hold our group together all summer. I suppose Fibbler was to thank for that, with his periodic appearances at the garage basketball hoop in the alley next to the McDonald’s. Via my older brother, I’d miraculously gotten him an ‘in’ with this girl he liked over there. Even Teddy Graft seemed like he was enjoying himself. I don’t think he beat anybody up the entire time.
It was the summer of eight-year-old bro love, bro!
Now, it was time to get to work.
We maintained a steady stream of intrigue, lies and disinformation—campaign posters, sure, but our scorched earth policy consisted mostly of notes passed in class about Pam, unrepeatable things written in every boys’ bathroom, on-the-spot polling and fallacious debate (not what it sounds like), a willy-nilly menacing of random kids in regard to their vote (it kept the proles in fear), daily slut-bashing amongst ourselves to stay inspired, the corruption of as many kids a grade beneath us as possible, repeated screenings of Conan the Barbarian in Anferney Jones’ basement (because it’s awesome) and a general hushed-shoe tactic regarding all the girls and guys we knew Pam to be friends with.
Things were looking good.
“Now look, the biggest obstacle we’re gonna run into at this phase are loyalists. People who, no matter how much bullshit you sling at them, are gonna back their leadership unflinchingly. They’ll also likely have the means to mount an opposing campaign, and be just as skilled at getting people to believe their crap as we are ours. See, like any living organism, they learn to adapt to the harshness of their environment…”
And from there, grandad proceeded to drone on about the salient points of evolutionary biology, and how it can trickle over into mob mentality and the like. But I just tuned him out. See, there were these two nudie magazines Stewie Rhodes found the first day of class under some rocks by the creek, and I was the only other person he’d told. We’d made plans to check it out after school, and it was basically all I could think about.
I should’ve been more on the ball. In retrospect, despite all grandad’s technical knowledge and erudition on spook history, there was something he was missing. Something we all were missing.
Again, we were fucking eight. And all dudes.
There’s no way any of us could have seen what was coming next.
I was at my locker, doing locker stuff, when suddenly Horty Weaver appears, that prissy troll, standing right next to the door, holding her books against her chest with both arms crossed.
“Pam doesn’t have five boyfriends in Florida,” she says. “She doesn’t even have a boyfriend here. Why are you lying?”
“That’s just what I heard,” I shrugged. “I don’t know.” Which was true. I mean, it may have been in my own head that I heard it, before forcing myself to say it out loud as some sort of perverse-morality plausible deniability. But I did, in fact, hear it someplace. I knew I had to play it cool and deny, which, in grandad’s language, was the equivalent of ‘siccing a gaggle of boot-licking, scum-sucking lawyers on it’.
“Think about it. Every president in history—what are we talking? Businessman, senator, governor, sure. But the majority have always been lawyers. Nobody moves in and out of the revolving door like a lawyer. You’re probably too dumb to go that route, but if by some miracle you’re able, you make yourself someone’s boot-licking, scum-sucking lawyer, you hear? No safer job in the world. Then you join some gaggle of ‘em up on Wall Street, and when they say ‘sic’, boy, you sic.“
“You’re just saying that because you like her.”
“What?” I got real interested in what she was saying all of a sudden. “Nuh-uh.”
“I heard you told someone that you and her were dating.” Oh crap, I remember thinking.
In sticking my neck out to get Fibbler to show up and shoot hoops next to the McDonald’s that day, I had to fabricate something about Pam and I dating. It helped make the story stick. Suddenly, I had the sinking feeling that lie was about to catch up with me, and I would be the victim of my own web of tersely-stated, half-coherent intrigue.
Little kids would make great propagandists, by the way. I mean, you can pretty much tell a child anything and they’ll believe it, so if you want to get them on the side of misinformation, you got that covered. But as far as regurgitating the message, while they mostly don’t have the balls to propagate it down the line, figuratively speaking, what they do have is next to no concept of the consequences regarding the things they tell other people, i.e., the bigger picture. So, if you really instilled them with that sense of righteousness and importance to the cause, hell, you could remake all of Madison Avenue, or the entire lower tiers of the Pentagon.
Of course, America’s entire GDP would wind up being just cereal and toys, and the military interventions they’d get up to would be, well, as stupid and pointless as this one. But, still.
My having forgot all about that was just the natural consequence of my possessing a brain still only about halfway along in its development. And being seriously preoccupied with those stashed nudie mags. I was pretty positive Teddy Graft would steal them if he found out. Or that the original owners might come back to claim them—twenty-year-olds, shirtless and tattooed, in nothing but mopheads, jeans and beat-up sneakers, waiting to dunk us up to our nipples in Chlamydia Creek if they caught us.
Also, I think I was getting swept up in the revolution of my own bullshit. Or the bullshit of my own revolution.
Reading the worry in my face, her entire countenance lit up. “You do like her!” It then settled upon the cruelest of smiles. “Kaplan likes Pa-am! Kaplan likes Pa-am!” she sang as she retreated down the hallway. As much as I wanted to jump on her and smother her until she came up googly-eyed and drooling like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I’d been in the game long enough to recognize my hands were tied.
The only person that could have got that one out was Fibbler. And, fortunately, he didn’t go to our school. And, I’m assuming, forgotten he’d said it the second after it left his lips, so I was probably okay, regarding containment.
Instead of doing damage control right then and there, I made the mistake of going to Teddy, asking him if Fibbler had told anyone that I said I liked Pam.
“Dunno. I’ll ask. Hey, you! Go get me a Yello Mello…”
“Now, opposition forces are fine. They’re a part of the process. What we really need to watch out for are counterrevolutionaries. The opposition is more or less going to fight fair—that is, as fair as can be expected in the name of what they believe in, righteous bastards—but the counterrevolutionaries won’t. They’re basically terrorists.”
Turns out, this rang truer than any of the other amoralistic things grandad had fed me in the past few months about how to overthrow the world’s most defenseless, democratically-elected governments. First off, their opposition was so strong that we were forced into bumbling countermeasure after countermeasure, and then into retreat. See, when I said we were all dudes, what I didn’t mean was ‘we were all dudes’. I meant ‘they were all girls’. Or, perhaps more to the point: we weren’t girls. They tended-and-befriended together like a hundred Fibblers would never have been able to knit our little group into cohesion. And, not only that, their strategy was sound, their maneuvers dogged and their lines impregnable (no pun intended). Every person they identified as part of our smear campaign against Pam, they directly confronted out in the open with questions about sources, motives and then the unwavering, dispassionate truth that we were just making it up. Every single kid buckled in the face of that adult-level shaming, the same way I had in the face of Horty Weaver at my locker.
They even got our Home Ec. Teacher Miss Fink in on the action. She not only severely embarrassed Willy Jindal for retaining a note in class about Pam, but she gave some speech about how the boys were lying, and if she caught any of them doing it, she’d make them spend Home Ec. with Mr. Moeller, the diminutive Industrial Arts teacher across the hall—a mustachioed, hot-tempered martial arts expert with a Napoleon complex and forearms like footballs. All the boys were scared to death of him.
Not only that, their underground terror campaign was pervasive and incessant, like a big-brother Indian burn that never relented. Even more so than ours; their rumor mill / make-fun-of machine went into overtime production. They went after Jimmy Dinkins and his peanut head and crossed eyes; they went after Willy Jindal and his love for Cabbage Patch Kids; they went after Bobby Spiller and his slutty older sister; they went after Teddy Graft and his tartar buildup; they went after Rafe Simmons and his perpetual milk breath; they went after Carl Fingus, Teddy’s primary toadie, and his bedwetting problem; they went after Jerron Tingle for being Jerron Tingle; and they even made up a story about me taking a bath with another boy when I was five, which I’m pretty sure hadn’t happened. Though I have to say, their techniques were so convincing that I myself began to doubt the reality of my own past.
Morale had reached an all-time low.
Our handwriting-on-the-stall moment came the day Roland Grimes told me Teddy beat up Jimmy Dinkins again. For like the eighteenth time. The first, though, since we’d started the operation. Honestly, I was surprised it took this long. And even more honestly, I really think it was because he was pissed off Fibbler had chewed him out for what I’d suggested about Fibbler being a mole. And most honestly (and most likely), it was because the “piles of pussy” that Teddy had believed his grimy fingers would be poking in and out of by now had failed to materialize.
More than half the people stopped showing up after that. Which—I didn’t really blame them. Their only incentive to do any of this had been Fibbler, and he hadn’t shown his rodent-like face in weeks. It’s not like any of us were being paid anything.
See, if my grandad had actually cared about Operation: Boogernauts, he would’ve not only given me some kind of speech about the benefits of maintaining morale, but also kicked in some of his own cash to the kitty. For some ice cream, Big Gulps, a video game console—something!
But then I heard the voice of my grandmother, speaking from beyond the grave: “Money? That cheap son of a bitch? Why, he’d make a drowning man pay for oxygen and then sell him carbon dioxide instead! Get me a beer, will ya…”
By now, even the porno mags had disappeared. I suspected they were sitting in Stewie’s garage, or in his older brother’s bedroom closet, but it really didn’t matter. They, like our chances at vicarious glory (or, I guess, revenge? though I really wasn’t sure anymore) were as dead as the scowling, grandmotherly visage of J. Edgar Hoover.
* * *
I came across Horty one day after school, as we were both walking to the buses. I was curious about something; now that it was all over, none of the heretofore crucial intel had a reason to remain classified. “So, how do you guys know Chris Fibbler?”
“Who?” she said.
“The guy…from next town over. How did you know I might’ve said I was dating Pam?”
“Oh, Lana’s older sister likes Nick Rodriguez, and right after they scammed* at some eighth-grade party, he said you said it.”
That son of a bitch. How could I not remember? He had been there, too—that day I first saw Fibbler. He’d heard everything.
On the bus ride home, I pondered the virtual improbability of keeping something like this together, of keeping just one lie from getting through the cracks and destroying the entire operation from the inside out. Especially when there’s someone trying to get laid in the process. The history of civilization’s mightiest armies contain story after story of some guy doing something stupid because of some broad he wanted to bone, and the whole effort collapsing as a result, not too long after.
* * *
I ruined that poor girl. Pam Berkelstein. I mean, at least a few months of her grade school life. I admit it. She went on to a private high school, and then college somewhere in the Ivy League and now she’s vice president of JP Morgan Chase or something like that, so I really don’t feel too bad.
But after all the figurative smoke had cleared, something occurred to me. I went to grandad, sitting in the backyard, smoking one of those stinky Cuban cigars. “Grandad?” I said. “How come I couldn’t have become the new school president?”
He stared at me, just like that first day I was crying in the backyard. It was like I was on fire all over again. Then, he laughed. It bellowed out of him, all through the backyard and down the block, filling my ears like a goddamn Nuremburg rally. It was like I’d told him the funniest joke he’d ever heard in his entire life.
* – hooked up