Sunday, August 28, 2011


It was that advertisement that started it. It was listed on the back page of a comic book between the always present X-ray specs and the ads for Grow Your Own Sea Monkeys. There, in large bright red letters, was the call to action for lonely kids. Amaze Your Friends!
Normally I didn’t fall for such cheap theatrics but for some reason I was having a weak moment. Maybe I did need to add some amazing new abilities to my personality, I thought to myself. That way, when I finally got some friends, I could amaze them.
The advertisement was a black and white illustration depicting tendrils of smoke curling up from white gloved fingertips and another panel showed a cigarette that had been pushed, unharmed and in tact, through a quarter. “Learn Magic!” the ad persisted, “Everything you need to know to become a magician. Only two dollars!"
I was still a kid and hadn’t been burned by ordering products from magazines yet. I was just learning how to translate such an advertisement. First of all, “Only two dollars” meant two dollars was the first part of the financial equation. After you added the seventy five cents for tax and an additional two dollars and fifty cents for shipping and handling the end price was more than double. Five dollars and twenty five cents. Roughly the amount of money I made delivering newspapers for two weeks.
The money wasn’t a problem. There wasn’t much to spend it on way out in our broken suburb. The problem was getting the money to them. Check or Money Order only. I didn’t have a checking account and had no idea what a money order could be. I could try to get my parents to write a check on my behalf but I knew from trying to buy the Magical Sea Monkey Castle that it wasn’t going to work.
“It’s just a waste of your money,” My mother would say if I asked her.
“But it’s my money to waste,” I would remind her loud enough to be heard but not so loud as to get a smack in the face. It never worked. After the first such argument, when I didn’t get to buy what I wanted to with my own money, I started to hide my money from her. I wasn’t worried she would take it from me but that she would try to censor what I would use it for.
The solution was to go over mom’s head altogether. Grandma. Not only did Grandma outrank mom and was happy to write a check for me but she even gave me the stamp and the envelope. For free!
Four to six weeks later I found out another mistranslation from the ad. “Everything you need to know to do magic,” did not mean, “everything you need to do magic.” The instruction kit was little more than twelve pages of poorly mimeographed pages describing the easiest tricks followed by a good thirty or forty pages of catalog that would conveniently sell you the rest of the items needed to amaze your friends.
Two months later the only magic trick I had learned was the quarter from the ear trick and how to make five dollars and twenty five cents disappear. The fact that I became really good at the trick did nothing to cover the fact that it was just a lame trick. Needless to say friends weren’t amazed by a trick their grandfathers and uncles had been pulling on them since they were three years old. Worse yet, I didn’t let them keep the quarters like their relatives did.
Since magic obviously wasn’t going to work to find me friends I turned to my old stand by, pranks. At that age pranks were mostly harmless and played on people too weak or too smart to fight back. The social impact of playing a prank on someone was to establish a type of twisted mental dominance on the prankee. This social behavior only makes perfect sense while you’re still in grade school.
I had plenty of practical experience with pranks at home. In a family where adulthood is reached four to five years after your first child is born, teasing, bullying and dirty tricks are a huge part of the culture. My mother would leave the individually wrapped cheese slices still individually wrapped in plastic on my stepdad’s sandwiches after an argument. My Stepfather would retaliate by tying knots in my mothers panty hose. The pranks would then escalate to cookies made with salt instead of sugar, hidden car keys and holes cut into underpants with pinking shears.
My brother Bubba and I tended to stick to more basic tactics that usually involved scaring the shit out of someone. A favorite scare would be one of us hiding behind our sister, Becky’s, rather large stuffed animal collection. It wasn’t a large number of animals but the animals themselves were large enough to conceal a twelve year old boy. We would alternate jumping from behind them and screaming or making them fly at her and screaming the minute she turned on her bedroom light.
If we were brave enough to face total darkness one of us would wait under the steps leading to the basement. When an unsuspecting sibling would come down the stairs, to do laundry usually, we would grab the back of their ankles through the stairs. The screaming dance that resulted was hysterical as long as you put aside the possibility of someone plummeting to the smooth concrete floor below. The only possible cushioning being soiled underwear and jeans from Sears.
Parents weren’t immune from being pranked by us either. My first opportunity to get my mother came one evening at a grocery store. I don’t remember how old I was but I was young enough to run around the filthy grocery store alone and barefoot while she shopped. The floor wax rubs off and gets on you when you’re barefoot. If you get enough wax and dried fruit on the bottom of your feet you can pretend to ice skate down the aisles.
During one really long Olympic quality slide I noticed a toy mouse on the floor made from real fur. It must have fallen out of the pet toy display. This was perfect. The hierarchy of mom scaring was snake, mouse then human blood on one of her children. I had a mouse now. Second place. Not bad.
I grabbed it up and skated up and down the aisles until I found mom pondering a can of pork and beans.
I tip-toed up behind her as quietly as possible. The only noise I made was the light tapping of a pistachio shell stuck to left foot and the slight squish of a rotted grape from between my right toes. Behind my back in my right hand was my mouse. At about two feet away I had already discarded the idea of a mouse toss and decided on a simple placement maneuver. I would put it in the shopping cart where she would see it. I was almost shaking at how great of a prank this was going to be.
She would yell in public and I would laugh and laugh before I finally stepped in to saved her. Hell, she might even jump up on a chair or something if she can find one. Like in a cartoon.

I got closer. My body was tense and I was trying not to laugh.
Then it moved.
The mouse was alive. I would like to say I stay composed but the truth is I screamed like a girl in a drive-in slasher movie and threw my little accomplice down. My mother, still contemplating beans and thinking she was alone in the grocery except for her dirty kid jumped and did some of her own screaming. The can of beans hit the floor just missing taking off one of her toes.
“What the hell is wrong with you!” she yelled at me. Too scared to worry about the volume of her voice.
“I... I... I saw a mouse and I thought it was a toy and... and... and I was going to scare you... then it moved in my hand!” I was starting to sob now. Scared and embarrassed.
In a rush of motherly affection my mother started laughing. Not just simple laughter but the heavy duty laughter that caused one to double over and experience actual pain.
This is the vivid memory of my first prank. My mother and I both debilitated by tears, her from laughing and me from the shame, in the canned bean aisle of a dirty grocery store.
Somewhere in the shadows a mouse lay dying.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A'memember That Time?

“A’member that time you locked me outside in the snow in my underwear?”

“They chain me up in the basement and leave me there all day.” and, if it didn’t get the response he wanted or expected Bubba would add, “without food.” I once heard my little brother tell a perfect stranger this at the town roller skating rink. He was trying to work this motherly looking lady into enough pity she would buy him potato chips from the snack bar.

“And what did you do to deserve that?” she asked him. I guess she assumed that families who chained up their children in basements didn’t take them roller skating afterward. Bubba’s story was too ridiculous to be believed and she was teasing him about it. I laughed and skated off. The story really was true though, sort of, but it only happened once. He made it sound like an every day occurrence. Like shackles were part of our basement’s floor plan.

What really happened was part of a sort of game we made up. Bubba had been “arrested” for some crime against the family and was to be locked up in the basement. I was the arresting officer so I led him downstairs while he halfheartedly pretended to struggle. He couldn’t even pretend to struggle very much because we still had to navigate the stairs. He was in his underwear because.. well because he was always in his underwear.

The chain involved was huge and had links as thick as sausages and was sturdy enough to hoist an elephant out of a pit. I hadn’t planned on any large animal removal but wanted to be prepared in case the occasion showed itself. As handy as a chain that big would be for large animals it’s terrible for restraining skinny little White Trash boys. The links are too big to make any sort of knot and there’s no good way to secure it. So in the end I had to just sort of drape it over Bubba and wind it around the hollow aluminum table leg of a broken ping pong table.

As I went back up the stairs he knew he could easily escape the chain. I also knew he couldn’t get upstairs unless I let him. I stationed myself at the door to the basement. There was no lock so I held on to the knob and wedged my foot at the bottom of the door waiting for him to try to rejoin us among the free and the warm. Bubba knew this trick because I had used it before. He had a different plan this time.

Even though there was two or three inches of snow on the ground he bolted out of the side door of the basement in nothing but a pair of sagging gym socks and his equally sagging underpants. Under normal conditions his underwear would be referred to as white but in contrast to the snow and his Winter whitened skin they looked a more grayish yellow. Like a blond past her prime.

His plan to get back upstairs via the quick dash in the snow to the back door wasn’t a bad one but he miscalculated a few of the details. The most important being that I was at the basement door which was opposite the back door not even a yard away. He forgot, too, that the back door had windows so I could see him coming. The back door also had a lock. I didn’t even have to use any physical effort to keep him out anymore.

I don’t know what my dumb little brother was thinking exactly Maybe he thought he could outrun me around the house or maybe he had the misguided impression that our sister Becky was on his side. Either way he tried to make it to the front door. He found it locked. His only option left was to repeatedly ring the doorbell.

“Whooooo iiiiiis it?” I asked.

“Let me in,” he said. Then pretended to cry. I don’t know why he bothered. He cried all the time, both real and fake, and I never cared. Why would I care now?

“I’m sooooorrrry, but we don’t know anyone named ‘let me in’ and we can’t let strangers in the house, I yelled back to him,“It’s not safe”. This wasn’t a real house rule per se, we were openly encouraged to let anyone in the house that wanted in, salesmen, neighbors, knife wielding child rapists. It didn’t matter to our parents as long as we didn’t make them stand outside on the porch. That would be rude. I must have heard about dangerous strangers on TV or at school or someplace else that thought kids couldn’t fend for themselves.

That’s when Bubba switched from the doorbell to banging on the door. “Come o o o on,” he whined.

“Go to the neighbors and get the key,” Becky suggested.

Two neighbors had keys to our house. One was across the street and the other was two doors down. He must have thought about it because he stopped pounding the door a minute to calculate the distance. Then he must have remembered he was in his underwear and started in again with the pounding this time adding kicks with his wet socks.

“I’m calling the police!” he yelled

“No, I’m calling the police!” I yelled back, “Some crazy nekkid kid is trying to break in to my house! Help Police!”

“Let me in!”

“Help, help, nekkid man tryin’ to get us!”

Becky, knowing this wouldn’t end well, sat on the sofa and laughed. Choosing, in this instance,not to take sides.

Giving up on the front door Bubba ran to the back again and proceeded to beat and kick at the still locked back door. Did he think I unlocked the door when I walked away? He didn’t think much of my defensive skills.

I had grown bored and had decided to watch television raising the volume so I could hear it over the beating the back door was taking when eventually the noise stopped.

“He stopped.” Becky said, noticing the silence before I did.

“Oh, he’s probably dead.” I assured her.

“Or he went to get a key,” She guessed.

“Or he remembered the basement door is still unlocked.” I suggested.

I few moments later, pink and shivering from either the cold or anger, Bubba comes walking through the living room and in the most casual tone I could I asked, “Hey Bubba, where have you been?”

“I’m telling mom you tried to kill me! I almost froze to death.” He pretended to cry but couldn’t pull up any tears.

“Oh you say I’m trying to kill you all the time. Nobody even cares anymore,” I told him. “You’re like the little boy who cried wolf,” then, to make his life a little more confusing, “except that boy really did freeze to death.

It was true that yelling, “They’re trying to kill me,” didn’t hold the sway it used to. Either it was repeated too often or our parents were starting to warm up to the idea. Either way, I barely got in trouble whenever he made the claim. I might get in trouble this time, though. Not for risking his life but because he kicked a hole in the back door before he realized he could have gotten back in the house any time he wanted.

“But I wasn’t even outside! How could I have kicked the door in?” I yelled at my mom in my defense. I thought it was a good one.

“You locked him out there! What if the neighbors saw?” Our mom yelled back. Not “what if he had frozen to death or cut open an artery trying to break back in”.

If Bubba, or any of us for that matter, froze solid in the backyard like an unlucky arctic explorer in dirty underpants it wouldn’t have mattered to our mother as long as the people living around us didn’t find out and think we were White Trash.

“I didn’t lock him out there anyway. The basement door was always unlocked. He went out there on his own. Can I help it if he likes to run around outside naked? Is it my fault he wasn’t brought up any better?” That was too far. I overplayed my hand and got my ass beat.

Bubba was punished too but not as severely. Not because he was deemed any less at fault for the hole he kicked in the door but because he just stood there shivering looking as much as he could like a victim. Everyone involved knew he was faking it. But fake shivering was better than fake crying so I guess he deserved some recognition for the effort.

Excerpt from Bubbacide, Raised By White Trash by Steven Berger

Available electronically on the Nook, Kindle, Itunes. Hard copy on

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Saggy Pants Law

Saggy Pants laws.

Another town in Georgia has passed a Saggy Pants Law. A law that fines people for wearing pants sagging more than three inches below the belt line. I’ve read the articles and have seen the interviews online and the common denominator is old rednecks saying, “it’s just offensive”.

I like this.

As a matter of fact I’ve come up with a list of offensive fashion statements I want outlawed. I’ve been tolerant of these garments for years but now that the tide has finally turned and we can send people to jail if we don’t like what they’re wearing, or how they’re wearing it, I’m ready to speak up.

Any blouse showing back breasts.
That’s right I said it. Stand out in front of the Baptist church on a Sunday morning and you will see hundreds of pairs of B and C cups on the backs of parishioners. Though formed by back fat they’re pushed up by bra straps like muffins and sometimes, depending on the cut of the blouse or dress, even have cleavage. $50 fine per breast!

These shoes were a joke to get even with someone and now they’re all over the place. Hard rubber in neon colors are too ridiculous to be seen in public. $50 fine first offense, $100 fine if you force children to wear them, $150 fine for high heeled crocs. (yeah, they’re real)

The Utili-kilt
Not just for fat gay men and comic book conventions any more. If you want to wear a skirt, wear a skirt. Adding “utili” doesn’t make it more masculine. $50 fine if you’re wearing underwear, $100 fine if you’re going commando.

Fat Man Mid Drift
More offensive than a fit muscular man with his underwear showing is a fat ass with his beer gut showing. $20 per inch of gut showing. $100 if you have man breasts and don’t wear a shirt at all.
Ed Hardy
No explanation needed. $100, combined with orange spray on tan $150

Price Tags
Did you steal that blouse? Are you going to try to take that hat back to the store tomorrow? $25 fine.

Ugly or Old People Kissing.
Ok it’s not a fashion statement but I don’t want to see ugly people showing affection. “It offends me” $200.

I don’t know if any of these laws will be enacted along with the Saggy Pants Laws but I’m hopeful. I’m also aware that these violations of peoples expression will probably, ironically, end up with a city getting its pants sued off.

Steve Berger
Author of Raised By White Trash.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The damaging effects of motivation.

At some point, probably in the eighties, a collection of people came together and decided to brainwash the masses into an unthinking stupor. The tools used were short quirky soundbites of mock advice and the masses liked it. People were instructed to Take The Road Less Traveled but weren’t warned that the reason that particular road was less traveled was because of the monsters, the washed out bridges, the poisonous insects and the crack heads waiting in the shadows to rob you.
College students were told to do what they love and the money would follow. Sadly the job markets for chronic masturbators and video game players were filled to capacity with people willing to do those jobs for free. It was a plumber accepting my check for fourteen thousand dollars and smelling of raw sewage that told me there’s more money in doing what other people hate. But that slogan doesn’t look good on a book cover or a bumper sticker.
The people who have their heads filled with useless, and sometimes dangerous, motivational quotes are also armed to confront anyone with any small amount of common sense. The people with a brain who actually question such inane statements as, “Fake it 'til you make it,” are to be referred to as “negative” or, lately, “haters”.
Never was this example more evident than after a business talk I gave in San Diego. As the meeting wrapped up I looked outside and the building cloud banks and made the statement, “It looks like it’s going to rain”. The response from one of the participants was immediate, “Stop being so negative!” she yelled. Literally. She yelled at me for making an observation about the weather. Her brain had been so washed that she was unable to see any statement that may not work in her delusioned favor as anything but “negative”.
I was shocked but calm when I explained that there was something between a positive and negative statement. A neutral statement. A statement of observation, opinion or fact. She refused to accept my explanation. This woman was under the sway of a pyramid scheme guru who had warned her to disregard all statements not positive. She had been convinced that this was the key that rich and happy people had discovered and that she just needed to believe in it. She even gave evidence in the form of stories of people that went from poverty to driving BMW’s and living in mansions while sitting in the pool accepting paychecks earned by passive income.
It was months before her guru was finally arrested. It was a year when a book came out from some of his underlings explaining how they were lied to and stolen from. But that wasn’t until later. At that moment I had been confronted by someone desperately convinced that I was a negative person. There was no saving this woman yet. So I did the only thing I could do. I left her standing there in the negative rain.