“Come ya ladies and ya gentlemen, a-listen to ma song,
I’m a-tell it like I heard it, but I might-a heard it wrong,
Sneak a little peek-o’-what’s a-comin’ on ahead
‘Bout four young fellas, Lehigh River watershed,
Hard times, down in P.A.
Livin’ in an old steel town.”
Ben rolled out one last finger-picked riff on John’s crappy second-hand acoustic, hammered and muted a conclusive C, and hollered, “BOMB IN A CAN!” while dropping his left shoulder and drawing his index finger like some wild-eyed gunslinger. He was aimed at Mike Malouf, seated across from him on the bed-couch.
“It’s awesome, dude,” Phil said.
“It’s great, right?” Ben asked.
“Yeah, yeah. I love it,” Phil agreed.
“Easy, quick-draw McGraw, I’m not so sure about it,” Mike lied; he actually liked the name, but the opportunity to aggravate Ben was too good to pass up.
“Come on, man!” Ben pleaded. “It’s perfect: it’s catchy, it’s compelling, and it comes with one of seven collectable shot glasses!”
“We still haven’t worked that whole part out,” Mike said. “Let’s figure out all of the details before we start worrying about names.”
Ben ignored him. “Can I get a motion for ‘bomb in a can,’ written in all caps, and punctuated by an exclamation point be made our working title?”
“I, Phillip T. Barrett, as acting secretary, move that ‘bomb in a can,’ with the aforementioned stipulations, be henceforth granted working title status.”
“Meehan?” Ben asked.
“Sure, why not. I second that emotion,” said the slouched John Meehan.
“Excellent choice, Smokey,” Ben said, visibly elated. “You won’t regret it.”
“All in favor?” Phil asked.
“Aye, aye!” Craigolas called from the dining room table, where he and a few other people were playing Kings.
“Aye,” John drawled while giving the Clinton thumb, “did not have sexual relations with that woman, and I can not approve of this title without Mikey’s consent.”
“You, sir,” Mike said, doffing a nonexistent hat, “are a gentleman and a scholar. I thank you.” He turned and shook John’s hand between both of his own.
“Please. It was nothing my good man.”
“I see how it is.” Ben said, nodding. “Looks like the Meehan and Mike Butt-Buddy Convention is in town, as usual.”
“Hey!” Mike protested, “it’s the Mike and Meehan Butt-Buddy Convention.”
“Why do you get top billing?” asked John.
“Because you’re the bottom.”
“Fuck you. You’d be the bottom.”
“Dream on,” Mike laughed.
“You would. You’d love taking my dick.”
“Oh, is that so?”
“Yeah, it is. And you’d toss my salad and shit.”
“You guys are fucking disgusting,” Craigolas said over his shoulder.
“Seriously,” Phil cringed.
“Homophobes uncomfortable with their sexualities say ‘what’?” John said.
“Yeah, Craigolas, weren’t you in the Army?” Mike asked.
“And your point is?”
“Don’t ask, and we won’t have to tell you how much ass-fucking goes on in the military,” said Mike.
“That’s the Navy, bro,” Craigolas said.
“Right. And lumberjacks, and the G.O.P., the Church, and every other boy’s club whose members sport the thin veneer of homophobia, but certainly not the army.”
“Who the fuck cares?!” Ben screamed.
“Well, Craigolas, clearly,” said John.
“Meehan. What’d you second the motion for if you were just gonna shoot it down?” Ben demanded.
“To revel in your disappointment, I guess.”
“Whatever. Those opposed?”
Mike and John raised their hands.
“Then the ayes have it!” Ben proclaimed.
“How do you figure that?” Mike asked.
“Three against two, man” Ben said. “Ayes win -- ‘BOMB IN A CAN!’ is officially the working title!”
“What three?” John asked.
“Let’s see… there was one from Phil, another from myself, and the third came from our good buddy Craigolas over there.”
Craigolas raised his beer in salutation. He had been Ben’s roommate their sophomore year, and even though no one particularly cared for him, he always seemed to be around; kind of like the kid on the block who was perpetually ditched, but refused to take the hint. The friends frequently debated who kept him informed of their whereabouts, yet never asked Craig who had invited him. This was due to the fact that it was, in actuality, a combination of all four of them; Mike, John, Ben, and Phil each occasionally sent Craig texts about their plans in order to further the mystery and annoy the others. Then, when he showed up, they each affected shock and irritation, but were all secretly delighted.
The reason that he was known as Craigolas was because, upon their introduction, John jokingly remarked, “Craig, huh? Kind of a strange name when you think about it. Is that short for something, like Craigolas perhaps?” Baffled, Craig replied that is was not short for anything, so the name stuck. Craigolas was tall and lanky, with the exception of his slight belly, had frizzy hair and big feet, therefore bearing a more than slight resemblance to Sideshow Bob, so he also was called that intermittently. He’d been dating the same girl for three years, barring the times every few months when she would break up with him and hook up with a series of guys before they predictably got back together. During these periods he would regularly profess his love and desire for her to return to him via Facebook status updates. Consequently, Sideshow Bob getting dumped was greatly looked forward to by everyone but Craigolas himself. (Un?)Fortunately, he will not be figuring my story all that much.
“Actually,” Phil said, “I believe he said ‘Aye, aye,’ so technically speaking there were four ayes.”
“True, but technically speaking Craigolas doesn’t have a vote,” John corrected.
“Who said that Craigolas doesn’t have the right to vote?!” Ben asked; standing and pacing with mock outrage. “I thought this was America, where every man, woman, and child -- be they Asian, Cau-casian, a Hindi wit’ tha bindi, be they Christian, colored, or even Craigolas -- has equal rights! Can I get an ‘A-men!’?”
“Amen!” Craigolas yelled, “Preach on brothah.”
“HalleLUjah!” Ben cried, “The Lord has spoken unto me on this day of days, and do you know what he told unto me? He said, ‘Let my Craigolas vote!’”
“First of all,” John said, “you’re an agnostic Jew. I doubt very highly that God is speaking through you jafro covered head, Rosen.”
“You see, brothas and sistas, this is the very kind of hypocrisy, the dishonest, duplicitous, double-dealing that the white man, like Jonathan over here, have used to disenfranchise our people for over 400 years.
“Whose people?” asked Mike.
“The downtrodden of all races,” Ben explained. “Jews and Blacks have more in common than most people realize.”
“Secondly,” John furthered, “I think this whole Black preacher shtick you’re doing is coming off a bit racist.”
“Come on! Really? No it’s not.”
“A little bit,” Mike mouthed, holding up a slightly spaced index finger and thumb.
“You did say colored,” Phil added.
“I was doing Johnny Cochran meets MLK. Colored was the preferred term back in the day.”
“And finally,” John concluded, “Children do not have the right to vote, and, in this case, neither does Sideshow Bob.”
“How come?” Ben asked, although he didn’t really want Craigolas to be a part of the project either.
“Because,” John said, “the vote is about the name of a business proposition that I came up with, and Craigolas has no part in it”
“Hold on,” Ben said, “I thought that we agreed to share the idea.”
“We did,” Mike clarified, “but not with Bob. And since John created the product idea, and he and I have been the only ones with innovative suggestions, I think that it’s only fair that we have final say.”
“Sounds fair to me,” John said.
“Yeah, fair is fair, dude,” Phil agreed.
“Oh, so now it’s ‘Everyone Pick On the Jew Time,’ huh?”
“Mike makes a good point,” Craigolas chimed in.
“Oh, fuck you very much, Bob,” Ben said. Craigolas shrugged and drew a card from the table, raised his beer in salutation again, and suddenly, in a seemingly cautionary gesture, pointed toward the ceiling. The other people at the table hastily followed suit. Marc Bosco, one of the two guys who lived in the apartment above Mike and John, was the last to do so, and drank.
“Benjamin,” John instructed, “Take a good look at the wall behind me.”
On the wall above the bed-couch hung a bulletin board with mock mug-shots and surveillance-style pictures of Phil, Mike, and Ben. Next to each set of photos was a Post-It Note with each of their names, date of births, aliases, and a list of skills (e.g. Ben Rosen, DOB: 11/28/86. AKA Ben Rosenhammer, Benny-boy Big Nose, Benjamin Franklin, and Sergei Petrov. Serves as the muscle; prone to uncontrollable fits of rage.). The surrounding areas were adorned by dubious newspaper clippings about local murders and robberies, along with ads torn from the Yellow Pages. Certain words or phrases were circled or highlighted in a manner that might seem random to the untrained eye. Red yarn was fastened to the tacks, forming a tangled web between the pictures and various clippings. Off to the side was a full-page newspaper ad for Deutsche Bank with a large shot of their twin towered headquarters in Frankfurt. An arrow pointed to an X over a window on the top floor of the building on the left. “Weak point” was scrawled at the dull end of the arrow and underlined erratically. At the top of all of this was an index card bearing a large black question mark, underneath which was a piece of paper with “EL PERRAZO” written on it. A Post-It reading “Who is he??” with frantic arrows clung to the questioning index card.
“And?” Ben asked.
“¿Y quién es ‘El Perrazo’?” John questioned.
“No one knows who the big dog is,” Ben laughed.
“Of course,” John said. “I think that’s pretty damn obvious from the huge question mark. Nonetheless, I think that you’ll also notice that my picture is conspicuously missing from the hierarchy. Could it possibly be because I am, in fact, the one known only as, “El Perrazo: he who dwells in darkness’? Maybe.”
“I always thought,” said Mike, “that you weren’t pictured because you were simply too low on the ladder to really matter that much.”
“It’s possible,” John admitted, “but highly unlikely.”
“Unlikely indeed,” Phil nodded.
“So what?” Ben wondered. “How is any of this relevant anyways? It’s a ridiculous make-believe criminal hierarchy about our Deutsche Bank hiest joke that you made last year when you came back from winter break early and had nothing else better to do.”
Mike gasped femininely and said, “How -- daaaaare you?” with a hand clutched to his chest.
“Oh no he di’n’t,” Phil fingersnapped.
“Oh yes he did,” John said, “and do you know what, Bennith?”
“You’re right. It’s a stupid make-believe thing about a robbery that will never take place, which is exactly why it’s relevant. I was el jefe on that scheme because I started the joke after Phil’s interview with them. Then, I took the innitiative to make that beautiful installation piece on the wall. Similarly, I came up with the idea for this would-be business idea, which I don’t even like all that much, but still, due to my creator’s rights, I think I’ve earned the leadership role on this one too. Mike thought of the collectable shot glasses and solved the floatation dilemma, so he’s right up there with me. What have you come up with so far?”
“I came up with the name ‘BOMB IN A CAN!’ man.”
“Which was,” Mike reminded Ben, “recently denied working title status.”
“Can’t we just use it for now?” implored Ben.
“Sorry, dude. It’s right here in the minutes,” Phil confirmed. “21:37 - Motion for ‘BOMB IN A CAN!’ as working title. 21:38 - Craigolas’ sexuality called into question. 21:39 - Motion denied; absurdist drama ensues.”
“You aren’t taking fucking minutes. Let me see that,” Ben snatched the yellow legal pad out of Phil’s hands. “You actually wrote that down?” He threw the pad back, “Fine. So, what do we have so far, Mr. Secretary?”
Phil looked down at the the yellow pad on which he had been jotting notes, doodling rough product scetches, and evidently recording the minutes.
“Alright,” he said, “so they’re going to be bomb-based alcoholic beverages that come in short, clear, tennis ball-like sleeves. They will come in Irish Car Bomb, Jägerbomb, Sake Bomb, and ‘City Wide Special’ varieties. The shot glass is attached to the metallic lid of the can with a light, non-toxic, yet-to-be-determined adhesive to keep the main liquid and the liquor separated until the top is torn off -- at which point a string connected to the underside of the shot glass and the bottom of the sleeve with a stronger adhesive will cause the shot glass to drop into the Guiness, Red Bull, or whathaveyou. The shot glasses, in order to sink, must be glass, and therefore will be collectable. Company slogans, such as ‘Get Bombed!’ ‘I’m blowing up!’ et cetera, will be printed on the shot glasses along with the company logo.”
“Can somebody move that if we keep talking about this nonsense, I packs another bowl?” John asked.
“I motion that you roll a blunt instead,” Mike said.
“I second that,” said Ben.
“All in favor?” asked Phil.
“Aye,” they all said in unison.
“It’s unanimous, then,” Phil said, and began recording this in the minutes.
“Good,” John said, grabbing a blunt from the box under the coffee table, “because this is the stupidest fucking idea I have ever heard of.”
“But it was your idea, man,” Ben said.
“It’s an awesome idea, dude.” Phil assured.
“Ben, if you’re done with the guitar can you flip the record?” John asked.
“Sure, I’m a-hankerin’ for some ‘Joey.’”
“Can’t we throw on something else?” asked Phil. “We already heard ‘Hurricane.’”
“Wow,” Ben said, halting for a moment to shake his head before proceeding towards the record player. “I’m gonna pretend I didn’t hear that.”
“What? Who cares about the rest of the album?”
“Open your eyes, dummy,” laughed Mike.
“Seriously, Phildo,” John said.
“Come on. Let’s put on some Rick James.”
“No,” Mike said.
John clarified, “It’s not the time for that, man.”
“Why not? Come on. This album sucks,” Phil said.
Ben, who had just dropped the needle on side two of the album, couldn’t take it anymore. “Lil’ Bro, you better watch your fucking mouth. ‘Joey’ is the epitome of Dylan’s ridiculousness; it’s awesome, it’s epic, and it’s great storytelling. And ‘Sara,’ ‘Sara’ is quite possible the only song where Dylan drops his minstel persona and offers a glimpse of his private life. I’m not going to say anything about ‘Romance in Durango’ or ‘Black Diamond Bay,’ which is leaving out a lot, and why the fuck am I explaining this to you?! You are way out of your element, Phildo. Just listen to the album .”
“Alright, alright,” Phil laughed uneasily. “Chill out, man.”
“Fuck you -- I’m not gonna chill out. You fucking chill on talking about shit on Dylan. And you two fuckers,” he wheeled on Mike and John, who were laughing, “have been pushing my buttons all night long. Can we please just get back to ‘BOMB IN A CAN!’?”
“Fine,” John said. “Here’s why it sucks -- it’s a logistical nightmare. We are going to have to get Jäger, Guinness, Red Bull, Jamo, Baileys, and all of these other competing companies to be a part of the product, or else make our own knock-off brands. Also, because the drinks contain a higher alcohol percentage, they could probably only be sold in liquor stores in most states, and who exactly is going to be our target market?”
“People like us,” Phil said.
“Yeah,” Ben agreed, “18 to 25 year-old males, college students, people who like to tailgate, go to concerts and parties, and would like the option of bomb-based beverages at these venues, but are too lazy or unable to bring the necessary supplies with them.”
“They’re for drunks on-the-go,” joked Mike.
“That’s good, write that down on the slogan list. Something like, ‘For the drunk on-the-go,’” Ben said and Phil started scribbling.
“John-boy’s right, you clowns,” Mike said. “The whole marketing strategy for these things revolves around a drink irresponsibly campaign. There’s a reason why every alcohol company says things like, ‘Drink responsibly’ or ‘Don’t drink and drive’ at the end of their commercials -- the FDA makes ‘em. I’m not saying it’s right, but we’re living in a censored world, and those bastards in Washington and the bitches at M.A.D.D. would get these things banned not long after they hit the shelf.”
“No, no. This is good,” Ben said. “The alcohol companies all say the prescribed bullshit, but their ads all tell you how cool, sophisticated, and irresistible to women drinking their products makes you. We can work around all of these problems.”
“True,” John said, “we could. But we won’t. You should realize by now that even if this was the best, most fool-proof idea in the history of the world, we would never actually follow through on it. We’re idea men, Ben, not the kind of people who put plans into motion.”
“Speak for yourself, John,” Mike said.
“Yeah,” Phil agreed, “I’m a do-er; a man of action.”
“You’re a robot, Phildo.”
“Come on, guys!” Ben roused, “We can make this happen! We just gotta think outside of the box a little.”
“Thinking outside of the box is just another box, man,” John riffed in a half-satirical impression of a hippy/conspiracy theorist. He stood up, sparked the blunt, and puff, puff, passed it to Mike. “That’s all it is. But nobody ever asks what’s outside of this -- alleged -- box, do they? I’ll tell you what’s outside of it, man. There’s just a bigger box. They want you to think that you’re beyond it, so you don’t notice that you’re still wrapped up in their little world. And do you know where these boxes are? Do you?!”
“Elucidate us,” Mike said, trying to hold in his hit while passing the blunt to Ben.
“They’re in our heads man. They’ve fitted us all with these series of boxes that just get bigger and bigger, so they’re harder to see the further OUT you get. There’s seven of ‘em (at least that we know about so far). Every one of us is rigged up like one of them, ahhh… those whatchyamacallems? Those… those Russian dolls.”
“Babushkas,” Mike helped out.
“That’s the ticket,” John said.
The next hour carried on this way; the group in the dining room playing Kings while our principal cast of characters sat in the living room playing records, smoking and drinking and a-talkin’ that stony talk of half-baked, half-serious notions, theories, and debates.
A week before this, all of them except for Ben had graduated from college. Besides Marc and his roommate, who were going to be seniors in the fall, the people playing Kings would soon be heading off to New York to start their new jobs. Mike, John, Ben, and Phil, however, would be staying in South Bethlehem. Phil had turned down several job offers, Mike had deferred his acceptance to Georgetown Law for a year, and John had never really looked for any form of employment. In the fall, Ben, who would skip classes for week-long blocks of time inexplicably, would be going to school for his first year as a super senior. There was a long-standing pool for how long it would be before he actually graduated. He unwisely said that he would finish after the fifth year, Craigolas -- who happened to be there that day -- took six, Phil put him on the “Tommy Boy” plan of seven years, John had him on the “Van Wilder” tract at eight, and Mike had put his money on never. Everyone except Ben figured that Mike had the best chances, since Ben’s parents would surely refuse to pay after the fifth year.
A little before 11:00, Craigolas and that lot headed off to McGrady’s down on 3rd, and the boys headed downstairs to The Funhouse to shoot some pool, listen to the live music, and make pathetic pick-up attempts at Kimmy and Jenn, the two barmaids, while drinking pitchers of Yuengling. After last call at 2:00, they came back up to the apartment and continued the drinking, smoking of countless bowls and cigarettes, hassling of each other, and tossed on some more records. At the first signs of daylight, Phil and Ben straggled home and Mike and John went to their respective bedrooms to pass out.
And this was it. Hanging out drinking, smoking, and doing whatever other drugs they came across, getting laid whenever the chance presented itself; this comprised the bulk of their intentions for the next year. The plan was nothing more than to have a good time while working as little as possible. But plans are often little more than temptations of fate, and a week later another idea struck John.