The Literal Friend Zone

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Story by Michael Allen Hempen


Rod Serling

Rod Serling

Ghost of Rod Serling: Picture of a man, looking at a picture. Photograph of another time; an assemblage of friends long since scattered to the winds. A once brilliant grouping of adolescent stars in a firmament no longer a part of the sky; Eclipsed by the movement of earth and time. A cluster of friends whose world has moved on, whose dreams are of the past. As the speeding years of time slow to a metronomic shuffle in the present, these friends must come together again as one of their own is struck down by hit and run years, lying on the unhappy pavement of hope and trying desperately to get the license plate number of fleeting times gone by. Unlike your usual excursion into the depths of false feminine wiles, there will be no phallic metaphors and vaginal hyperbole as you journey with these men deep into the familiar regions of…The LITERAL Friend Zone!

With Friends like These…

Sometimes in life we ALL question the choices we’ve made regarding our friends.

I’m self aware enough, at this point, to know my own foibles and one of them is my ability…no DESIRE, to hang out with undesirables or IN undesirable places; mostly so I can make fun of them. My best friend Mike is 26 and always wants to go to the hippest bars where the drinks are overpriced and the women are over narcissistic. And I get that, I do. Sometimes you want the glamour. But sometimes I, at 39 want to go to the shitholes, the nasty bars where the women are as fat as the beer is watered down. When I go to the trendy upscale bars, the only story I have to tell the next day is the sad one, descriptive of how I didn’t get laid. When I go to the dingy shit bars, where club kids go to die, I have stories to tell for days, descriptive of the worst people life has to offer. I’m the same way with friends, although on more of an unconscious level.

Now, this is not to say I have a desire to hang out with shitty people. I love all of my friends even Scott and Pete who you will become intimately familiar with in a few moments. However, they fall on the side of comedic, sometimes tragic relief. I’m sure at this point in life, you’ve heard of Schadenfreude, which is a German word of no literal English translation, meaning pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. Sometimes life is shitty and you need people around you to remind you that it’s not THAT shitty. I don’t WISH shitty things on anybody, but if it happens in the natural course of their lives, well…let’s call them my friends and listen in. Lord knows I’m on the low end of Schadenfreude for other people who, no doubt smile a little at MY misfortunes. We all commit Schadenfreude so quit being a judgmental prick. I’m going to stop saying ‘Schadenfreude’ now. 

The thing you realize in life is that, given a long enough timeline, problems will come to us all and even though the problems of some friends may be perpetual, they are no less tragic when fallen on those whom observe crisis less frequently. The story that I’d like to tell you revolves around just such an individual. A friend of mine who is so undeserving of the shit life rolls so many of us around in that it’s almost sickening. However the people who would help me to see our friend through his troubled time…not so undeserving of bad fortunes because, as they so often seem to overlook, they create their own problems. So to tell my tale of this past weekend, I first need to tell you about the players and in doing so introduce you to some interesting characters that life has put before me; ladies and gentlemen…my friends:


Steve (left) and I 1987

Steve (left) and I

Growing up, my mother was never quite enamored of me. What are you gonna do? So at age 10 she pawned me off to a military school in Glenwood IL. 3 years later, the only friend I had in that school introduced me to Steve on Halloween of 1986. Steve did not go to military school with us and in fact, lived near my military school friend Aaron and his family’s home in Chicago Ridge. In military school, you went home on the weekends, but since my mother was drunk most of the time and never picked me up, Aaron’s mom would take me home with them. Not long after Steve and I met, I was kicked out of Glenwood Military School for Boys for something stupid, 3 months before 8th grade graduation. They let me graduate, but I wasn’t allowed to attend the ceremony.

Because I had 5 months until I was to start High School, I had plenty of time to get to know Steve. Steve introduced me to a ton of things that I didn’t have access to in Military School. He introduced me to music like The Police and Billy Joel, and showed me how to get around town on our bikes. He showed me where we could rent video games, and even got me a membership card at the mom and pop video store by his house. As my budding interest in Television sprouted, Steve was there with me for some landmark TV events as well. I can remember us both laughing our asses off together on the Sunday night that The Simpsons and Married with Children premiered.

The Steve Pelt Rug

The Steve Pelt Rug

Steve was a tall awkward looking boy, and even in our youth, he was the hairiest fucker I’d ever seen. Whenever we played baseball with his friends, he would take his shirt off to the astonishment of the crowd. Later in life, he earned the nickname: ‘The Steve Pelt Rug’ because you just wanted to lay him down in front of a fireplace. His attention to detail and adherence to schedules always bordered on O.C.D. He was and still is the most responsible man I’ve ever known. Even as children I would have to give Steve a 2 day notice before I came to his house because he was always working on something: A bird house, a picnic bench, or a haunted house for his garage.

Steve had the most impeccable hand writing I’d ever seen and I often asked him to make me mix tapes JUST for the hand written play list that would accompany them. His speech pattern was slow and deep, as if he were always thinking about what he was going to say before he said it. Another nickname we were fond of calling Steve was ‘Snuffalufagus’  because he sounded like that character from Sesame Street: “Weeelllll, y’knoooooooooow bird…”

Unfortunately for Steve, he was never what you would call a ladies’ man. As is often the case, because Steve was smart and responsible, instead of dumb and tough…women would often over look him. In our twenties I always hoped that Steve would hook up with some girl at one of the bars we frequented, and although it never happened quite the way I expected, he DID eventually meet his wife at a bar because of me. She was with a girl that I’d worked with several years before, and since we no longer worked together, I wanted to bang her. It’s weird, narcissistic but weird to think that if Steve and I had never met on that Halloween in 1986, HE would have never met his wife and his 2 beautiful daughters would have never been born. Sure it might have still happened, but it would have happened differently. THESE particular two children exist because I wanted to get laid at a bar (by a woman who never slept with me by the way). Say what you will but the drunken horny passes of men aren’t always a bad thing ladies (drunken wink). 

Steve’s family was very Irish catholic, and I as I was a practicing catholic at the time, I used to go to church with them on Sundays. Steve went to Grammar School at the local Church ‘Our Lady of the Ridge’, so most of the friends that he introduced me to were Irish Catholic as well. Although the beliefs of their youth stuck with many of them, you find yourself growing more and more distant from the church as you get older, because you realize that faith has hardly anything at all to do with the normal concerns of life.

Steve lived with his father, his two sisters, and…his mother, whom the family simply called “The Mother”. Steve’s mother?  Steve’s mother was a typical doting Irish mom. She liked me because I went to church with them, and she was very pleasant to me…at first. She even gave me my own Lipkie family title: ‘The boy who smiles a lot’

However, as I started to hang out with Steve’s family more and more, I became privy to the Lipkie family secret. It seemed that the mother had a chemical imbalance, not unlike Jeffery Dahmer, and she would have ‘good weeks’, and ‘bad weeks’. The first time I came across one of her ‘bad weeks’ was a revelation that, to this day, I still have nightmares about.

One weekend, while I was spending the night at Steve’s, we were up all night playing Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the Nintendo. On this particular night, at around 9PM, I had to use the bathroom. I asked Steve if it was OK, and he said that I didn’t need to ask. The bathroom was right across the hall from Steve’s room and as I walked into the hallway, I could see that the door was slightly ajar and the light was off, so I knew that it wasn’t occupied by one of Steve’s sisters as it often was. The toilet in the bathroom was right next to the door, and as I pushed the door open to go in, someone shrieked a defiant ‘WAAAAAAAA!” and slammed the door shut. Scared the SHIT out of me.

I went back into Steve’s room to tell him what happened and said “what the fuck was that?” in a frightened tone. Steve told me without looking up from his game in that Snufulufugus voice “Well, y’knooooow, that’s just the mother…she get’s like that sometimes, just ignore her and you’ll be fine” I didn’t know what to think, and Steve offered no other explanation, so I went out and used the bathroom by the kitchen.

A few hours passed and I asked Steve if he could get me a glass of ice water. Steve told me to go ahead and get it myself.  I told him that I wasn’t comfortable going into his freezer to get ice, and he assured me that I shouldn’t worry about it. Growing up in military school may have sucked, but it taught me some basic rules of etiquette, one of which was that you don’t go in other people’s refrigerators. But Steve was not only insistent, but I could just see he wasn’t going to get off his ass; old Nintendo games had that affect on you. I warily went out into the kitchen and passed by the mother watching TV in the living room. I said ‘hi’ to her, and she grumbled something under her breath. I thought nothing of it.

I went into the kitchen, grabbed a glass from the counter top, and opened the freezer to get ice. When I closed the freezer door, the mother’s face loomed out of the dark from where the freezer door had been. Her look of stark hatred filled my vision and she snatched the glass from my hand. She began yelling at me “WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE MISTER? GOING INTO OTHER PEOPLE’S FREEZERS? WAHHHHHHH!”

I cautiously stepped back and started to call out for Steve, who was maybe 12 feet away down the hallway. I tried to explain to her that Steve TOLD me to get the ice, but she wouldn’t listen. I was frightened out of my mind as she inched closer to me in the dark, moonlight streaking in through the large kitchen window behind me; I kept calling out for Steve, without YELLING for him as I didn’t want to invoke MORE hatred from The Mother.

As I backed up against the sink, the mother SLAMMED the glass she took from me down on the counter and Steve appeared behind her like an unemotional and deeply put upon savior. He calmly said “Well, y’knoooooow, just ignore her and come on”. I slinked around the mother and went back to the room with Steve.

“Ok, just what the hell is going on?” I asked him. He told me “Y’knooooow , The mother gets like that sometimes, we’re all used to it, just ignore her until she goes back to normal”. OK, what the fuck did I know? Even when she was in a GOOD mood after that night, the mother never liked me again. Instead of ‘The boy who smiles a lot”, I was called ‘The bold one’.

Believe it or not, this dynamic at Steve’s house, as frightening as it could be, was still better than dealing with my own mother who either came home drunk most nights, or not at all. I was always tired and wore out from fighting with her and I had scars on my hands from punching walls in her condo through sheer frustration. I couldn’t invite my friends over there because when I did that once, she drunkenly beat the shit out of me in front of them, causing me a deep shame that feel even now as I write this. Because of these reasons, I either spent the night at Aaron’s house or Steve’s house on the weekends. I would spend the night at Steve’s sometimes when I got older too, but when you’re 14, you don’t feel like you’re imposing. Spending the night is just something kids do.

Whenever I slept over at Steve’s, I would sleep on the floor next to his bed. I’d bring a pillow from home, and Steve would give me a blanket. In youth, we have no sense of embarrassment about our bodies, so I often slept in my underwear.

However, one night a long time ago (As I tell you this story, Imagine we’re around a campfire. I’m telling it in an ominous voice and there’s a flashlight under my chin…) as I slept the dreamy deep sleep of a 14 year old boy drifting through the clouds with one of the chicks from “Saved by the Bell”, a sound disturbed my dream. There was a banging off in the distance at first, and as I slowly awoke it got closer and closer until my eyes shot open with wide surprise. I looked up in the dark and saw the bedroom door to Steve’s room was shaking on its hinges. Someone was banging on it with the fury of a SWAT team about to take down a drug house. I quickly looked over at Steve as I groggily tried to gain my senses, who with his back turned to me, didn’t seem to notice anything was amiss. The digital clock next to his bed read 2:45AM. Suddenly, Steve’s bedroom door was kicked in with a loud CRASH! The lights came on and as my vision cleared, I could see Steve’s mother standing in the doorway staring at me with cold dead eyes like a shark. I furiously whispered for Steve, but still facing the wall he moved not at all.

The mother stalked into the room like a hungry tiger, never taking her eyes off of me. They were the judgmental eyes of a deeply religious church zealot and they frightened me beyond belief. I lay there, trying to hide under the blanket; clutching the edge of it up to my eyeballs, which were opened so wide they nearly fell out of their sockets. The Mother RIPPED the blanket off of me. “STEVE, STEVE”, I yelled in a frightened whisper. The mother just stood over me staring at my underwear clad body. I felt trapped and exposed. “STEEEEVE”.

Finally without moving or turning over, I heard Steve’s voice. “Well, y’knooooow, she does this sometimes, just ignore her and she’ll go away”. ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? This was the line. I could handle the ‘sitting in the dark in the bathroom’, I could handle her ‘flying off the cuff’ because I got ice, but now she was looming over my exposed body and just staring at me. I didn’t know what frightened me more, the mother, or Steve’s indifference towards this situation. After 5 minutes of staring at me, the mother gave a defiant ‘WAAAAAA!’ and slunk out of Steve’s room. It was three o’clock in the morning and I just lied there staring at the ceiling in fright until the sun came up.

Over the next several years I would have creepier and creepier run ins with the mother, but it always turned out that Steve was right. If you just ignored her, you were fine. She was never violent, so even though you’d get a scare from time to time, you’d be ok. My fear, however grew as we got older. What if it DID turn violent one day? But it never did and at 71 years old, Steve’s mother rarely has an episode these days…although she still doesn’t like me and STILL calls me ‘The Bold One’. Steve’s family always tried to get The Mother psychiatric help over the years and when she refused time after time; Steve even took psychology classes at the local community college. That’s one of the things I’ve always respected and loved about Steve; his commitment to his family.

As time passed, I grew to love the mother more and more. I watched as her children grew into fine, responsible, decent adults and leave her house one by one. It always made me feel bad for her because she and the father had done such a good job raising them. The children have always taken care of the parents and often return home for dinners and birthday parties. Steve’s family is a great family, and although I get a tad jealous from time to time, it warms my heart that they STILL include me in their events and I love them all from the core of the family, to the extended family of in-laws and cousins.

I’ve always felt that love returned from Steve, not only to me, but to the core group of friends I’m going to be telling you about in this story. Even with the time restrictions that 2 children and a wife can place on the demands of his life, Steve manages to still be there for me, and more importantly for our friend Grey Jim, whom we went to see this weekend. As with any of us, there is weirdness in Steve’s family, but as a whole he is a normal down to earth and responsible individual. However, the subject of our next study into my group of friends is as diametrically opposed to Steve as one could possibly be.

The Mother, Steve, The Father, and Steve's sisters

The Mother, Steve, The Father, and Steve’s sisters


Brian at Senior Prom1991

Brian at Senior Prom

The first friend I made at Richards High School was Brian. Brian was that good looking kid with long hair who played lead guitar in a band. He looked like Bon Jovi and the high school chicks loved him. In an era of glam rock and guitar solos, he was on the top of the Billboard most popular kid’s chart. This was way before homos like Justin Beiber and Robert Pattison. Brian was a true man in a young man’s body. It took actual talent and charisma back then to be popular, actual good looks and a natural way with women…not one created by a P.R. firm.

I first met Brian in the school cafeteria. It was my first or second day and I was wondering from class to class in a daze of confusion and fear. I watched all of my fellow students laughing about inside jokes and discussing plans with each other for the weekend because they had all gone to junior high together. I was a complete outsider and it showed. That Doors song People are Strange kept playing over in my head, which I tried to keep facing the ground for fear of making eye contact.I’d been given so many beatings in military school that my natural assumption was to think THESE new kids would just beat the shit out of me if I made any waves, so my intention was to get through 4 years of high school with my head down. Even now my intention is always to stay off the radar. At work I try to never be the best OR the worst…if you stay right in the middle, nobody fucks with you.

Brian was sitting by himself at a table waiting for his friends to arrive, when I asked him if I could sit with him because all the other tables in the cafeteria were full. Classic story, right? All he had to do was say ‘fuck off’ and my high school days may have gone much differently. But Brian was one of those rare good looking guys who doesn’t ACT like he’s a good looking guy, and he invited me to join him. We struck up a conversation and became fast friends. It turned out that Brian only lived 2 buildings away from my mother’s condo with his mom, her husband, and his brother Scott



Scott was 8 years older than us. Well Into his twenties, and had no problem procuring beer and cigarettes for his brother and friends. And although his need for attention, even by a group of kids bordered on inappropriate, we never considered Scott an outsider. After Brian and I had a falling out a few years later, Scott stuck around and we adopted him as our own.  We didn’t have to try hard to get Scott to do anything we asked him to do. Even in the 80’s Scott seemed to be a throw off to a far away age. He was a 70’s guy, and he wasn’t a slow adult, but he was definitely…different.

Because he lived so close, I started spending a lot of my time at Brain’s place, and after I introduced Steve to him, the three of us became inseparable. One afternoon after school, the three of us went back to Brain’s condo where Steve and I met Scott for the first time. He was sitting in his underwear (tighty whities), cross legged directly in front of the TV, about 4 INCHES in front of the TV, playing Tetris on the Nintendo. He was a thick bodied 22 year old with wild stringy, sweat filled hair and a 70’s porn mustache dripping over his upper lip. Scott wasn’t fat, but he had one of those box bodies that was neither muscular nor chubby, but not skinny either. As we walked past him in the living room, Brian introduced us and without acknowledging Steve or I, Scott said hi in a low grumble and continued with his game. I noticed something ‘off’ about Scott, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Hell, I STILL can’t quite put my finger on it. The three of us put down our book bag’s and sat on the couch to bullshit and see if Scott would let us take turns on Tetris. As we watched him play, Scott became increasingly frustrated. I couldn’t quite understand it; fuck…it was only a video game. But as he carried on, you would have thought he was being dicked over in a huge Governmental conspiracy. Every time his game ended, and it didn’t take long for his game to end, he would fly into a rage, screaming at the TV that “IT WASN’T FAIR!”, “THE CONTROLLER IS BROKE!”, or ‘THEY MAKE IT SO YOU CAN’T WIN!”

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t scared…but I was very uncomfortable. Brian, sensing my unease, leaned over and whispered ‘Scott can be a bit dramatic’. Steve, as always, showed no emotion regarding the situation, I would assume because he was used to this type of irrational behavior from The Mother. Scott, lost in another game, heard Brian’s comment and in a low sorrowful monotone voice, that if you saw in a movie you might cry, VERY unlike his shouting just a moment ago, said “fuck you, it’s not me, it’s the controller.”

I’m sure that if you play video games, you KNOW that there are people out there who are just bad at it. I mean they try to play everything on ‘easy’ but they still die off in the game rather quickly. That was Scott, he could stare at that video game screen for HOURS on end, almost becoming a part of that world, but the more he played, the more he died, and the angrier he became.

Scott’s rage only grew as Brian, Steve, and I took turns on Tetris and got extremely far. His anger wasn’t directed at US at all, but he would just stare at the screen as we played and mutter under his breath that the game was against him, that it was ‘fixed’ so HE couldn’t win. He couldn’t use the ‘the controller is broke’ excuse anymore because we were doing fine, so in his mind, he formed a scenario where the game itself had it in for him.

When it was Scott’s turn again, Brian and I watched in amazement as Scott failed to stack the slowly dropping boxes. The pile grew quickly, and as each box fell from the top of the screen and landed on top of another, Scott’s fury mounted. The three of us were actually rooting for him because we felt bad. We were making mock Nintendo controller moves as if we could help him through sheer will power, but the boxes just continued to stack. As each one fell, unfitted on top of the next, Scott would angrily mumble “I DID it that way!” or “this fucking controller” or “fuckin’ fuckity fuck fuck!” This continued for about 30 seconds until the words ‘game over’ appeared on the screen. There was a heartbeat of silence and Brian, Steve, and I looked at each other with what must have been anticipation from the palpable heat steaming out of Scott’s angry and sweaty hair. Suddenly, Scott SCREAMED at the TV “FUCKING FUCK GAME!” He angrily grabbed the Nintendo, stood up and pulled it furiously from the set, cords and all. The TV fell over on its side and Scott stomped over to the third story balcony, walked RIGHT through the screen like a monster and chucked the Nintendo into the street below while screaming “FUCK FUCK FUCK!”, still only in his tighty whiteys. That’s white trash people and if there were an award ceremony for it, Scott would have won every award possible that day. 

I was astonished…I just witnessed a full grown man ‘hulk out’…over a video game. When he came back in and sat down on the couch, he was almost immediately calm again. As if nothing had just happened, although sweat was pouring down his body and hair.

Since I’ve known him, Scott has mostly directed his anger towards inanimate objects and conspiracies that he doesn’t quite have the mental capacity to think all the way through. When he’s yelling TO you, not AT you, about traffic, or cops, or video games, it always STARTS off calm and collected. Then, as he continues, he gets increasingly louder and angrier. He pisses himself off from 0-120 in about 30 seconds.

Once we learned to put up with Scott’s outbursts, he was a great guy to hang around with. Not just because he bought us booze or cigarettes and drove us around, but because he was just a decent guy. Flawed, but decent; like any of us. Scott would give you the shirt off of his back to help you out, and he was always there when you needed a favor. So it was no wonder that as WE got older, Scott came along for the ride with us. We liked having this older guy around, even if he seemed a bit unstable.

In my late teens I had to deal with a lot of harsh realities; not least of which was being homeless. My mother had a penchant for locking me out of her condo because she didn’t want me around and Scott was always there to either let me sleep in his car or he’d pay for a room at the shitty hotel in our neighborhood. At the time, because he lived with his mother; Scott couldn’t very well bring me into his home. However, he bought me food and cigarettes, and drove me to jobs so I could get on my feet. He was like an older brother to me and I loved him like family…but eventually he took things too far.

In the early 90’s, Scott started dating…or fucking, I guess, a woman who lived in the building right behind his mother’s condo. Diane was an 85 pound crack head (literally) who was cheating on her truck driving husband to be with Scott. Scott’s not the world’s handsomest man so I assume that ANY woman who showed him the slightest affection would have garnered his immediate attentions, and without many options, Diane was his huckleberry. With her husband gone most of the week working, Diane had plenty of time to spend with Scott and since he lived in the building next door, it worked out great for him.

I got to know Diane and her kids much better after I stopped living with Nancy and her family, which I’ll talk about in a few moments. The thing about crack heads is that they’re not all THAT bad. By that I mean they do have some redeemable qualities. As we all know, life isn’t black and white like in the movies and although Diane was nasty, although she had no teeth, although she had 4 fucking kids and was cheating on her husband with Scott of all people…she let me crash on the couch when it was cold. She even, after I swore to keep her secret, introduced me to her husband who got me a job and continued to let me crash on the couch.

Staying at Diane’s wasn’t always easy because of those fucking kids, so I actually elected to sleep in my car most nights.  Diane had four of the worst behaved little bastards this side of Bebe’s kids. A 13 year old wigger with a lazy eye, who as an adult lived with Scott recently. A 10 year old daughter who is rumored to have slept with Scott when she was 16 and who, with her 4 year old daughter, NOW lives with Scott, an 8 year old who would grow up to be quite the heroin addict, and a 5 year old who, as the story goes, was caught getting a blow job from another 5 year old in a closet at school. This last one was the most frustrating because he would walk around in his diapers saying “FUT YOU Mike” to me as Scott and Diane would laugh hysterically and feed into his delinquency. I have to say, that NOTHING has ever made me want to slam a kids head in a car door more than hearing him say ‘FUT YOU’ to me.

Eventually, at the young age of 29, Scott was ready to move out of his mother’s place (I shouldn’t be sarcastic; if my mother were alive I’d STILL be living with her, lol). He asked me if I’d like to get an apartment with him and without having much choice, I agreed. However, I made Scott promise me that Diane and her little beasts would NEVER move in. After 2 weeks all fucking five of them moved in.

I had a constant throbbing headache from dealing with them. They wailed, they screamed, they blasted music, they ditched school, they threw things and tore up the rug, they burned the walls and cabinets with aerosol cans and lighters, and they did it ALL while Diane sat toothless and doped up at the kitchen table not saying a thing. They even went into my bedroom when I wasn’t home and stole anything that wasn’t nailed down, forcing me to put a deadbolt on my bedroom door.

Not long after they moved in, Diane’s brood broke the cable box in the living room. While I was at work, Scott kicked down my bedroom door and took the cable box from my room. When I came home, I found my door kicked in, the cable box gone along with a most of my video games and personal items. Scott was sitting in his tighty whities, cross legged directly in front of the TV, much like he was when I first met him 7 years before, and I asked him why he took my cable box. The kids were running about the apartment, writing on the walls as Diane sat nodding in and out of consciousness at the kitchen table. Scott said without looking up from an episode of M.A.S.H. “Kids broke the box, needed yours.”

“Ok, that’s fine, but I’m not paying for cable anymore.” We argued the point for a few minutes as Scott’s voice grew increasingly agitated. “Scott, I don’t leave my bedroom because of THIS. I’m not gonna…” As the commercial break started on the TV, Scott sprang up in nothing but his underwear and proceeded to beat the living shit out me. He punched me in the face and said “YER PAYIN” and I fell to the floor. All the kids gathered around us and cheered Scott on screaming “FUCK YOU MIKE, YEAH GITTIM SCOTT!” Scott straddled me on the living room floor and continued to rein blows down on my head and stomach. The kids went into the my bedroom and started ripping up my stuff and throwing it at me as I lay broken and bloodied on the floor while Scott continued to maul me like an angry mountain gorilla. I crawled to the front door as he kicked me in the ribs, and rolled out of the apartment into the hallway.

Frightened and crying, I walked a bloody mess to my mother’s condo 5 miles away. As many times as I was beaten up in military school, this was the most humiliating beating I’d ever received because of those fucking kids cheering Scott on. I actually thought he was going to kill me. This was right after I’d met my ex-girlfriend Jackie and my mother agreed to let us both move in with her. Scott tried contacting me to apologize, saying things like “C’mon man, I beat everyone up eventually” and “You know how I am”, but I wasn’t having it. Once was enough for me. So I hadn’t talked to Scott for the last 18 years.

Well, it turns out Scott hasn’t changed at all. I figured that 18 years is a long time to hold a grudge (mature, right here) so I invited Scott to my Christmas party last year. He came with Pete, who as it turns out lives with Scott now. Pete I’ve seen in recent years, which I’ll tell you about soon, but Scott? Scott’s still the kind of greasy haired eternal laborer who speaks in juxtaposed sentences in which he will TELL you his own shortcomings while justifying them with what he sees as a racist validation. I don’t think he’s the only white guy with this illiterate and ignorant prose, but he may be the only one to survive past the 1950’s. You can always tell when it’s coming because he performs a ritual every time; RIGHT before Scott is going to spit out his racist diatribe, he looks first to the left, then to the right, then to the left again, as if he’s making sure the ethnicity he’s about to impugn isn’t sneaking about his person (and even if they are, he still has his say). Then he puts his left hand to the right side of his mouth like a school boy about to tell a secret in the 30’s…and shouts his bigoted remark with the same ferocity as when his sentence started.

Scott doesn’t SAY anything; he still YELLS everything no matter how banal a statement, as if the only way to get his point across is to shout it to the heavens. Every tirade starts with the same question: “YOU DON’T KNOW? YOU DON’T KNOW?” is littered with the word fuck as if it’s the only plant that will grow in the desert wasteland that is his mind, and ends with an ethnic condescension. Scott spits out his preprogrammed story, that he’s shouted a thousand times before, and you better hope that everyone he knows is in the room when he bellows it out because he’s going to repeat it to everyone whether you’ve heard it already or not.

There’re only TWO kinds of story Scott knows how to tell, a serious story which ONLY involves driving or the cops screwing him over because of driving, and something with what Scott understands to have a humorous ending.  In his serious stories, you can feel Scott’s anger building slowly as it cussingly moves forward. It always starts at yelling, but as it continues the yelling becomes more adamant, his arms begin to flail wildly, sweat begins to pour down his body and matte his hair, the spit flies from his lips covering whatever has the misfortune to be in its way (you), and as the end of the story draws nigh, Scott gets closer and closer to you until you feel as if an assault is coming. He’s like a gorilla that’s just been woken from a nap and groggily stumbles to his feet, then within five minutes he’s ripping your arms off and beating you to death with them, even though you weren’t the one who woke him. As I’ve been on the receiving end of this, I can tell you that it’s a feeling you need to be conscious and caution of when dealing with Scott.

In his humorous stories, Scott will begin in his normal roar, ironically howling out his observations of the deprivation in other people’s character. Much like his other stories, his volume raises exponentially until he reaches the unfunniest punch line you’ve ever heard. Now it’s interesting to note here that when he reaches this point, Scott stomps his foot down and triumphantly walks in a tight circle while laughing at his own brilliance. His shoulder length greasy hair flails about as if trying to escape its head prison. Meanwhile, YOU’RE standing there in stark disbelief, partly because he looks like a Russian dancing circus bear who’s just been given a treat, and partly because that’s the THIRD time you’ve heard that SAME punch line in the past hour and Scott doesn’t seem to remember that he’s told it already. It’s maybe the most surreal thing you’ll ever see. 

As I’ve indicated before these stories are recycled over and over again. As new stories form in his life, which isn’t often now, the old one’s get pushed out; but from what I could tell, right now Scott is on a 5 story cycle.

Scott is an interesting if deeply flawed individual. He’s had many jobs of the years, most of which he’s been fired from for hitting someone or not showing up. As I said, he has an apartment now in which he lives with Pete and one of Diane’s kids, but just last year he was living with his mother at the age of 47. Interesting side note, Brian lives with his mother now at 39. I tell you this to illustrate that these are not the most responsible people in the world. If Scott is the direct opposite of Steve, he’s nearly on another planet from Grey Jim. However, as I said, we all have our flaws and as deeply unfettered from reality as Scott’s psyche may be…he still cares for his friends enough to have accompanied us to visit Grey Jim this past weekend.

Grey Jim

Me (left) and Grey Jim (duh), 1988

Me (left) and Grey Jim (duh), 1988

Grey Jim is one of my oldest and dearest friends and within my group of friends he stands in a tie with Steve for the number one spot in my heart.

One winter morning in 1987, as I walked through a hallway at Richards High School, I noticed a couple of the thick necked football jocks giving someone shit. I was a freshman and I had seen the kid that was getting the business end of a bullying in a few of my classes. At 14 he had the grey hair of an old man and wore a green army coat that was way too big for him. Hell, in the grand scheme of high school douchebaggery, he probably deserved to be picked on for being different. But being picked on myself during the whole of my stay in military school, I felt obligated to step in.

As I approached the situation I could hear the villainous derogations of Cobra Kai dickheadedness, as the lettered Bulldogs (as our schools football team was known) called my unknown classmate ‘old man’ and ‘grampa’. The boy with the grey hair shied away and just went about his business in his locker, ignoring the assholes as best he could.  Just as I was about to say something, the football kids walked away. NOT because they were afraid of me, hell, they probably didn’t even notice me, but because they were done and moving on, probably to bolster their egos by making someone else feel ‘less than’. In today’s world that’s called bullying and can get a kid expelled, back then we just called it first period.

I asked the grey haired kid if he was O.K., to which he replied “I don’t let that shit get to me, I’m used to it by now.” I introduced myself to the person who would become one of my closest and most adored friends: Grey Jim. We didn’t call him that then, back then he was just Jim. He eventually earned that title in my circle of friends, when it became clear that there were TOO many Jim’s in it; i.e. Smart Jim, Action Jim, and You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, respectively.

Grey Jim lived with his mother, her husband (not his father), and his 2 half brothers, Danny and Jeff. I’m not sure how old Danny was, but Jeff was only 1 or 2 back then. They all lived right across the street from our high school. Eventually I began taking my bike to school early so I could eat breakfast with Jim and his family. As we got to know one another, Jim told me that his grey hair was a genetic trait that he earned from his father who also had grey hair as a kid. One time, in an effort to fit in, Jim dyed his hair brown…it looked ridiculous and we all learned that Jim just looked better with grey hair. It was uniquely ‘him’.

Danny (left) and Jeff (right) 1996

Danny (left) and Jeff (right) 1996

Although Grey Jim’s family was different from Steve’s, they were no less loving. His stepfather wasn’t the nicest guy in the world and he rarely talked to me, but his mother was one of the most loving women I’ll ever meet. As I got to know them all, Grey Jim’s little brothers would prove themselves to be the most well behaved children I’d ever meet as well. As we got older, Jeff and Danny would accompany Grey Jim, Steve, and our other friends to the zoo or Great America, and many other events. Even though they were 13 and 10 years younger than us, we NEVER minded having these two around. Jeff and Danny were both quiet and fun loving and even though we may have been less than deserving of it, they were always respectful of us; a trait they no doubt picked up from their older brother.

After Jim’s mother passed away in 1992 and he moved out on his own, he took in his brothers, Danny and Jeff on the weekends and did his best to instill that sense of honor in them that he grew up with. Even now, I still maintain that those kids were the BEST behaved children I’ve ever met. It wasn’t through fear and intimidation either, it was because Jim’s mother was a kind and caring woman, and because Jim WAS a perfect role model for any kid. When I see his children now, it brings a tear to my eye knowing that I’ll never have the sense of pride that Jim must feel, because I could never be half the father that he is.

It was a few years before I met Jim’s real dad, but Jim picked up another important trait from him, a love of working out. As I got to know him better, Jim started spending hours a day pumping iron at our high school gym and he even joined a health club near his mother’s apartment. As much as I respected his enthusiasm at bettering himself and treating his body like a temple, I did not strike down the same path as my grey haired cohort. Over the years as he became more and more muscular, sporting huge biceps, shoulders, and abs, Jim would try to turn me over to the healthy side of life, but I always managed to avoid its grasp and just have a fucking Twinkie.

Unlike Steve’s mother, Jim’s mom was as sane and down to earth a lady as you could find. Sweet, polite, caring, and you could just tell that she was good at raising kids. Every time I came into their apartment, Jim’s mom would be cooking or feeding her two little ones, but she always had time to stop and give me a hug as if I was one of her own. A nicer lady has never lived in my timeline. In ’89, two years after Jim and I started hanging out, his mother convinced mine to let me go to Florida with him and stay at his father’s place for the summer. She even paid for me to go because she knew how close Jim and I were and she knew how bad my mother was. I didn’t know what she SAID to my mother to get her to agree to this, but later I learned that it didn’t take much to convince ma Hempen to let me to go away.

I felt a bond between Jim and I that I didn’t share with Steve and Brian. Sure those two were like brothers to me, but Jim was more of a ‘doer’, and I liked doing things. Steve had to be given a three week written request in triplicate before he would agree to go to a fucking movie, and Brian liked to sit around his bedroom, play guitar and smoke weed. So having a friend to just go outdoors with was nice.

Jim’s dad was a chef and a body builder with grey hair named Jim as well. Looking at Jim’s dad was like looking into the future…or the past depending on which way you looked at it. This man was Jim in 30 years. The two of them were very much into the whole ‘Italian honor’ thing, and if the Jim’s weren’t the most honest men I knew…they would have made great mobsters.

It was from them that I gained my love of fine dining over the years. Jim and his dad taught me the various nuances to eating at nice places, and I love having that knowledge when I take women out today. In that episode of ‘The Sopranos’, when Tony goes up to the kid in the restaurant and tells him to ‘take his fucking hat off’, all I could think was that was TOTALLY something Jim’s dad would do.

As the years went by, Jim and I would stay with his father in Florida, we went to Mardi gras twice; we shared women, booze, and a lust for life that forged a friendship I feel proud of with each passing day of my life. So when Pete told me last week that Jim had been put in the hospital? I had to find out what exactly had happened…but let me tell you about the source of this information first.


Jeff with Grey Jim's 2 kids, Grey Jim, and Danny (2012)

Jeff with Grey Jim’s 2 kids, Grey Jim, and Danny (2012)


Pete 1996

Pete 1996

And then there was Pete. Grey Jim introduced me to Pete soon after we’d met in high school. Pete went to Richards with us, but I rarely saw him there as he was usually on suspension for breaking a window in the school or some such. OR he was in the hospital for getting hit by cars; never anything major, but from what Grey Jim told me, Pete was often hit by cars to the point of it being comical. It wasn’t until after I met Pete’s mother that I found out the reason why he was always in the midst of traffic. Pete also dropped out of school by the end of freshman year. (Read this story to your kids who want to drop out, I think they’ll RUN back to school rather than live the life of Pete.) I didn’t know it at first, but although Pete was Italian like Grey Jim, He had a very different set of moral values.

Pete was a handsome kid with full, black hair (1in 987) and an average build. Whenever Pete smiled, the ladies swooned. The problem with Pete was that as beautiful as he was on the outside, he was the reverse of that on the inside. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Pete was a bad guy…It’s just that Pete? He wasn’t the brightest crayon in the box.

Everyone I’ve ever met is motivated by something. There’s something that defines them as a person.  When I first met Steve? His motivations were family and the outdoors. Brian? Pot and guitar. Grey Jim? Working out. Scott? Video Games. Pete’s motivations were cigarettes, lying, and pussy. There is NO lie that Pete wouldn’t tell in furtherance of the other two. DUMB lies too. I mean this kid would just say anything, and because he was cute? Chicks would more often than not believe that shit. And because the women would buy it? He’d try it on us, however to a different effect.

Over the next several years Pete would spin yarns as fantastical as they were stupid. He told us that he went to grammar school in Egypt where he found a mummies treasure, he told us that his mother had put 5 million dollars into a trust fund that he couldn’t touch until he was 21, and he told us that he was the prince of a country in Europe. First of all, as rich as Pete always claimed to be…our first salvo against this lie was “Then why don’t you have money to buy your own fucking cigarettes?”

Even though WE knew Pete was full of shit, we still kept him around because he wasn’t an inherently bad guy, just dumb as a box of rocks. He made us laugh, not with him but AT him and sometimes that’s enough. Pete may have been a liar, but I’ll give him this…he was a consistent liar. This kid NEVER backed down from a story, no matter HOW full of shit we knew him to be. When Pete turned 21, we asked him about his 5 million dollar trust fund. His reply? Its 10 million now, but I have to wait until I’m 22 to claim it. The next year? We’d ask him again, and he’d say there was a stipulation in a clause that said he has to wait until his 23rd b-day. I think that Pete hoped we would just forget that one, but EVERY year we asked him and EVERY year he’d say ‘Oh, no…I’ll get it next year.’

In those first 4 years that I knew Pete, I don’t think I ever saw him pay for a single pack of cigarettes. And because Steve, and Grey Jim didn’t smoke? Guess who supported his habit? It got to the point where I would actually be able to spontaneously quit smoking whenever I knew I would be around Pete. I’d leave my cigarettes at home, and go out Jonesing. Then when he’d come up to me and say “Can I bum a smoke?” I’d just lie and tell him that I’d quit.

Another thing I tried in order to get him to stop asking that insufferable question was ‘Cigarette Loads’. I used to go to a place called ‘Riley’s Trick Shop’, which was the local Halloween costume and magic store,  and I’d buy these things that looked like little match tips. You put one in the tip of a cigarette, and when the other person would go to light it, it would explode. Funny shit, but as always, to prove my point I took it to the extreme.

I would hollow out a cigarette completely, and put a load at the bottom, I’d put some tobacco back in, and drop in another load, more tobacco, another load, I’d repeat this until the cigarette had six loads in it at various points. I would do this to about 6 cigarettes’ and then place them back in the pack. Pete would ask for a smoke, and it would explode upon his lighting it. THEN, he’d light it again, and again, and again. This is how dumb Pete could be. He would just keep taking a few drags, the cigarette would explode, and then he’d relight it, after ‘borrowing’ a lighter of course. I thought that this Pavlov’s dog conditioning would keep Pete from borrowing cigarettes…but it never did.

Pete’s family fancied themselves a makeshift ‘motorcycle’ gang. I don’t know if having 17 uncles that all work for the “Harley Davidson” retail store, do cocaine, and only have one shitty barely working motorcycle in the whole family, while dating overweight, big haired, hookers who wear black spandex and smell like they just sucked a cigarettes dick means you’re in a motorcycle gang, but if it does then they were. Pete’s family represented the exact OPPOSITE of Grey Jim and his family, but to a young man like myself, I always admired the way they stuck together. I found less admiration for them as I grew older, but when I first met them, they were more exciting to me, than sad and ignorant.

As if I were predicting her appearance in the last paragraph, Pete’s mother was a short fat woman who was caustic and reflexive to say the least. She looked like a female Danny Devito with the personality of Carla from Cheers…only not funny. Even though she was at least 2 feet shorter than Pete, she would constantly berate him and hit him in front of anybody who was around. There was no question that Nancy had a female Napoleonic Complex.

Nancy was the kind of woman who adorned the walls of her apartment with Wolf blankets, Harley Davidson bandanas, eagles and American flags. She drove a van, and always wore black spandex while shopping at the local flea market on the weekends. Pete and his brother never really stood a chance in life with this monstrously over nurturing whack job of a mother.

Although Nancy was meaner than a rattlesnake and yelled at her boys constantly, it seemed that there was nothing they could do wrong in her eyes. Every time Pete or his brother Danny got in any kind of trouble, Nancy would spit and kick dirt at the person blaming them until the problem went away, and then she’d beat the shit out of Pete and Danny afterwards. This dynamic made Pete and Danny the biggest mama’s boys since Elvis and I doubt they could ever survive in a universe without Nancy.

Pete’s brother Danny was also a good looking kid, but Danny had a whole other problem…Danny was a slow adult. Pete tried explaining to me once when I asked him why Danny is the way that he is, that Danny suffers from seizures, but it’s hard for me to buy that as his sole problem. My feeling has always been that Nancy probably cracked him in the head a little too hard when he was a kid. Where Pete is just plain stupid, Danny is slow and violent. After the film came out, Danny reminded me of Sloth from ‘The Goonies’ only handsome. A big dim witted oaf who did his mother’s bidding, but turned out to be a sweet gentle person in the end. MY interactions with Danny were always brief, as he wasn’t in my circle of friends, but every time Pete brought him up it was to tell us how Danny had just stabbed someone in a fit of rage, or punched a hole in a wall of their apartment, or tipped over a car while shouting ‘HULK MAD!’. Frankly, when you meet Danny, you don’t get that vibe from him. Talking to him, you know you’re talking to a slow adult, but he was always very child like.

Even so, I was afraid to have Danny around in case he hulked out on us. From what we’d heard, Danny had that retard strength and an inability to know when enough was enough; a bad combination in any human being. Luckily for us, Danny had his own unique band of whack packers that he hung around with, so we were never guilted into making him one of our own.

Nancy was and apparently is STILL a VERY opportunistic and money hungry individual. There was nothing, outside of actually holding a job that she wouldn’t do in pursuit of the green. She was so bent on its acquisition that she would let strange truck drivers sleep on the floor in her living room for cash. Like a low-rent leather vest bed and breakfast. She made Pete and Danny go out and get themselves hit by cars so she could sue people and she used their social security numbers on her bills until things were going to be shut off; then she’d put them in someone else’s name. She continued to do this with every one of Pete’s children who from 19 to 7 are already fucked credit wise. I wouldn’t be suprised if she didn’t TELL Pete to keep having children for the child care checks and the social security numbers. SOMEONE off this woman please.

In June of 1990 my mother’s alcoholism was reaching its zenith and she moved us into a condo almost 2 blocks away from the apartment she’d lived in most of my life. After we moved she was told by my high school that I had to go to a DIFFERENT school the following year because of the district lines. I was devastated. Besides Steve (who went to a different school than us); Brian, Pete and Grey Jim were the only friends I had. Making friends has never been easy for me and now, just like after military school, I would have to start all over again. I decided that I wouldn’t go back to school the next year.

My mother was less than happy with my decision as she felt it meant she would have to see me more. Our relationship fell to an all time low. Over the next several months she locked me out of her condo with more frequency, only to be told by the police that she couldn’t do this as I was still a minor. Still, she tried to find any excuse she could to get rid of me.

In November of 1990, while I was sitting in the hallway of my mother’s condo building, reading about tarot cards, my mother came out drunk, and began yelling at me for no particular reason. 20 minutes later the cops had me handcuffed in a squad car and told me that I was being arrested for devil worshipping and the attempted rape of my mother. I called Grey Jim from the police station in tears and he gathered up Pete, Steve, and Brian. The 3 of them walked to the police station.

It was a snowy night a few days before Thanksgiving. By the time Grey Jim got everyone together at his place it was already 11PM. Because it was snowing, they couldn’t take their bikes to the police station, so my friends began the long trek to bail me out on foot. About half way there, at an intersection not far from my mother’s condo, Pete’s hat flew off his head in a breeze. When he ran out into the street to pick it up, he was promptly hit by a car. Luckily the car had been slowing down for the traffic light at the intersection so Pete just rolled off the hood and was OK. After an angry exchange with the driver, Pete began walking back towards our friends…and was hit by ANOTHER car coming from the opposite direction. THIS…this is the stupidity of Pete.

This time Pete flew about 10 feet in the air and landed on his hand, breaking his wrist and several fingers. Steve ran into the gas station on the corner and asked them to call an ambulance. As they stood over the stunned and moaning Pete watching the falling snow gather on him…my mother screeched to a stop in her car next to them. Apparently on her way to the police station to fill out paperwork, she noticed my friends gathered in a circle on the road. She angrily stomped out of her car, leaned in to look at Pete and began screaming at them NOT to bail me out. The smell of fresh Whisky blasted them in the face as she did. Without a wisp of concern for my fallen friend, she got back in her car and sped off.  

Using the emotional trauma brought on by my attempted rape, my mother used her lie to have an order of protection sworn out against me to keep me out of her home. Oh, that’s right; my mother told the police I tried to rape her to get me out of her condo. When that didn’t work, being a police officer herself, my mother hired a lawyer and was able to use her influence to have me emancipated. On December 21st of 1990, at the age of 17, I was placed by the courts, in the care of Pete’s mother…Nancy. 

Not being COMPLETELY heartless, my mother had made an arrangement with Nancy; I would live with her family for 200 bucks a month if Nancy agreed to take me in once I was emancipated. My mother would give Nancy 100 bucks and I had to give her the other hundred. You didn’t think Nancy agreed to this out a maternal instinct, decency, or wanting to help her son’s friend, did you?

It was a few months after moving in with the Wilson clan that maybe the biggest tragedy in my life occurred, which caused a deep and pitiless hatred for Pete’s mother that I will hold close to my bosom for all eternity.

At the time, I was working for a comic book store. Comic books were my life from the time I was 11 years old as they were the only things that kept me sane in military school. They were a form of barter and comfort for me in my young years and not having a father figure, they taught me right from wrong. I had amassed a gigantic collection over the years and up until that point, I was paid ONLY in comic books at my job. However, now I needed cash in order to pay Nancy her hundred bucks a month. I went to my boss Lee and told him that I needed to be paid in money instead of comic books.

Lee knew Nancy and Pete because they visited me at the comic book store on several occasions. He told me that he didn’t have the money to pay me in cash, which I knew was bullshit because Lee loved flashing a large wad of cash around at every opportunity, especially when the pizza guy would come. Lee would order no less than 3 pizzas at a time, pull out a fat stack of hundreds, pay the pizza guy and LITERALLY tip him whatever coin change he got back. Lee was not only a fat fuck, but a cheap fat fuck at that. 

However, because Lee enjoyed the cash that I was bringing into his business, he didn’t want to get rid of me. I was 17, and Lee knew this day would come. I worked for him for 3 years, and he had a pretty good idea of what my collection had become over that time. He knew the books that I got from him in exchange for my 3 years of servitude, and he knew the books I had gotten from his competitors at the conventions I worked for him. Lee made no secret of his desire to buy my collection, and when I told him I needed cash to pay Nancy rent, he offered to buy it again. I laughed him off, and he told me that he understood.

Later that day Lee called Nancy and using HIS greed to play off of her natural greed, offered to buy my collection. During the previous summer I asked a customer of ours, who worked for a comic book price guide company, to appraise my collection. I knew I had some pretty noteworthy books including the Amazing Spider Man #1 and #15 up, a run of X-Men from #63 up, the full run of Daredevil and Iron man, plus many autographed issues from meeting artists and writers while working for Lee. This man appraised my collection at 20 THOUSAND dollars (in 1990 mind you, it would be worth many times that today), and told me it was one of the finest he’d seen.

Lee offered Nancy a hundred dollars for my entire collection; being the greedy, but DUMB white trash cunt she is…she said 200. Lee picked up my comics from her house that very day WHILE I was working at his store. 

When I went back to Nancy’s apartment that night, I was greeted by Pete and Grey Jim. They stopped me at the door and took me outside. I could see that they were upset and my first thought was that someone had died. They wouldn’t tell me what happened, and as I pressed them, they just kept hemming and hawing telling me that they were sorry.

Finally, Grey Jim told me that he and Pete were watching a movie at around noon when the buzzer rang. Nancy came screaming out into the living room to open the door. She yelled at Pete and Jim to stay where they were and shut the fuck up. She came back into the room with my boss…Lee. Lee and Nancy walked past them without acknowledging them, and went into Pete’s room where all of my comic books were. Jim and Pete looked at each other quizzically and went into the hallway to listen.

Nancy came out and screamed at Jim and Pete to carry my collection out to Lee’s car. At first they refused, and Grey Jim even went so far as to tell Nancy that he would call the police. But Nancy grabbed a broom and started chasing Pete and Grey Jim around the apartment with it, yelling at them to mind their own fucking business and carry my comic books out. They did as they were told, but whenever Nancy or Lee had their backs turned, they would pull out a handful of comic books and shove them under Pete’s bed. Unfortunately, neither Pete nor Grey Jim knew anything about comic books, and what they grabbed was mostly worthless.

As they told me this story, I was so full of emotions that I didn’t know what to do first…I wanted to cry because my comic books were all I had. That collection helped me escape daily beatings in military school, I’d earned it through 6 long years of hard work, everything I’d learned over the past 6 years was IN that collection, seeing those books was a comfort and a reminder of the friends I’d made and the somebody that I was becoming, and because I had no family that wanted me around, this collection represented my escape from that reality.

I didn’t go into Nancy’s apartment that night, or ever again. I was crushed as a human being for the first time in my life. I now had no job, no place to live and no possessions other than my car. I slept in that car for nearly a year, filled with self pity, depression and rage. How does a 17 year old with nothing exact revenge? Pop a tire? Throw an egg? I was devastated in my impotence.

I never blamed Pete for what his mother did, but seeing him reminded me of that dreadful night. I began hanging out with Scott more since I no longer had a place to live and I lost touch with Pete altogether about 20 years ago, partly because of what his mother did to me and partly because sometimes…sometimes people drift apart.

Another reason we lost touch was because for some reason, Nancy has always moved her band of carnies from place to place, even to this day. Pete and his family have never stayed in one place more than 2 months and since 1987…that’s a LOT of mother fucking moving around. They’re like gypsies but without the caravan and European racism. It got to the point where it was useless to try to keep up with them and eventually I lost track of them altogether. 

Pete's ex-girlfriend showing us why he always wore a hat, 1997

Pete’s ex-girlfriend showing us why he always wore a hat, 1997

Until last year; Pete surprisingly showed up on my front door one evening, completely unannounced. He was disheveled and mostly toothless and wearing the worst and gaudiest Chicago Bears hat I’ve ever seen. When he took it off upon entering my apartment, he had a giant gleaming bald spot that ran from the front of his head to the back along the top. The rest of his hair hung down in unkempt locks making him look like a black haired Cookie the Clown (look him up). We bullshitted for a bit and Pete told me that he was living with Scott now. He then told me one side of a story that I’m sure has many sides. Apparently his girlfriend, whom he has a kid with, has sworn out a warrant for his arrest in Florida. In it, she accused Pete of molesting her 15 year old daughter. Pete denied this when I asked him straight out if he did, but c’mon…Pete has denied involvement in everything he’s ever done. However, as nasty as I always found Pete, this was a level of nasty I wanted no part of. That being said, I also have a very…judicial mind and I can’t hate Pete for an accusation. If he’s convicted of this, then I can hate him. As it turns out, I learned from Scott this past week that the charges were dropped and Pete’s in the clear. From what I can tell his ex girlfriend is just as much a liar as Pete is.

Pete also told me that he was living back home with his mother and his brother Danny, a few miles away from my apartment. He invited me to come over and say hi to everyone and even though I still hold a deep unnatural hatred for what Nancy did to me, I stopped by the next day…mostly out of curiosity.  

I pulled up to Pete’s house and rang the door bell. A young man of 19 answered the door and begrudgingly let me in. I didn’t know who this kid was, but it seems that I interrupted his Wii game; another family world shaker. He told me, without looking up from the TV, that Pete was in the kitchen.

I walked to the back of the house and Pete came out of the Laundry room. He introduced me to the boy playing video games in the living room; he was Pete’s son Tyler. FUCK, did that blow me away. Pete had a 19 year old son; that made me feel old as hell.

For the next several hours Pete told me about his marriage, his kids, and all of the problems he was having. We talked about old times but it soon became clear that Pete’s memory concerning our youth, was not only wholly inaccurate, but much of it was just made up. When we were teenagers, we always had to take whatever Pete told us with a grain of salt, but these were just lies that Pete had told himself so many times that he might actually believe them now. In every instance of recollection, Pete was at the epicenter of the story, and sometimes the hero.

After a few hours of shooting the shit, Pete’s mother Nancy came home. Much like she was in my youth however…Nancy was less than kind and only wanted money from me when I told her I was writing a book. Then Pete’s brother Danny came out of his bedroom with the same nasty ass fucking girlfriend he had when I last saw him 20 years ago. Apparently they broke up about 17 years before my visit, and had just rekindled their relationship recently. Oofa. The circle was complete. It seemed that NOTHING in Pete’s life had changed from when we were teenagers.

He and his brother, BOTH nearly forty now, were living with their mother. Pete’s mother was like the queen bee of their clan. There was nothing that Pete or Danny could do that Nancy couldn’t forgive, or ignore, so they always came crawling back to her. Seeing Danny again, not only made me glad that I was single for the simple fact that I never settled, but he also made me IMMEDIATELY call my dentists office after I left to schedule an appointment.

His girlfriend, Misty (maybe the most inappropriate name to ever be associated with a woman who looked like that), has scoliosis so she was all twisted up like a tree in a J.R. Tolkien novel. She walked with a disgusting limp and her face looked like a retarded person carved it on a pumpkin with a sharpened rock.  As she came stumbling, rolling, and twisting out of Danny’s bedroom like a special effect in a Guillermo Del Toro movie, I nearly jumped back from what I thought was a monster about to attack us all. Then Danny came over to give me a hug and when he smiled, the top row of his teeth was missing. It gave him that look on his face where his upper lip just kind of hangs there and dangles, and his lower lip is puffed out making it seem as though he’s constantly pouting. He had the sunken face of a toothless old man and he was 5 years younger than me.

The thing that amazed me the MOST was that all of these people had fucking children. Pete had 7, the oldest of which was 19. Danny, who himself is a slow adult has one that’s now 17 and living in a ‘special needs’ home because he stabbed his grandmother with a knife. Misty, the monster with scoliosis has a 17 year old as well who lives in Georgia. Do the math; that means that not ONLY did Danny settle for this thing 20 years ago, but it cheated on him as well.

I left Nancy’s house that night dumbfounded at what humanity has wrought and didn’t see Pete again until this past Christmas when he and Scott came to my Christmas party. Then he called me from Scott’s phone last week to tell me that bad news…apparently Grey Jim was in the hospital after trying to commit suicide.

The Trip

Scott (left) and Pete

Scott (left) and Pete

I didn’t buy it. I mean, first of all this information came from Pete and was backed up by Scott. You could hear Scott trying to scream at me in the back ground as Pete told me this, and then there was the sound of a struggle as Scott forcibly snatched the phone from Pete. “OH YOU DON’T KNOW? YOU DIDN’T FUCKING HEAR? FUCKING GREY JIM TRIED TO FUCKIN KIDNAP US MAN! OH FUCKING YEAH! I LET HIM FUCKIN DRIVE MY FUCKIN WORK TRUCK TO THE FUCKIN STORE SO WE COULD FUCKING GET FUCKIN BEER AND HE FUCKIN DROVE US OUT TO FUCKIN MICHIGAN! HE DIDN’T FUCKIN STOP TIL HE FUCKIN RAN OUT OF FUCKING GAS MAN! ALL CAUSE THOSE…<(audibly looked left (you could hear his sweaty hair whistle through the air as he turned his head))…> (looked right)…< (looked left again)…SAND NIGGERS AT THE STORE!” “Scott, I don’t even understand how…” I tried to say only to be cut off with “OOOOOOH YEAH, THOSE FUCKING…<(left)…>(right)…<(left again) CAMAL JOCKEYS BOUGHT THE STORE BY US, YOU DIDN’T FUCKING HEAR! OOOOOH YEAH!”

Oofa. Well, besides debilitating racism, that’s a disconcerting story to say the least. I had to know what was doing with Grey Jim, so I called Steve to find out if he’d spoken with him recently. Steve hadn’t, but he had Jim’s baby mama phone number. I sent her a text message relaying my concern and asking for Jim’s brothers, Jeff or Danny, phone numbers. Malisa (oh how I hate spelling her name like that) sent me back the numbers and I promptly texted Jeff. Jeff called me back immediately and told me the real story.

Jim did NOT try committing suicide, but he was not doing well at all. It seems that last month, Jeff had to admit Jim into a hospital for 72 hours because of his strange behavior. Jim wasn’t leaving the house, he wasn’t paying his bills, and he hadn’t even given presents to his children this past Christmas. These traits were so unlike Grey Jim that they sounded like the acts of another human being completely…perhaps Scott or Pete. So with a deep concern for his brother, Jeff took Jim to the hospital.

I told Jeff about the time, some 19 years ago when my mother had Jim committed to a mental hospital. Jim had recently started dating Malisa back then, and came to me with accusations that I was sleeping with her. Keep in mind we weren’t but 20 at the time and Malisa and I hated each other. I can’t think of a woman that I was less attracted to. However Jim was not only adamant in his accusations, but he was frighteningly threatening as well. And apparently it wasn’t only me; Jim had accused his uncle of sleeping with Malisa as well. Malisa called me crying one evening and said that she was afraid, she was in hysterics and since my mother was a police officer and a drug counselor, I asked her what we should do. The next day my mother asked Jim to come over to our condo and then she told him that he needed help. She convinced him to go with her to the mental hospital where Jim stayed for 3 days. When he came out he was the perfect picture of his old self. I don’t know if it was the therapy, the meds, or the plastic slippers, but whatever it did, it worked.

When I told Jeff this, he was shocked. He told me that that was the EXACT behavior Jim was exhibiting now, only his accusations were at his neighbors; even though Malisa hadn’t lived anywhere near Jim for 2 years.

Now, I feel like shit for saying this, but I haven’t been there for Jim like I should have been over the last few decades (I can’t believe I’m old enough to say that). He and Malisa moved into a house together in Indiana about 15 years ago, they have 2 children together, and I’ve been a bachelor for most of that time. Steve and his wife visited them several times a year for birthdays and holidays, so I always knew Jim was ok. But 2 years ago Malisa left him and took the kids…and I guess that’s when this downward spiral began. I had no idea the affect their leaving had on Jim. He hasn’t worked in all that time, but thankfully he still has a sizeable chunk of cash in the bank. Malisa can SEE the money in Jim’s account, but she can’t touch it. So using Jim’s brother Jeff as a bank officer of sorts, she sends him out there from time to time to make sure his bills are paid. It’s comforting to know that when two people break up these days, as sad as it can be, there can still be a level of love and caring for each other. Although Jim has seemingly jumped on the crazy train, he’s lucky that the mother of his children is still watching out for him. 

Malisa told Jeff and I the next day that she went out to check on Jim. She said he was taking his meds, he had an appointment scheduled with a psychiatrist, and he was doing much better. That distant stare that Jim had exhibited on many of their meetings since she left was gone, but she could still tell he was lonely. Jim owns a sizable tract of land in Indiana, and with nobody around other then the stars and his outdoor hot tub, he must be lonely indeed.

Jeff called me again that evening and told me that Jim still wouldn’t answer his cell phone. He wouldn’t respond to facebook messages, and pounding on the door had gone unanswered at times when Jeff went over there. I asked him if he was free this Sunday and suggested to him that we should get together with Jim’s old friends and let him know we all love him very much. Jeff was exhilarated, probably because for once he felt like he had some back up in trying to help his brother out of the fog.

I hadn’t seen or talked to Jeff since he was maybe 12 years old, but I was impressed at how much he reminded me of Jim. At 26 Jeff is a responsible, considerate, and working young adult with his own apartment and a fiancé. It was almost uncanny how much his speech mannerisms were like that of Jim. It almost felt as if I was talking to Grey Jim when HE was 26.

Jeff now

Jeff now

I was further blown away when Jeff came over to my apartment that Sunday and he even looked like Grey Jim when he was 26, only without the grey hair. Even with different fathers there was no mistaking that these two were brothers.

Jeff and I got along immediately, probably because of MY Scottishness. My best friend Mike is 26 and we’ve been friends since he was 21, plus my girlfriend is 22. It’s super weird knowing that my girlfriend is younger than Jeff, but it is what it is. Hell, I was there when my niece was born and my girlfriend is 6 years younger than HER. THAT’S fucked up. I also invited my girlfriend to join us, figuring that the more people to come help Jim, the better. Plus I wanted her to meet my friends…for better or for worse.

As I discussed it with Jeff, our goal was to have all of Grey Jim’s friends come out to his house to let him know how very much loved his is. Hopefully this would be the catalyst that would keep him on his medication and maybe even get him to go back to work instead of sitting around his house all day every day. I called Steve who was more than willing to join us, and then…although I didn’t really want to…I called Scott. It seemed that Scott and Pete have had more contact with Grey Jim over the last few years than any of us, and although I didn’t know about Pete’s attempted thievery yet, I figured they should come along as well. The whole sorted gang, back together. When I called Scott, he told me that Pete couldn’t come with as he was babysitting or some such. I assume now that it was just an excuse because of the nefarious assholery committed by him and his mother upon their last visit with Grey Jim.  

However, even though Pete didn’t go with us physically to Grey Jim’s house in Indiana, he was there in the form of a steady font of cursing spittery as Scott regaled us with the SAME Pete stories over and over again throughout the course of the day: “OHHHHH, YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? YOU DIDN’T FUCKING HEAR? PETE’S A FUCKING WHIPPED DOG WITH FUCKING CHRISTIE! I TOLD HIM PINK GOES GOOD WITH A SKIRT” (stomp, tight circle) “HAHAHAHAHAH! THAT’S WHAT I TOLD HIM! PINK GOES GOOD WITH A FUCKIN SKIRT!” (Stomp, tight circle, sweaty hair flailing about). We must have heard that line 17 times as Scott came into contact with people he knew, and some he didn’t know (specifically the Hooter’s waitress later in the day) and told the SAME story over and over again, not even explaining to people who have NO idea who the main characters of his tale were.

Scott also related to us that Pete had been arrested recently for selling drugs and the conversation we had with him regarding this offence is typical of why we need roving euthanasia IQ hit squads to relieve us of this countries insanely insentient. “OH, YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? YOU DIDN’T FUCKING HEAR? PETE FUCKING GOT ARRESTED FOR NO REASON! IT WASN’T EVEN HIS FUCKING FAULT! HIS BITCH FUCKING EX GIRLFRIEND ASKED HIM TO SELL HER MOM ESTHER DRUGS AND THE FUCKER FUCKING SET HIM UP! ” “But Scott, you realize its Pete’s fault that he got arrested for selling drugs in the first place right?” “HE FUCKING WASN’T FUCKING TAKING THEM! THEY FUCKING SET HIM UP MAN!” The lesson to be learned flew RIGHT over Scott’s head and got stuck in the twisted sweaty sporadic swatches of hair on top of it like an unlucky bat.

The 4 of them (Scott, Jeff, Steve, my girlfriend) met me at my apartment this past Sunday morning where we all sat around…not so much talking so the newest members of the group could get to know one another…as just listening to Scott yell over everyone: “OH FUCKING YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? THESE…<(looks left)…>(looks right)…<(looks left again)…NIGGERS, ON THE  FUCKING TRAINS DON’T PAY FOR THEIR FUCKING TICKETS BECAUSE THEY GET FUCKING TRAIN STAMPS FROM THE FUCKING GOVERNMENTS! OH, YEEEEEAH!” and so on and so on and so on…oofa.

Having met Scott at my Christmas party last year, Katie was of the concern that his greasy sweaty hair would stain the head rests in her mother’s nice truck. I understood her concern and suggested that Steve and I go with her while Scott and Jeff rode together. I felt bad pairing the young Jeff with Scott partly because of what he was in store for but mostly because it was a conscious decision. We purposely set the kid up on a blind drive-date with a guy he had not yet built a tolerance to while Katie, Steve, and I breathed a sigh of relief at Jeff’s reluctance to argue the passenger manifest. And boy, what that kid must have endured. But there was nothing for it. It was a quiet Sunday morning and Steve and I had dealt with it for far too long; time for another generation to enjoy the insane rambling monstrosities of Scott.

As we drove toward Grey Jim’s abode in Indiana, behind Jeff and Scott, we could see a gradual but marked change in Jeff’s body language through the back window of his Cadillac. You know how when you’re in a car with someone you don’t face them from the passenger seat; you talk to them while facing forward. We saw the silhouette of Scott’s face not only facing Jeff, but inching ever closer as he built his own anger and the ferocity of his stories grew. “YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? FUCKING YOU DON’T KNOW? I’M NOT FUCKING ALLOWED TO DRIVE CAUSE I DRUNKENLY FUCKING RAN A BUS FULL OF SPECIAL NEEDS FUCKING CHILDREN INTO A FUCKING RAVINE, SENDING THEM TO A FUCKING WATERY DEATH, BUT THEM…<(looks left)…>(looks right)…<(looks left again)…FAGS CAN FUCKING GET MARRIED NOW!”

Even from a distance, we could see spittle flying from Scott’s lips at Jeff, we could see his hands making gregarious and unnecessary gestures indication his anger was reaching a crescendo in the telling of his story, and then they would drop back down and Scott would face forward again when the story was done. We could see from our car that Scott told Jeff 7 stories in the time it took us to get to Grey Jim’s house just by following his seemingly silent play. Also, with the passing of each of Scott’s tales, Jeff’s body continued to slouch down and toward the driver’s side door until he was barely visible by the time we reached his brother’s house in Indiana.

And God bless Jeff but he didn’t bitch or complain at all once we reached our destination. Although I DID receive a call from him a few days later in which he told me he’d kill me if I ever tried to put Scott in a car with him again.

It had snowed two Fridays before we went to Grey Jim’s house and when we arrived it became apparent that Jim hadn’t left his home in that time. There were no tire marks in the fresh snow on his driveway and there were no footprints in it around his front or back door. The 5 of us knocked and banged on every door and window of Jim’s house for 20 minutes to no avail. We were beginning to worry that Jim had maybe hurt himself and were discussing breaking down his front door when Jeff heard his brother cussing behind one of the shuttered bedroom windows he had been banging on. Apparently at 11 AM, Jim was still sleeping.

Grey Jim let us into his home which was not as disheveled as I thought it would be. It was messy, but not the messy of a person who no longer cares about life. We told him we were taking him out to lunch and we jovially bullshitted with him as he got ready. Jim seemed to be in good spirits, even snickering with Steve and I behind Scotts back as he told the same stories of Pete that the rest of us had heard 3 times by that point.

We took Jim out to Hooter’s where we were privy to the most unapologetically hideous big boobied women that Indiana had to offer. These women were so ugly that my eyes felt condescended to. It was my girlfriends first time at a Hooter’s and because she’s young, she couldn’t see past the avarice of men looking at boobies, even when I tried to assure her that I’d rather stick my dick in a meat grinder than in the mouths and between the knarled broken teeth of any of the hopefully blowjob uninitiated snaggle toothed women of the Merrillville Indiana Hooters.

As we all tried to talk, it became apparent that Scott just wasn’t going to let us catch up at all. He talked over us and even asserted himself into our side conversations by screaming “FUCKING LET ME FUCKIN FINISH MY FUCKING STORY!” and then he’d continue on with 

“OH! YOU DON’T KNOW? YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW?  I LIVE IN FUCKING SQUALLOR JUST CAUSE I DIDN’T GO TO FUCKING SCHOOL, GOT 4 FUCKIN DUI’S, AND FUCKED A FUCKING 16 YEAR OLD! ALL BECAUSE THEM FUCKING…<(looks left, swinging sweat into our plate of wings at one point so we had to stop eating them)…>(looks right)…<(looks left again)…ARABS DON’T PAY FUCKING TAXES!”




He didn’t stop until it was time to pay. THEN he went to the bathroom while the rest of us breathed a sigh of relief and humbly apologized to our African American waitress, the table of Arabian gentlemen sitting behind us, and all of the white people in the room. When he came back, Steve made a joke about Scott going to the bathroom when it was time to pay, to which Scott retorted “YOU DON’T FUCKING KNOW? I GOTS A FUCKING JOB, I GOTS MONEY! I CAN PAY TOO!”  And then he proceeded to pull out a wad of crumpled dollar bills from his pocket and threw them in the pile of cash we had amassed on the table. Scott did indeed have 12 dollars to contribute to our 132 dollar bill, covering 2 of the 8 beers he had and the 25 wings he ate by himself, mostly because none of us would eat off of that plate after his flop sweat had marinated our chicken.

We drove Grey Jim home where he opened up further and told us how Nancy and Pete came to visit him several weeks before. Apparently even now, Nancy is just as much a heartless money hungry cunt as she was all those years ago. She still lies to get different forms of government aid including prescription medicine that she doesn’t need, then she gives it to Pete to sell for her. In fact, Pete now lives with Scott because instead of selling the drugs for money, Pete was exchanging it for blow jobs from, what’s been described to me as, the most hideously toothless woman in the tri state area.

The amazing thing to me is that Scott will yell and scream about how “niggers” take advantage of the system when in reality Nancy has broken every government, state, and just plain moral law that’s ever existed in furtherance of being a lazy piece of shit. I doubt Scott could give ONE example of a black person abusing the system in one tenth the manner Nancy does, a woman whom he seems to hold in some regard.

Nancy also is still trying to sue the world as well. Last year, Pete and Nancy went over to Grey Jim’s home under the guise of wanting to help him through his depression. The reality was that Pete found out Grey Jim was sitting on a large amount of savings which he acquired from working his ass off. Now that he wasn’t working, he was using his extra stash to pay bills. Pete told his mama who in turn tried to take advantage of Grey Jim’s hard earned cash. (This story makes me livid, how these people are allowed to live in my society is beyond me.)

Nancy and her son hopped in their shitty van and drove to Grey Jim’s house. When Jim let them in, Nancy said she had to use his bathroom and pushed past him. In what Grey Jim called the WORST acting he’d ever seen, Nancy tripped, pushed herself back up, looked at Jim, and said: “I’m gonna need the phone number for your insurance agent, I think I broke my knee.” Then she threatened to sue him. While this was happening, Pete was out in Grey Jim’s garage, taking things out to the van. When Jim noticed this through the window while he was making an ice pack for Nancy’s knee, he went out and asked Pete what the fuck he was doing, Pete, all innocent, said he was going to sell some of Grey Jim’s stuff on eBay and bring him back the money; Jim told Pete “No, You’re not. Put it all back.” and as Pete was pushing a lawnmower back towards the garage, HE pretended to fall. Nancy came screaming out of Jim’s house, not limping at all, shouting “GIMME YOUR ADDRESS! I NEED YOUR ADDRESS FOR MY LAWYER! MY POOR BABY! WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY POOR BABY?” Pete stood up with a dumbfounded look on his face and Nancy said to him “ARE YOU OK BABY?” and went to hug him. She looked back at Jim and said “I’m gonna sue the SHIT out of you!” and as the two of them walked toward their van, Grey Jim said “If you’re so hurt, why aren’t either of you limping?” Nancy looked at Pete, then to Grey Jim, then back to Pete, then she slapped the shit out of her son and said “You ruin EVERYTHING!” The two of them got in the van and left. Just the worst human beings on the fucking planet.   

As we left Jim’s house that evening, I felt good about the time we spent with him. He came out of his shell and from what Jeff told me, it was the first time in a long time he’s done so. We all did a good thing that day…except me…I had Katie and Steve sneak out to the car with me so Jeff would be stuck driving Scott home.

I’ve told Katie about my friends in the nine months we’ve been dating, but that night the thought of them made her cry. Not their horrific lives or their notable delinquencies, but because they made her feel lonely. Yes, just an afternoon with people I know brought one the brightest shafts of light to ever warm my cheek to a dismal shadow world in which no two hands intertwine and a dark ravine spans the distance between hearing about someone…and KNOWING someone.

And I suppose she has every right to feel that way. Like I said in the beginning of this story “problems will come to us all and even though the problems of some friends may be perpetual, they are no less tragic when fallen on those whom observe crisis less frequently.” However there is redemption in that statement in the form of ‘friends’. Friends are what help you get through these issues of downtrodden misery, whether your wife leaves you or your fucking license fucking gets fucking taken a fucking way because you fucking ran a fucking bus full of fucking nuns off the fucking road. You’re friends will be there for you through good or bad and that’s really all any of us can hope for. Except Pete…fuck Pete. 

The important thing is that Grey Jim had a good time that day and after I finally calmed Scott down enough to raise a toast to the love we all feel for Jim, I believe he better understood his place at the proverbial table. Just yesterday Jim and I talked on the phone for 2 hours, something we haven’t done since we were teenagers, and then he went out to dinner with my cousin, Katie and I. All it took was that one afternoon of showing someone how special they are, to get them to come back to a reasonable state of existence. And sometimes…sometimes that’s all ANY of us can wish for.  

Ghost of Rod Serling: To the wishes that come true. To the strange mystic strength of human bonds, which can take the wishful dream of friendship and give it a dimension of its own. To Grey Jim, Scott, Steve, Mike, and even Pete; friends of another era. To those men who have changed the blank tomb of years gone by into a hopeful future. It can happen, but only in…The Literal Friend Zone.
Top Row: Me, Pete, Rob, ScottBottom Row: John, Trish (Steve's Sister), Steve, and Grey Jim

Top Row: Me, Pete, Rob, Scott
Bottom Row: John, Trish (Steve’s Sister), Steve, and Grey Jim

The End