By Tony D’Aloisio

A bunch of guys in striped shirts were trotting out onto the playing field, holding large metal plates piled high with whipped cream.  They carried them across a shallow pit toward where the two lines of contestants stood, facing each other.  Twin groups of cheerleaders led the charge, all revved up and chanting and spinning batons high into the air.  The marching bands were going at it full blast too, brassy and thunderous.  The booming of their drums like some far-off summer storm.

From where I was sitting, with my chair pulled around from the dining room table to view the spectacle, I could see my stepbrother John sprawled out on the couch.  It was as though gravity had pressed him down into its naugahyde depths.  He resembled one of those astronauts viewed through the close-up lens at liftoff, skin flapping away under the pressure.

“Oh my God–”  His eyes were virtually bugging out.  “Oh my God–”

The head referee–the one with the red armband–was announcing the rules over a microphone.  Each team had three minutes to carry as many pie tins as they could balanced on their heads one by one through the pit.  If one fell off, they would have to go back, tromping through the sludge to get refitted by their teammates for another attempt.

John’s head rolled back and forth against the couch.  “I don’t believe this–I can’t believe it–”
Gelatin was being added to the mix, from firehoses attached to huge tanks.  The tanks, which you could just glimpse off to the side, each held 1000 gallons.  The officials had had to wait until it was almost game time to pour, according to the announcers, to avoid having it all absorbed back into the mud.

It seemed as though the whip cream was more soup than cream.  Gouts of it slopped over onto the trail and participants while they made their journeys (they couldn’t reach up to touch their tins; that was an infraction which would bring them back to the starting line).

“They should’ve made it a bowling ball or something.”

I laughed, an involuntary burst.  John stared over at me with an insistent expression.

“Something that could fall off.”

“Those things are falling off.”

“Something that could really fall off.”

“But how could a bowling ball stay up there?”

“You know what I mean–”  Wiping my objection away with a hand.  “The point is, whip cream’s not gonna do anything.  It’s just cream, you know?  It’s going to sit up there without falling.  Unless the whole pan goes over.”

We both were focused back on the screen.

“Can you believe this?  Everybody’s cheering.  Oh my God, it’s so absurd.”  Truly it would have had to be, for my stepbrother to ever use such a word.

The window behind him was a picture of dark glass with the backyard lawn and that Japanese maple right in the middle of it.  The shine from the kitchen made glaring sharp circles toward the center, shifting with every move I made in my chair.

John got up from the couch.  “What’s this guy doing?”  Scuttling in close to the TV set, scowling away.

I went back into the kitchen to wash the dishes as a commercial came on.  Until I heard the fanfare for the show starting up again.

“You’ve gotta see this.  Oh my God.”

I scurried back in to find the referees in the midst of a heated discussion.

“He didn’t have enough whip cream left to qualify.”  A coughing fit.  “Oh my God, they’re disqualifying his pie pan.  It’s too small.  There’s not enough draft in it.  The meter didn’t have enough on the gauge.”

I stood by the chair, wiping my hands dry.

“They’re just letting it go on the air like this.”  He shook his head over and over.  As though he were drunk.  “Nobody’s pulled the plug.”

I went back into the kitchen.

“What’re you doing?”

“Finishing the dishes.”

“Don’t do ’em now–”  He scowled up over the counter at me.  “What’re you doing that now for?  There’s plenty of time.  Just sit down and watch.”

“But they’ll be coming back soon.”

“Don’t worry about Jim and Jeanette.  They’ve gone to dinner, they’ll take a while.  Just relax.  Sit down and watch.”  With another scornful look.  “Do them when you don’t have anything else to do.  Like late at night.”

“But Jim’ll be asleep on the couch.  He’ll wake up.”

“Do it quiet.  Come on, he’s never gonna know.”

“What if they get back early?”

“Nobody’s going to get back early.”  Then a sneer back to the TV.  “If you’re so worried about it, I’ll help you do them.”

Now they were showing a videotape of the Minnesotan team (who were from a place called Skid Park) in their native habitat.  There was a lot of footage taken at the community market and some saloon.

One contestant told the reporter–a guy holding this microphone up to his face with a big puff ball and “ABC” on the square side in front–that he felt very comfortable with one of the upcoming events (which involved a large airbag and a diving platform) because he used to leap from his bedroom window into snowbanks when he was a kid.

“Now they’re giving interviews.  I don’t believe it.”  John’s head kept rolling on the couch.

He looked over at me as they continued to question the participants.

“What were you going to do later?”

“You mean after the dishes?”


“I don’t know.”

“That means ‘nothing,’ right?”

I shrugged.  “Yeah.”

“Why don’t you ever want to do anything?”

“I don’t know.”

He smirked at me.

“I guess you’re just going to read.”


“You’re an owl.”  With an insolent blinking stare at me.

I shrugged.

“How can you stay indoors all the time?”

I didn’t know what to say.  So, as usual, I didn’t say anything.

“Don’t you ever want to go outside?”

“Yeah.”  Hand shrugs.  “I guess.”

“‘I guess,'” he mocked.

“I go outside to mow the lawn.”

“I’m not talking about that.”  Hand out.  “Jesus–”

“It was supposed to be a joke.”

He gave this leery look back at me.  “What’re you staying cooped up here with Jim and Jeanette for?  They probably don’t want you around either.  I mean, Jim is Jim.  Don’t you want to get away from him?”


“Then do it.”

John was heading off to the bathroom.  When he came back out, it was into the midst of another hubbub.

“What happened?”

“It was out of bounds.  A dead-play foul.”

He just stood there for a moment, this hulking presence in front of the TV.  “They’re going to replay it.  Oh my God.”

The head referee conferred with his colleagues on the sidelines.  There had been a further stoppage of play.

“What’s going on now?”  My stepbrother, back at his station on the couch, was sort of lolling sideways.

Evidently there was some question about the qualifying times.  Possibly the crew hadn’t properly synchronized their chronometers, or else the starting gun fired too late.

None of the commentators could account for this.

“You have any more information for us, Regis?”  That was one of the voices in the booth, Charlie Jones, who was the head announcer for all the network football games on Sunday.

“Not at the moment.”  Regis Philbin, the man on the field (with a little pressed-in earphone connecting him to the studio), was walking along the periphery of the many officials gathered around.  Doing his best to answer the question of just what exactly was going on down there.

“‘Why isn’t any of this stuff working?'” my stepbrother asked of the air.

I shook my head.  “‘I don’t know.'”

“‘Hey, I paid good money for this shit.'”

“‘Oh, no wonder–‘”

“‘Look, it says right here–“A-B-C”.'”

We both were snickering, looking across at each other.  It was the closest my stepbrother and I would ever come to an actual moment of camaraderie.

He looked across at me as another commercial came on:  “Don’t you have any friends?  Guys you can hang out with?”

“A few.”

“So hang out with one of them.”

“But I have to walk over there.  I don’t have a car.”

“So walk.  What’s wrong with that?  How far can it be?”

“It’d be easier with a car.”

“But you can still walk.  Jeez, what’re you afraid of?  I used to walk everywhere before I got my car.  Or I’d take my bike.”

“Or your motorcycle.”

“Yeah, when I got that.  But I didn’t need any of them.  You should get out more.  Get away from Jim and Jeanette once in a while.  And all those books.”  He gave me another over-the-shoulder stare of scorn from the couch.

Now he was up.  Heading over to the side porch to grab his jacket and put it on.  As the show returned.

“Come on, let’s go.”  He stood at the door, front pocket bulging with the latest pack of Marlboros.
“There’s another ten minutes left–”

“Forget about it.”  He swiped a hand toward the still blaring TV.

“How about the dishes?”

“Don’t worry about ’em.”

“But I’m supposed to do them.”

“Let it wait.”  He stared at me.  “Come on, what are you?  A slave?  Just leave ’em.”

I moved toward him and the door.

“Well, turn the TV off first–”  He prowled past me, this resentful hulk heading back over to the set to punch the button.

I moved into the kitchen.

“Now what?”

“I have to hang the dish towel up.”

“Just leave it.  Let’s go!”

“Where are we going?”

“I don’t know.  We’ll just drive around.”


“Just…around.  Do you always have to go someplace?  We’ll get in the car and drive.”

He’d gotten the car from the money he made working for our dad on his boat as a deckhand when he had stayed with us the previous summer.  It was parked outside along the curb next to the Nova (the one our dad used to go to work).

“We’ll find something to do.”  Reaching his hand past me to flip off the light switch on our way out.

“Yeah, okay.”

“Glad I finally talked you into it.”  One last smirk.  “And we’ll take this…”  He grabbed the half-full gallon bottle of Red Mountain Burgundy sitting there on the side porch, his finger slipping through the handle.

We departed at last, me closing the side door after him.

“Look out.  Try not to knock me down the stairs, will you?  Jesus–”

With a final scowl.  Before we headed off.

About the Author:

Tony D’Aloisio was born in San Francisco and attended Sonoma State University, where he obtained B.A. in English in 1984.  He is also a chess master, and was once ranked in the top 100 players in California.