Tuesday, September 21, 2010

“How Norm Larsen Saved My Face” by Aaron G. Lenza

When I was eight-years-old my Italian mother coerced my four siblings and I to go to church every weekend, a chore I scorned because I would rather be making mud forts in my suburban New York neighborhood. I only remember one day of being eight-years-old.

It was a breezy Sunday afternoon in June. My father was entertaining business clients at our home with my mother. I had missed Saturday’s mass with the rest of my family because I was exploring the remains of a burnt down hospital with a girl I loved, but without a watch. My oldest brother, Anthony, who just got his license and a white Jeep Cherokee, was innocently sentenced to cruel and unusual punishment: to bring me to church.

My mother phoned Josie, a seventy-eight-year-old Albanian woman who read at church.

“Make sure they don’t walk out after communion, I’m counting on you Josie, you’re the only other parishioner I can trust,” said my mother while I was listening in on another telephone in my house.

Then I heard Josie say in broken English, “If run, the Holy Spirit will enter my legs, and I will make great chase after the donkeys.”

Ralphs Ices was out of the picture. We actually had to attend the service. As soon as the last notes of the piano rang out, we made a run for it. We pushed through hordes of parishioners to get to the large wooden doors. I forgot about the holy water, but remembered to snatch a free bumper sticker on the way out, as Father Terry advised in his weekly announcement.

When my brother and I embarked in his Jeep he saw the sticker I took and said stoically to me, “If you put a bumper sticker that says I heart St. Sylvester’s Parish on my new jeep, I’m going to give your body an Indian sunburn.”

My plan was foiled, so I needed a backup. I had been idolizing Jim Carrey and the weird things Jim would do to himself in his movies. So, I thought to myself WWJD? I took the backs off the bumper sticker and slapped it over my face. I turned to my brother and screamed, “Kabooooooo, is there something on my face?” We laughed wildly for a minute. One minute and nine seconds later, I realized that the adhesive was setting into my baby face. I panicked. I started screaming again, but in anguish this time. Since my brother couldn’t see my expressions, he thought I was still trying to be a comedian.

Anthony laughed more and told me to knock it off. I tore at my face, but the giant Roman Catholic sticker wouldn’t budge. It was almost as if the power of Pope John Paul II and 70 years of abstinence was raging inside the adhesive. With my eyes, nose, and half my mouth covered, breathing was difficult and my hysteria wasn’t helping. My brother realized what was happening and adopted a lead foot. He never drove so fast into our driveway.

Anthony ran me right into my father’s scotch and peanuts schmoozing party with me over his shoulder. My mother started crying. My dad dropped his glass of 12-year-old scotch. The guests were confused. My sisters started laughing. My brother couldn’t explain.

My parents ran hot water over my face in a large utility sink for an hour. The bumper sticker’s edges frayed, but the entire thing wouldn’t budge. Then I was maneuvered into the shower like a fish after an oil spill. I lost my hysteria and turned into a limp piece of hopeless shit. I thought I would be “sticker boy”, a weird Catholic mutant for the rest of my existence.

My father charged into the garage, over to the darkest, grimiest corner to find the greasy can of WD-40 that was always sitting there.

Papa shouted, “AARON, CLOSE YOUR EYES!”

I heard an aerosol can spray and then I could see again. My father walked back into the living room and said to his clients, “WD-40 claims to have 200 and more uses. I just found out what #201 is.”

The WD-40 experience proved to my father’s clients that he was the cool, calm, and resourceful family man built for the job.

My mother eventually stopped crying the next week, after she accepted the fact that I didn’t have eyebrows anymore. I got made fun of everywhere I went that summer. I never did watch another Jim Carrey movie again.

The story gets told at weddings, baptisms, bars, bar miztvas, and funerals. Every time it’s mentioned I thank that son of a gun, Norm Larsen, for inventing WD-40.

Today, twelve years later, my eyebrows couldn’t be bushier.