Thursday, June 21, 2012
Chapters 7 and 8 of White Trash in the Snow
TGIF ! Time for another visit with the Saplins. This is a totally fictionalize coming of age story about a couple of teenagers, their parents and siblings, politics, pregnancy, deception, and blind ambition. If you are here for the first time, follow these quick links to find previous chapters:
And, of course, any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. It is an original work, written by Allison, and published for the first time anywhere on the blog The Palin Place.
All rights reserved.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
According to her mother, Cristol’s suitor-de-jour Wrangler Strauss had numerous black marks against him: he was poor, from a broken family, his mother was believed to be on some kind of public assistance, his father liked to gamble, and his fifteen-year-old sister had “Wrangler” tattooed on her wrist like a bracelet. The boy was not a keeper.
Jerrie and Kevin Strauss had divorced years before, and Wrangler and Porsche lived with their mom. It was a struggle for Jerrie who supplemented child support with work as a hairdresser until two years ago when a back injury limited her ability to stand for long lengths of time. Lately, household expenses were exceeding income. Jerrie Strauss’ near indigence was also, in itself, a disabling condition - it caused a very specific kind of blindness. No, it wasn't Wrangler's mom who had the visual impairment, it was the elite in Azzolla who simply didn't see Jerrie, or Porshe, or Wrangler, or anyone who didn't have at least three vehicles and a home in the right neighborhood. Most of the people who didn't see the Strausses would have called themselves friends of Rachael and Tad Saplin.
Meanwhile, Wrangler was anything but invisible to the 13 to 19 year olds in the valley. There were two reasons for this. One, his hockey playing prowess and two, he was cute. Those qualities paid his entrance into the most popular cliques in school. He was “a catch” by AHS standards and regardless what her parents thought, Cristol was thrilled to have the name Strauss linked with her own. In fact, she dreamed of having that name herself, someday.
Grandparents Betty and Buck Heat also disapproved of Cristol’s latest boyfriend. They told her she could do better. “You should be dating one of the nice boys,” Grandma Heat said. “Nice boys” came from “nice families” - code words for people with money. “Nice families” were not exempt from personal weaknesses and failings; they experienced divorces, DUI arrests, drug addictions, and domestic violence at the same rates as the general populace - the local population, that is. (The valley, Azzolla, and the state, had rates much higher than national averages.) Some made their money by applying wits and hard work, others inherited small fortunes, and still others found ways to avoid the law while profiting nicely from illegal activity. Almost like a scientific rule, the "nicer" the people the more arrogant they acted. Indeed, Azzolla’s “nice people” clung to their self-proclaimed superiority like the general populace of the valley clung to guns and religion.
It was Rachael’s opinion that held sway in the family. If she liked someone, Tad and Betty and Buck liked them, too. And when Rachael’s opinion of someone went south, her parents used their influence in the community to make life difficult for whomever fell out of favor with their most stubborn daughter. Tad involved himself in Rachael’s interpersonal crusades, too. Stealthily, Tad Saplin launched whisper campaigns and delivered veiled threats. He didn’t do these things out of any emotional feeling for his wife, he did them for sport. Tad was a sportsman at heart. Racing snow mobiles was fun, but hunting was a real challenge. Human prey was the most challenging of all, and Rachael provided lots of opportunity for him to become skilled. Maybe it was something in his native genes that made his ancestors so good at hunting and fishing. Maybe those natural abilities evolved into the dark, sneaky side that came out after he was transplanted into a valley of strip malls, movie theaters, and massage parlors. However it happened, Tad was an expert in career detonation. He could sniff out someone’s personal weaknesses, choose the most efficient and effective weapon, and go for the kill. The number of people who had been in the Saplin crosshairs over the years had become legendary by the time Wrangler began dating Cristol.
Tad’s success record in bullying was likely the reason that, after she gave Tad orders to have the kids split up, Rachael put it out of her mind. She moved on. Time being a limited commodity, there was only so much she was willing to waste on her daughters’ fly-by-night crushes.
Fortunately for all the Strausses, neither Rachael nor Tad imagined that, in private, their daughter and her boyfriend talked about marriage. During blissful exhaustion that followed hormone-driven activity (called “f*n” when they gossiped on MySpace), Cristol and Wrangler inevitably segued into the subject. Launched with the word “someday…” they were naively sincere. Wrangler initiated the talk as often as Cristol. He wanted to be a dad someday. He wanted a son to hang out with him, to go with him everywhere – a son that he would teach to hunt and fish and skate, a son that would be a rugged outdoorsman, just like him.
As soon as Wrangler-the-toddler could stand, he’d balanced on skates and chased after a sliding puck. Like a mountain goat surviving and thriving in a perilous landscape, he had a sixth sense that allowed him to balance, charge, react, and shoot his way into the elite top tier of local sports fame. In Azzolla, helping the hockey team win was considered community service. Coaches and other exuberant adults said he was the best their town had ever seen; said he belonged in the National Hockey League. He loved when someone said that.
Equivalent to hoop dreams in Harlem, young boys in the Azzolla valley fell asleep imagining they were tying on skates and taking the ice in an NHL playoff game. Wrangler Strauss nurtured visions of traveling the US and Canada wearing a jersey that would be duplicated and sold in huge numbers. Little boys with “Strauss” emblazoned across their narrow shoulders would seek his autograph – little boys like the two six-year-olds who, after the varsity team's victory to cinch the league championship had approached shyly, and told him they want to be like him when they “grow up.” He liked that. He liked that a lot.
As one of only two freshman in the starting lineup his first year in High School, his mother told him he had a responsibility to be a positive role model. At her suggestion, he began volunteering at the community hockey league, helping coach the nine and ten year old boys. They asked if he would help with the special needs kids next year. He might. He was going to have to take a CPR course first, and that could be cool. At least that’s what a couple of his friends said, “If you know CPR and some girl passes out, you get to open her shirt, pound her chest, put your mouth over hers… “ Yeah, he would probably take the CPR course in the fall.
Wrangler was a natural all around sportsman. If he wasn’t playing hockey, or fishing, he was hunting. Big game was his favorite. He was only seven when he shot his first bear, since then Dall sheep had become his favorite challenge, in part because going into their territory was an awesome trek. Kevin Strauss bragged to people that his son was probably the most experienced hunter his age in the state. “When it comes to stalking, citing, luring, using bait or a trap, my boy’s a natural.” He would pull out pictures and show Wrangler posed with various animals, each one dead and bleeding. Kevin had a sense of humor, too. He usually followed the hunting pictures with one of Wrangler surrounded by girls his age. “Sometimes he’s the one being hunted,” he’d say with a laugh.
Actually, Wrangler had always avoided serious trouble of any sort. The only time he’d had his name in the paper for something that embarrassed his parents was last summer’s fishing citation. It was fitting that Wrangler’s one mention in the paper for a misdeed would be a sports-related item. And it didn’t bother Cristol when he brought it up to her. In fact, she giggled and said that her mother, the governor, had been fined three different times for fishing without a proper license. He wondered why that was a reason for giggling, but whatever put Cristol in a good mood was fine with Wrangler.
Cristol talked about her parents a lot. Lately, she'd said she expected that in a few months, things would quiet down for her parents, and the four of them would have a talk. She pictured them sitting in the living room, her Dad hearing about Wrangler’s athletic achievements and his plans for college. College was definitely in Wrangler’s plans; for sure, some college would want him to play hockey. Her father should really like that. After all, that was what they had expected of Field, but that was before he began to make what Cristol described as “bonehead choices.”
“Mom and Dad are going to like you when they get to know you,” she said. “You don’t make bonehead choices like my brother.” Wrangler liked the idea of being accepted. Maybe they’d welcome him like a son, have him over for Thanksgiving. Why, he could show her mom how to use that gun she kept under her bed.
The sad thing about the way things would eventually turn out was, if Rachael, or any of Cristol's family had bothered to get to know Wrangler, they would have liked the kid.
Later, she’d look back and wonder about that deceitful wake up call. How could she not have figured out the truth? At the time, she thought it was the mid-June sunrise that nudged her awake at 4:20 am. She’d slept restlessly, resenting that she had to catch a 9:30 am flight back to the capital to pack up her stuff and bring it home for the summer. Add that to plain old feminine intuition and there were fully three reasons she had let go of her worries when, on June 14, Cristol awoke to find a little spotting in her underwear.
Halleluiah! Every day since Memorial Day she’d anxiously awaited her period. Many times a day she chastised herself for trusting Wrangler, and told herself she hated him for having been selfish. If she had been pregnant, it would have been entirely his fault.
From the start, that holiday weekend two weeks before had seemed too good to be true. Her parents and sisters had gone to a ribbon cutting event 500 miles away and Field had gone camping with friends. Cristol had stayed home on the pretense that she was too new to ask for time off from her summer job, waitressing in the Nordstrom’s snack bar.
Her plans were to call in sick both days, but to her parents, she said, “I’d love to go, but, um, you know how it is…um, I have, ah, I have responsibilities now. Oh well, um, I’ll definitely miss you. Definitely.” She was no actress, but her parents fell for it anyway. To make sure they would agree, she told them she planned to save all the summer’s tip money for college, and only spend what she earned at the hourly rate.
It was all Tad needed to hear. “Stay home, then. Work hard. We haven’t got any money to send you to college, it’s up to you to earn it yourself,” he said.
Rachael agreed, “Yup, you gotta find your own way, but you will. You’re a hard worker, Pistol.”
Cristol’s eyes flashed. She hated that nickname, and her mother knew it. This time, though, there was too much at stake to throw back an angry retort. Names were important, and she didn’t think girls should have gun names. Only the day before, the subject of names had become an afternoon-long discussion with Wrangler. He liked gun names -Winchester, Remington, Magnum, Colt, Ruger, Wesson, and Mac were tough-sounding and suitable for a boy. If he and Cristol had a girl someday, he’d like to call her Uzi, Miroku or Beretta. Cristol relented a bit with the boy names, but she said she would “absolutely never, ever, ever” give any daughter of hers some name that might cause people to ask “what were her parents thinking?” To some extent, Wrangler agreed, which is why the name Weatherby didn’t make the list at all.
“What’s the matter with using guns as names?” Wrangler asked. “I love guns. I love to hunt. So those names are my favorites.”
“You can’t name a kid after a gun because that makes me think about pulling the trigger, and pulling the trigger isn’t something nice to name your kid after,” she explained. It was no explanation at all as far as Wrangler was concerned, until she told him that “pulling the trigger” was synonymous with giving a hand job. “All my friends call it that,” she said. “And a hand job should not be what comes to mind when someone hears my baby’s name.”
“Okay, that makes sense, sort of,” he agreed. Heck, babies don’t come from hand jobs, everybody knows that. No use arguing, though, or I won’t even get that today.
Her mother’s dig with the nickname made it all the easier for Cristol not to feel guilty for duping her parents about Memorial Day weekend – that, and the fact that lying was practiced openly by her parents as well. Learning from their elders, Field, Cristol, Maple and even Pride had pretty much mastered misrepresentation and prevarication. And if Cristol had experienced a momentary pang of shame, it would have disappeared when her mother added, “Too bad you aren’t pretty. Easiest money I ever made was winnin’ the Miss Azzolla pageant. That paid most of my way to college. Paid for a couple of those schools, anyway. It’s unfortunate, certainly, too, that you look like your Grandpa Heat. Not that there’s anything to be ashamed of there, certainly there are those things which it is that are far worse off…girls who it seems don’t have the looks…but your looks, well, there are those who can cash in and there are others who can’t take it to the bank.”
Fuck you thought Cristol, Fuck you and your crossed eye, too. Her mother’s right eye was a bit lazy giving her an ever so slight crossed eyed appearance. It was one of the reasons Rachael wore glasses even after having had laser surgery to correct her vision. Her glasses were not corrective, they were cosmetic. It muted the cross-eyed look and she thought they also made her look intelligent. With Rachael Saplin, everything was about the sale – selling her looks, selling her story, selling a false impression of virtues she didn’t own.
Cristol continued to mentally talk back to her mother And here’s a big middle finger to your plans for me to go to college. She and Wrangler were going to get married in a couple years. She didn’t need college. Wrangler! That’s what this was all about. Her thoughts returned to the upcoming three days alone with him and she smiled. Next weekend, we’re gonna fuck our brains out. Ha, that’s funny – that’s why I’m not college material. I won’t have any brains left by graduation.
The unwitting teen’s timely tryst over the 2007 Memorial Day weekend had consequences no one could have foreseen, from gossip in the halls of Congress to tabloid headlines in London the names Wrangler Strauss and Cristol Saplin would be linked together. Coming of age in the information age, the deeds they did in secret will be discoverable forever in a cyberspace galaxy of a million cached pages. A lesson Cristol would some day sum up as: “Be careful what you wish for.”