By Hank Kirton
Photo © Richard A. Meade
April 14th 1987, Tourniquet, Montana.
The baby was crying. It wouldn’t stop crying.
Alisha, 16, turned up the volume on the television, trying to drown out the sound. She hated the nerve-peeling screech of a crying baby. It was the sound of psychosis. It was the sound of a car collision, of tearing flesh and metal and the shattering of glass and bone.
Alisha was not popular. Constantly bullied, teased and provoked, Alisha wished she could move through her hallway days undetected, small and invisible like Billy Warren or Jen Shmilling-Smoot. But there was something loud and obtrusive about Alisha’s malfunctioning personality, something that made her an easy mark. On Monday, two girls (Tina Cruse and Irma Ernst) followed her down the hall, spitting at the back of her long red hair and laughing. Everyone thought it was really funny. Nobody came to her rescue, not even the teachers.
When she got home, Alisha scrubbed her hair until her scalp was sore.
High school was an absolute nightmare.
Alisha found solace in television. She enjoyed the show Grievances, about two middle-aged women who complain a lot.
Alisha could still hear the baby crying.
Grievances starred Suzanne Pleshette and Brenda Vaccaro. It was thirty minutes long, filmed before a live studio audience.
Pleshette: “Salad again? If I eat another salad, I’m going to turn into a rabbit.” She takes a drag on her cigarette.
Vaccaro: “You think that’s bad? I’ve taken so much stool-softener, I think I passed my uterus this morning.” She lights a cigarette.
Pleshette: “Oh well, you weren’t using it anyway.” She stubs out her cigarette.
Audience laughs, hoots and applauds.
Greivances was followed by a show about a special-needs teacher coping with the onset of Alzheimer’s. It was a comedy called Who’s in Charge Here? The absent-minded teacher was played by a clumsy, bumbling Chuck McCann. On every show he would utter the popular catch-phrase, “Who’s in charge here?” honestly confused. And his class would yell, “YOU ARE!” and the audience would cheer and applaud.
“Shut-up!” Alisha screamed.
The baby’s name was Pawn and he would not shut up.
He would not stop crying.
Who’s in charge here?
Alisha stomped into the kitchen during the commercial.
The first commercial was for a new product; monkey-shaped potato chips. They were called Potato Chimps© and Jane Goodall was the spokesperson: “When I’m in the field and feeling a bit peckish, I reach for a can of Potato Chimps©. They stay crunchy even in the damp, tropical rainforest of Gombi.”
Alisha rifled through the kitchen drawers until she found a wooden spoon.
She stormed into the nursery.
She screamed at little Pawn, right into his chubby little face, “Shut-up!”
“Shut the fuck up!”
She cracked the spoon over Pawn’s head.
Crack! Crack! Crack!
The screaming intensified.
She finally gave up and left the room, slamming the door.
She fell back on the couch. A commercial for the next show came on, a talk show called Banal Conversations, hosted by the “ghost” of Arthur Godfrey (actually a rotating cast of Arthur Godfrey impersonators in ghostly whiteface). The subject that week was, “The Pros and Cons of Eating Saltines with Soup.”
Alisha was ten minutes into Banal Conversations before she realized that Pawn had stopped crying. Thank God. She redirected her attention back to the television.
A hidden camera that Pawn’s parents had installed in a large, grinning teddy bear had recorded Alisha’s wooden-spoon antics. She was arrested and charged with neglect and physical maltreatment of a child. Her mom bailed her out before she had to spend the night in stir. Little Pawn sported little bruises and little bumps on his little head but his little brain remained undamaged.
The footage ran on the local news. There were grainy stills in the local paper of Alisha hitting Pawn with the spoon.
Then the story went national.
The media dubbed her the “Wooden-Spoon Babysitter” and the term “spoon head-spank” entered the lexicon. Alisha became even more unpopular than ever.
Now the whole country hated her.
Richard A. Meade