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Inspirational Reads

Hungry? Try a Zumstick!

May 23, 2007

For some time now (well, ever since she started working in the bookselling business, at least), my wife has been trying to convince me to write a story about down-home life in Indiana that I experienced while growing up. Being in tune with the shit books people buy on a daily basis and what their tastes run toward, I trust her in this enough to entertain the idea. It doesn't involve massive battles or new ways to work mammoths and terror birds into my stories, but it does entertain me to think about all the things that currently have shaped my being and how they relate to a little forgotten corner of Huntington/Wells county, Indiana.

Her vision is to call the book "Zumsticks", as that seems to embrace the downhome nature of what it is she's urging me to write. A "zumstick" (it might properly be "ZUMstick") is the creation of some brilliant mind at Zanesville United Methodist church (thus, ZUM). I don't remember all of the ingredients, but it consisted of apple slices, pineapple chunks, maybe some cantelope (or, as we in Indiana called it, "musk melon") and those bigass marshmallows which are perfect for making smores and/or setting on fire and flinging at your friends around ye olde campfire (nothing says downhome like flaming balls of fast-carbonizing sugary goo flying at your eye). These were carefully impaled on a long, wooden skewer, refrigerated, and then dipped in magic shell chocolate sauce. I'm not sure if it actually was Magic Shell, or if it was some other concoction that got hard after drying, but to say the least, biting into a Zumstick was a little bit like taking a sip of a thirty year old novelty drink modeled off the Beatles: it took you to a different realm altogether.

Now, every year in the midwest, which is littered dotted with thousands of towns and burgs that can only be described as "podunk" (not even "one horse' captures the absurdity of naming a wide spot in the road) will celebrate some aspect of their heritage. In my hometown, it was the "Wildcat Festival". In the town where we had our lake cottage, it was the Mermaid Festival. There are blueberry festivals, apple festivals, and even, somewhere in Michigan, a Sausage Festival (no word on what kind of movies they show there...) The good people of Zanesville United Methodist chuch would show up at all of these with their cart full of Zumsticks, ready to sell them to the general populance who wandered through. And, if you've ever seen the general populance at one of these festivals, you'd understand why they'd go right for the Zumsticks. In fact, they might just suck the chocolate off, eat the marshmallows, and use the fruit as bait for the fishing contest.

And there you have it: the derivation of the title of my memoirs.

Not that I've decided to give up working on my current opi (I assume that is the proper plural of opus), mind you. However, sometimes, I'm struck with a touch of inspiration. Most recently, I was touched by the finger of inspiration and jotted down this little story. I'm not sure if it's the sort of shit story that my wife's customers are clamoring for, but it does amuse the hell out of me. Enjoy.

"Back when I was in the first grade, I was still naive enough to think that the whole world needed to like me. For some strange reason, I was a likeable kid. Sure, I got picked on, had my ears flicked, got teased and all the stuff that playground kids go through. As I matured, this whole likeable kid stuff stuck with me. I guess I was, for some strange reason, inoffensive enough that people would look at me and say 'There's a decent fellow...he doesn't stink...he's not necessarily popular...he doesn't piss me off. He's ugly as hell, but he doesn't piss me off.' When I graduated, people applauded me, and it struck me as odd, because only the popular kids got applauded like that.
"So, when I was in the first grade, I thought that I should try and carry this whole thing out to where everyone in the world should like me. This was all well and good, because my friends liked me, my teachers liked me, even people I didn't think of as being great friends liked me. Everyone liked me, except for one notable exception: Tammy Pfaltzgraf.
"I don't know what I did to Tammy Pfaltzgraf, other than the fact that I simply was. She was rude to me, she ignored me when I talked to a group and she was in it. She sneered at me--sneered!!! Now, in the first grade, sneering is the equivalent to insulting your manhood, and so I never quite understood what the deal was. So, I went out of my way to start making Tammy Pfaltzgraf see through the veneer of unlikeableness and to see the true, likeable me. In my grand design for the universe in which every single person liked me, she was the final cog and she would be subjogated.
"With that in mind, I set off on my merry task. I began going out of my way to talk to her. I gave her cuts in line at the drinking fountain. I even sat beside her one day at lunch, which was a big deal because the whole table was full of girls, and frankly, at that age, I was a little intimidated by such a wall of double X chromosomes. It would only be later in life when I would figure out why it was that I was so intimidated. But, I digress
"Again, in my naivite, I did not realize that what I was doing was akin to courtship. I just thought it was what friends did: they were nice to one another. Besides, I was already 'going with' Maria Ramirez (exotic, I know), so I didn't think anything of it. However, Tammy Pfaltzgraf thought something of it. Tammy Pfaltzgraf thought I was crushing on her.
"Now, this would have been all well and good, except for two notable exceptions. One, the aforementioned Maria Ramirez, who was very cute and very nice and very sweet to and on me. Two, Tammy Pfaltzgraf was really none of these. In fact, Tammy Pfaltzgraf kind of looked like a pig. It was unfortunate that the Pfaltzgraf family was comprised of a long line of pig farmers, so sometimes one would question the true nature of Tammy's mother.
"Eventually, it came to be that Angie Musterman passed me a note telling me that Tammy Pfaltzgraf liked me, in true first-grade style: Do you like her? Yes, No, Maybe So (circle one of them). I was aghast. My master plan had finally come to fruition, and yet, it had gone too far. I had to end this immediately, lest I upset the sweet, cute, friendly Maria Ramirez and thus end up womanless.
"I ended up not answering the note and thus began to ignore Tammy Pfaltzgraf. I wasn't outright mean and rude to her, but I no longer went out of my way to speak to her. I said hi to her on the playground only after she said hi. I didn't give her cuts. I didn't sit with her anymore. I didn't share my intimate thoughts on the letter 'c'. In fact, I pretty much went back to living life the way I had, hoping that my plan to get everyone in the world to like me would revert back to everyone in the world except Tammy Pfaltzgraf would like me.
"And so it was. Tammy Pfaltzgraf soon fell out of like with me, and my relationship with Maria Ramirez lasted well into the third grade (when she dumped me, ironically, to go with Tammy's older cousin, Shawn). I went on mostly avoiding and not speaking to Tammy Pfaltzgraf, even to the point where I didn't say hi to her in the hallways. When we got to high school, I lost all contact with Tammy Pfaltzgraf; in fact, I was not certain that she still existed at all. I'm not even sure if she graduated with us. I just know that she was largely a non-entity in my life after the first grade. Tammy Pfaltzgraf could have grown up to be a beautiful supermodel for all I know, and be rich beyond her wildest dreams. I sincerely doubt it, as they don't take on many supermodels who look a little bit like pigs, but there's always that possibility."

And just so you know, the names have been changed (even Maria Ramirez', even though was just as exotic in real life...oh spicy!).

EDIT/UPDATE: I changed a couple of things in the story (like, switching the word "face" to "fact" so that it no longer read "in face, I was not certain...").
I also looked up Tammy Pfaltzgraf (the real name, not her pseudonym) on google. Turns out she's a porn star! Just kidding. She's a lunch lady at an elementary school near my hometown (in fact, the elementary school that my cousins attended). And she pretty much looks exactly the same as she did in the first grade.


gledwood said...

Crown of Thistles reminds me of Prince Charles ... but then you're American so I don't think it was he you had in mind when you came up with that name, was it? ... Re your writing idea - just go for it? Why not. Time is better spent writing than doing many other things ... I was very depressed today till I started bloghopping. Found you by a press of the "next" button. I keep a little blog collection too. If you want to drop by you're welcome to; my main one's at
that's my online diary. Last week I also started up a couple of video blogs. My clip of the day's called Throwing Pies at Flies - it's really hilarious! Anyway I'd better go I'm babbling now ... take it easy ...
"Gledwood Vol 2"

Ψ*Ψ said...

You're a pretty good storyteller.