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Stories from the crawlspace clubhouse
Book 4 in the “GP” series


It was the hottest day of summer so far. Mom said it would probably hit ninety-five degrees by noon and keep on climbing. It would have been a good day to just hang out at the lake where we could fish and jump in and out of the water and swim to the middle of the lake to cool off on the raft and later spend some time up in the tree house where the shade is good, but the guys and I had been planning our bike ride downtown for over a week and this time of year there weren’t any cool days, so we figured we would go ahead and tough it out.
We met down at Tunnel Number One and then took our bikes down the railroad tracks, bumping along in the middle on the railroad ties and talking about our plan if we saw a train coming. If we heard a train whistle coming from the south, fast action was required since we lived way out of town the train really picked up speed until it slowed for town.
Butch said, “Remember that time we were cruising the ties and that train came out of nowhere and was barreling down behind us?” We all started chiming in about what we each remembered most about it.
We were over Tunnel Number Three which is the tunnel that has the really, really steep trail leading up to the tracks and the only way off the track was pitching it down the hill. I pulled off the railroad tracks first, pointing my bike down the trail and rode my stingray down the thin, bumpy dirt trail along the tunnel and ended up riding it all the way down, hitting the jump at the bottom, getting great air and looking oh so cool and then cruising down in the grassy valley, making it look so easy and so did Butch, who was trailing right behind me. But Tony panicked halfway down the trail he pulled his front wheel up too high then tumbled down the hill with his bike bouncing along behind him, the bike barely missing him as it passed him and hurled itself bouncing off the side of the cliff and splashing down into the murky water and Tony was rolling along after it when he went sideways over the embankment falling about fifteen feet into the muddy water below landing almost right on top of his bike.
Butch and I were laughing so hard that it made Tony mad and he yanked his bike out of the water and pushed it home and didn’t talk to us for a couple days. But a few nights later we were all down at the streetlight and he showed up to play hide-n-seek like nothing had ever happened.
We swapped stories like that as we bumped along the tracks, laughing and practicing our spitting distances. It was the long way to where we were headed, but we were going the fun way. Then we pulled onto the road that ran along the railroad tracks through most of town.
We had ridden the ties one time through town and a police officer pulled up behind us with his lights on and everything. He made us all sit next to the tracks for a long time while he gave us a lecture about the dangers of being on the tracks and told us it was illegal to ride the ties in the middle of the tracks like that and if he ever saw us doing that again he would call our mothers. We all promised never to ride downtown on the tracks like that again, but we didn’t promise not to way out in the country where we were sure it wasn’t even illegal.
So we all got off of our bikes about halfway through town and put playing cards in our spokes. There was a part of downtown that was surrounded by tall buildings and when you rode through there with cards in your spokes it sounded like you were in a real life motorcycle gang. We got back on our bikes and rode alongside the railroad tracks on the road downtown.
“H-Hey since w-w-we are g-going to the grocery store, should w-we do a Gross-Rie d-dare off?” Andy asked excitedly.
“NO WAY LAMO! My mom is working today! You want free bakery stuff or not?” Tony barked.
Andy weaved his bike toward Tony’s like he was going to run him off the road, “G-Geez, don’t g-get your underwear in a kn-knot, I was j-just saying…”
“Guys! Cut it out!” I yelled over the loud sound of their shouting and the cards in my spokes that were echoing off the tall buildings along the tracks.
We talked about staging a grocery store dare-off soon when we were up in the tree house last, but never decided on when. We called it a GROSS-RIE STORE DARE OFF since the ideas we had were so disgusting.
The way it works is you would walk down the aisle and choose something the other guy had to eat AND he had to pay for it, but your turn was coming so you had to decide if you were going to be brutal which meant the next time you were in for it or if you just picked stuff that wasn’t so bad, but not what a normal person would choose. The rule of the game was that you had to eat every bite of the items chosen for you either until it was gone or until it made you puke.
Everyone put their name in a hat, and one by one the names were pulled out and the person holding your name would be choosing your lunch. Andy and I always prayed we would get each other because we were best friends and would go easy on each other. We knew what the other liked and we would make combinations that might sound gross to some people but we knew each other well enough to know it would be okay.
Like the time I made Andy eat beef jerky and marshmallows. He was supposed to smash them up together according to the game, but by the time he opened up his bags everyone was so focused on their own junk they didn’t even notice that he was eating them separately. That is the best part about being best friends, you know what your buddy likes most and Beef Jerky and Marshmallows were what Andy liked most. He picked fried chicken gizzards and wintergreen Certs for me. Butch started to complain because he also knew that I always got chicken gizzards when we went to Safeway, but eating them with Wintergreen Certs wasn’t something I did and the bad thing was Butch watched me like a hawk, so I had to mix them and it was pretty gross. But even so, Andy was doing me a favor by picking my favorites and then I didn’t feel like I had wasted my own money on junk I didn’t like.
Sometimes you would choose something that was yummy like a Snickers bar, but then the person that was going to eat it had to wrap it in sauerkraut or dip it in pickle juice or something like that. Other Gross-rie dare-offs were; a loaf of white Wonderbread soaked in the juice of canned red beets until it was so soggy you had to eat it with a spoon and that was after you ate all the cold, yucky beets or three bananas smashed up and mixed with all of the little packets of stuff you got back by the deli, which would include hot, red peppers, salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, soy sauce, relish, hot sauce, sugar, creamer, salad dressing, mayonnaise and the worst thing ever made to eat by anyone; Miracle whip.
One time I had to eat a stale fruitcake that was in the bargain bin for fifty cents soaked in ketchup, yellow mustard and pickle relish, the inside part wasn’t so bad, but the stuff that got the bready part soggy almost made me hurl.
But, the worst backfire was the time Andy had to eat raw stomach soaked in hot sauce, the butcher called it ‘Tripe’. Andy isn’t one to chicken out. He has so many big brothers that nothing ever really phases him. Butch was really mad at him about something so he was the one who dared him to eat the Tripe with a whole bottle of hot sauce poured over it. Andy had taken about three bites and was plugging his nose to get it down when everything from the freshly eaten tripe to the morning’s breakfast came up and out. Everyone started to gag just looking at the mess on the ground.
As we were getting close to the Safeway we all agreed we for sure shouldn’t do the Gross-rie store dare-off because Tony’s mom was working and we didn’t want to spoil what was in store for us when we got there.
We headed for the Safeway store to get lunch. Tony’s mom worked in the bakery and if Tony gave her a heads up that we were all coming she always gave us the day-old Danish and junk. We didn’t care if it was a day old, a week old or a month old, a whole bag of Danish, donuts and long johns tasted good all the time.
We left our bikes propped up in the front of the store where the carts are kept and ran into the big store. We trotted back to the bakery first. When Tony’s mom saw me she said, “Well hello Gabriel, I see you still have at least one sweet tooth left!” The way she said tooth told me she was making some kind of comment about the time I had swiped her kid’s old, rotten pulled out teeth and I felt kind of sheepish.
“Yeah… I said I was sorry…” I muttered.
“Honey, I am just kidding with you.” Tony’s mom gave me a little hug.
“Mom, what’ve you got for us today?” Tony whispered, like it was some big secret that his mom gave us stale baked goods.
We talked to Tony’s mom for a little while and then she handed us two bags stuffed totally full of good stuff. She said, “You boys have to pay for these today, they aren’t free anymore.”
We walked about ten feet away from the bakery and I looked at Tony like he himself had betrayed us. “What gives with that? I didn’t bring that much money!”
“Yeah, what good is it to have a mom in the bakery if we don’t get free junk?” Butch snarled
“I d-don’t have t-t-too much m-money either!” Andy stammered.
“Cool it guys!” Tony snarled and pushed one of the bags in our faces. The price on the tag was fifteen cents.
Tony’s mom had come up behind us, “A penny a piece boys, a penny apiece.” She laughed and headed into the back of the bakery.
“That’s weird.” I said
“Mom told me it is okay to give away the day old stuff, but her manager needs her to do it that way because of inventory. She gave me fifty cents to cover it and these two bags are only thirty-two cents, so zip it you bunch of goons!”
“Goons? Who us?” I said sarcastically, “Goons are our brothers, not us, you big dork!”
“Who you calling dork?” Tony set the bags on a shelf and put me in a headlock and started to give me a wet willie.
“GROSS!” I pulled away from him, but my elbow caught a bunch of cans and they went tumbling to the ground making a huge racket.
All the other shoppers turned and looked at us. I hope my face wasn’t as red as Tony’s. Just then Tony’s mom rounded the corner. “Just what do you two think you are doing?”
“Nothing!” we both said at the same time and then scrambled to return the cans of lima beans to the shelf.
“Do you want to get me fired?” Tony’s mom asked with her hands on her hips.
“NO…” we both said under our breath, kind of ashamed of ourselves.
The manager rounded the corner and looked at the cans still lying on the floor, “Two of these cans are dented now. I can’t sell them, so you boys will have to buy them.”
Tony’s mom disappeared before the fireworks began. “Uh sure…” Tony stammered. “How much?”
“One dollar a piece.” The manager snarled.
“A buck!” I just watched my can of Pringles disappear for some lousy dented lima beans and it wasn’t even my fault. If Tony hadn’t been trying to spit up my ear I never would have knocked them off the shelf.
“Those are pretty expensive for some lousy beans…” Tony muttered and then as he was setting the last can on the shelf he said, “Hey, this tag says they’re only twenty-nine cents! What gives with the buck?”
“Denting charge.” The manager chuckled.
“DENTING CHARGE?” we both said at the same time.
“Don’t worry about it, I am just kidding. I’ll put them on our half price bargain bin. Just clean up your mess and stop messing around inside the store!” He called over the top of the aisle toward the bakery, “Louise, you sure have a gullible boy here!”
We walked away from the aisle, grabbing our baked goods and Tony whispered, “What’s gullible mean Peters?”
“Means you are totally lame.” I answered and then hustled away from him to see what was cooking back in the lunch area. That was a close one. The last thing I would want to eat for lunch was a cold can of overpriced lima beans. After we picked out some stuff, we walked over to the freezer part, where the ice cream is kept and pushed our faces down onto the frost. “Mmmmmm, that feels great! It is so, so hot today!” I complained.
Murph, Butch and Andy had wisely distanced themselves from us and they were wandering around the store getting all of their favorites for our picnic lunch. Murph grabbed a hot plastic plate from the warmer with chicken gizzards and livers and a tall coke. “GonnatryyourfavoritetodayPeters!KindoflikeArmyrations…”
I rolled my eyes and got a can of Pringles and a big beef jerky stick and a red cream soda. “Uh, I don’t eat the livers.” I said nodding my head at his platter.
Murph was too proud or something to put it back and get just gizzards, “Yeahwellthat’smyfavoritepart!” he sneered, but I knew he had never tried one really. So we walked up to the front together, on side of my face felt like a frozen popsicle, numb like when the dentist put some kind of junk in my mouth so he could pull one of my baby teeth once.
Andy had the weirdest lunch I have ever seen: he got some snowballs; which are those nasty gloppy marshmallowy coconut covered chocolate things, a Mountain Dew, two packs of Slim Jims and a pink grapefruit. “Gotta k-k-keep my strength up. S-Starting K-K-Karate l-lessons next w-w-eek!”
“Yeah some Karate lessons huh? Just your big brother punching you around in the basement if you ask me.” Tony snarled.
“Shut up Tony!” I snarled, “Andy could whup your butt now, even without Karate.”
“Oh, I am so scared.” Tony gave Andy and me a dirty look then grabbed a small jar of peanut butter and a jar of jelly and a box of saltine crackers.
“You better get something to drink buddy! That is going to dry your mouth out!” I laughed.
Andy looked at the ground, “C-C-Can’t.”
“Why not?”
“I’m out of m-money.”
I pulled fifty cents out of my pocket and pushed it into his hand.
“Th-Thanks!” Andy went for the cold soda bin.
Butch came running up to the check out line, “I didn’t get anything yet! Wait up guys!”
“We’vebeenhereforhoursman,whathaveyoubeendoing?” Murph sneered.
“Reading the new Mad Magazine! What me worry?” Butch shrugged and had a dopey grin on his face like Alfred E. Newman.
“HURRY UP!” we all yelled.
So Butch ran around and came back with a big box of fudgesicles and a box of Otter Pops. “WhatareyougoingtodowithOtterPops?Theyhavetobefrozenyoudummy!” Murph laughed.
“Say’syouArmyDork!” Butch’s face got all red and he thumped Murph’s shoulder hard.
“Ow,yougavemeafrogbubble!” Murph screamed. The manager gave us a dirty look and we all shushed Murph.
I frowned, “But, seriously Butchie, you have to eat Otter Pops frozen!”
“No way, this is the best way to eat Otter Pops, it’s like super sweet Koolaid!” Butch insisted.
“What a dork!” Tony laughed. “Let’s go!” We went through the checkout and carried all of our loot to our bikes. When we left the air-conditioned store it felt like we had walked right into a sauna. My face tingled. It was so hot Butch’s Fudgesicles immediately began to melt and by the time he had chewed one down the rest were seeping out of the box. “Here guys, help me eat these. They ain’t gonna last! But you have to share your stuff with me then!”
Tony laughed, “Good thing you didn’t freeze those otter pops, wouldn’t have done any good.”
“See, I ain’t as dumb as you think!” Butch argued.
“You is if you says ain’t all the time.” I laughed.
“Nice grammar Peters.”
“Uh, that was intentional if you didn’t notice.” I laughed and shoved a Fudgesicle in my mouth.
We got on our bikes and started peddling toward the City Park. Murph was riding with one hand on the handlebar and with the other took one of the chicken livers out of the steaming package and stuffed it into his mouth. He got the worst look on his face, “YuckPetersyoulikethisnastystuff?” He threw one at Tony’s head.
“Watch it dummy!” Tony yowled.
“I told you I only like the gizzards, never livers, you weirdo!” I started to laugh. Murph pulled another liver out and threw at me. It whizzed right past my head. Then he threw one at a dog that was walking up the sidewalk. The dog sniffed it and wolfed it down and looked at us as we passed, hoping for another one. He started to trot after us and then just sat on the sidewalk under a shady tree. It was just too hot to run. The whole way down the street Murph was pelting us with livers.
“Try another one of the gizzards dummy! They might grow on you.” I weaved and yelled over the crackling of the cards in my spokes.
“NowayI’mnotputtinganotheroneofthosenastythinginmymouth!” Murphed yelled.
“Seriously, they are great! Don’t throw them too! I’ll eat them if you don’t want them! They don’t taste like the livers!” I yelled ducking a thrown one.
We wheeled our way down the side of one of the busiest streets in town, heading west to City Park. When we got near you could hear all the crazy kids on the other side of the lake that were cooling off in the big pool. You could smell the popcorn and cotton candy from the snack shack near the pool as we rounded the lake. “Man, that’s making me so hungry!” We have like ten thousand pounds of food and don’t forget our bakery bags!” I said as I dumped my bike in the grass and ran for the shaded picnic tables near the lake.
We were all so hot we sat right down by the lake, tore our shoes off and soaked our feet in the nasty, oily water. You could see all kinds of duck and goose poop floating and on the grass, but we didn’t care. We all stuffed our faces and the Pringles were making me so thirsty, I chugged down my whole bottle of red cream soda and then wished I would have paced myself. In a few minute I was going to be thirsty again.
We divided all the bakery stuff up evenly with a little bit of argument about who was going to get the two raspberry filled, I ended up with one, but gave half to Andy. I was getting stuffed and threw a piece of a long john at some geese that were hoping for a handout. All of a sudden they were honking and moving over each other to get closer to us. We all started throwing little chunks of baked goods onto the water and tried to throw it where it made them swim and fight for it. One of the geese rushed the shore and ran right up Butch’s leg. He started screaming and the goose got spooked and flapped his way back to the safety of the water. Almost as soon as we were down to the last crumbs from the bakery bags they started to swim away to see what other people sitting around the lake might have.
We spent the rest of the afternoon lying around in the sun. Going back and forth from the pool to the park where we had swinging and singing contests. You had to pick a dumb song and sing it in the rhythm of your swinging and the goal was to kick hard enough that you were swinging back and forth really fast so your song went faster and faster. The funniest one was Murph because he already talked so fast that when he sang he sang even faster and so off tune other people in the park were covering their ears and making comments about how he could make a dog cry with that voice.
“So mature Murph!” Tony scowled, but we were all laughing and you should have seen the look on some of the mom’s faces who were pushing their little kids around the merry-go-round. Some of them looked kind of mad. Some of them were laughing.
Then we saw Mrs. O’Malley, our school’s librarian heading right toward us. It was pretty weird to see a teacher or librarian out of the school building. Why would she be there? Didn’t she live at school? What did she want? I wondered. Then I remembered my overdue book charge that I never took care of before school was out and I took off running through the trees toward the lake.
All the guys followed me and I yelled, “We gotta get out of here!” before you knew it, we were pedaling noisily down the street toward the railroad tracks that would lead us back home.