Fat Tom and I have been friends since the beginning of time. If you started counting time at the release of Super Mario Brothers 3 for Nintendo, we’d have been right there. Tom lived on the other side of my block. Although I don’t recall how we met, I do recall our wrestling with each other, eating corn dogs, and once doing both at the same time, an experience we both relished since we wound up covered in the stuff. It was a red pepper relish that did us proud by making us look as if we’d torn flesh and drawn blood.
It wasn’t until high school that we expanded Tom’s name to ‘Fat’ Tom. This was an act of generosity on our part since it led to pity being bestowed upon Tom, usually from persons of the female variety, who’d previously never been willing to spend more than five minutes with our good friend. From outside our little gang looking in, this sympathy made some sense. From the inside looking out though, Tom got what he deserved. We all got what we deserved. Same as the rest of us, the moment you let up on Tom, he’d steamroll right over you, like the time he let fly with a disastrous anal blast in our buddy, Cody’s bedroom. Tom caught one whiff of his own gas, gagged and immediately slammed the door, sealing us all in. “Nobody leaves!” he cried, “We all die here together!” as he moved to block the door and squared up his bulk to tackle anyone who tried to escape.
Tom had a charming habit of barging into your house unannounced to use the facilities. When he was done, he’d open up your fridge and sample the spread while simultaneously mocking the selection. At school, one of the finest Fat Tom moments happened our freshman year. Tom had borrowed a dollar from me the previous week and I was starting to suspect I’d never see it again. I found him mulling over the cafeteria vending machine, and just as he punched E3, I saw my opportunity. As he reached for the bag from he slot, I ducked in and snatched the Flamin’ Hot Funyuns out of his hands. Of course, Tom gave chase down the corridor and up the stairs, but I downed the incendiary rings while on the run. By the time he caught up with me, those suckers were long gone.
“You owe me one bag of Funyuns!” Tom shouted.
“And you owed me one dollar!” I said. “Now we’re even.”
Tom disagreed. “I’m gonna get that money back,” he insisted, “In fact, I’m just gonna take it out of the change bowl at your house before you get home. I know right where it’s at!”
At the time, Tom was tooling around town on this rusty old moped that you could hear a half mile away, but even such a sorry set of wheels put me at a serious disadvantage. Although you could see my house from the school grounds (It was the dot on the horizon, past a cornfield.), the bus would inevitably get caught in traffic, and despite mine being the first stop on the route, I didn’t have a prayer beating Tom home, even with his Razz topping out at 23 mph, downhill. So I called upon Dave--a reliable ally in any crusade against Tom. I brought him up to speed and we quickly put together a plan. When the last period bell rang, we were ready. Tom hurried outside to the moped rack, where our pal, Stuart, was waiting. Stuart didn’t say a word as Tom approached; he just stared.
“What’s wrong, Stu?” Tom asked politely.
In many regards, Stuart was a lot like Tom, only bigger. A common scene from our childhood backyard football games was Stuart getting the ball and three of us clinging to his ankles while he dragged us into the end zone. Because of their similarly imposing demeanor and physique, Tom and Stuart often banded together to terrorize the rest of us but our alliances were fickle, easily broken by a snide remark, a stolen can of Pepsi, or a good old-fashioned shove. Like a statue coming to life, Stuart sprang into action and slapped Tom’s school bag out of his hands.
“Idiot!” Tom snapped but as he bent down to pick his books up, Stuart plucked the keys to his ride right out of his hands.
“Ha!” Stuart cried, dancing on the spot, dangling Tom's keys and threatening to toss them on the roof. This carried on until Tom finally tackled his fellow big man and wrestled his keys back out of his hands.
None of this stopped Tom, of course, but it bought us precious minutes. Dave and I had, meanwhile, abandoned the bus and were halfway across the cornfield in a foot race against time, but we had underestimated the trek. Although harvest season was over-- giving us a free run with nothing but a few hay bales to dodge--we had failed to take into account how rough the terrain was, or how long the trip. We couldn’t see Tom, but we could hear the rattle of his Razz in the distance and I suspected we weren’t going to beat him.
“Give me your bag,” I told Dave, “You go on without me!” Dave nodded and handed it over. Unhindered, he flew like a gazelle across the field and was quickly out of sight.
The rest of the trip was a slogging, tiresome endeavor. Tom was cruising by on his moped by the time I struggled into my backyard panting. I knew I was too late and, as soon as he saw me, so did Tom. He was smiling gleefully and cupping long distance farts at me. When I got around the side of the house, there was Tom on the porch, cackling like a bastard and ready to break in.
That was when the front door flew open.
“WHOOO!” shouted Dave, and speared Tom straight off the porch and into the bushes.
Powerbombs, tombstones and chokeslams were duly exchanged, but eventually Dave won
the day by placing Tom in a figure four. I’m not sure what happened after that, only that it ended as most boy conflicts did in Maquoketa then-- with a good laugh and a round of corn dogs.
In the years since the event here recounted, I’ve told countless tales of my youth, and for whatever reason, Tom has always been an audience favorite. When people ask about him, I’ll wax thoughtful and expound, “Well, deep down, beneath all the rabble-rousing, Tyler was just a good guy like the rest of us.
“Who?” they’ll ask.
“Tom, of course!” I’ll answer.
“Wait, what...you mean his real name isn’t even Tom?”
“No, duh,” I’ll tell them, as if two plus two didn’t equal three, “And he wasn’t fat either”
Then their jaws will drop and I’ll say, “Nah, he was just kinda husky. We all were. It was Iowa.
Dan Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as an electrician for his own company, 12 Stones Electric. Dan’s work has appeared in places like Downstate Story, SQ Mag, and Bending Genres. Visit Dan’s website, www.storyunlikely.com, to read more of his work, sign up for the mailing list there to receive a story every month.