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“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series, here if you’re interested in reading more, and here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget: “Karaoke at Maui Sugar Mill Saloon with Buck Stallion”

I am not a fighting man.

In fact, in my 37 years on this planet, the only physical confrontation I’ve ever found myself in came in the seventh grade. It was in Miss Scharrer-Erickson’s science class at Jackie Robinson Middle School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and John Haynes held me down while Marsherri French pummeled my face.

In their defense, I deserved it. In addition to being a little shit at the time (which both of my parents can eagerly attest to, I’m sure), I made the fatal mistake of calling Marsherri a “bitch” to her face. I never made that mistake again with Marsherri… or any woman for that matter.

When I was younger—and I’m not talking middle-school young, but rather early-twenties young—I was definitely quick to confront people on… whatever. Not physical confrontation, of course, but verbal. I loved having an opinion, and I was obsessed with sharing it with the world. And if you happened to not agree with me? Well, to put it bluntly, you were both wrong and dumb.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’d like to think I’ve become less confrontational, wiser, and… well, I guess some might say “soft.” Still, I’d rather be soft than an asshole. If you could build a time machine, go back to 2001, and tell the 25-year-old me this was the case, I’d insist on traveling back with you to 2014 and beating the ever-living shit out of the 37-year-old me.

Although, I think I could take the 25-year-old me in a fight.

And that brings me back to my original point: I’m never looking for a fight, especially at this age. But earlier tonight, for whatever reason, a fight was looking for me. Specifically, at Maui Sugar Mill Saloon in Tarzana, California.

Every couple months or so, my sister organizes a Tuesday night karaoke get-together at Sugar Mill, a dive bar with a pool table and free (insanely salted) popcorn. Karaoke is run by an old fella named Lenny, who wears a fedora and tie, and always takes a few cracks at a handful of Sinatra tunes. Lenny is usually accompanied by a young woman named Bethany, who pretty much runs the entire show.

Last night, however, Bethany was nowhere to be found. Instead, she had been permanently replaced by a guy named “Buck Stallion” (no shit), a karaoke incubus whose only real talent came in sucking all life and fun out of the evening.

In fairness, we were warned. On our way over to the bar, I got this text from my sister: “Oh no. There’s a new douche that has replaced Bethany. He’s awful.”

That would prove to be a spot-on description of Dick Palomino, but still, we had to check him out for ourselves. I mean, how bad could he really be?

Really. Fucking. Bad.

When we showed up, Buck was up onstage singing a song. Then he sang another. And another. This wasn’t karaoke; it was a Buck Stallion concert. And Buck Stallion is to concerts what Dane Cook is to standup: THE WORST.

Still, I walked over to the bar to order a beer. In the time it took me to get said beer, Buck referred to people in the bar as “fuckfaces” and “retards.” He also changed a song lyric into the hilarious line, “I came on your face,” and told us that if he saw anyone on their phone he was going to “kick them in the face.”

Good times, right?!? High-five!

Thankfully, our friend Jaq put in a song and took the stage. Finally, we’d have at least three or four minutes of non-Buck yammering! Right? WRONG!

Buck sang along with Jaq. And anyone else who submitted a song. At one point, he sang the theme from Cheers four fucking times in a row.

It was at this point that I took one of the song request sheets, flipped it over, and wrote this on the back:

Jeffrey Dahmer + Adolf Hitler + Fucking = Buck Stallion

Let me be clear: Initially, it wasn’t my intention for anyone to see this but our friends. My sister watched and laughed as I wrote it, and that was honestly as far as it was supposed to go. I folded it up and stuck it in my shirt pocket.

I was only halfway done with my beer when we collectively decided to leave the nightmare that was karaoke with Cock Bronco. I downed the rest of my Racer 5 and headed for the door. Outside, KB talked with an employee about how horrible the place had become. They said she should go in and complain to the owner, who was apparently too busy playing pool at the back of the bar to notice what a train wreck his establishment had become.

We waited while KB went back inside to complain; when she came out a couple minutes later, she said, “He said, ‘Too, bad. A lot of people like him.'”

Which “people” he was talking about, I have no idea; I’m assuming deaf people don’t regularly hang out at karaoke bars but, hey, you never know, I guess.

The owner’s indifference changed the game. I walked back inside, handed my letter to a bartender, and told him to give it to the owner when he was free. I went back outside and rejoined the group, who were collectively trying to figure out where we should go next for a drink.

And then it happened: Buck Stallion walked out of the bar, his white cowboy hat tipped back (Oh, did I forget to mention he was wearing a fucking cowboy hat? Yeah, he was.), his shirt unbuttoned halfway down to his bellybutton, and a steady stream of sweat flowing between his man-boob canyon.

And he had my note in his hand.

Seriously, within in the span of two minutes, the bartender gave it to the owner, the owner gave it to the karaoke cowboy, and then—BOOM!—like that, he was outside and ready to throw down. If only Maui Sugar Mill Saloon moved that quickly when getting someone their drinks.

Buck sarcastically asked where we were going, why we were leaving so early. My sister said it was because he sucked, to which KB replied, “Yeah, you’re really bad.” He ignored this and went back to the note, which apparently had struck a nerve: “Really? Jeffrey Dahmer fucking Hitler?”

He circled me and uttered the word “pussy” (I can’t remember in what context), to which I replied: “I’m a pussy? Really? Tell you what? I wrote that note in your hand, and I’m right here. Who’s a pussy now?” KB says I also called him a pussy, though again, I can’t remember in what context.

This is where I come back to my main point: I’m not a fighter. I went to a private art school in Ohio, for Christ’s sake, so I don’t possess one ounce of machismo in my entire body.

Still, I was ready to go fucking buck wild on Buck Stallion. Yeah, I probably would’ve gotten my ass kicked, but not before I gave him a nice little sack tap with my Adidas. Or at least knocked off his cowboy hat. Yeah, I’m not a fighter.

Anyway, it was at this point that the conversation got weird.

Buck Stallion: “What do you do for a living, man? Huh? What do you do that’s so important?”

Looking back on it, I should’ve replied, “I’m a fucking firefighter!” or “I’m a fucking astronaut!” or “I’m a fucking firefighter astronaut!” because I think it would’ve been really hard to have a snide retort to a statement like that.

Instead, the truth slipped out of my mouth: “I’m a writer!”

Justin Shady: WRITER BADASS!

He made some sarcastic comment about how I’m a “really good writer” (obviously based on my offensive letter writing skills), to which I replied, “I know! I’m gonna submit that letter for a Pulitzer tomorrow morning!” In hindsight, I have no idea what this even meant, but it sounded good at the time.

We moved in a little closer to each other, and for a brief second I thought, “Holy shit… is this really happening? Are we going to fight? Is this cowboy jag gonna pound my face in like Marsherri French did in the seventh grade?”

But my thought was cut short when our good friend Jaq, who is a very tall drink of water, stepped in between us and said (very calmly), “I’m just gonna do this now.” That immediately defused the situation. That, and KB yelling at me to, “Get in the car!” Thank Christ.

Buck sauntered back inside. We all decided we had probably just had the most exciting moment of the entire night, and that nothing we did afterward would compete with it. So we all parted ways in agreement of one crystal clear thing: We’ll avoid Buck Stallion karaoke like the plague, and we’ll definitely never go back to Maui Sugar Mill Saloon.

Although, I’m pretty sure we’re probably banned from the bar anyway, especially because I wrote this review on their Yelp page. And then the owner replied. HA!

As we drove away, we heard Buck onstage reading my letter to the people in the bar. I’m pretty sure this is the first time my writing has ever been performed on a stage in front of a live audience. Thanks, Buck! I’m sure this is my first step towards an EGOT!

So if you’re looking for a night of being yelled at and talked down to, ridiculously loud obnoxiousness, and a host who acts as if he’s a clichéd character that stepped right out of a shitty Adam Sandler movie, I can’t recommend Tuesday night karaoke at Maui Sugar Mill Saloon enough!

If you don’t want to have a night like that, go anywhere else.

Best night of non-karaoke ever,


PS: If you’re interested in reading another near-fight story of mine, check out this post from 2008.

“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series, here if you’re interested in reading more, and here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget: “Losing My Wisdom”

Yesterday, I finally did something I should have done a long time ago: I got my wisdom teeth pulled. Or at least three of the four that were attached to my skull just 48 hours ago.

Yes, most people get their wisdom teeth pulled at a young age, but for whatever reason I decided to wait until I was 36 years old to have mine done.

My sister waited until she was 32 to lose her wisdom. And, oddly enough, we both got our teeth pulled yesterday; on the same day, at the nearly the same time, by two separate oral surgeons in two different parts of town. We didn’t plan it that way. In fact, neither one of us knew the other person was getting their teeth yanked until last week, when Beth called me to ask for a ride to her appointment.

Pretty bizarre.

Anyway, I opted out of anesthesia. Mostly because I’m not big on the idea of being knocked out (years ago, I also opted to stay awake during a colonoscopy… more on that story another time), but also because I had heard the recovery time for people who get put under can be longer than for those who don’t. Oh, and I also didn’t want to pay for it. So, there’s that.

After a quick 3D scan of my skull (which I was super excited to see), we realized my bottom right tooth is impacted extremely low on my jaw (top left below).

Leave my teeth be!

Normally, this is a bad thing. But the scan also showed it lying alongside a nerve, which could cause some long-lasting side effects should I decide to have it pulled.

Shady: “What kind of side effects?”

Oral Surgeon: “Numbness of the lip and jaw.”

Shady: “And how long-lasting are we talking?”

Oral Surgeon: “Couple of weeks. Possibly up to a few months. For a very small percentage of people, it might never go away.”

Needless to say, I opted to have three pulled. Mostly because I don’t want liquids to pour out of the side of my mouth every time I take a drink of something.

The three teeth I did have pulled had all surfaced; the top two were completely out, and the bottom one was mostly out. KB considered doing some running around while I underwent the actual surgery, but an assistant told her: “I wouldn’t go anywhere. This isn’t going to take more than a half hour, tops.”

And with that, he jinxed it.

The first two teeth to come out (the tops) were about as easy as opening cans of soda. Pop! Pop! Within the first five minutes, they were gone.

“Shit,” I thought as I sat there, “forget a half hour. We’ll be done in ten minutes.”

Or not. The surgeon started off great, but apparently that last tooth was made out of some insanely hard material that no oral surgeon had ever come face-to-face with before.

He yanked at it. He cracked it. He drilled it. He chiseled it.

And still, my molar—which apparently is made out of either adamantium or some indestructible space rock—wouldn’t budge.

At one point, the surgeon asked his assistant to “go find a smaller tool.” (Heh, heh.) He did.

I sat (and the surgeon stood) in silence for a beat. He leaned over, peered into my open mouth, and quietly said…

Oral Surgeon: “Jesus.”

…at which point I started laughing; bloody spittle flew out of my mouth and landed on my bib.

The surgeon apologized. I mumbled back, “Don’t worry about it,” which probably sounded more like, “Dur burbly abak kak.”

The assistant returned with the smaller tool (still… heh, heh), and the surgeon headed back into the war zone that was my mouth.

And once again, he yanked at it. He cracked it. He drilled it. He chiseled it.

Finally, he pulled the last piece of root from my torn-to-shreds gum line. His face showed a great sense of accomplishment; his forehead showed a great amount of sweat.

The first two teeth had taken only five minutes, but that last one took over a half hour to get out of my head.

Oral Surgeon: “On a scale of one to ten, that tooth was an eleven. It was one of the hardest teeth I’ve ever had to pull in my entire career, and I’ve pulled thousands.”

Shady: “Well, at least I’ll be remembered.”

An hour later, I emailed my family this photo with one word: “Puffy!”


Recovery has been alright. I ate a shitload of ice cream last night, which is always good. But the best part was they let me keep my teeth. Or at least the two they didn’t have to blast into pieces to get out of my skull.

Cool! And gross!

I sincerely apologize to anyone I’ve ever kissed, because those are pretty gnarly.

So glad it’s over,


“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget: “Frank Oz”

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of these, and I usually wait much longer before putting a pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard… whatever) on these types of stories. That’s because, like a fine wine or a vat of homemade chili, my stories usually get better with time, mostly because I have more opportunities to tell them over and over again and fine tune them along the way. After a few years, the story’s structure is much more sound, its punchlines way funnier, and I’m able to make myself look both really hilarious and brilliant in the process.

But this Frank Oz tale is much more recent than the childhood friend beating or fart arsenal stories of my youth, or even the dog overdosing stories of recent years. This story happened a little over two weeks ago, though it all began more than a decade ago in February 2001.

Back then, I interviewed Frank Oz for “Tastes Like Chicken” (you can read the interview here). Of course, I’ve been a huge Muppet fan since just shortly after birth, so the opportunity to speak on the telephone with the man responsible for Fozzie Bear, Grover and Yoda (among countless other icons of my youth) was pretty amazing.

Bit of a back story on the interview: Frank’s publicist and I had been playing phone tag over the span of a week or so. She was trying to find a good time for Frank to get on the phone because he was busy with post-production on “The Score,” a film he directed that was released later that year. The interview had been scheduled and rescheduled two or three times earlier in the week, which is a fairly common practice especially when dealing with an admittedly small publication like “Tastes Like Chicken.” We were running the entire thing out of our house, so we all worked long hours (for free) and rolled with the punches.

One morning, probably somewhere a little before 9:00 AM, our phone rang. I had been working/drinking late into the early morning hours the night before, so I sprung out of bed in a haze of confusion and answered the phone. It was Oz’s publicist; she apologized for the few missed previous attempts to get Frank on the phone.

Shady: Don’t worry about it. I’m totally flexible; I can do it whenever.

Frank Oz’s Publicist: Could you do it today?

Shady: Absolutely.

Frank Oz’s Publicist: Okay. Could you hold on one second?

Shady: Sure.

The sound of Muzak filled my ear as I waited. For what, I had no clue. Until–

Frank Oz: Hello?

Shady: Yeah?

Frank Oz: This is Frank Oz.

The next moment happened quickly, within the milliseconds of a beat or two, but I vividly remember glancing over at the full-length mirror that hung on the back of my bedroom door and seeing myself standing there in an early morning cloud of confusion, talking on the phone with Cookie Monster, and doing it all butt naked.

Thank goodness video phones were still considered science fiction back then.

I fumbled as I threw on a pair of boxers and a t-shirt with one hand, and grabbed for the phone recorder with the other. I’m hoping that I sounded cool and collected to Frank, but in reality I was a jumbled mess.

During the interview we started talking about phobias (you can read the actual transcription of this part of the conversation toward the end of the interview), during which Frank admitted to having a small fear of flying.

If you know me at all, which some of you do and some of you don’t, you know that my fear of flying can be quite entertaining. I’m sure more of those stories will pop up in a “Stories To Tell Before I Forget,” but for now all you need to know is that I’m not a big fan of flying today, and I was absolutely terrified of it back in 2001. In January of that year I had purchased tickets to fly from Milwaukee to San Francisco with my mom to visit my sister Bethany to celebrate her 21st birthday in September. After purchasing the tickets I spent the next eight months obsessing over it. Literally.

And so I took the opportunity to ask Frank Oz, this man I held and still hold in extremely high regard, how one tackles his fear of flying. What doesn’t exist in the interview transcription (we had to edit out a lot for print) is this:

Frank Oz: When you board, ask a stewardess if you can meet the pilot. Flying is a cold experience; you’re putting your trust in someone you can’t even see. I’ve realized it helps if I can meet or at least see the pilot first. It gives a face to a usually faceless experience. Remember that they also have a family they’re trying to get back to.

Since then, literally on every flight I’ve ever taken since that day, I’ve asked to meet the pilot before takeoff. I’ve always credited that idea to Frank Oz, and it’s always helped. I’m still not big on flying, sure, but he was right: seeing the pilot’s face before the plane goes roaring down the runway does help.

And this is where the new story begins.

I know, I’m already 900 words into this post and I’m just now getting started? This is a long one, folks, but it’s worth it. Or at least I hope it is. If you get to the end and think it isn’t, hey, you’re not paying to read this so whatever.

On Saturday, October 22nd, KB and I flew out of LAX and headed to Chicago for our wedding a week later. My pre-flight ritual usually involves a drink or two, an anti-anxiety pill and (if I’m really bad) a sleeping pill once I’m on the plane. But I was all out of my meds and instead had to rely on just downing a beer before leaving the house.

Also, we fly a lot; at least four, five, sometimes six times a year. And I’d like to get better at flying over time and not have to rely on drugs and booze to get on a plane. Well, at least not the drugs. Who am I kidding? I’m still down with the booze.

As we made our way through security, KB and I had this conversation:

Shady: I’ve decided I’m not going to ask to meet the pilot today.

KB: What? Why? If it makes you feel better, do it.

Shady: I’ve been doing it on every flight for ten years, ever since Frank Oz told me to do it. But I want to get better and not have to rely on it.

KB: Alright. But if you feel you have to don’t stop yourself from doing it.

We got through security and made our way toward our gate. Stopping at the bar before boarding is a pretty common practice for us. Kathy usually doesn’t get anything, but a drink at the airport usually calms my nerves that much more. We walked up to the bar and found a huge line. I guess there are a shitload of people who don’t like to fly… or alcoholics just really like to depart at eight in the morning.

KB asked if I wanted to stop; I told her no, that we should just go to the gate. We walked over to the Virgin America wing and found it packed with people. On one side, people on our flight to Chicago waited around to board; on the other, people waited to board a nonstop flight to New York. For whatever reason, I opted to stand on the New York side.

KB headed off to grab some coffee. I set my bags down and began going through my flying ritual: putting on my hooded sweatshirt; pulling out my iPod and headphones; placing my good luck charms (a little travel ninja Bethany gave me, my Grandpa Shady’s old watch that doesn’t work anymore, and some coins my Grandpa Hi-Guy had given me) in my pockets; etc.

I was down on the ground going through my bag when I heard a man talking behind me. I looked to my right and noticed that he was speaking to a woman about her newborn child who was in a baby carrier at her feet. He asked if the baby was a boy or girl (it was a girl) and what her name was (I didn’t catch that part); he then told the mother that her child had a beautiful smile.

And the whole time this is going on behind me I found myself thinking: “That sounds like Fozzie.”

I stood up and spun around. The man’s back was to me, but my mind quickly added up all of the visuals: White Guy + Tall + Bald On Top With White Hair On The Sides + Glasses + Sounds Like Fozzie.

My mouth blurted it out before my mind even had a chance to catch up.

Shady: Frank?

Frank Oz, the Frank Oz, turned around and looked at me with the standard “Who the hell are you?” look on his face. I don’t recall accurately how I initially reacted, but I think it was something comparable to “holy fucking shit.”

Jim Henson and Frank Oz are responsible not only for the characters and television/films I grew up with as a kid, but they also had a huge hand in who I am today as a creative being and, more generally, as a man. Talking on the phone with Frank Oz ten years ago (naked or otherwise) was pretty damn cool. This was amazing.

Shady: I don’t know if you remember this or not, but I interviewed you ten years ago for a publication called “Tastes Like Chicken.”

He admitted that while he didn’t remember me personally, he did remember “Tastes Like Chicken,” mostly because it was hard to forget the name. What happened next will forever be burned into my brain.

What I was trying to say:

Shady: This is so crazy! I was just telling my girlfriend this morning about how you told me to always meet the pilot before takeoff.

What came out:

Shady: This is so crazy! I was just telling you this morning–

I caught my error, stopped, then tried to start over. That’s when he cut me off.

Frank Oz: I didn’t tell you a fucking thing.

I paused for a second that felt like a million years. I remember thinking: “Grover just said ‘fucking.’ To my face!” Nervous, I stood there silently, blankly, unclear of what to say next. Luckily Frank quickly leveled my anxiety.

Frank Oz: I’m just kidding with you.

He laughed. I laughed. He shook my hand. My insides shook.

Shady: What I was trying to say was that I was just telling my girlfriend this morning that ten years ago you told me to meet the pilot before takeoff, and I’ve done it for every flight ever since. But just this morning I decided that I’m no longer going to do it. I’m trying to get better.

Frank Oz: The way they make these planes nowadays there’s little to worry about. That, and I just try to keep in mind that the pilots also have a family that they’re trying to get home to.

Shady: You told me that ten years ago!

We made more small talk for a couple minutes and then, just before he walked through the door to board the plane, he turned to me.

Frank Oz: It was nice to finally meet you. Have a safe flight. You’ll be fine.

I turned away from the doorway with a huge smile on my face, looking down the long hallway for KB in the hopes that she caught some glimpse of it so as to validate the experience. KB was nowhere to be found… but John Slattery (Roger Sterling from “Mad Men”) was walking toward me.

There was no way in hell KB was never going to believe this already ridiculous story now.

Slattery walked onto the same plane as Oz, and I spun around again frantically looking for KB. She was still nowhere in sight, but Brett Gelman (“The Other Guys,” “30 Seconds or Less,” etc.) was now walking toward me.

I had interviewed Brett in July of last year for a piece in “Variety,” and we had traded a few emails back and forth for a short time after.

Shady: Brett?

Brett Gelman: Yeah?

Shady: I’m Justin Shady. I interviewed you last year for the “10 Comics to Watch” piece in “Variety.”

Brett Gelman: Oh, yeah! Hey, man, great to finally meet you. Are you on this plane to New York?

Shady: No, but I fucking wish I was because Frank Oz and Roger Sterling are on that flight!

Actually, I didn’t say that last bit. I told him no, that I was headed off to Chicago to get married. He congratulated me, then boarded what I’m assuming was one of the coolest goddamn flights ever taken across the country.

I turned and found KB walking toward me carrying a cup of coffee in each hand. She probably could have seen the grin on my face a mile away.

KB: What?

Shady: I’m very aware that you’re not going to believe any of this, but…

In the end, I didn’t ask to meet the pilot for the first time in more than a decade, and Frank Oz was right: I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine because, for some reason, one of the stewards decided to give me a free bottle of whiskey somewhere over the plains of Nebraska. Best flight ever, as far as I’m concerned.

I didn’t ask to meet the pilot on the return flight either. Like I said, I’m trying to get better.

And so, what began that early morning in my bedroom in Columbus, Ohio in February 2001 finally came full circle at LAX in Los Angeles, California in October 2011.

Luckily, I wasn’t naked this time.

“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget:
“My Deadliest Weapon”

I have absolutely zero shame in saying the following statement: I’m a 32-year-old man and I still think farting is funny.

Of course, I can hear my mom’s eyes rolling as she reads this, but it’s absolutely true. I mean, just stop and think about the pure math of gas:

The world’s population is approximately 6.7 billion people. The average person passes gas fourteen times a day, emitting around a liter of gas every 24 hours. That means, on any given day, 93.8 billion farts take place all across the globe, shooting almost 7 billion liters of stink into our atmosphere.

And that’s just humans! That’s not including gaseous cows, elephants, or Mr. Fabulous, who I’m quite sure produces far more than a liter of gas a day.

And yet, with all of this gas being passed, with nearly 100 billion farts going on in the world every single day, the topic remains taboo. Instead, we choose to ignore or lie about them, burying ourselves deep in our seats to ensure that not one whiff of an embarrassing odor leaks out into a room to perhaps–gasp!–silently make its way to someone’s nose!

My Grandpa Hi-Guy (nickname, not his birth name) was a very funny man. When it came to comedy, my grandfather knew just what to say and just how to say it to make an entire room of people crack up. But one item not in his comedic arsenal was flatulence.

I remember passing gas in front of him once and reacting as if it had been the funniest thing I had ever done, or probably ever would do. Hoping to get a laugh out of the old man, I instead found myself getting yelled at. Not because I had passed gas in front of him, but because he didn’t appreciate my shtick.

“It’s too easy,” I remember him telling me. “It’s just a sound gag. Everybody does it, which makes it not funny at all.”

Over the years, I took a lot of what Hi-Guy taught me to heart. I learned a lot from him, including what was funny and what wasn’t. Yet, as much as I learned from him, I can’t stress this enough: When it comes to the comedic value of passing gas, he was wrong.

What makes passing gas funny is the very thing that Hi-Guy said made it unfunny: Everybody does it.

If just one person in the world passed gas, he or she would be labeled a “freak.” If only ten people did it, they’d be a “rare case” and Discovery Health would do an hour-long special on them. But the fact that all of us are roaming the earth and tooting along the way makes it hilarious. At least it does to me.

Maybe it’s because I never outgrew it. Maybe it’s because I have an innate talent/curse when it comes to flatulence. (My friends can attest to that.) Or maybe it’s just because, whether we like to admit it or not, it actually is funny.

One night in the late-eighties, my mother had made my sister Bethany and me what I’m sure was a delicious home-cooked meal. (I’m trying to win points with her here, since I’m sure this particular story isn’t her cup of tea.) The exact details of the meal remain hazy, but its after-effects have, over the years, become a thing of Shady legend.

As usually was the case after dinner, Bethany and I went into the living room to watch TV while our mother cleared the table and did the dishes.

That night, I was in rare form. I’m not exactly sure why it was so atrocious; possibly because of the dinner we had just finished, or maybe because of the remnants of a cafeteria lunch from earlier in the day. Whatever the suspect meal, it had caused some inner turmoil inside my bowels that rumbled through me like thunder through a canyon.

It began innocently enough: Bethany and I were sitting next to each other on the couch when all of a sudden–FIRF!

My sister reacted pretty intensely to that first one. To this day, I firmly believe that if she hadn’t reacted in that way at first, she probably would have saved herself from a world of smelly pain. But the fact that I had gotten a rise out of her made one thing abundantly clear: It was on.

Just as soon as a thick cloud would dissipate, I’d be cocked and ready to fire with brand-new ammunition–FIRF!

Bethany began to move away from me, which only solidified in stone my goal of doing it near her.

She’d move to the love seat; I’d move to the love seat–FIRF! She’d move to the floor; I’d move to the floor–FIRF!

This scenario repeated itself for probably a good ten minutes. Of course, to my tortured younger sister, I’m sure it felt like days.

It went something like this:

1.) Bethany moves to a new area of the living room.

2.) I chase after her.

3.) FIRF!

4.) Bethany screams.

5.) Our mom yells at both of us from the kitchen.

6.) Go back to #1. Repeat.

Finally, our mother had had enough. With Bethany’s chest pinned underneath my behind, our mother stormed into the living room with a wet plate raised in her right hand, dish soap dripping down it and onto the carpet.

I was laughing maniacally. Bethany was sobbing softly. Our mother was dead serious.


Bethany: (quietly crying)

Justin: “What?!? I’m just farting!”

Ma Shady: “You are not just farting! You’re using them as weapons! Do not use your farts as weapons!”

Up until that moment in my young life, I don’t think I had ever laughed harder. I spent the rest of the evening in my bedroom of course, but A) I kind of deserved it, and B) it was worth it.

That night, my gas had surpassed being merely squeaks of offensive odor. Instead, they became WADs: Weapons of Ass-Destruction.

From that point on, everything was different; I was a changed boy. I felt like Peter Parker after being bitten by a radioactive spider, or Bruce Banner after being exposed to the radiation of a gamma bomb. What would I do with such power? Would I use it for good throughout my life, or evil?

Sadly, I must admit that I’ve been a villain far more than a hero when it comes to flatulence. But I stand by what I’ve always said: It’s still damn funny.

Sorry if I let you down, Hi-Guy.

A story I’ll now never forget,


“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget:
“The Aleve Situation”

Growing up, I never had a pet. Actually, let me rephrase that: I never had a real pet. By “real” I mean a pet you actually care about, the kind of family friend you hope to find waiting for you once you’ve met your maker.

Sure, I owned a goldfish or two in my life. I also had a pair of lizards that I never even bothered to officially name; I’d just change their names according to what was going on in the world at the time. For a period of approximately a month, they were Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco; for a summer, O.J. and Nicole. Based on their names, you should be able to nail down what time period this was.

My sister Bethany had a little bit better of a track record when it came to all things fluffy and feathered. For one summer in the mid-eighties she became the guardian of Wascal, the pet rabbit of her first-grade class; she also had a parakeet for a short while. I remember her loving that bird… until she woke up one morning to find it laying at the bottom of its cage, dead as a doornail, at which point she began to scream violently, “GET IT OUT OF MY ROOM! GET IT OUT OF MY ROOM!” That’s pet loyalty for you.

Although, I guess that’s really no different than how we’d deal with any given corpse.

Young Family Member: “I’m gonna miss you.”

Old Dying Family Member: “And I’m going to miss you.”

Young Family Member: “It’s okay, you can go now. You don’t have to fight it anymore.”

Old Dying Family Member: “I… I’m….”

(Young Family Member checks for a pulse and finds nothing.)

Young Family Member: “He’s… he’s gone.”

(Approximately four seconds pass.)

Young Family Member: “Okay, so… who do I call to get this dead guy out of my house?”

But I digress….

If the idea of a pet joining the Shady family ever did come up it was exceptionally short-lived. My family rented the top floor of a two-story duplex on Bolivar Avenue, and just below us lived the owners of the building, an elderly couple named Gladys and George who had a strict no-pet policy.

Since owning a family pet was never even an option, the topic became something we wouldn’t even think about. Other people had pets; we didn’t. It was as simple as that.

And, truth be told, I don’t think either of my parents were big pet people anyway. When my parents first divorced and my father got his own apartment, he adopted a cat named Shelby from a coworker. I can’t remember exactly why, but the coworker had to get rid of Shelby and was considering turning her over to the Humane Society. My father, being single and now living in a place that accepted pets, decided to save Shelby’s life and give her a home.

She would have been better off being euthanized.

Don’t get me wrong, my dad wasn’t a cruel owner. He just didn’t have the patience for a pet and, unfortunately, didn’t realize this until it was too late.

Every day after work, he’d come home and Shelby would be laying right in the path of the kitchen door. Frustrated, my dad would shovel her out of his way with his foot, sliding her across the linoleum. Eventually, Shelby wised up: “When you hear the old man coming up the stairs, move to another part of the kitchen floor.”

My father, possibly missing the whole routine of it all, would then walk into the kitchen, walk over to where Shelby was laying, and still slide her across the floor with his foot. Shortly after that, Shelby didn’t know where the hell to go, so she gave up and began to lay wherever she pleased.

Shortly after I moved away to Ohio for college I had this phone conversation with my dad:

Dad: “Do you have a microwave for your new place?”

Me: “No.”

Dad: “You want my old one? I can mail it to you.”

Me: “Yeah, that would be awesome! Thanks.”

Dad: “Do you want Shelby?”

Me: (laughing) “No.”

Dad: “You sure? I can stick her in the microwave before I mail it off.”

These are my parents, dear readers, so it’s no wonder why I nearly made it to the age of 30 without ever owning my own pet.

While in college, I remember having a conversation with a group of friends about charities; we were naming off which charities we would donate to if we were rich. A good friend of mine named Marcia Kranz said she’d donate her money to a charity for animals, like the Humane Society.

I remember giving her a terrible amount of shit for it. “You’d spend it on animals?!?” I attacked. “What about cancer or AIDS research? What about providing for the homeless, the sick, the dying? What about humans?!?” I just couldn’t comprehend the idea that a human being could care that much about an animal. To me, that was something crazy old widows did, rewriting their wills to leave their millions to their cat. I just didn’t understand the human/pet connection.

That is, until I adopted Mr. Fabulous.

Mr. Fabulous: Then

This is what she looked like (yes, Mr. Fabulous is a she) shortly after I adopted her back in March 2006. She’s cute, right? Well… kind of.

Of course, she looks adorable, mostly because she’s got the blood of numerous breeds pumping through her veins. Mr. Fabulous is part pit bull, part black Lab, part German short-haired pointer, and all garbage disposal. She will eat the ass off a pig, the bark off a tree, and the side off a barn if you let her. And that’s exactly the part that makes her not so cute.

Sure, I admit that, at first, it was kind of funny. “Oh, look,” my friends and I would joke, “she’s eating that stick… whole.” But her appetite for destruction got very old–and extremely expensive–very fast.

When I first got her, we’d leave her in a plastic-lined crate while we were gone. Slowly, over time, she began to eat the bottom of it. Let me say that again, because I can’t even honestly believe it as I’m typing it: She ate the plastic bottom out of her crate, piece by piece, bit by bit. That should have been a major sign that terrible things were on the horizon for both her stomach and my wallet. Still, I was patient.

Next, she ate one of my Doc Martens. Not the shoelace from the boot, but the entire boot! What was left by the time I got to it was a rubber sole and a few scraps of wet, gnawed-on leather. Yeah, that pretty much ruined that pair of shoes because, you know, you can’t wear a Doc Marten boot on one foot and a Chuck Taylor All-Star on the other.

After that incident, the rest of the casualties become a blur.

She ate photos out of an album. She ate an entire chocolate cake. She ate magnets off our refrigerator, original paintings from underneath my bed, and an entire pan of cooking oil off the stove. She ate a remote control, a pair of sunglasses, and even… ugh… the occasional used feminine product from the bathroom garbage can.

And yet, through all of these instances, she somehow managed to survive. But in one particular instance, just barely.

In September of 2007, my girlfriend Kathy and I moved into a three-story house on Milwaukee’s east side with our good friend Jocco. (You’ll see Jocco reappear soon enough here on “Stories To Tell Before I Forget.” I promise.)

As usually is the case when you first move into a place, everything was utter chaos. Boxes were piled everywhere, our stove wasn’t working, and we had a washer but no dryer. On top of the insanity of moving, Kathy was deathly ill battling a bad case of strep throat. So I, trying desperately to play the good boyfriend role, decided to pick up a few things from the store that might help in getting her back on the road to recovery: a packet of cough drops, some herbal tea, and a brand-new bottle of Aleve Liquid Gel caps. Forty of them, to be exact.

I gave the bag to Kathy. She emptied out the bag’s contents onto her dresser.

Even with a sore throat, Kathy was pushing herself to stay at work. At lunchtime, I picked her up to grab a quick bite. We didn’t really have a “safe spot” in the house for Mr. Fabulous yet, so I just put her in our bedroom and closed the door. Since we had just moved in, the only items in the room were a bed and a couple of dressers. Since she hadn’t graduated to eating furniture yet, though it honestly wouldn’t surprise me, I thought it was a safe bet.

I was wrong.

I returned home and let Fabulous out of the room; she was acting a bit sluggish, but that wasn’t all that unusual for her typical daytime demeanor. I remember looking on the floor and seeing tiny bits of cardboard. Still, it hadn’t dawned on me what was happening.

I went into the living room, watched a little bit of TV as I checked email, and Fabulous fell asleep on the couch next to me. Again, nothing out of the ordinary.

After about a half hour or so, I decided to go and clean up whatever mess she had made while we were gone. I walked into the bedroom and picked up the few scraps of cardboard. I got down on my hands and knees and peered under the bed to see if there was any more. There was. I reached under, pulled it out, flipped it over, and looked at it: ALEVE LIQUID GELS.

You know that scene in a movie where all the parts come together and it suddenly dawns on the previously-clueless main character that something is out of place? Well, this was that scene, all the elements adding up one by one in my head: Now-Missing Aleve Bottle + Sleepy Mr. Fabulous + Scraps Of An Aleve Box = Bad News.

It was then that it dawned on me: She had eaten the whole goddamn thing. The box. The plastic bottle. The childproof cap. The foil seal. The cotton they stuff inside. And forty pills of Aleve.

I rushed out into the living room and yelled at her. “Come on!” I screamed nervously. “Outside! Let’s go!”

She slowly shuffled off the couch, tail down, and headed for the back door. Once outside, I did something I never once saw myself doing, not in a million years: I opened a dog’s mouth and shoved my entire hand down its throat. I swore I could feel the beating of her heart on my hand… but that was probably just my own heart beating rapidly from the intensity of the situation.

I had hoped my hand would trigger a violent gagging, causing her to throw up as much of the medicine as possible. By my estimations, it had been a good hour or so since she ingested the pills, but I was hoping to at least get up whatever was left in her stomach.

What I didn’t know as I stood there with my hand shoved down her throat is that dogs don’t really have a gag reflex. I mean, not like humans at least, where we just push that hanging vomit button at the back of our throats and quickly go from a full tank to an empty tank. Dogs simply don’t work that way.

So there I stood in our backyard, up to my elbow in dog, with Mr. Fabulous staring back at me like I was the asshole.

Mr. Fabulous: (with her eyes) “Ahhh… what do you want me to do here?”

Me: “BARF!”

Mr. Fabulous: (with her eyes) “Huh?”

Me: “COME ON!”

We stood there for a second, my hand jammed between her lungs, our eyes locked. I was hoping that at any moment vomit would come shooting out of her mouth like Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.” She was hoping that I’d pull my arm out of her chest cavity.

She won.

I grabbed her by the scruff of her neck, fumbled with shaky hands for my car keys and wallet, and ran out the front door. While driving to our local animal hospital at what were surely illegal speeds, I called Kathy.

Me: “Did you take that bottle of Aleve to work with you?”

Kathy: “No, it’s on my dresser.”

Me: “No, it’s not! It’s in Mr. Fabulous!”

Kathy: “She ate the entire bottle?!?”

Me: “Of course! She ate an entire boot, for Christ’s sake! How hard is a bottle?!?”

We arrived at the hospital and, as I’m sure is the case for a parent who has brought their child in, everything after it was a complete blur.

They grabbed her, rushed her into an emergency room, and started pouring charcoal down her throat to absorb the chemicals. I was brought into a separate room and asked to fill out paperwork and hand over my credit card. I signed a “do not resuscitate” form should she go into cardiac arrest. The severity of the situation was outlined for me: Aleve, especially in those amounts, will attack the kidneys and the liver. Essentially, it will kill those organs swiftly, and the rest of the body will follow.

After a half hour or so, the doctor came in and gave his prognosis: If she made it through the night, the next day, and the next night, she would be okay. The next forty-eight hours were going to be crucial. If she took a turn for the worse, they offered to call me immediately with the hopes that I’d at least be able to rush over and say goodbye to her. I agreed to the terms and signed the appropriate paperwork.

Big mistake.

What signing that paper did was give the hospital permission to call me at any time, be it at three in the afternoon or four in the morning. If I had a normal dog it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal. But I am the owner of  Mr. Fabulous, and I should’ve known better than to sign that paper.

Toward the end of her first day in the hospital she was considered stable. They were monitoring her blood, her urine, and whatever other excreted fluids they could test and charge me for. I went to bed that first night nervous, but feeling fairly optomistic.

That is, right up until 3:12 AM when my cell phone rang.

Animal Hospital Employee: “Mr. Shady, I’m calling with an update on Mr. Fabulous.”

Me: “Okay.”

Animal Hospital Employee: “Her liver and kidney levels seem to be dropping.”

I don’t honestly remember if they were “dropping” or “blowing up” or whatever, but I remember it sounding terrible.

Me: “Alright, so… should I come in?”

Animal Hospital Employee: “Well, no, because her levels are still manageable. If they get much lower she might slip into a coma. We’ll give you a call back if that’s the case.”

Part of me was upset to hear that word: coma. The other part of me was upset that they called just to say that they might be calling later.

I slept like shit the rest of the night.

Daybreak comes and my cell phone stays silent. I call the office to see what her status is. Guess what? By morning, she’s fine! She’s alert, passing fluids well and, according to the doctor, on the road to recovery. Still, they wanted to keep her overnight just once more to make sure nothing changed. Awesome. It was great news.

The rest of the day went by and, once again, I started feeling better about everything. At this point, I figured her surviving was pretty much a guarantee. Day turned to night; as I hit the sack I found myself becoming excited to finally pick her up and have this all be over with.

At 4:14 AM, my cell phone rang.

Animal Hospital Employee: “We’re calling to– Mr. Fabulous– kidneys– blood– know.”

My cell phone was getting bad service; I needed to get outside so I could hear what this lady was telling me. I jumped out of bed as naked (but much hairier) as the day I was born, threw on a pair of boxer shorts, and ran outside.

Keep in mind that this is all taking place in the early-morning hours in late September in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It’s cold. Not moon-boot cold, but it was still damn cold. And I’m out on the sidewalk in my underwear, pacing back and forth.

Me: “Hello? I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you. Could you repeat all that again?”

Animal Hospital Employee: “We’re calling to let you know that Mr. Fabulous has taken a turn for the worse. Her kidneys seem to be struggling, and she’s urinating blood. We’re trying to get her stabilized, and she will probably at least make it through the night, but we wanted to call and let you know.”

It was somewhere in the middle of this sentence that I blindly stepped on a shard of glass on the sidewalk, embedding it deep into the heel of my left foot.

My dog is peeing blood and possibly on her death bed. I’m now hopping up and down on one foot in nothing more than my underwear in the cold autumn night, glass in my left foot, cell phone in my right hand. I’m trying desperately not to scream “FUCK!” into the phone, though the doctor may have found that warranted considering the situation.

I would have loved to have been a drunk college kid making his way home from the bars that night. The conversation with his roommates the next day would have been priceless.

College Kid: “There was this bald hairy dude in his underwear out on the sidewalk last night! He was jumping up and down on one foot and talking into the phone about his dog peeing blood!”

College Kid’s Roommate: “Dude, you were so fucked up last night!”

As calmly as I could fake it, I thanked the doctor for her call and made my way back inside.

Kathy, now awake, asked what was going on. I explained it to her. She said it would be okay. I wasn’t so sure.

Me: “That’s it. If she dies, I’m never getting another pet ever again.”

Kathy: “Don’t say that.”

Me: “No, I’m serious. I’m not responsible enough. I mean, we leave her alone for an hour and she tries to kill herself with an overdose! I’m a terrible pet owner.”

Kathy: “No, you’re not.”

Me: “And this is just a dog! How am I ever supposed to take care of kids? I’ll turn my head for five seconds and they’ll be bee-lining it to the nearest bridge.”

I was done. My foot was bleeding, my dog was dying, and I just wanted to go to sleep. I threw a few Band-Aids over the open wound on the bottom of my foot (the glass still embedded deep in my heel) and passed out.

Of course, by the next morning Mr. Fabulous had made it through the night and was healthy again. Healthy enough that we went and picked her up later that afternoon. She was prescribed a few meds for the next week or so, but other than that it was almost like it had never happened.

I mean, other than the $3,000 I spent to keep her alive, it was like it never happened.

I could have used that $3,000 in other ways, of course. For example, I could’ve bought health insurance for me with that money; it would have come in handy a month later.

The day that Mr. Fabulous came home, armed with a pair of tweezers, I dug out what I thought was the only shard of glass in my heel. I was wrong. In the weeks that followed, the skin on the bottom of my foot healed over, but I still had intense pain in my foot every time I walked.

Finally, it became obvious to me that there was still glass in my foot. And yes, it would have been nice to have adequate health insurance that would pay for a doctor to give me a local and dig the crap out of my foot. Unfortunately, I’m a freelance writer. For those of you who don’t know, “freelance writer” is Latin for “uninsured.”

So, instead of a doctor, anesthesia and a sanitized scalpel, I had my friend Marla, a towel to bite down on, and an X-Acto knife. Kathy looked on in horror as I began to reopen the now-healed wound on the bottom of my foot with the blade, hacking at it one layer of skin at a time. I dug down deep, blood dripping down my heel as I performed self-surgery. The X-Acto found the tip of the shard of glass and began to make a “SHINK!” noise every time it brushed against it.

Finally, fearing that I was going to pass out and hurt myself even more, I passed the blade and tweezers to Marla. Eventually, my vision blurring, my heart pounding in my chest, Marla grasped the end of the shard and pulled it out of my heel.

It was probably no bigger than a quarter of the size of a penny. It felt like it was slightly bigger than a football.

And with that, the final chapter of “The Aleve Situation” was written.

It took that situation for me to realize how important an animal truly can be to someone. I understand now why people donate money to animal charities and pay to have animals rescued. Of course, it would have been nice if they would have donated that money to me to help pay for Mr. Fabulous’ medical debt, but the whole idea behind charitable giving for pets now makes sense.

After all, I did all of that for you, Mr. Fabulous: the credit card debt; the freezing my ass off in my underwear; even the glass in my foot. It was all for you, you boot/artwork/pill-eating mutt.

Mr. Fabulous: Now

And, truth be told, I’d do it all over again if I had to. But let me be clear: I’D PREFER NOT TO! But I would if I had to.

Who knows, maybe I will make an okay father someday. After all, you only have to keep them alive until they’re eighteen, right? After that, they’re on their own.

A story I’ll now never forget,


“Stories To Tell Before I Forget” is an ongoing series of short stories about real events from my past. Click here to learn more about the series. And, if you’re interested in reading more, click here to sign up for updates from “The Blarg.”

Stories To Tell Before I Forget:
“How I Made Jeffrey Van Riper’s Eyes Bleed”

During the 1980s, if you spent even one winter of your childhood in the frigid tundra that is Wisconsin, you know one item stands alone as an icon of those times.

Of course, the first imagery that comes to mind might be that of a towering snowman, a brightly-lit Christmas tree, or a well-traveled sled. Unfortunately, the icon I’m talking about isn’t nearly as thrilling. The wintertime icon of the 1980s, or at least to those living in Milwaukee during that decade, was moon boots.

Even beyond their hideous appearance, moon boots were an odd item of clothing. They were made, I assume at least, to keep one’s feet warm in the winter. That, or they were simply a cruel fashion joke played on dumb kids by evil parents.

I can see the PTA meetings now:

Teacher: “Next order of business: Keeping the children’s feet warm in the winter. Any suggestions?”

Parent: “How about these moon boots I’ve been hearing about?”

Teacher: “Do they work?”

Parent: “No. But they’re ugly as shit and will scar them well into high school.”

Teachers & Parents: (hysterical laughter, together)

Teacher: “Done! Next order of business: How can we make that powder we spread over puke even more disturbing?”

The whole idea behind moon boots was that they were supposed to keep feet warm and dry. But if you ever dissected a moon boot (or, more accurately, accidentally slid the “guts” of a moon boot out of its shell) you’re well aware of what space-age materials we’re dealing with here.

The boot is essentially a foam sock wrapped in a cheap plastic cover. In the world of foot warmth, I guess this passes as suitable coverage. This is the type of information I now find to be exceptionally useful, because if that’s all it takes to protect a kid’s toes from subzero temperatures I’m gonna save a ton of cash by whipping up a homemade version for the next generation of Shadys.

I won’t spring it on them until they’re just about to leave for school:

Me: “Put your foot in here.”

Kid: “What’s that?”

Me: “A moon boot.”

Kid: “A moon boot? It’s filled with cotton balls.”

Me: “Yep.”

Kid: “What are they stuffed into?”

Me: “Condoms.”

Kid: “What are condoms?”

Me: “Never mind! Just get your feet in here so I can tie a rubber band around the tops of ’em.”

Kid: “I don’t know about this, Dad.”

Me: “It was good enough for me back in the 1980s and it’s good enough for you now!”

Kid: (silent hatred)

Me: “They won’t change colors or anything fun like that, but they’re ribbed so they’ll at least leave interesting tracks in the snow.”

Oh, you remember: When subjected to cold temperatures, some moon boots would change color or show different patterns on the boot’s sides. Of course, the only time I actually paid attention to my pair of moon boots was when I was outside in the freezing cold, so for all I know those patterns were always there.

I suppose I could have hung out with them while at home, like a kid cuddling up on the couch with the family dog. Just me and my moon boots chilling out on a Sunday afternoon, enjoying an episode of “Heathcliff” as microscopic bits of my foot fungus grow deep within the foamy fibers of the boot’s innards.


Why did parents let their kids wear these petri dishes again? Whatever the reason, they did, and my parents were no exception.

The rules of the moon boots, or at least the rules of the moon boots in the Shady Household, were these:

Moon Boot Rules:

1. Take a pair of real shoes with you to school in a separate bag. Change into said real shoes when you get to school. This will save you from looking like a badly-dressed astronaut all day long, keeping the ridicule from your classmates at bay. Of course, they will already be ridiculing you, but that’s neither here nor there.

2. At the end of the day, change back into your moon boots, placing your shoes into the bag. Try and do this once every other child has left. If possible, wait until the teachers are all gone, too. You don’t have to worry about the janitor seeing you, however, because he’s a drunk. Moon boots or not, you’re still better than him.

3. Walk home, lock the door behind you, pull down all the blinds, and cry deeply into your pillow because you have to do this all over again tomorrow. And with Wisconsin winters clocking in at around nine months long, many more embarrassing moments lie ahead of you.

This was the routine and I did it hundreds of times throughout the early 1980s.

My father was a shoe salesman at the time. I’m assuming one of the perks of being a shoe salesman was that he could snag the sturdiest shoe boxes and shoe-box bags from the store, because I vividly remember our family using  both quite a bit throughout my childhood.

For those of you who don’t know, a shoe-box bag is exactly that: A plastic bag that fits a shoe box perfectly. After placing a shoe box in the bag, you close the opening of the bag tightly with a drawstring. It was a perfect shoe-carrying device.

It was a better weapon.

Enter: Jeffrey Van Riper.

Jeffrey Van Riper and I were in the same grade at James Russell Lowell Elementary School. (Side note: I just looked up James Russell Lowell and learned that he was a 19th Century American Romantic poet and critic. I think he would have enjoyed this story if, you know, he hadn’t died 118 years ago.)

I can’t honestly say that Jeffrey and I were close friends, but we weren’t enemies either. I remember him getting teased in school because of his last name–after all, “Riper” rhymes with “diaper”–but back then I wasn’t one of those kids. Of course, I became one of those kids once I hit middle school, but that’s another story for another time.

Jeffrey and I lived in the same neighborhood and, because of this, we would walk to school together. His parents’ apartment was further away from Lowell Elementary than my parents’ apartment, so every day Jeffrey would walk to my house, ring the doorbell, and I’d run out and join him for the rest of the trip to school. After school, we’d reverse it: We’d leave school together, I’d leave him once I got to my house, and he’d continue on alone.

Jeffrey had thick glasses. And when I say “thick,” I mean “thick-like-airplane-windows thick.” Of course, when you’re a kid, the thickness of your glasses is irrelevant; just having a pair of glasses pretty much guarantees you being labeled as a dork. Back then, I think it’s safe to say that we were both dorks, but I’m pretty sure Jeffrey took the brunt of the name-calling because of his thick specs and rhyming last name. Ironically, Jeffrey Van Riper’s glasses would be considered very hip by today’s standards. If only he could have held onto them for three decades.

The glasses were definitely a factor in Jeffrey’s geekdom, but the thick strap that bound the glasses to his skull definitely didn’t help the situation. I remember him wearing it extremely tight, as if the band were strong enough to keep his glasses strapped to his noggin even in gale-force winds. The strap was so tight that the flesh above it bulged out and, in spots, folded over it.

No, Jeffrey would never be a fashion designer or runway model, but he was good for conversation on the way home after a long day of simple addition and spelling. Actually, let me rephrase that: Jeffrey was good for conversation on the way home with the exception of one cold winter day. A day when my moon boots were on my feet, and my shoes were in my shoe-box bag.

On that day, for whatever reason, Jeffrey began to run his mouth. Maybe he had gotten in trouble in class earlier in the day. Maybe he was just having a bad day. Or maybe he had just had enough of always being the pickee and never the picker. Whatever the case, it began.

I have to be honest, I don’t remember the actual content of the attacks. I’m sure they were whatever the standards are for seven-year-old children: Your mom is fat. Your sister is ugly. Your mom and sister are both fat and ugly. Whatever was being said, I remember it getting old very quickly.

Jeffrey was walking on my left; in my right hand was the shoe-box bag, my fingers clutched tightly around its drawstring. Inside the bag was a box. Inside the box were my shoes. And the weight of it all dangled between four fingers and a thumb.

It continued: My father was stupid. My parents’ apartment was dirty and smelly.

I remember looking at him, his dark eyes staring back at me through thick airplane glass. I told him to knock it off. He didn’t.

By this point, the entire Shady Family Tree had been labeled stupid. I think this probably included my grandparents, though I’m not sure about aunts, uncles and cousins. Logic would make one assume that at some point the “stupid gene” would cease to bleed out into my familial periphery.

Looking back on it, I would’ve liked to have asked Jeffrey which of my family members were safe from such a label. It would have been nice to sit down with him and explain to him that, realistically, it’s probably impossible for everyone in a family to be stupid. That would have been the smart thing to do.

Instead, I bashed him in the face with a box of shoes. My brain didn’t even realize what my hands were doing.

Brain: “Whoa! What the hell is going on down there?”

Hands: “This! Suck it, Van Riper!”

The bag with the box with the shoes hit Jeffrey dead in the center of his freckled face, his thick-glassed spectacles shattering immediately on impact. But, hey, you know what? I had warned him, and I didn’t feel guilty about it one tiny bit… until I looked over and saw blood squirting out of his eyes.

Of course, eyes don’t really have blood in them, but tell that to a seven-year-old who just smashed a kid in the face with a box of shoes. What was really happening was, the glass from Jeffrey’s glasses (yes, they really used glass in glasses back then) had shattered. As it did so, it created small cuts on his cheeks. He was crying (understandably) and his tears were mixing with his blood.

I remember it dripping off his face and into the snow around my moon boots. Jeffrey’s glasses, which were now two halves being held together by the fat band that had once kept them glued to his skull, dangled off his shoulder.

In reality, it was probably just a little bit of blood and tears. In my mind, though, it looked like a horror movie. I was Jason Voorhees, the shoe bag was my machete, and Jeffrey Van Riper was the pot-smoking, oversexed camp counselor who just didn’t know when to shut the hell up.

Convinced that I had just blinded and/or killed my friend, I did the only thing I could: I cried along with him.

Jeffrey: “Why’d you do that?!?”

Me: “I’m sorry! I told you to stop making fun of me!”

Jeffrey: “I’m bleeding!”

Me: “Are you blind? Can you see me?”

Jeffrey: “Yeah.”

Me: “Okay! Let’s go to my house! My mom is home!”

Jeffrey: “I’m telling my parents!”

Me: “I don’t think there’s any way of avoiding that. Your glasses are broken and your eyes are bleeding. But I’ll buy you a new pair of glasses. I promise!”

Jeffrey: “How are you going to do that? You’re only seven!”

Me: “I know! I’m just saying that out of fear and confusion!”

Jeffrey: “You know, you speak awfully well for a seven-year-old.”

Me: “That’s because I’m finally transcribing this conversation twenty-five years later.”

Jeffrey: “Oh.”

We ran the half block that existed between my parents’ apartment and what I was sure would soon be labeled a crime scene, both of us crying, one of us covered in blood.

The look on my mother’s face as we barged through the front door was somewhere between “What the hell did you do?” and “Get Jeffrey Van Riper’s bleeding eyes out of my house!” I tried to remain calm. Honest, I did. But what bubbled out of my no-longer-innocent lips was something along the lines of, “And… said our family is dumb… shoe box… blood on moon boots… airplane glass… ahhh!” This was followed by inconsolable bawling.

Looking back on it now, I’m guessing my mother studied “incoherent babble” in college because she seemed to understand me and quickly took control of the situation. She told me to sit still while she drove Jeffrey home, which I had absolutely no problem with whatsoever. She delivered Jeffrey to his front door and carefully explained to Mr. Van Riper why he’d have to pick glass out of his son’s face before eating his dinner.

In the end, I’d say the adults were remarkably understanding. Sure, Jeffrey’s father flipped out a bit after noticing that his kid’s face looked like the floor of a slaughterhouse. And, yes, I was read the riot act for what I did and warned to never again use violence as a resolution. You know, typical parent stuff. Someday, when one of my kids pummels one of their friends with an iPod shoved into a sock, I hope that I too can be that understanding.

After that day, Jeffrey stopped coming by my house in the mornings. I can’t say I blame the kid. But if he ever happens upon this post I want him to know this:

Dear Jeffrey,

I’m sorry I hit you in the face with my shoe box and made your eyes bleed. If my parents hadn’t forced me to wear moon boots it never would have happened.


Justin Shady

A story I’ll now never forget,


If you know me (or have ever known me, to be honest), you know that I have a long list of insane stories from my past that I tell regularly at parties and get-togethers.

(If you don’t know me, you know now because I just told you.)

More often than not, these stories are told through a haze of alcohol, my arms flailing wildly around the room as I spout off about something or other. Some of these stories involve my childhood. Others are rooted in my high school and college years. And almost all of them teeter that fine line between “Ridiculous” and “Get-The-Fuck-Out-Of-Here Unbelievable.”

For years now, my friends and family have been telling me to write these stories down. And, for just as many years, I’ve put it off. Until now.

Starting in the next few days, I will begin featuring a set of short stories called “Stories To Tell Before I Forget.” These tales are, well… exactly that: True tales from the Shady canon that will now forever be immortalized here on “The Blarg.”

Let me warn you ahead of time: You will not believe all of these stories, and I won’t blame you one bit for doubting their validity. But if my word means anything to you, dear reader, please believe this: Each and every one of these stories are 100% accurate and true.

Or at least as true as I remember them to be.

So keep an eye out for these stories in the coming days. Each story title will be prefaced with “Stories To Tell Before I Forget,” so you’ll know one when you see one.

It’s a good time to get these out. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy telling them.



Old Poop!