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Where's My Wand?: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting Excerpt from Where's My Wand?: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting

by Eric Poole

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The Captain of Chenille

As God is my witness," Mother shouted, "I will not live in this chaos!"

It was a muggy St. Louis summer night in 1969. As our mother screamed at our father behind the closed door of their bedroom -- "Did you even get halfway through this list?" she hollered, slamming the daily checklist of duties she made for him onto the dresser -- Val and I focused on the faint electrical buzzing of the Black & Decker bug zapper hanging over the patio, as it systematically executed unsuspecting mosquitoes.

It was ten P.M. and no one was outside, but our mother kept the zapper running twenty-four hours a day as a silent screw-you to Mother Nature. To offset the cost of this outdoor insect patrol, she set the air-conditioning of our suburban tract home at a toasty eighty-four degrees, so we all slept in small pools of perspiration, secure in the knowledge that those bugs knew who was boss.

I clung to my twelve-year-old sister Valerie, both of us sweating profusely as she climbed into her canopy bed fringed in multicolored hippie beads. She squeezed my hand tightly.

"One day," she whispered, "we'll look back on this and laugh."

"I will not be married to a sloth!" Mother thundered as I quietly reached for Val's dictionary to look up what Dad had just been called.

The bedlam Mother referred to was that created by our father opting to play Kerplunk with Val and me that afternoon, instead of completing item #7, alphabetizing the Christmas decorations stored in the garage, or #13, washing the lightbulbs on the dining room chandelier.

The hippie beads shimmied as Val, my only sibling, settled between the sheets. She was a petite but bossy brunette who spent hours each day ironing her long hair Marcia Brady-straight -- in an effort, she told me years later, to distract from the nose that made her appear to be the love child of Karl Malden and Barbra Streisand. As she attempted a smile and turned to switch off the lamp that I had just traded her for the Diana Ross and the Supremes Greatest Hits album (thus unwittingly sealing my sexual identity at the tender age of eight), I began to ritualistically rake the shag carpeting around the bed with an avocado-green plastic carpet rake, vigilantly erasing all signs that anyone had trod upon her floor. The carpet slowly became a pristine meadow of brown, white and gold, a lush, undisturbed wool and nylon Astroturf.

With the well-rehearsed precision of hundreds of nights' practice, I worked my way down the hall, slowly approaching the closet where the rake would be stored upon completion. Fortunately, the closet door -- along with all other doors in the house -- could be closed without disturbing the integrity of the finished job. Following an apocalyptic moment after the carpet was installed -- when our mother discovered that entering a room created the shag version of snow angels -- Dad had planed each of the doors, sawing off a full inch of wood at the base, rendering them so high-water that each doorway now appeared to be wearing wooden capri pants.

As I passed the bathroom, Val stuck her head out of her bedroom. "Don't forget to pee!" she whispered, reminding me that I would need to go now or hold it until morning, since Mother tolerated no disruptions in the placid waters of this sea of shag once the requisite raking was finished. I had learned not to consume large amounts of liquid before bedtime, ever since the night I had drunk an entire quart of Coke and, in desperation, had tried to pee out the bedroom window screen.

My pursuit of a flawlessly raked floor did not strike me as odd, since perfection was not optional in the Poole family militia; it was compulsory. It was also the means by which I attempted to maintain control over the rapidly shifting ground beneath my feet.

Our family had just moved from Iowa to Missouri for a new and better life. Dad had accepted a job in contract administration with a major aircraft company, and Mother was to become the executive assistant to a corporate chieftain, and together, their new careers were to be the start of a prestigious change of life for the Pooles.

What transpired instead was a series of matinee and evening performances of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? sans the Edward Albee script and intermissions, as our parents' relationship seemed to be disintegrating before our eyes, and my sister and I attempted to determine which of us was responsible.

As I worked my way down the hall with the carpet rake, closing in on my parents' bedroom, the level of Mother's voice rose. "How I married someone so completely devoid of competence," she barked, "is an absolute mystery. I had my pick of any man in Kansas City -- "

Outside the door, I carefully coaxed each carpet strand into absolute alignment. There would be no defectors in my Carpet Crusade, no errant soldiers in this battle for perfection.

"The kids can hear you," Dad whispered. "You need to stop this right now."

"Or what?" she hissed. "Don't you dare threaten me."

"I'm not threatening anybody, I'm just saying -- "

"You make me sick, you know that?"

The bedroom door flew open. Dad -- a slender, six-foot-tall man with a prominent nose and a glossy shock of wavy black hair -- grabbed his car keys from the dresser and stomped down the hall.

"Don't leave!" I cried, before even realizing the words had escaped my mouth. I grabbed my father's leg, my hands clutching his ankle.

Mother appeared in the hall wearing a floral print duster and a thick layer of cold cream on her face. She was a petite woman with a stunning figure and a graceful, angular beauty that was, perhaps unsurprisingly, lost on me in this moment.

"Fine. Get out!" she bellowed, as my fingers dug deep into the thin flesh above my father's foot. He moved slowly toward the door, attempting to gently dislodge me as I hung on for dear life beneath a hanging glass swag lamp.

From WHERE'S MY WAND?: One Boy's Magical Triumph Over Alienation and Shag Carpeting by Eric Poole. Published by arrangement with Berkley Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc. Copyright (c) Eric Pool, 2010.