“A PTA meeting? To rename the football team? Don’t these people have anything better to do?” Daniel said to himself as he read the letter in his mail.
“Not in the least, I’m afraid,” Brian replied from his prone position on the sofa, eyes lingering on the television, his mop of black hair limp on his head like a dead jellyfish on the beach.
Daniel blinked, bewildered. He needed, just as you might, some background.
See, it was springtime in Wilson, Wisconsin, which meant that the populace was bored.
Much of the town – let’s say a third – was employed at Holly Hayworth, the 150 year old stalwart of a local business. The privately owned company was nationally famous for Holly Hayworth’s Holiday Hams, as well as, to a lesser extent, Holly Hayworth’s Healthful Holiday Herbs. The biggest complex in the Holly Hayworth concern was just outside of Wilson, a cluster of squat gunmetal gray buildings that slumped against the hillsides like a sperm whale against a set of bleachers. From August to December, increasing numbers of people from the surrounding area would shuffle into work there, where the hams were manufactured for shipping out in time for Christmas across the country. It was a facility where pigs were less grown and butchered than they were assembled and harvested, a dystopian mechanization of grocery that one might expect from Blade Runner or a Pink Floyd music video, but not southern Wisconsin.
However, it was March, which meant that the workers were gone and that the town of Wilson was bored enough to spend its time thinking about naming the football team. Daniel Lancaster had just moved to town and was not aware of the cycle of energy in the area. He was a computer specialist, and in a place like Wilson, a computer specialist is always busy.
Outside of the Deep South, southern Wisconsin is perhaps the best place to find people scared of computers. The elderly, presented with one of the infernal machines, will often cower in fear as if the opening of a laptop would reveal some demonic horror. This was a lesson Daniel had learned the hard way in the mere six months he had lived and worked in Wilson. Moreover, since human stupidity knows no timetable, Daniel’s own stressors did not vanish with the New Year, and he was thoroughly confused by the town’s restlessness just as the days began to grow longer.
Daniel read the letter once more. “I don’t see why they need to change the name, there’s nothing wrong with… oh,” he said to himself, part of his humanity wasting away as he read the name. “Okay, yeah, I can see them wanting to change that.”
“Is that Joe Martin’s idea?” Brian asked from behind him. “The man’s as crazy as he looks if he thinks Old Lady Johansen’s going to let us get away with changing the name.”
Daniel nodded in the affirmative, set the rest of the mail on the cheap coffee table, and sat down on the sectional next to Brian. The latter man chuckled. “Ought to be a fun meeting. That’s tomorrow night, right?”
Brian Paulson was Daniel Lancaster’s only real friend in Wilson. He had met Daniel online and landed the younger man his job when an opening came about in Brian’s department – tech support for the local Telco. He had also helped Daniel win a conveniently timed election onto the Wilson PTA executive board. Daniel had brought his daughter Anna north from Chicago when he moved, and Brian could see the zeal with which he went about hammering away any obstacles to his daughter’s future. The public saw it, too, so when Esther Eiserman vacated her seat through the only act she was capable of at her age – death – the town trusted her seat to Daniel Lancaster, the newcomer from the city.
Suddenly, without warning, REO Speedwagon’s “Roll With the Changes” began emanating from Brian’s pants.
The two hemispheres of Daniel’s brain fell out of sync for a moment as he struggled to cope with that song coming from that place. Brian fished his cell phone from his pocket and Daniel slowly regained his composure.
“Hello, darling cuddlecakes,” Brian said to his wife. Daniel looked down at the letter in his hand once more. If only Valerie could see him now. Her husband on the school board. However, she had been gone for eight years and two hundred and forty-nine days now, a point Brian never failed to bring up.
“Love you too, lovey-bear. G’bye,” Brian said as he snapped his phone shut. “That was Margaret, obviously. She wants to know when you’re going to go on a double date with us. You don’t get out enough, Dan, and she’s a whole stable of women she’d like to set you up with.”
“So you’re saying my potential dates are horses,” Daniel replied, deadpan.
“Maybe. Maybe they want to be rode,” the older man replied.
“Who does?” Anna asked as she wandered into the room, sipping her juice box and clutching something in her other hand.
Anna was a bespectacled, bepigtailed girl aged eight years and two hundred and forty-nine days. Femininity had escaped her thus far in her life, so when she clambered down into the living room, it was in overalls, with short, messy hair. However, the sparse freckles that decorated her face as well as her intense brown eyes – not an adjective and color that usually go together – ensured that she was quite adorable.
Daniel shot Brian a very specific look that said, “Any more innuendo in front of my daughter and I’ll remove your jaw with a brick.” Brian squirmed in fear for a moment before the father turned to his daughter and smiled. “Horses, honey. Some of them like having riders. What’s up?”
“I made you a toy out of Legos,” she said, beaming with pride as she handed the multicolored contraption to her father. It was a noble attempt at concave shape with a handle, plastic vines connecting a smaller lump of molded toy.
“You made me a cup and ball, sweetheart?” Daniel asked, looking down at his daughter, who beamed up at him, nodding.
“I see important businessmen on TV with ball toys, but just having them swinging there on the desk is boring, so I thought you’d like this,” she said, positively oozing innocence and good nature. She knew her father had a desk at work, and this automatically made him an important businessman.
Her father paused for a moment. He loved Newton’s Cradles, loved the physics inherent within. In addition, cups and balls had always frustrated the poorly coordinated man. Could he explain this to his daughter? He could not reject the gift out of an attempt to be honest, could he? Should he teach her about conservation of energy, should he build a Newton’s cradle of her own out of Legos? In the end, he smiled and hugged his daughter. “Thank you, Anna. I’m going to take it to work with me tomorrow. But you should go make something that you can play with too, dear, so head back upstairs. I’ll call you down for dinner.”
Monday night came quickly, and Daniel found himself staring across the large round table at the scraggle that was Joe Martin. Joe Martin looked like-well, imagine Bob Seger. Young Bob Seger. Younger. Still younger. No, that’s too young. The sort of seventies look with bad skin and long straight hair that blends seamlessly into a beard, forming a mass of hair surrounding an axe murderer’s face. To Martin’s right, Daniel’s left, sat Old Lady Johansen, a skeleton of a person that looked entirely out of place in any chair without rockers. She was one of the few people outside the Mennonite community that could rock a bonnet. Myrtle Johansen was a woman older than the Wilson School District itself and brought the authority of her age with her everywhere she went, because it was the most weight she could carry at her age.
Martin stood to explain himself. The dozen or so parents gathered there turned to listen, or at least pretended.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Martin family has lived in Wilson for three generations, so I am as familiar with our town’s history as anyone, and willingly acknowledge Holly Hayworth’s role in that history. However, my Samuel is growing up, and this is the twenty-first century. He does not want look back in the future on his time in high school and say, ‘Yes, I was a Wilson Hogger.’
“Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t have any ideas for what our school’s new mascot should be. But I think that it’s time that we modernized our school’s representation to the outside world.” After this statement, Martin sat.
“Utter nonsense,” Old Lady Johansen spat. “When the kids think about facing a Hogger, they think fear. They think elite. They wonder if they’ll survive.”
“It’s a football team, not a special ops unit, you old bat,” Martin replied. “Jeff Growley here works at Holly Hayworth with me and he doesn’t want his son to be a Hogger any more than I do.
Jeff Growley looked up, his sunken eyes searching for purchase. “The smell of pig fat gives me nightmares. I don’t want Ernie haunted by hogs the same way I am,” he said meekly.
“There you have it, Myrtle,” Joe Martin said. “Not a soul in this town save yourself wants our kids to be Hoggers any longer.”
“Everyone, let’s calm down.” Brian’s voice brought order back to the discussion. “Our new guy Daniel, here? Hasn’t had squat to do since we brought him on board.” Brian glanced over at Daniel, who shrunk back under the eyes of the room. “Why don’t we let him come up with a list of names, and we can vote next week on whether or not we want to send any of them forward, really work on getting the school’s mascot changed. Sound good?”
The collected group mumbled its apathetic agreement.
The next day at work, Daniel started asking around for name ideas.
“Something dignified, but brutal. The Spartans,” coworker Larry Waylands said without looking up from his sandwich in one hand and flask in the other.
“There are like fifty teams already named the Spartans across the country. I’d prefer something a bit more original,” Daniel said.
“Okay, um. How about other Greeks? The Athenians,” Larry replied.
“The Athenians were pedophiles,” Daniel said.
“Well, that’s something the kids from other schools should be scared of, then,” Larry said.
“Name it after wildlife from the area,” Daniel’s boss, Andrew Grossman said.
“I-this is southern Wisconsin. What intimidating beasts grow around here?” Daniel asked. “The last feral animal I saw was a raccoon digging through a garbage can.”
“Well, there you go. Name the team after that,” Grossman said.
Daniel stood, dumbfounded.
“The Wilson Fighting Coons,” Grossman continued.
Three nonsense syllables escaped Daniel’s throat before he was able to speak coherently. “You don’t see anything wrong with that?”
Grossman shook his head. “No, what’s the problem?”
Daniel regretted asking the intern, Ben, the moment after he finished his question. The kid was so glad someone at that place was actually talking to him that he lost all other means of internal control. “Man, kids these days are hardcore, right? So you gotta hit ‘em up with a ballin’ ass name. You gotta name that team after the baddest ass motherfucker you got. Fuckin’ Wilson Samuel L. Jacksons. Fuckin’ Wilson Che Guevaras.”
Daniel pretended to mark in his notebook before fleeing the scene as rapidly as possible.
After Tuesday’s dinner, Daniel sat in his recliner, flinging the Lego ball upward and trying to get it to land in the matching Lego cup while he mulled over his name options. Anna came downstairs in her pajamas and crawled into her father’s lap. “What’s wrong, daddy?” she asked shyly as she peered up at the flat look on her father’s face.
Daniel glanced down at his daughter. “What would you name the high school football team, dear?” he asked.
She thought the question through. “Something pretty. The Wilson Unicorns or the Butterflies,” she said. He sighed as he got the answer he’d expected. “That way, when the other team lost, they’d have to admit they lost to the Unicorns or the Butterflies,” she added, and her father reminded himself never to underestimate his daughter again. Her birth might have taken her mother’s life, but she had received her mother’s brains.
The father smiled. “I don’t know if everyone else will figure that out, sweetheart,” he said. “I think they’d just think it was something girly.”
“Aww, dang,” she replied. “Well, they always name teams after really strong things that kill people,” she said with a pout. “Cowboys and stuff.”
Daniel nodded and kissed his daughter on the forehead. “You’re right. Maybe I’ll have to think along those lines,” he said. “Now head upstairs and get ready for bed, okay?”
He dispatched his daughter to school the next day with a request for name ideas from her classmates, but when she returned home that afternoon, the Wilson Batmans was the closest thing to a workable idea. When Deirdre Skye, the babysitter Daniel had hired for the evening, arrived, he asked her, too.
“Mankind has been exploiting nature for so long, now it’s even naming its teams after them without revering their great and eternal spirits. Bears, Lions, Tigers, even the Cardinals,” she said. Daniel knew that this would be merely an introduction to a longer speech he had no intention of hearing, so he almost sprinted down the stairs to grab his jacket. She followed, and he suddenly snapped and confronted her.
“You know that my daughter won’t sleep with her teddy bear anymore? Now she refuses to touch it because she thinks they killed a real bear and stuffed it to make that teddy bear. She got that bear when she was two. It was handmade and the person who made it, before she even met us, named it Valerie. That was my wife’s name, her mother’s name.” Daniel was near tears. “She was drawn to it the moment she saw it. She never let it go. I could barely persuade her to leave it at home when she started school. I could barely pry it out of her hands to get the thing mended when it got too worn. And now, ever since you’ve started babysitting, she refuses to touch it. Where’d she get these ideas, Deirdre?”
Daniel stood with the door open, facing the girl on the inside, on his way out because it was too late to get another sitter and Brian would kill him if he didn’t show. Deirdre stood, silent, for a moment, and then went to speak. “Actually, many bears-”
Daniel slammed the door.
Daniel had promised to finally go on a double date with Brian and his wife Margaret. She’d set up Daniel with her friend Melissa, a petite blonde stick of a girl whose clothes hung off of her as they would a sweater rack. The fanciest place to eat in a town like Wilson was Cliff’s, a slightly more expensive than usual burger joint. Brian salted his fries until they curled up like slugs, then began inhaling them as he watched the World Series of Poker on the TV over Daniel’s head. Margaret poked at Daniel and Melissa like lab rats until they began conversing. He was a computer geek from Chicago; she was a scrapbooking geek from the nearby town of Lindon. They were both geeks, it had to work, right? What Margaret hadn’t realized is that tactile people like Melissa often hated the cold, unfeeling nature of computers, whereas the pragmatic types that became computer geeks disliked fluff like scrapbooking. The two sat in uncomfortable near-silence for most of the night, while an oblivious Melissa kept pointing out the things the couple had in common, a list of traits that, beyond the fact that both spoke English and were, in fact, human, was short enough to be counted on one hand.
Daniel jammed his hand in his coat pocket and fidgeted with the toy brick cup and ball within. “So,” he said, as if that were a statement on its own. He looked down at his half-eaten chicken sandwich and fries. “I’ve been asked to come up with ideas for renaming the Wilson High School Hoggers. Do you three have any ideas?”
Brian continued running probability numbers in his head as he watched the poker, still eating ravenously. Margaret smiled. “I think you should name them the lumberjacks,” she said.
“How does that relate back to Wilson?” Daniel asked.
“Oh, it doesn’t,” she replied. “I just think they’re handsome and rugged,” she said, casting a sidelong glance at her husband.
“You could have married a lumberjack,” Brian said. “Or a man with worse hearing. But you didn’t,” he offered with a grin as he leaned and left a salty kiss on his wife’s cheek. “Relax, honey bunches of oats. I’m listening.” The wife smiled, sated with her husband’s response. Daniel looked over at Melissa, and to his surprise, their eyes met. She had the same look of exhaustion and disinterest as he did, and they shared a quick moment. A smile crept onto her face as she spoke. “Just don’t name the team the crusaders,” she said. “Or the eagles. Or something stereotypical like that. Be the Wilson Wild Turkeys, make Ben Franklin proud,” she said.
Daniel was stunned. Someone else into trivia enough to know that Ben Franklin hated the selection of the bald eagle as symbol for the U.S.? Daniel smirked a bit. “It’s a good idea,” he offered.
The two smirked at each other for a moment. Then, once again, to Daniel’s horror, “Roll With the Changes” came out of Brian’s pants, and Daniel’s brain rebooted.
Daniel gave Melissa a ride home, during which time his involvement with the PTA came up once more. “It’s wonderful that you’re so involved in your daughter’s future,” Melissa had said. “I hope that some good comes out of it. From what Brian and Margareta tell me, you don’t get out much?”
“Yeah,” Daniel had meekly replied.
“Well, hopefully you really wow some people with this naming thing,” she said. “It doesn’t seem like you fit in here in Wilson just yet. And it would be awful to stick out like this your whole time here,” she said to him as he pulled up to her apartment.
Those few sentences replayed ad nauseam in Daniel’s head as he returned home, and his spirits had sunk once more by the time he dismissed and meekly paid the babysitter. He kissed his sleeping daughter on the forehead, setting Valerie beside her beneath the covers, and retired to his own bedroom, where he lay, conversation still playing, still trying to get the ball into the cup.
Thursday dawned. Intern Ben had offered a new suggestion for the team, the Wilson Katrinas, because “Mother Nature be fuckin’ shit all up.” Daniel thanked him for his contribution as he left for his first call.
“I told you, it always seemed to work until that one afternoon,” Ernest Letterman said while Daniel crouched beneath a desk, poking at the wires of the Peaceful Twilight Retirement Center’s internet service. Daniel wasn’t exactly thrilled that he had the opportunity to fix the internet of Ernest Letterman, who had become known as the neighborhood racist. A few months before Daniel arrived, he started a fight at the Wilson Public library before fleeing and collapsing in the Holy Mother Church graveyard two blocks away. Now out of the hospital, he was back to pretending he ran the show at the Peaceful Twilight Retirement Center.
“I think it was that new girl working here,” Letterman said. Daniel didn’t have to look up to know he was pointing at the new Latina hire. “Probably set it up so that we catch all of those computer viruses. As if we weren’t sick enough.”
“If it still works now, I doubt anyone sabotaged it, Mr. Letterman,” Daniel said. “Without more specific details, it’s hard for me to tell why it ‘just wasn’t work-’ wait. Which afternoon did you say that the computer didn’t work?”
“Last Monday,” Letterman said.
“There was a power outage last Monday, Mr. Letterman,” Daniel said.
Leaving the retirement center, Daniel sighed. His list of team name ideas consisted of the Wilson Batmans, the Wilson Samuel L. Jacksons, and the Wilson Wild Turkeys, which he could probably have gotten away with if it didn’t imply the team was 101 proof.
Friday dawned, and Daniel was dispatched to Evergreen Terrace, one of the newly built subdivisions just outside of Wilson. The name was twofold. It officially referred to the forest of pine trees surrounding the houses. The forest had been designed between pulls of whiskey on the part of the landscaper, meaning that he didn’t have the wherewithal to plant them in organic fashion. Instead, the neatly aligned rows of pines gave the subdivision the impression of an enormous Christmas tree farm.
The name also referred to the severely moneyed status of the inhabitants of the houses there. It was a wealthy development, and where the landscaper had failed, the architect had not. Each house was wonderfully designed, an actual success in mending a near-log cabin forest feel with modern amenities. Unfortunately, from within one’s own house, one could not enjoy the look of one’s own exterior, and from ground level the gridwork of the trees was evident.
However, both the woodwork of the homes and the beauty of the forests could be enjoyed – from the neighboring Hillside Housing subdivision, which looked down upon Evergreen Terrace. This led to complaints of “We’ve got the land, but they’ve got the view!” from Evergreen denizens, and vice versa from Hillside residents. As a result, the entire population migrated slowly from one subdivision to the other, and back, every few years. The service industry, as well as the real estate industry, thrived.
In Evergreen Terrace, Daniel and Brian installed DSL in the homes of three families that had recently left Hillside Housing. They’d flipped sides twice in the last five years, so Brian knew them on a first name basis by now, even teaching them a bit about how the process worked, and Daniel was grateful that someone was learning to troubleshoot their own damn computers instead of calling him for help. As he left, Daniel asked the homeowner about team names.
“Are you kidding me? That’s what the PTA’s worried about? God, it’s ridiculous. There have got to be bigger problems.”
Daniel’s face fell into a smile for the first time in days. “You know, I’m glad to hear you feel that way, sir. I was just assigned the role, and I’d prefer to work on something more substantial as well.”
“Damn right. For example, I’m sure the teachers aren’t telling the kids about the role our government played in 9/11.”
“Thank you and good night, sir,” Daniel said as he quickly walked to his Focus, then thought for a moment and locked the doors before driving away.
As the final workday of the week ended, Daniel sunk toward his realization that he didn’t have the name ideas the PTA would want. And while the younger version of him wouldn’t care, the new Daniel Lancaster was intimidated by this development.
Young Daniel Lancaster not only wouldn’t care, it wouldn’t matter. Fifteen seconds before the presentation, he’d write the whole thing on his wrist and come away with an A minus. He could talk his way into parties; he could talk his way into the girls at said parties. One of those girls turned out to be a winner, and two years later the two were wed and awaiting the birth of their first child. But something went wrong, the doctor made a choice – his wife’s choice, not his, not his, and she was gone, and Daniel was left with a crying little girl, covered in the crimson of her mother’s decision. Things were different now. His short hair was thinner, he couldn’t pull off a goatee, and crow’s feet crept toward his eyes, cracks in his façade of youth. Everything was more important now, everything was in sharp relief, and this thing, this little thing of naming the school football team, became something of great import in Daniel’s mind.
So Daniel ignored the messages from Melissa on his answering machine, instead sitting and interacting with his daughter the minimum amount possible while these questions and memories ran through his head. The weekend went by this way, in this blur, until Monday night, when Daniel sat before the PTA once again, with nothing in mind for the team.
“Well, everyone, I believe Mr. Lancaster has something to say,” Joe Martin said, addressing the group, whose eyes turned to Daniel. Brian spoke up.
“Dan’s new around here, but this ought to show you all just how much he can fit in in a town like ours,” Brian said.
Daniel sat, staring at the image of Holly Hayworth’s mascot, Howard Hog, emblazoned on Jeff Growley’s jacket. It was an ecstatic pig, winking and smiling as it put an apple in its mouth. It contrasted sharply with the reality of the Holly Hayworth’s Holiday Production Facility, a hell of non-Euclidean geometry and automated pork.
Every pair of eyes was on Daniel. It was way past fifteen seconds before the presentation, and he still had nothing. Ideas flashed behind his eyes.
“It doesn’t seem like you fit in here in Wilson just yet.”
“You gotta name that team after the baddest ass motherfucker you got.”
“What intimidating beasts grow around here?”
“Well, they always name teams after really strong things that kill people.”
“Just don’t name the team the crusaders.”
“…without revering their great and eternal spirits.”
“I’d prefer something a bit more original.”
Every sentence, every snippet of voice formed a drumbeat in his mind. It was the beat to some infernal song that he did not recognize.
Until it started playing.
In Brian Paulson’s pants.
“Roll With the Changes” began to play. Brian waved in apology to the group and started to fish into his pocket for his cell phone.
“Something dignified, but brutal.”
Woman I am willing
“Mother Nature be fuckin’ shit all up.”
To make the break that we are on the brink of
Daniel felt the pulse of Wilson. The skewed and bent way of thinking of its citizens.
My cup is on the table
His hand in his pocket snapped the ball from its vine and jammed it in the cup. A portal opened in his mind, and he saw that he could step into this town’s world. He prayed with all his heart that he would not be trapped as stepped into the thinking of Wilson, Wisconsin. And within, the epiphany washed over him like a bath of light.
My love is spilling
Here, he could have the team name. Here, a bit of trivia would be enough to make him think he could make a life with a scrapbooking geek. Here, he had no fear of tomorrow, just the welcoming embrace of the community.
Waiting here for you to take and drink of
He promised himself he would only stay as long as he had to. To fit in a bit, for Anna’s sake.
So if you’re tired of the same old story
“I think I have the perfect team name, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, and he told them.
It was powerful. It was dangerous. It was local and universal. Daniel Lancaster named the team after the most deadly force he could think of. Even Old Lady Johansen was impressed.
“Welcome to Wilson,” Brian said to Daniel. “You’re going to fit in just fine.” It was a perfect name for Wilson, though it would never fly anywhere else.
And so, over the summer, the idea took off up the necessary channels. The scruffy old maintenance man hoisted a new banner into the gymnasium at Wilson High school. New jerseys were ordered for the student athletes and the band. And when school started, the students were glad to be inspired by the single man who had allegedly killed more people than anyone else in history.
You got to roll with the changes, got to got to got to
Thanks to David Lancaster, they were the Wilson Jehovahs.
You’re Going To Fit In Just Fine by Taylor Vincent is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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