Throwback Thursdays! We’re bringing back some of our favorite pieces from the last 30 years of Scribendi.
Paul Douglas Gacioch – Northern Arizona University – 1998
“Hey Story-wanna read the Unabomber’s Manifesto?”
“He’s got his own homepage.”
“No,” I tell my little brother Bryan after two seconds of care-
ful consideration, “I’m afraid that I’d end up agreeing with him.”
I had been deciding whether I wanted to eat supermarket
gourmet popcorn in front of the television or take a bath. So now, I’m
sitting in the bathtub eating popcorn, a task much more difficult than I
had imagined. You’ve got to make sure your hands are dry or else the
popcorn shrivels in contact with the water. You also need to be
careful not to drop any popcorn in the water. I watch a fallen kernel
shrinking like the Wicked Witch, dissolving in the
As I contemplate this unfortunate mix of water and popcorn, the
irony of the Unabomber’s homepage strikes me. The man who spent
decades making threats and exploding bombs to further his anti-
technology philosophy is now behind bars while his words are
surfing the Web.
The doorbell rings, and I hear the front door close. I grab a
towel that smells like my thirteen-year-old brother’s overpowering
Inside my bedroom I turn on the radio and, after finding no
worthy music, put in a CD, the soundtrack to some long-forgotten
motion picture disaster that was insultingly marketed to every
teenager in North America. I sit on my bed and find a note on the
pillow, the front of which reads: story
I already know who it’s from. I already know what it’s about.
I met Peter through a bulletin board four months ago.
Usually, I just ignore the bulletins scattered around Mill Avenue.
One day, though, I skipped class to wander Mill when this sign
caught my eye: Tadpole wanted to join poet visionaryguru singerguitarist
songwriter in musical project. I was intrigued with the idea of meeting a
guru and was curious about how a tadpole might be involved.
Another reason I responded was because I am a songwriter. I
may be just a junior in high school, slaving away at a supermarket
video store, but I am confident my songwriting talents will be dis-
I was the only person to respond to the bulletin. “I was hoping
for a chick,” Peter, the guru, told me, “but you’ll do.” I learned that he
called his songs “tadpole music,” but he wouldn’t tell me why He
played some of his tunes for me that day, and they were pretty good, but
had no structure to them. “They progress, they don’t repeat. Why would
I want to repeat a point that I’ve made if
I’ve already made it?”
Peter’s lyrics were pretty cool, too: “underwater in the bath tub /
lookin’ for a rosebud / lookin’ for a new breed / screamin’ for a
machine / wearin’ shoes on the inside / doused in formaldehyde
/nothin’ lives, nothin’ dies / jesus sinned, jesus christ.” I’m not really
sure what they mean, but I assumed they meant some-
thing beyond my comprehension.
Then it was my turn to play Embarrassed by my lack of intro-
spective lyrics, I decided to bring my singing talents to the fore- front.
In the richest and clearest voice I could muster, I sang my newest song. I
didn’t make eye contact with him while I was playing my guitar and
singing. I caught him snickering as he listened to
the chorus: “I see clouds in your eyes /crazy me, I want to fly
there / look how the sun is breaking through the clouds.”
As the last chord stopped ringing, Peter and I made eye con-
“A love song.”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I don’t know. It’s just what I felt like writing about.”
“Don’t you think the subject of love has been covered already? Like,
half the songs in the world are about love. I think it’s time to move on,
to progress, and to write about new, more important subjects. Right?”
“I can see what you mean.”
“But don’t get me wrong. You’ve got a great voice. We’ll just change
your words around, that’s all.”
And so I became a tadpole. Peter didn’t bother to ask if I
wanted to be one, but I went along with it anyway.
Peter had a four-track machine which he taught me to use. We
each made tapes of our songs and wrote out the lyrics and music. Then we
exchanged and tried to write another guitar part to the other’s song.
Peter, usually a few days after I gave him a tape, would give to me a sheet
with the same melodies I had given him, only with different lyrics. For example,
“I see clouds in your eyes” was changed to, “woman’s tongue circumcised.”
As for the guru-ness of Peter, he admitted it wasn’t quite ac-
curate. “I just wanted a chick to answer my ad, and you know, that
kind of stuff is impressive,” Peter explained. “It’s not just that I wanted
a chick around or anything. It’s the music. Always the mu- sic.”
I understood what Peter meant. It’s not like he needed more
girls. He was apparently attractive to a lot of girls, but not in any way I
could understand. Peter’s body could be summarized in one word:
waif. Tall, but no muscles. Veiny arms that might break like chalk. His
skin was almost transparent and his hands were so small it was an
accomplishment that he could wrap his fingers completely around the
Peter’s face, though, was mysterious. Looking at him, I could
easily imagine Peter in a black-and-white photo advertisement: his head,
with its black hair greased back, is turned toward the ground. His eyes
are looking up, Roman nose descending in front of the camera. At the top
of his nose, falling just below Peter’s eyes, are mirrored sunglasses, in
which we see the expensive Italian shoes advertised. Peter is wearing the
so-much-incredibly-cooler-than-you threads no one his age can
afford, but buys any-
way. The magazine in which this advertisement is found, of course,
reeks of the newest CK fragrance.
That is Peter. The word guru doesn’t come to mind. The body
seemed laughable, but the face brought an amazing aesthetic quali-
ty to the tadpole show.
Even though I was the one who was singing, Peter tripped around
the stage making melodramatic facial expressions. Between songs, he
would touch himself subtly and seductively, letting the teenage girls lust
after his wanna-be-rock-star-guru skinny body. Even I would watch him
sometimes. How could I respect him while he did that?
I spent a lot of time in Peter’s apartment rehearsing tadpole mu-
sic. Peter had a great work ethic. He had recently turned 21, and was
consistently hung over, but at least he tried not to show it. Our sessions
were always interrupted at least twice by the telephone. The
answering machine would take the call after two rings. Various fawning
voices would leave their numbers and messages expressing concern.
Apparently, they all seemed to think of him as fragile and sensitive. If he
was, though, it was a side he had never shown me.
Once, in Peter’s bathroom, I found prescription medication. A
lot of it. I knew I shouldn’t have been looking, but I couldn’t help it.
Peter had his amp cranked up real high and was not really there that
morning anyway. I opened the medicine cabinet: Wellbutrin, Cat-
aflam, Risperdal, many unmarked vials, and, of course, the wonder
“Hey, Story,” Peter yelled, “you gotta check out this riff.” I opened
the door swiftly because I wasn’t sure how long I had been in there.
Peter was standing directly in front of me. Silence. He looked past me. The
door to the medicine cabinet was still wide open. Staring into his eyes, I
saw the fragile and sensitive side the voices on the answering machine
“Uh…Well, let’s hear it,” I said, hoping he would forget about the
open cabinet. He silently turned around and sulked back to his guitar. He
turned the volume up and played the sweetest, most beautiful notes I had
ever heard from a tadpole.
Then, the phone rang. Peter stopped playing on the second
ring. This is Pete. Leave a message.
“Peter, honey, this is your mother. We haven’t spoken for a while,
and, well, we . . . we think it might be good if you came
home for a while. Your father and I think it would be good for you.
We know that you—”
Peter raced across the room and picked up the phone. I just
stood there. In retrospect, I know I should have pretended I was more
interested in my guitar. But as I looked around the apartment, I
noticed for the first time how decrepit Peter’s life seemed. The walls
were chipping and spackled. The plants outside his window were
withered brown and falling down, dejected. Peter’s furniture was
stained and filthy. Before, I had only noticed his persona and the music.
I realized I knew almost nothing about the guy I spent my afternoons
with. Peter’s history was, to me, a total blank.
“Fuck you!” Peter screamed after whispering into the tele-
phone for a minute. He glanced at me as I stared at the Wired mag-
azine on his coffee table. He whispered into the telephone even quieter
now; I could hear a high-pitched voice on the other end speaking
rapidly. Aside from the four-track recorder and a primitive CD player,
Peter had none of the technology written of in Wired.
He hung up the phone, looked around like a frightened ani-
mal, and disappeared into the kitchen. Silence again. He reap-
peared an eternity later.
“Do you mind if we do this another time, Story?” “Not at all.”
“We’re ready for the Friday gig anyway, right?”
“Sure. No problem.”
I packed up my equipment and walked out without looking at him. I
could feel his eyes on me.
As I walked out past the wilted mums I glanced back through
Peter’s window: I saw him sitting there, head buried in his hands.
Last Friday night I was drinking lemon chamomile tea and
enjoying the atmosphere of the Coffee Mill. “Enjoying the atmosphere”
means I was feeling cool. No action, interaction, or deep thought as I
was sitting on a stool next to the counter. Just drinking the tea and
listening to the mellow piano music float across the room.
Coffee bars are the coolest. On week nights, they are usually
filled with open-minded people my age: too young to go to bars and too
smart to go to dance clubs. Pianos, acoustic guitars, and
poetry readings entertain us while we improvise verbal athletics in the
most detached and aesthetically pure fashion possible. It’s also fun to
watch a person sip at caffeine-loaded drinks all night and then try to hide
the fact that he or she is ready to bounce off the walls.
The room was filled that night with beautiful teenage girls, no
doubt in anticipation of Peter’s histrionics. These were girls you
would never find at the Coffee Mill on a week night. They all wore too
much make-up and very tight shirts.
Peter stumbled through the door. He spotted me at the
counter, nodded, and crossed over toward me. He banged his guitar
case against a few chairs while traversing the sea of staring girls. As he
neared me, he managed a stupid smile.
“You don’t look so good, man. Can you play?”
“Yeah, I can play. What time do we go on?”
“Twenty minutes ago. But don’t worry about it. Ready?”
I told one of the employees to turn on the P.A system. Peter
climbed onto the stage. I followed. Usually, I say a few words to
introduce us, but Peter fell straight into a song. It took me a minute to
realize which song it was, it wasn’t our usual opener, and by then I had
missed the first two verses. No problem. When we hit the chorus I was
able to join in on the guitar and the rest of the song actually sounded
In the middle of the second song, Peter became the worst in-
carnation of Jimi Hendrix the world has ever seen. I tried to keep up
with him and his scratching, but he rushed and dragged so much that I
eventually fell out of the song. He continued for about thirty seconds
before his fingers fell to the fretboard. I didn’t know how to react, so I
announced a quick break so I could retrieve my tea. On the way back to
the stage, I noticed our tip-jar was still empty.
I glanced over at Peter. Instead of his usual stage presence, he
was impersonating the wall. I played the next song alone. And the song
after that. Peter was making half-assed attempts to play, but it just
I glanced around the room. No one was paying any attention. I
didn’t know what to do except pack up my guitar and leave.
I open the letter.
i guess i fucked up pretty big time huh. i understand why
your not returning my calls but i want you to know that i am really
sorry about Friday life has been real fucked up recently and i couldnt
stand being sober at the time. i guess you already knew that. im moving
back to indiana for a while.
your a great singer and songwriter story i know that ive
been a little bit arrongant about my music and art but that was just to
boost my own ego. sorry to be such a asshole. sorry that i changed
your words around. im sorry about how i was on Friday and im sorry
that tadpole music is finished for now.
A late night in the suburbs, it is summer in the Sonoran Desert.
Despite the air-conditioned comfort of the house, the dry heat chokes
me out of sleep. I lay in bed, tossing about, trying to ignore the
discomfort. Finally, I act on the impulse to get out of bed. I open the
door to the bathroom through the dark hallway I wash my face. The air
conditioning is off and I know the sound of running water might wake
up my family I go to the kitchen. I am not hungry, but scavenge for food
A can of peaches in lite syrup stares at me. I pick up the can
and stare at the noisy electric can opener. The entire household is
familiar with the loud grinding; my dog naturally associates the sound
with mealtime. I would feel guilty about waking them up just to satisfy
A child of technology, I have used a hand-operated can opener
only a few times on family camping trips. I open a kitchen drawer and
noiselessly push away knives, spatulas, an egg-beater, and other kitchen
implements. A humble can opener is tucked away in the corner of
the drawer. I press the blade into the peach can; there is no sound. I
turn the knob. The can opens; there is no sound. The lid floats in lite
syrup; I pull it out and throw it away I stare at the miracle of pre-
technology still in my right hand. I replace the can opener and
noiselessly close the drawer.
I sit in dim light at the kitchen table eating canned peaches
and reading Wired magazine.