The moms back us into a corner, insisting they have the final say on what our band, The Triplets, is allowed to play. Our first performance at the Downtown (Ames) Coffee Shop set off a near riot. Luckily our new fans, the Ames High football team, led by my new best friend ‘Gator, arrive at the last-minute to save us from mom control by taking us bowling. The moms entertain the boys, while we change into our bowling attire, recently purchased from Goodwill.
‘Wow, y’all have uniforms already,” ‘Gator gushes. “Where can we get our team gear?”
“I know just the place,” I assure him.
“We’s bin tellin’ yer moms ‘bout the write-up in the mornin’ newspaper,” as he holds up a copy of the Iowa State Daily. “They even mentions us, yer fans.”
The girls run over and start reading our first review aloud:
“Patrons of Friday Open Mic Night at the Downtown Coffee Shop were surprised when new trio, The Triplets, ended their performance of folk songs with an electric version of the Stooges rocker, ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog.’ Instant mayhem ensued, as the Ames High football team celebrated that night’s win over Iowa City, by acting out the song’s nonsense call to be dogs. Howling and barking drove the more sedate college folkies to the door, except for a few frat boys who were not about to be shown up by the high school crowd. The show ended with at least twenty males writhing on the floor, devoted fans of the new trio. Management was none too pleased watching their regular clientele flee. It is unlikely we will see The Triplets back at the Coffee Shop. Hopefully they can book as the fight band at next week’s Ames High football game.
The Triplets are Amy, Angie and Andy Muller-Castle, all seniors at Ames High. It is good to see youthful energy kick out the jams.”
“What a great idea. Kin y’all play at the Friday fight rally?”
I am sure ‘Gator can arrange it. “What’s ya think, moms?” we all ask.
“We’ll discuss it later,” is their final decision.
It’s off to Goodwill, to outfit the Aims High, Bowls Straight Ten Pin team. The twins and I are seated in ‘Gator’s Ford F-150.
“What’s the story with your moms,” no beating around the bush for ‘Gator.
The girls look at each other and shrug. It is up to me to spill the beans.
“They’ve been together since my mom split from my dad a year ago last summer,” I don’t make excuses.
“Did ya know yer mom was a lez before she split?”
“She just seemed lost after my dad got a girlfriend. Now I got two moms here and a mom in Miami.”
“That’s cool. ‘Least ya don’t seem like no mama’s boy.”
“Hell. After Mom split, all my friends’ moms adopted me. I counted there was seven of them that I was callin’ Mom.”
“That ‘cause everone like’n ya, Andy. Y’all’s just like honey. Maybe’s I be callin’ ya that,” he laugh.
“Maybe I be kickin’ yer ass off’n the bowlin’ team.”
He looks real hurt before punching me in the arm. Sweet like honey, that boy.
Goodwill on Saturday morning is buzzing like bees. ‘Gator and the boys (Clarence, Noah, Henry and Buzz) find plenty of polyester for bowling uniforms. None of us match, but together, there’s little doubt we are off to the bowling alley. Nice to set a new fashion trend. I explain that bowling is a team sport with each boy teamed with a girl. ‘Gator choses Amy for his partner, so I have Angela. The boys are stuck with each other until they can recruit girls for themselves. Girlfriends are ineligible, as they are to be cheerleaders. The seven of us take adjoining alleys and the competition is on. The lanes are not busy, as the leagues meet on weeknights. There are a few younger kids rolling, who recognize the high school jocks as their heroes. Soon they are our cheering section. Once they realize how terrible we are at bowling they became our ten-year-old coaches, yelling tips and encouragement. ‘Gator is the only one to break 100 on any game. We promise to keep practicing and become more competitive. We eat bad pizza once we finish. ‘Gator and I speak with the Ames Lanes manager about sponsoring us as a high school sport. He promises to reserve lanes on Saturday mornings for practice and eventual competition with other high school teams. High School bowling has come to Iowa. ‘Gator promises to call his friends on other football teams to let them know about the new winter sport.
It is a fall Saturday afternoon, which means Iowa State football. The demands of my new lifestyle are outrunning my initial enthusiasm. I remember how Coach Isaac from the University of Miami Swim Team and the other U of M swimmers hated the football team. As jocks on scholarship, not only were they required to coach the Hurricane youth club, but they also had to live in the sports dorm, dubbed the Pit. Swimmers were fair game for boorish football players in the dorm. I also remember how I grew to hate the Gables High jocks for their entitled social status, pushing lesser students aside in the school halls. I have to smile at the irony of becoming an instant jock just because ‘Gator likes me. Adding girls to the bowling team seems like a way to reduce arrogant jock attitude.
As soon as we enter the football stadium, ‘Gator decides to concentrate his attention on the band and its production values. They never play fight cheers. The opponent is Oklahoma, ranked number two in the nation. After going 4 wins and a single loss to open their season, Iowa State lost a close game to Kansas the previous week. The stands seem somewhat subdued and dispirited, intimidated by Mighty Oklahoma. The college band marches out for the national anthem, reminding me of my performance at the State Swim finals in May. The lack of spirit hurts the Cyclones, as Oklahoma leads 21-0 by half-time. “Gator is pacing on the sidelines, as we watch from our seats. He knows many of the Iowa State players, exhorting them to up their game. He comes and sits with us while the marching band goes through their halftime routine.
He remains upset, saying the band is lame.
“You should be out there,” he says turning to the three of us. “Y’all knows how to git everyone riled up.” He reminds me of Robby, all worked up and expecting everyone to do as he says. It worked great at our gigs. We played Neil Young to rednecks and watched the riot get it on. I know just how to rile up these lame Iowa State boys.
“Okay,” I tell ‘Gator. “You stay on the sidelines. We’ll get the band to play ‘Oklahoma’, then you git all worked up. Pace up and down, waving your arms, and screaming at us”
He instantly recognizes the strategy. “Do it when Oklahoma has the ball. Only the defense can score. State’s quarterback sucks.”
“You get the crowd screaming at us. We’ll make the defense thinks it’s for them. They’ll git off their asses and cause a turnover.”
Gator runs down and grabs a cheerleader, pointing at us. She comes over and takes us to the marching band director.
“Do what this here boy tells ya,” she commands.
He looks skeptically at the three of us.
“Y’all know ‘Oklahoma’?” I ask.
“Gimme a mic, We’ll do the vocals. I’ll tell ya when to start.”
He looks at the cheerleader. She nods. He shrugs. We were about to sing for 15,000 people.
“You know this song,” I assure the girls. “Just back me up. And come in for the chorus, when I tells y’all.”
I sign to Jace. I prepare to channel Jack at Mommy’s dinner parties. I give the band director his marching orders.
“You can play the Oklahoma song from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical?”
“We’re going to sing the chorus part all the way through to the spelling O_K_L_A_H_O_M_A, then repeat it again until the team responds on the field. I’ll tell you when to stop. Just follow our singing.”
He looks quizzically at me but nods that he understands. He tells the band members to pull the old Broadway standby out of their sheet music folders.
I wait until the defense comes on after the offense goes another three-and-out set. They already look worn down. I wave to ‘Gator that we are ready, so he can start his antics on the sideline. The girls and I start singing as the band goes right into the chorus:
“Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet
When the wind comes right behind the rain.
Oklahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and I
Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk
Makin’ lazy circles in the sky.
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say
We’re only sayin’
You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
We know we belong to the land
And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say
We’re only sayin’
You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
O.K. L – A – H – O – M – A
“Gator is his irrepressible self. Running to the stands in front of the band and raising his arms in disgust and incredulity at why Iowa State is playing their rivals’ state song. The crowd gets into it, yelling and stomping their feet. As the song builds, the crowd noise reaches a crescendo. The game proceeds, but the noise from the stands perks up the defense. Oklahoma twice tries a run and the line holds. On third down, they go to the air, but it’s batted down. Having to punt, the visitors seem confused and disorganized. Before getting the punt off, the officials whistle a penalty for too many players on the field, pushing them further back. We keep repeating “Okla-homa, Okla-homa, Okla-homa,” in a soto whispering voice, that eerily echoes throughout the stadium. The crowd starts to get into the song, as the defense has rallied from down-trodden to energized. The punt is almost blocked and the squiggled kick allows time for the run-back receiver to get up a head of steam. As he races down the sidelines, we sing the finale, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O-K- L – A – H – O – M – A
OKLAHOMA! Yeeow!” as the runner is finally pushed out-of-bounds at the visitors’ 35 yard line.
We rest when the offense comes out, feeling exhilarated after inspiring 15,000 fans to sing along with us. As is unfortunate this year, the offense is unable to gain a first down. The attempted field goal is wide right. Once the Iowa State defense comes back on the field, we get up and start our ironic fight song. The crowd responds by singing right along from the start of the chorus. Who knew football fans loved Broadway show tunes? The defense rallies again, holding the visitors to no ground gains. On third and long, we are doing the soto voiced “Okla-homa, Okla-homa” as a long pass floats down field. The defender leaps higher and pulls in an interception. We switched to the finale, “You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
O – K – L – A – H – O – M – A
as he races untouched for the Iowa State’s first score. The stands are rocking with cheers, including “Oklahoma’s okay.” The score is 21-7. It is a game, not a rollover.
Unfortunately, the momentum shifts back. The opposing stands start joining us in the song, confusing everyone, especially the players. Without an offense, the defense cannot keep up their adrenaline-pumped performance. The final score is 38-7.
The girls and I remain pumped up. Many of the band members tell us how great we sing, especially the girls’ high sopranos behind my Broadway dramatic tenor. We know how to project. We promise to work with them for the next week’s game against Colorado. ‘Gator and his boys meet us outside the stadium.
“How’s ‘bout them apples? We rilly got them boys a’playin’ defense,” as he hugs each of us. He so reminds me of Stu, jumping up and down and telling everyone how good they did. The image of a 200-pound Stu is scary, especially with his half-ton posse backing him up.
“We needs pizza,” I declare. “There gots ta be better pizza in this town than that frozen tasteless crap at the bowlin’ alley.”
“Y’all needs the Pit, the Pizza Pit,” ‘Gator announces, with the approval of his posse.
It is about four blocks from the Hyland house. We stuff ourselves with what I admit is decent pizza, reserving my gold standard for Miami’s Sorrento’s. All the guys end up on the third floor with the twins. The moms are nervous at the odds, seven pimpled-faced boys with just their two cherubic choir girls. I assure the moms that there is safety in numbers. So far, there has been little misogynistic banter from the boys. Maybe the comfort/cheerleader girls satisfy their hormones.
We pull out the guitars and Amy is on the piano. Soon we’re all singing pop songs. The boys know they should stick to football. It is simple fun. No one is mocked for being off-key. We do the Beatles’ ‘A Little Help from My friends,’
The moms come up the stairs.
“Pizza?” they ask.
“Pizza Pit,” we all yell.
In twenty minutes we are scarfing slices for the third time that day.
“So how was your day?” Molly asks everyone. The exploits of the bowling team, singing with the Iowa State Marching Band, unlimited pizza, and the upstairs sing-along indicate we still are infused with teen spirit. ‘Gator mentions that next is a football team party, about which he admits that the home is without parental supervision. His enthusiasm and inability to finesse the truth means the twins and I are grounded. “Gator and the boys finish the last of the slices and are out the door, ready to expend their built-up testosterone.
Sitting at the table, I ask the four women, “You like our new friends?”
“They sure put away the pizza,” Mom observes.
“We were a little shy when we sat with them at lunch. The boys didn’t know what to say with us there. But after ‘Gator took us under his wing, we feel right at home. He’s a force of nature.”
“Ya shoulda seen ‘im whip up the crowd at the football game, Ma,” Amy enthuses.
“Please save the cowboy talk fer outside the house,” Molly slips into country speak herself, at which we all break up. “And please, please stop calling me ‘Ma’.”
It is all sunshine and light after a special day. None of us miss going to the party. Next, we discuss going to church in the morning. Mom feels conflicted about Catholic Mass, believing she is betraying her relationship with Molly by not taking communion. The Church believes she is living in sin and refuses to accept their relationship. Molly and the girls say we are welcome at their Baptist Church. I swear I can hear Father Frank groan, but that seems acceptable. I am already familiar with the Baptists.
“Is there much holy rolling and speaking in tongues?” I ask.
“We don’t cotton to those practices here in Iowa,” she answers.
I’m slightly disappointed.
“You’ve got mail,” Mom says, “and Dad sent a package with your clothes. I put them away for you.”
I blush at the thought of all the gay underwear that must have shocked her.
Mom notices my red face. “What’s the matter. Most of those ratty jeans and shirts without buttons won’t fly here in Iowa during the winter.”
I recover my poise. “I know I need heavy clothes. I should get a job.”
“Dad is sending more than adequate support. Don’t you worry about clothes.”
“That support won’t go very far if’n we keep havin’ friends over for pizza. I jist feel better carryin’ my own weight.”
“I’ll be happy if you stick to speaking the Queen’s English,” Molly interjects.
“Jist the result of all day with heathens.”
The three of us go upstairs. I open the big window in the spare room and sit in a window corner with a leg outside the sill. The girls sit in the other corner, Amy leans back into Angela’s arms. A big smile comes to my lips, as I remember doing the same in Florida with Jace, Robby and Jack – bittersweet.
“Don’t be thinkin’ nothin’.” Angela asserts. “We ain’t lesbians.”
“It don’t run in the family?” I josh.
“We’s always bin this close.”
“All I’s thinkin’ is how nice it’ll be when I’s all that close with y’all. This is fine for right now.”
I look out over the other houses and tree tops. “Hey, I can see Pizza Pit from here.”
“You still hungry?” Amy is amazed.
“Naw. It’s part of my life, the pizza connection. I feel I belong here now.”
We sit there without talking for a while.
“What’s ya gonna wear to church tomorrow,” Amy asks.
“Let’s go see what old Dad sent. I ain’t wearing bowling gear to church”.
On the second floor, we go through my drawers and closet. The white suit from Easter stands out.
“You really know how to make an impression.”
“Mom got that for Easter. We sang “Amazing Grace” in New York City. Even sang it at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem.”
“Ya wants ta sing that tomorrow. You can join us in the choir. I’ll get the choir master to have us do it special.”
I look sad, missing Hippie, as it is his signature song.
“What’s the matter?” Angela notices my mood change.
“I’s jist missin’ my best friend, Hippie, from the band. He always sings ‘Amazing Grace.’”
“His name is Hippie?” Amy laughs.
“He’s a Southern hayseed, but he can really sing. He’s a Baptist choir boy, too. He’s married now. Do y’all have the pledge here?”
“You mean pledging abstinence until marriage.”
“Yeah. That’s how he’s married at sixteen. They couldn’t wait.”
“Wasn’t ‘cause she got pregnant?” Angela asks.
“Naw. The pledge prevents that. She was jist ready. He never thought anyone would want him. Once he got in the band, he was natural on the bass. He came out of his shell.”
“Everyone sure likes ya, Andy. I bet you gots lots of friends.”
“Growin’ up in the military makes it easy ta make friends. Sometimes I find those friends don’t know me very well. Since I fit in, they just assume I’s jist like ‘em.”
“You don’t mean us.”
“No way. You’s takin’ a crash course on getting’ ta know the real me. And music is a deeper means to knowin’ each other’s soul.”
“That mean we’re movin’ to Oklahoma?”
“Not that song, but like ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” It’s real emotions, not platitudes.”
“You’re a deep one, Andy Muller-Castle. But does this underwear explain somethin’ we’re missin?’” as she holds up all the briefs from Out & Proud. Susan’s unpacking didn’t leave anything out .
“Maybe it just says I ain’t borin’,” I am not embarrassed by underwear but I do not need to explain it neither.
“You are so cute when you blush,” Amy laughs. They both hug me. “I guess you wanna move up to the third floor, huh. You seem mighty attached to this big window.”
“I am. I had a window like this in Florida where I spent many an hour figuring out teenage mysteries while the storms come off the Bay with thunder and lightning.”
“And the winter wheat can sure smell sweet when the winds comes right behind the rain,” they both sing.
We move my clothes and the bed to the third floor. I notice that several garish briefs are missing. Girls cannot help themselves from fetishizing. I worry that this is more than just sisterly interest. Then I realize that it is innate sisterly harassment.
We are done in and quickly go to bed. I leave my door open, yelling out, “Good night, Mary Ellen.”
They both answered back, “Good night, Jim Bob.”