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Perogi Queens and the Polish Precision Lawn Mower Team
August 2006

It was so fucking hot, Chicago melted. Lake Michigan evaporated leaving behind three startled carp and a suddenly land-locked yachtsman, half-crazed from the heat.

Fifteen miles southeast the Perogi Fest was gearing up in defiance of the sweltering sun suspended ten feet above the boiling asphalt and the sweating bricks of store front establishments. Since its inception three years ago, Whiteham Indiana set aside its grievances over exorbitant land taxes and corrupt politicians during the last weekend of every July and played host to the largest gathering of drunk Polacks this side of Warsaw. Despite its promise of a beer garden of Babylonian grandeur, the Perogi Fest was only an afterthought compared to the epic Perogi Parade, sort of like the Cherokee Trail of Tears except without the Indians and Harley Davidson motorcycles.

There was no curb side parking within a ten block radius of the parade route. I pulled the Ford into a stranger’s driveway a block away from Indianapolis Boulevard and park it. “You sure they won’t mind?” The wife asked.

“I don’t see why they would. I parked enough on the lawn, they can get in and out of the garage if they need to.”

Upon withdrawing the lawn chairs from the trunk, I met my first crazy person of the day. I could tell he was crazy by the pink derby he wore.

And the neon orange shorts held up by beige suspenders. And the green mesh shirt peeled back like a foreskin from the patagonian expanse of his belly.

And he pushed an old wheel barrow piled with dilapidated farming implements. I think I saw a hoe but that could have just been me projecting my own desires into the hodge podge.

“Ja got stuffer some marcher cando.” The old man mumbled, apparently at me. He had three teeth in his head. One less than my wife.

I turned my back to him. It was much too early, and I was much too sober to suffer fools/drunks/Polacks gladly.

I needed to get drunk.

But the beer garden didn’t officially open until after the parade. And there was the wife happy to peruse the tables of arts and crafts created by the natives indigenous to the Polish neighborhood to contend with. And two children excited by the prospect of retrieving candy launched from moving vehicles. A frothy plastic cup of watered down Schlitz seemed as remote a possibility as early retirement.

The walk to the Boulevard almost ended me. In ten minutes the wife sweated out the water weight equivalent to a nine year-old Lebanese refugee. Her shoes squelched when she waddled. Behind us, sundry insects, birds, small mammals descended on her wet footprints to alleviate their thirst.

All ready there were hundreds of Whitehamites lining the Boulevard, many decked out in the white and red, the Polish warbird embossed on ball caps and T-shirts. Also, the requisite shirts emblazoned with the country’s motto: Kiss Me, I’m Polish. Always accompanied by a picture of an ass.

“There’s a place to sit.” My wife motioned toward a sickly tree, twisted and gnarled from the heat, offering not even enough shade to cover the bunions on the wife’s big toe.

By the time this registered in my mind, the Gorecki clan snatched the spot. I would have slapped around the pater familial Hubert Gorecki had he not been mobbed up with the Polish cartel. I let him have his day, this time.

“There’s a spot right there.” I pointed toward a swath of curb next to a young mother sitting alongside a baby carriage.

The wife knew better than to argue with me. She was painfully aware of my aesthetic obsession with heavy breasted young women wearing wife beater shirts. Perhaps the wife believed the proximity of the woman’s infant would dissuade me from attempting to insinuate myself into her sex life.

“Hot enough for you?” I asked her as the wife situated the lawn chairs.

She smiled like I was crazy or something.

“The heat,” I muttered, scooting my Cubs logoed lawn chair further from the wife and closer to this young woman with nearly eighteen inches of cleavage. When she looked at me, I narrowly adverted my perverted eyes from her tits. “Quite a turn out,” I marveled.

“Last year people were crowded twenty deep on both sides of the street,” she said.

“I’ll be damned.”

“People are more spread out now that they expanded the route. Useta be just a block long. Now they’ve got the city ordnance that allows them to drink beer during the parade, they agreed to lengthen the route. Also, they useta allow anyone who wanted to march to be in the parade. This year they made it so you had to be either local or Polish or dressed funny.”

The more she talked, the less I wanted to take her home with me. I hate women who talk in exposition. If I wanted to hear that garbage, I’d have conversed with the wife sweating beside me.

No matter. The procession began soon after, led by the mayor of Whiteham.

He rode on a platform bolted to the back of a golf cart. A fitting mode of transportation considering the amount of time he spent on the golf course.

A banner affixed to the cart read “Don’t ask for miracles; I’m a mayor, not a saint”.

As though lower crime rates, less exorbitant property taxes and a chicken in every pot qualified as the miraculous. No matter. Like his campaign promises, the mayor disappeared quickly enough, replaced by a gaggle of Polish housewives who labeled themselves The Babushka Brigade.

There were twenty of them, perhaps more. It was difficult to count the whirling dervishes of mono print house dresses and brightly colored feather dusters like fluffy rocket pops. The myriad shades of green crocheted babushkas instilled a disconcerting sense of dread the Polish refer to as “marriage”.

In keeping with the time-honored myth/joke, each woman wore only one sock.

On second thought, that’s not an entirely true statement. I’m not sure they were all women. Polish humor tends to revolve around transvestitism, the gender reversal laughs proportional to the cup size being stuffed. Either that or a few of the “ladies” neglected to shave their legs... for five years.

The Babushka Brigade was followed by Stosh Zalewski, the 2006 Perogi King, holding court from the bed of an F150. I’m not sure how he came to be elected Perogi King, but he won my children’s loyalty by lobbing fistfuls of candy at their heads.

The kids learned quickly to catch the candy on the fly. Anything touching the ground immediately melded with the pavement. Chocolate. Bubblegum.

Hands.

Also handing out candy were Whiteham’s little league champs, the Whiteham Cubs, represented only by the outfielders, the other six players having spontaneously combusted on the diamond during the course of the season.

The members of the Whiteham Scottish Rite and Freemasonry Guild took a break from their secret society activities like the charity spaghetti dinners and the selling of raffle tickets in order to infiltrate the Polish Underground. They lubricated their way by doling out goodies to the masses. Tootsie Rolls for the kiddies, canned goods for the adults. A 16th degree Masonite handed me a packet of the new Chili flavored Ramen Noodle Soup. It was as if he used his mysterious Free Mason powers to intuitively grasp the dearth of home-cooked meals cursing my household.

Even more popular than the spiritual ancestors of the Knight Templars were the Perogi Queens, three women and one man dressed up in air-filled fat suits, each looking a wifely three hundred pounds each. I recognized them from high school. Valerie Lewandowski, Sheryl Mykayvich, Bethany Eski and Casimir Palewski.

They passed out Mardi Gras style beads to the un-Mardi Gras like masses.

Though there was no hint of flashed breasts in exchange for the beads, I kept my eyes firmly entrenched in the young mother’s cleavage mentally urging her to flip up her wife beater out of some deep-seated, bead necklace collecting, “Girls Gone Wild” bred instinct.

Suddenly there was a muffled pop and a dispersing cloud of ash and charred flakes where the Perogi King once stood. There were screams from the mob, but only because of the arrival of Whiteham’s Pride. Northern Indiana’s golden boys. The Polish Precision Lawn Mowing Team lead by the mini-skirt clad field marshal, Felix Obcowski pushing an old-timey sickle mower.

He blew a nickel-plated whistle and the strangest looking group of Polacks ever seen outside Krakow’s premiere kink club Domi Busi lined up in two single file lines behind him.

Twenty four men pushing, pulling, or carrying busted-up, broken-down, out-dated lawn care equipment. There was a middle-aged man dressed like a can of Spam working a burned-out push mower. There was an older gentleman who’d begun the parade dressed in a tuxedo, presently down to only two socks, a shoe and a top hat. There were funny-looking hair-dos of the Vonnegut variety. Beet-red rhinophyma noses of the W.C. Field sort. There were businessmen dressed as clowns, clowns dressed as winos, and winos dressed as businessmen. One guy rode a Polish lawn mower which was nothing more than a push mower tied to the back of an old Schwinn.

With the parade momentarily halted as the Perogi King’s subjects swept up his remains, the Polish Precision Lawn Mowing Team went through their drills, marching and sweating in formation, veering between ranks, laughing and reeking of cheap whiskey. A sort of synchronized cluster fuck, like the government but with more personality. I spotted my old friend wearing the pink derby. He fit right in piloting his Polish pick-up truck.

I watched the spectacle while gnawing along the edges of the hardened puck of Ramen noodles, sprinkling chili powder on it as I fed. I kept one eye on the sweat collecting in the young mother’s cleavage, more out of thirst than lust.

The field marshal blew his whistle again and the Polish Precision Lawn Mowing team continued further down the street, leaving only a lone fancy dress shoe in their wake. And then the Perogi Fest’s inaugural parade was done.

The wife gave me a look that spoke volumes. We came up here all the way from Alabama for this? Of course we did. It’s important for our children to get a full grasp of their heritage so the next time they hear or tell a Polack joke, I want them to fully comprehend where other nationalities’ rabid envy originates. I want them to wear their eighteen dollar Polska ball caps and twenty dollar “Kiss Me, I’m Polish” shirts with shameful pride.

In the beer garden, the mayor of Whiteham raised a plastic cup of flat Old Style in memory of Stosh Zalewski, the Perogi King. Unfortunately, I couldn’t raise my own booze because the line to get into the beer garden was four hundred Polacks long ­ just enough to screw in a light bulb by popular consensus.


Karl Koweski resides in Guntersville, Alabama, where he explains the concept of okra to Yankees.

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