99 Ways to Die


The Chemistry and Physical Science Teacher, Mr. Laitala, my friend Jerry's dad, was also the Health teacher and the football coach and I think he also taught Accounting and Typing which is now known as keyboarding after the teacher who previously taught it suffered some sort of mental break and tossed an electric typewriter through the glass of the third-story window, sobbing, and to the ground below. She was also hit by a swiftly-progressing bus in an unrelated but perhaps not dissimilar incident.
      I have a memory featuring Mr. Laitala and bunsen burners in some detail. It was great how we could turn on the gas in class, for all these classes used the same classroom which was terraced like the sides of hills into rice paddies like in Asia like I used to read in National Geographic and it's true that I didn't just look at them just for the boobs like some people might say. You'd think the chemistry classroom would come equipped with a master off and on gas switch. Maybe it did and teachers hadn't figured it out. I suppose you could just slowly let the gas out and fill up the room during a lecture on what exactly is meant by the word Work when we use it in a scientific way. Then you could choose your point of dramatic impact and light up a match or a lighter. Let the whole thing go up.
      The use of pipettes and various tubes that smelled badly, like lemons beaten with a hammer and left in the basement for detention, were required by the work in the course, most of which I do not remember well if at all. It appears as if my memory of that whole year has mostly grown a lesion and been slowly eaten away. It was the year when the first kid that I knew died on a snowmobile. Also acne I suspect may have played a major part in it, too. He was ugly like a train wreck like a burn in leather.
      It seems that I spent perhaps as much as one-third of my high school and junior high years trying to impress girls with Satanism (which did—I must admit—win me a slight wind of popularity in the latter half of ninth grade) and plotting ways to die. This radio station, WOLV (previously WOLF, which spawned The WOLF Stalks The Night, Awoooo etc. and later, after relinquishing the highly-sought-after F, tried to keep it going, The WOLV Stalks the etc. to the great amusement of many) had a death-metal show which ran this contest called 99 WAYS TO DIE which asked its listeners to submit the most horrific, drawn-out, awful and leisurely ways to die.
      Considering the sheer amount of adolescent brainpower expended on this subject, and the making of at least a hundred extensive lists (my #1 featured fish hooks, fish line, glass catheters, and a train), we figured we had a good shot. My brother guillotined chipmunks in the backyard, exercising his own control over the fauna on our block. We bought cannon fuse from Dick's Favorite Sports and saltpeter from the pharmacy, eliciting various responses centering around our sexual dysfunction (more on this later), a large amount of vaseline—all in an attempt to make plastique without success. We detonated minor bombs on the stampsand bluffs that held the nests of sparrows. We shot bottle rockets at the Citgo station in attempts to blow it, too, up.
      This story ends in a most unsatisfactory (and not unsurprising) way. Though we had no hand in armlessness, the cancer in the lake, or snowmobile death, and shouldered little of the communal guilt that went along with it, in some ways we did prefigure it and the thought of that still stains me like turmeric. The winner of the contest—after just watching Fargo, surely—came up with the wood chipper as the best and most horrifying end. We found the guy whose idea that was, and during the dinner for two at the posh Northern Lights he won for his entry, we smashed the windows on his car with metal softball bats and made the news. They didn't get our names, but they got the actions and the glassy, dazed result. Right then we felt we really meant something to this town, that the icy surface did register our flaw, that it was not the stable system we had supposed it was, that we had an effect, could be at least a bruise, a burst, a symptom.