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"It Was Limbruner"
2012 by Wayne Faust
All rights reserved
2012 by Wayne Faust
It was Limbruner, the fat bastard.
Gary Limbruner was everywhere I went that year, my senior year of high school. Senior year is supposed to be the top of the heap; you're supposed to look down from your perch at all the scared, pimply faces of underclassmen. Instead I was looking into the ugly face of Limbruner, every single day, in gym class, math class, study hall, cafeteria, you name it. He was a senior that year too, but a bigger geek never lived. And back when hardly anyone had computers, Limbruner had a room full. And only one of them was a Commodore 64.
His nickname was Cheese, because his last name sounded like limburger. Hah, Hah. Most people didn't even know his real name; they just called him Cheese. Good name, too, because he was a big, greasy pile of fat.
I even had to look at the guy on the school bus every day because he lived on the next block. I had Cheese for breakfast, Cheese for lunch, sometimes even Cheese for dinner when my Mom invited his family over. My Mom would say, "Glenn, you should be nice to Gary. I know he's a little heavy, but he seems like such a nice boy." Nice boy, my ass.
So what was it that made twelfth grade a living hell?
It was Limbruner.
Needless to say I was miserable. That was until Doris Pulaski moved into the neighborhood. She showed up one brisk, Monday morning in October and hopped up the steps of the school bus and right into my dreams. When that little Polish tart came tiptoeing down the aisle I almost melted onto the vinyl seat.
All the other guys on the bus checked her out as she got on but I was thinking ahead. I simply slid over in my seat to make room and gave her a choir boy smile. She paused in front of me. The closer she got, the better she looked, and I almost did something stupid, like opening up my mouth, but I just smiled.
"Is this seat taken?" she asked in a voice like sweet violins.
"No," I said, resisting the temptation to fall to my knees in worship.
She sat down next to me and I heard groans of agony from all the other guys. Then it was quiet for a couple blocks while I built up my nerve.
"So," I managed to say. "Where you from?"
"Seattle," she said. At least I think that's what she said, but frankly, I don't remember for sure. I was too busy drooling.
"So, what kind of music you like?" I asked.
"Air Supply," she said. Or it could have been Aerosmith. Or maybe Alabama. Who was big that year? What was it, 1985? I think so. Not that it mattered.
"Really? I love those guys!" I said.
"That's hip," she said. And I was hip. And getting hipper by the minute.
"Blah blah," I said. "Blah blah blah! Blah blah blah? Blah blah blah blah blah."
Small talk flowed from my mouth like melted butter. I was in rare form - a veritable master of conversation. I listened to everything she said like it was Shakespeare, even though I never actually heard any of it. I was too busy diving into the green pools of her eyes, or running my hands through her fierce, black hair, at least in my mind. Occasionally I even plunged my eyes down the fuzz of her white sweater to her short, Lycra miniskirt. That particular fashion hadn't made it to our school before then, and it definitely got my attention. But I tried to stay cool. I didn't want to mess up my chances. I knew in my heart that Doris Pulaski was gonna put me in the High School Hall of Fame. This was the girl I had been waiting for since I had first tripped up the stairs of dear old Taft High.
Just before we got to school I popped the big question. I asked Doris if she wanted to go with me to see a movie Friday night. She said yes.
I simply nodded and said, "Yeah, that's nice. Great." But inside my chest, my heart was dancing a jig. Improbably, I'd boarded the bus as just a guy, but now I was Napoleon, conquering everything in my domain. But little did I know that Waterloo was just around the corner.
And who was parked across the aisle the whole time like a wart on a frog's ass, panting and wheezing and sprouting about ten more pimples?
It was Limbruner.
Most Fridays take forever to arrive and this one was worse than usual, although I saw Doris a lot that week. She was in two of my classes, lucky me. Of course, that meant that she was also in two classes with Limbruner. I swear, that porky pig just about wet his pants every time I talked to Doris, even in math class. Usually Limbruner spent all of math with his spud nose buried in the textbook, but when Doris showed up he forgot about all of that, the poor sucker. What chance did he have? And yes, I suppose I made it worse for him by bragging to him in the hallway about our upcoming date on Friday night. And like an idiot, I even told him what movie we were going to.
I planned Friday's conquest carefully at home, poring over the movie listings in the paper. Should I take her to see something romantic? Not a bad move, because girls like that kind of stuff. But I risked being bored stiff, maybe falling asleep and flopping my head down into my box of popcorn. Comedy? Bad choice. I planned to be humorous and charming, and I didn't need anybody funnier than me to distract Doris.
Then I spied the most perfect words in the English language: Be afraid. Be very afraid. A horror flick had just opened at the Pickwick Theater. I can't remember now which horror movie used that ad line; it could have been one of a thousand. But that didn't matter, I knew what kind of movie it was gonna be. It would be a flick that would scare the pants off Doris - maybe literally. She would shut her eyes and grab onto me. Then she would snuggle real close. And the rest would be up to me.
When Friday night finally came, I splashed on a half bottle of English Leather and tugged on my new Sergio jeans. I went outside and ran my hands over my beige VW Rabbit. I had spent all day trying to polish out a few of the rust spots, because I had a good feeling about this date. Doris' folks were out of town so we could stay out as late as we wanted. We would catch the late show, which was always a good bet for scary movies. Then we would find a nice, dark place to park, or maybe, if my luck was really running, we could go back to her place.
I strolled up Doris' walk like Don Juan. She answered the door and I looked her up and down. She had on her white sweater, which was all I had ever seen her wear, but it was the legs I noticed most. I've always had this thing about girls in shorts, and Doris wore a pair of skimpy, bright yellow ones. It was October, and much too cool for shorts, but if she wanted to dress like that it was just fine with me. I would have to keep her warm.
We hopped into my Rabbit and headed for Denny's - more expensive than McDonald's but what the hell, I'd been saving up. We both ordered Grand Slams and talked about school. I kept glancing at my watch while we ate. When it was time for the movie I left two whole bucks for the waitress and made sure Doris noticed.
The movie theater auditorium was already filling up when we got there. Mostly it was couples on dates; I guess a lot of other guys had gotten the same idea as me about this movie. I maneuvered us into the second row from the back, looking all around while the lights were still up. There were a lot of familiar faces from school, but guess what? No Limbruner! I was sure the greasy giblet would have been there, parked right behind us and making that moon face of his for the whole movie, breathing down our necks, but he wasn't there. It felt like Christmas.
The movie came on and was pretty much like I had figured - lots of heads flying off and blood splattering all over the place. During a really gross part Doris covered her eyes and leaned a little closer. I casually eased my left arm around behind her and that was that. Easy as pie. The grosser the movie got, the closer Doris got and the tighter I squeezed. I didn't quite get a chance to kiss her because it didn't seem appropriate during a movie like that, but that would come soon enough.
The movie ended and I stood up. My left arm had gone completely dead and hung down like a piece of seaweed. I was used to that on movie dates so I just whacked it a few times with my other arm to get the blood moving again. Doris was still sitting in her chair. I reached for her hand.
"Wait," she said. "I want to stay and watch the credits."
I tapped my foot impatiently. Credits? Why would anyone want to do that? I sat back down. We must have sat there for ten minutes, reading the names of people I had never heard of, but Doris seemed fascinated. I figured she must have been some kind of intellectual.
We were the last ones left in the auditorium by then, and when we shuffled out into the lobby it was clear we were the last ones left in the whole place. There were only a couple of dim lights still on and someone had locked the front door. It was kind of creepy, standing there all alone, smelling stale popcorn and being glared at by the movie posters on the wall.
"We'll have to wait for the rent-a-cop to let us out," I said. "He's probably checking some of the stores down the block. I'm sure he'll be right back." I wanted to get going, to find that place to park.
"Look at that," said Doris. She was pointing towards a shadowy corner of the lobby.
Sitting against the wall, blinking softly, was one of those old photograph machines, the kind where you go into the booth and pull the curtain. This one was already an antique in 1985, because it had pictures of smiling people all across the front of it, people from the 50's, guys in crew cuts and girls in dorky-rimmed glasses. A winking, yellow sign on top of the machine said:
4 for 25 cents!
Ready in one minute!
"Oh Glen, let's!" giggled Doris. "Have you got a quarter?"
Of course I had a quarter. Lots of quarters. You never know when you might need some for the condom machine.
"Here you go," I muttered as I glanced back over my shoulder and wondered what was taking the rent-a-cop.
We pulled back the curtain and peered into the booth. It smelled like an American Flyer train set, with just a hint of darkroom chemicals thrown in. A rusty, round stool sprouted from the metal floor, the kind of stool that turned so you could adjust its height.
"This is so cool," said Doris, and then she giggled again.
"Yeah, sure," I said.
Doris turned the stool a few times and motioned for me to sit down.
"Where will you sit?" I asked.
"On your lap, of course," she answered sweetly. I grinned. Maybe this wasn't such a bad thing after all.
I plopped down on the hard stool and Doris parked herself on my lap. She felt warm and inviting, even though her legs had goose bumps.
We looked in the mirror like any other giggling high school couple out on a Friday night. Some idiot had written 'YOUR FLY IS OPEN!' in lipstick across the tarnished, worn surface of the mirror.
Doris put a quarter in the slot. "Get ready," she said as she settled back on my lap. I peered out from behind her shoulder and smiled. A red light came on and a few seconds later there was a flash.
"Now make a funny face!" Doris said, so I stuck my tongue out. There was another flash.
"Now a different one!" She was really getting into this. I pretended to bite her neck for the third picture.
"One more!" I did my best imitation of an evil, mad scientist. The machine flashed one more time and we heard a soft hissing sound. Then it was quiet.
"That's all of them," she said.
We climbed out of the booth. The lobby was quiet as a tomb, and there was still no rent-a-cop waiting to let us out.
"How long will it take for the pictures?" Doris asked.
"It says one minute."
We stood around and shuffled our feet. Every once in a while we heard some soft clattering from inside the machine. We waited some more. I looked at my watch.
"Long minute," I said.
"It's a pretty old machine," she answered.
The machine clacked and rumbled and spit out our pictures. I smelled ink. Doris grabbed the strip of black and white pictures and held them up. She frowned.
"But that's not what I was doing," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"Look. The first picture is right, but the rest are different."
She wasn't kidding. The first picture was just like we had posed it, a cheap black and white photo of Doris sitting on my lap and smiling real pretty, me grinning happily from behind.
The rest of the pictures were all wrong. The second picture showed a couple kissing. It looked like us, and the clothing and hairstyles matched, but, unfortunately we had not been kissing in that booth. In the third picture we were standing in someone's living room, side by side, all dressed up. It looked like we were going to the prom or something. In the fourth picture we were standing on the steps of Taft High in caps and gowns.
"Huh," I mumbled. "What do you know about that? Probably some kind of gimmick where it puts your face on somebody else's body." I started guiding her towards the door. The best part of the evening was waiting and it was getting late.
"No, wait! How would they know we went to Taft? That's Taft in that picture. And besides, an old machine like this couldn't do anything like that. This is creepy. Let's try it again."
I sighed. This was not what I needed right now. Not when my glands were screaming at me.
"Sure," I said.
We climbed into the booth and took four more poses. I wasn't feeling inspired by then so I just gave the mirror four generic looks. Doris hammed it up and kept on giggling. We hopped out and waited for the pictures. It took even longer this time. There was a faint whine from the machine and the strip of pictures spit out into the tray and lay there waiting like a newspaper on the front porch. Doris grabbed them up.
"This is so cool!" she said again.
"Take a look."
I took the pictures from her. The first one was a wedding picture, and I immediately recognized the bride and groom. We looked a few years older, but it was us. I stood tall and proud in a monkey suit, the beginnings of a pencil-thin mustache gracing my upper lip. Doris wore a white wedding dress with all kinds of fancy frills, and her black hair was piled high on her head. She was holding my arm and looking radiant. We seemed to be a very happy couple.
In the second picture we were outside at the park. You could see a picnic table behind us piled with food. I was wearing a Budweiser baseball hat and a beer delivery shirt, my name stitched on the pocket. I had the beginnings of a beer gut, and I was shocked to see I was starting to look like my old man. Doris still looked pretty good though, although her hair was a lot shorter. She wasn't smiling.
The third picture showed us out in a backyard. I was drinking a beer and Doris was tending a garden with a hoe. She had a gut of her own in that one, but it wasn't from drinking beer. She was wearing maternity clothes.
The fourth picture had us in a hospital room. I stood by the bed as Doris cradled a tiny baby in her arms. Her smile was back. I was glaring down at her like she had just ruined dinner.
As I looked at those pictures in the dim light of the lobby, my glands stopped screaming. Actually, they weren't even whispering by then. I had never heard of a machine that could do something like this. Those pictures looked real. I fished in my pocket for another quarter.
"Let's give it another shot," I said.
Doris giggled some more as we went back into the booth. "Do you think that stuff is really gonna happen?" she asked.
"I'm sure it's just some kind of a gimmick, like those gypsy fortune-telling machines at the carnival. Pretty cool, though." I made myself sound confident but I was starting to wonder.
We took four more poses, climbed out, and waited. When the pictures came out this time I grabbed them first. My fingers tightened on the still-damp strips of film as I held them up.
The first picture showed us in front of the Rexall drug store in town. A small boy wearing a White Sox cap stood between us and held our hands. He looked like he was about five years old. Doris' hair was short and curly and she had gained a few pounds.
What really caught my eye, though, was my face in that picture. I had a crazy look in my eyes, almost like in that mad scientist pose. I was mostly bald on top of my head and the hair on the sides was sticking out in all directions. A nasty, five o' clock shadow on my face made me look sinister and dark, like a guy you'd keep your kids away from.
The second picture showed a living room floor with stuff strewn all about; chairs, tables, empty bottles of whiskey, and beer cans. Doris was lying among the junk on the floor, blood staining her t-shirt. Next to her was the little boy from the earlier picture, wailing his head off. He looked to be about seven years old in this picture, and you couldn't help feeling bad for the little guy as he sat there and cried.
Astonishingly, this picture was in color, and the blood stood out bright red, so lifelike that it seemed like it would stain my hands as I held it.
The third picture was black and white again. Most mug shots are. There I was, glaring back at the camera with a number printed below my unshaven face.
The fourth picture was the worst. A much older, balder version of myself was strapped to a chair. It didn't take a genius to figure out what kind of chair that was. Something was attached to my forehead and someone was getting ready to lower a hood down over my face. I was grinning like a stark, raving maniac.
"Let me see, Glenn," said Doris. "Come on, I wanna see too!"
I held the pictures tightly against my chest, my mind racing.
"Glenn, let me see!" Doris was quick. She grabbed the pictures out of my hand and turned her back. She looked down at them and froze.
"It's somebody's idea of a joke," I said weakly.
She turned around and stared into my eyes. It felt like I was back in the third grade, when Mrs. Ottinger had accused me of stealing Jimmy Stobie's lunch. Mrs. O used to stare into my eyes like that, and even though I hadn't done anything wrong my face got real hot and I just knew I looked guilty. And the more Mrs. O stared, the worse it got. Now it was like that all over again as Doris pinned me to the wall with her gaze.
"Look," I sputtered. "It's some kind of a joke. It has to be."
Doris looked down at the pictures in her hand and then let them drop like they were coated with acid. She took off running and streaked towards the door which was just then being held open by the rent-a-cop.
"Wait!" I shouted. "How are you going to get home?"
But she was already out the door and halfway across the nearly empty parking lot.
I picked up the strips of pictures and stuffed them into my pockets. What a nightmare! Was all of that really going to happen? Not any more. Doris wouldn't ever come within a mile of me after that.
I walked unsteadily over to where the rent-a-cop waited. He had his head down and he leaned his back against the open door, shuffling his feet impatiently. I was feeling a bit shaky under the circumstances. The rent-a-cop had seen Doris run out on me, which wouldn't be good for my image in the neighborhood. And then there were those pictures. No one would ever see those again, that was for sure.
As I got closer, something struck me as familiar about the guy waiting by the open door. He looked a little chunky for a rent-a-cop. A little young, too. His hat was pulled down low over his face but I could see angry, red pimples on his cheeks. And then I knew.
It was Limbruner.
"Limbruner?" I exclaimed. "What the hell are you doing here?"
He looked up and his rheumy eyes got big as cream pies behind his thick glasses. He looked like a science-fiction monster or something - all eyeballs and zits. "I work here," he muttered.
"Uh, since last week. I needed some extra money."
Something definitely smelled fishy. I'd never heard of a high school kid getting a job as a rent-a-cop. My mind turned over a couple of times. Finally a thought rammed its way into my head. Nah, couldn't be.
I turned around and looked at the picture machine. It sat about six inches from the back wall and I could see behind it. There was a power cord plugged into the wall. And there was another cord too, a big, thick, black cord, coming from the back of the picture machine and snaking through a hole in the wall.
My jaw dropped open. "You did this," I sputtered. "You set this whole thing up!"
Limbruner moved away from the door and backed slowly away, like a lion tamer backing away from a lion. "Now take it easy, Matson," he pleaded. "It was just a little joke. Really. I didn't mean anything by it."
"You're dead meat, Limbruner," I snarled. I advanced on him, all the time thinking about how he and that stupid machine had made a fool out of me. That stupid, stupid machine...
I stopped in my tracks. I thought of all those pictures with my face on them. How did he do that?
I backed Limbruner up against the wall. He whimpered like a lost sheep as I grabbed his collar.
"Show me," I said.
He stopped whimpering and took a breath. "Show you?"
"Yeah. Show me how you did that."
Limbruner shook himself free and dusted off the front of his jacket, relief flooding his ugly face. "Ok..." he mumbled, and his voice was a couple of notes lower than before.
He walked unsteadily over to a door set in the wall about ten feet down the hallway from the picture machine. He took out a set of keys and opened the door to a small office. Perched on a desk was an early home computer. Most of us didn't have them in those days because they were too expensive, but as I said before, Limbruner had a bunch of them. He built them out of spare parts he'd picked up along the way. Above the computer, on a wooden shelf, was a TV screen. It showed a split-screen image, with my mad-scientist pose from the first set of pictures on one side, and the same face superimposed on a guy in the electric chair on the other. This is all matter-of-fact stuff these days, but not back then.
I stared at the screen. "You son of a bitch," I muttered.
Limbruner couldn't tell if I was really pissed or not. I think he was hoping that I was amazed enough to forget about smashing his face in. Actually I was.
"What is all this?" I said.
"It's a new program I came up with," he answered.
"A program?" I asked. "What kind of program?"
"On my computer," he answered, and now he didn't look scared at all. He must have known that I was hooked.
"Show me more," I said.
Limbruner's lumpy face lit up like the moon and he strolled over to the setup. "My uncle owns this theater. He brought that old picture machine in last week, and when I saw it I got an idea. He let me mess around with it. I've been doing a lot with graphics on my computer, and I thought..."
I interrupted him. "You did all this on your computer," I said. "On your Commodore 64?"
"Limbruner laughed. "No, I'm light years past that computer. I just keep it around to play Tetris on. The one I'm working on now has a really good graphics chip and I realized right away what you could do with it. Pretty cool, huh?"
"Yeah," I grunted. Actually, it was very cool. For the first time, Limbruner didn't look so dorky. I made him show me everything. By the time he was through I had forgotten all about Doris, all about being mad.
"Do you know how much money you could make with something like this?" I asked.
"I wasn't really thinking about that," he answered.
"Well, you should think about it. We can make some serious bucks here."
"We?" he said.
We sat in that little office until very late, Limbruner showing, me brainstorming. He was flattered that I would pay so much attention to him. I was seeing dollar signs. Limbruner was a nerd all right, a typical techie, but he was a good one, and I was a marketing kind of guy. I hate to say it, but it made for a perfect partnership. By the time we strolled out of that theater at 4 AM, we had worked out the guts of the deal. I had just one more question.
"How did you know me and Doris would stick around and try out the picture machine?"
Limbruner backed away and got that scared look again.
"Don't worry," I said. "I'm a long way from being pissed at you any more."
"She's my cousin," he said.
"Your cousin? Doris?"
"And she knew about it all along?"
"Yeah. It seemed like a pretty cool Halloween prank."
I wanted to kill the fat bastard, in spite of what I had just said. I really did. But then I just started to laugh. I kept on laughing as we walked out of the theater and locked the door behind us.
Needless to say, I never went out with Doris again. We giggled about that night a couple of times, but I kept remembering that picture of me in the electric chair. I knew it had been a gimmick, but somehow the thought of that chair always cooled me off when I looked at Doris. No use tempting fate. She went on to marry Jimmy Stobie, and now she runs our midwest division.
So who do I credit with making me a billionaire? Who came up with the first versions of ImagePro, which ultimately led to Photoshop? It pains me to say this, it really does. But I have to give credit where credit is due.
It was Limbruner.
Of course it was not really Limbruner who came up with ImagePro, which ultimately led to Photoshop. That honor goes to John and Thomas Knoll, and I apologize for using the concept of their excellent invention for nefarious, fictional ends...
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