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Origins of Shame

Gabe Wollenburg

My name is Gordy MacPharpenStien, and in a very limited

way, if you really think about it, I’m famous.
Seriously. You’ve probably seen the thing I’m famous for
hundreds, if not thousands, of times. See, when I was 12, I was
good at making puppets.
Not like, stupid stuff like sock puppets and folded over paper
bags and shit like that; I made real sculpted puppets, complete
with metal armatures and springs and mechanics. It was
something that my great aunt taught me to do, and something that
I liked do to with my dad. She taught him how to do it too. It was
something that we’d do together.
I was kind of a late bloomer, ok? It’s not that big of a deal. I
hung out with my dad and made puppets, ok? More kids
nowadays would benefit from spending the kind of time with my
dad that I did when I was 12.
And it wasn’t weird shit like you find nowadays, either.
Nowadays, you never know if a guy makes a puppet because he’s
creative, or if he makes it because later, while he’s dialed into the
internet, he’s going to beat off with it or something.
It wasn’t like that with my dad and I. We’d make these
elaborate stories up and would spend months putting together
these incredible puppets and then put on shows for my sister,
Dad and I would perform whatever we wanted to. We would
tell fairy tales, and heroic adventures, and pirate shows, riveting
dramas and even soap operas.
I’m getting to the limited kind of fame that I enjoy. Be patient.
My mom died when I was 13. Right about the time I had my
accident. Actually, shortly before.
See. I have powers. I’m hesitant to call them “Super Powers,”
because I don’t find them particularly “Super,” and I don’t fight
crime or anything. Besides, my powers don’t particularly play
into why I’m famous in limited way. They just don’t.
Do you know that kid’s show that used to be on Channel 10?
The one that used to comes on about 2:30 in the afternoon? It’s
was this hopelessly dated show that the local news channel put on
every day at 2:30. Remember? It was called “Captain Carl’s
Cartoon Show.”
Because of a weird quirk in the way that the station was
licensed, the show has been on, like, since the advent of TV.
Nobody really watched it, but at the same time, everybody kind of
felt like it would be really sad if it wasn’t on anymore.
And then, Captain Carl was brought up on charges sexually
abusing of one of his daughters. But the show wasn’t canceled.
The station just changed Captain Carl’s, and never mentioned “the
The Captain Carl, whose real name was Carl, by the way, was
acquitted on a technicality. And the daughter killed herself shortly
after that; I think I read in the newspaper. I don’t really remember.
Anyway, right about the time they were bringing on the new
host, my dad came home with a stack of flimsy, curly papers for
me to look at. I don’t remember what exactly the papers said, but I
do remember I thought that it was really cool paper. Today, I
know it was thermal fax machine paper, but back then, I’d never
seen paper that was so think and yet so glossy. It was my first
experience with a non-permanent kind of paper.
Plus, dad never brought home anything for me from work—
he was a copy editor at the local newspaper, and he worked a
weird shift, so it was unusual for a couple of reasons. He rarely
was home at night during the week.
Dad told me that the papers were a contract and that he’d
signed them in all the right places. Dad explained that he was
going to take the whole family out for pizza at the place with the
big pipe organ.
Later, at the pizza place, dad told me that one of the guys
from the entertainment desk said that they were looking to liven
up the Captain Carl cartoon show with a little more live
programming. Cartoons were getting to expensive to license, so
the new captain was going to produce more original
programming and show fewer cartoons.
In place of the cartoon segments, the new captain was going to
put on little skits using puppets that would teach the boy and girl
viewers about life and about good behavior.
So dad had made a phone call to the producer of the program
(the TV station and dad’s newspaper were owned by the same
company) and the producer and he hit it off.
Anyway, the long and the short of it was that dad sold our
entire collection of puppets for like, $500.
Even then, we were a little disappointed with the amount of
money, because it amounted to only a little over $40 per puppet,
but dad said that it would pay off in the long run, because we
would get a cut of all the future merchandizing deals.
Only, six months later, the replacement captain, whose name
was also Carl, oddly enough, was killed after he got drunk and
crashed his Mercedes into a pregnant 12-year-old. You’d think
that was horrible enough, but it turned out that while the captain
was killed instantly, the 12-year -old was only brain-dead. The
baby was saved.
The captain’s show was put on hiatus. About the same time,
the FCC changed the way it licensed the TV station, and
ultimately the show was canceled. Dad told me once that it turned
out that his company had lobbied to get the stations deed changed
a couple months before the accident, and was waiting for the right
time to announce that she show was going off the air.
Dad said that he wished he’d have read the contract more
carefully. Dad cried to me a lot around that time. He cried and
said he was sorry, and he wished he’d been more careful with the
money, or had held out for more.
Anyway, as you can imagine, the accident made national
news and was in all kinds of magazines and TV shows. And in
every one of those shows, and in every one of those magazines,
the only picture that anyone ever showed of the captain was a
promotional shot of him smiling and looking at the camera along
side one of his puppet buddies.
It was a puppet that my dad and I designed for a story that I
had written for Rosa when she had the chicken pox.
Forever after, the Captain and that puppet were linked with
the series of state laws that were enacted to put tougher penalties
on repeat drunk drivers that kill children. They even named the
laws after the name the media adopted for the baby. They’re
called “Baby Andrea’s Laws.” They ensure that when a child dies
as the result of a drunk driving accident, the drunk driver gets
twice the fine.
I didn’t make any more puppets after that, and neither my
dad nor Rosa ever asked me to.
You can still get copies of the show from the station, and there
is an Internet site that has most of them digitally archived. You
can stream them off the web, and if you look very carefully during
the credits of each episode, it says in blurry and impossibly tiny
font that scrolls by at breakneck speed: “Make-believe Puppets
Designed by Roger and Gordy MacPharpenStien.”
Another six months would go by and my mom would die.
Then dad would get sick, and I’d go to live with my Aunt Kate. It
was the worst year of my life.
And then I had my accident, and got my powers. Needless to
say, mine was a troubled adolescence.
Anyway, that was 16 years ago. I’m almost 30 now. And I’m
tired of being famous in a limited way. The way I figure it, I’ve
been anonymous long enough.
I have my health, and I have these powers, so I figure, it’s time
to make my name known.
Part 2: With Great Ability
Ok, so by now I’m sure you’re wondering what’s the deal with
my “powers.”
Well, first of all, get this in your head: I’m not going to
demonstrate them for you. I’m not some kind of magician or freak
show. I’m a regular guy. Just like everyone, got it? It just happens
that I have this ability.
It first started shortly after my accident. I was about 13, maybe
14 at the time– I can’t remember exactly how old. It’s amazing how
a crippling deep depression will do that to you.
But shortly after my mom’s death, and just prior to my dad’s
incarceration, I was in a pretty bad accident. I’m not going to tell
you about it, so don’t ask. The details of the accident are well
known and you can find them on a Google search anyway. Look it
up, if you must. It’s not all that important.
What is important is that I was in the hospital for about six
months. I was awake most of the time, and ever since then I’ve
had my ability.
Notice that I don’t have “powers.” I mean, I do. I have all
kinds of powers. I have will power, and power over my own
destiny, and for a short period of time, I had power of
guardianship over my sister, my dear sweet Rosa. But when I
refer to… my abilities, I try to say “ability.” It’s important to me, so
try to keep that in mind, huh?
Anyway… My ability.
While I was in the hospital, I discovered that I was able to
secrete a sticky yellow fluid from just about any hole in my body.
At first, it wasn’t so much ability as it was a condition, really. But
over time, I’ve just kind of learned to deal with it.
I say that as if it was something that I just took control of one
day, which kind of makes me laugh. The truth is, after about 17
years of mind and martial arts training, physical therapy, and just
about every kind of experimental medication any pharmacist ever
came up with, I can keep from excreting yellow fluid when I don’t
want to most of the time.
It’s not like it’s something I have to concentrate on, anymore.
For the first year, any time I got nervous, I would slime the chair I
was sitting in, or sweat yellow goo through my shoes during gym
Like I said before, don’t try to compete with me over your
troubled adolescence. I’ve been through shit that would make
your blood curdle.
You don’t know how mean kids can be until you have an
oddball name like Gordy. Ratchet that up with a propensity to
sweat sticky green snot and the nice way that “Gordy the Green
Globster” singsongs off the tongue, and you have a recipe for
teenage angst with a body count. Not that anyone shot up schools
when I was a kid. Not like they do now. I have no sympathy for
school shooters-- no one knows ostresation like I do.
Except for maybe Rosa. Probably the only thing worse that
being a gross gooey freak is to be a gross gooey freak’s sister.
That doesn’t matter now. Not to Rosa. Not to me, not to our
family. After years and years of breathing exercises, as well as
physical and mental training, I can will the fluid to come out when
I need it to. And in what direction. And wherefrom. This is
important because by learning to control when the goo flows, I’ve
also learned to control when it won’t.
It’s not something I’m proud of, the goo. I mean, I’m proud of
how, 16 years later I can sit here and tell you that, except for when
I’m drunk or on cold medication, I’m reasonably certain that I’m
not going to accidentally flick goo on you. That took a lot of work.
But the goo man, It’s nasty. It’s super sticky. Industrially
adhesive. When it first comes out, it’s almost like a liquid, but it
almost immediately begins to set up and within a matter of
seconds it’s more of a rubbery viscosity. There are scientific papers
on it that track the way the viscosity works, and how the goo
reacts to different conditions. I’ve been told that some of the
adhesives that NASA uses in the space program are largely
derivitive of my goo.
Not that I’m particularly proud of that, either. I guess I’ve had
my share of bad luck with contracts, that’s for sure.
Anyway, back to the goo. It’s liquid at first, and it becomes
rubbery quickly, but if left to harden it will turn rock solid and
practically unbreakable.
It doesn’t stick. To me, I mean. It will stick to my clothes, and
then my clothes will stick to things, but it doesn’t stick to me. I can
hang on to it, but I don’t adhere to it. There are scientific papers on
that too.
One last thing, and then I’m tired of talking about my ability,
There doesn’t seem to be any limit to the amount of the goo
that I can produce, other than my physical and mental will to
produce it. Think about how it works when you pee. I know that
sounds kind of nasty, but that’s really the best way I can describe
it, I guess.
So, you know how when you pee, sometimes it just gushes
out, and sometimes it just trickles out? That’s kind of the best way
to describe it. I can control it with roughly the same kind of
precision that the average person can to control the flow and rate
of their pee. And, you know how when even though you don’t
have to pee, but you know you probably should because you
won’t be by a bathroom, so you can go into the bathroom and
make yourself pee? It’s exactly like that.
There, it’s gross and I said it, so it’s out, but lets not talk about
it anymore, ok.
The other thing is, I get tired if I make a lot of it, and so I know
that my body makes it. I can generate an awful lot, and I get tired,
but if pressed I can make more.
Like I said, I never seem to run out. But, because my body
makes it from something, or somewhere, nobody is really sure, I
have to fuel the machine. So I eat a lot, and my metabolism is,
other than in the obvious ways, kind of screwed up. I need to eat
regularly. I’m kind of like a diabetic in that regard.
Oh, and the goo can be cleaned up with water, if you get to it
fast enough. It stains dry-clean-only clothes something fierce. But
once it sets up, after about 18 hours or so, nothing short of
construction equipment can break the stuff up. It almost turns into
a super concrete, only it always remains somewhat liquid. Like, I
saw once where they drilled a hole into a piece of it that had set
up, and like in four hours, the hole they had drilled had closed up.
I can’t explain it, ok. I mean, I can, but I’m not going to
anymore than that. And, no, I’m still not going go show you.

Part 3: Hero is as Hero Does

Ok. So. We’ve been over who I am and what I can do. I didn’t
show you my skills and I’m not going to.

I mentioned earlier that I went to a private boarding school?

Maybe I didn’t. It doesn’t matter.

The point is, I went to a private boarding school for the

“heroes of tomorrow.” It was located in a little midwestern town.
Barely a crossroads in the middle of Dodge County. Sugar Island.
It was billed as one of those great communities of superheroes. I
was supposed to go there and have the time of my life, bond
forever with the heroes in my graduating class, and then come out
forever changed and bettered, and fully ready to do the truth and
justice thing.

Well, fuck truth and Justice. Truth and Justice is someone

else’s fucking job. I’m here to tell you that. I’m not against truth
and justice, ok? But I’m not here to protect you from yourself.

I got ahead of myself. Sorry.

Needless to say, I never graduated from the Heroism

Program of the University of Wisconsin’s Dodge County Heroism
Center, known colloquially to the kids smoking cigarettes outside
the lecture halls as “Justice League: Sugar Island.” They even sell
JLSI letterman’s sweatshirts.

I wish I had. Finished, that is. A degree’s a degree, right.

Even a bullshit degree’s better than no degree at all. But I didn’t
finish. I couldn’t. I still can’t go back there without falling back
into a crippling depression.
You know how I talk about my sister Rosa, about how she’s
the greatest thing in the world, and how she’s simple and pure
and good and righteous.

Did you know she’s dead? I probably didn’t mention that.

She died shortly after I started my third year at JLSI. She died in
one of those random, tragic ways that snuff out little girls of 17
years. She died of alcohol poisoning. Sort of. Technically she
choked to death on her own vomit, but the toxicology reports
showed she’d have died even if she hadn’t choked to death.

The point is, even if I had been there, or able to speed to her
protection using a push of super-goo, or leapt a tall building in a
single bound, or outran a speeding bullet, she would have still
choked to death. I don’t have CPR training. They don’t teach you
anything useful at Hero High School Even if I’d known she was
dying. Even if I’d believed she was stupid enough to drink so
much; even if I’d known she had the kind of shit-head friends
who would leave her hidden, tucked behind a crook in a willow
tree along the banks out on the island on Riverside Park.

Watertown PD picked me up from class one September

afternoon. They’d found her late in the evening the day prior; they
took me in a questioned me. I didn’t know. I didn’t know
anything. I hadn’t even known she was a drinker. I’d been so
wrapped up in my college, and she was so grown-up and mature.
I had been concentrating on my hero-training and having a great
time at JLSI. I thought she and I would live forever. I thought we’d
been through the tough times already.

It turns out she had. I, however, still had a world of tough

times to live through. Tough times unlike anything I’d ever

Identifying the body was the single hardest thing I’ve ever
had to do. It wasn’t one of those things where I couldn’t believe
she was dead. Little Rosa, blue, puffy, with dark rings under her
eyes, laying on the corner’s slab, still had the magical
underpinnings of the sweet, innocent little sister I loved. I only
had to look for a moment. I left a puddle of yellow goo under my
feet in the morgue as the attendant pushed her back into the

I stopped going to classes. I moved out of the dorm and back

into our house on the river. I didn’t talk to anyone. I didn’t answer
the phone. I just crawled inside my head and stayed there for a
long time. I would go out at night to get necessities of life. I
wouldn’t talk to anyone. My goo wept more than I did. I slobbered
yellow mucus as my heartbreak swelled. I would drop gooey
coins into the hands of the midwestern checkout queens manning
the only 24-hour grocery in the city. Some of my buddies from JLSI
tried to come get me and help me snap out of it, but I would not
be touched. They eventually quit trying to get through to me.

Moneran Man, Electric Daisy, The Milky Shoe, Eddy Magic.

They all graduated. They all went on to great things. They’ve
saved the world twice, I’m told. They helped the world’s class-a
heroes help resolve dimensional infarctions and times of multi-
planar time shifting.

They all went on without me.

It was Rosa, who was my savior. Not the Rosa I’d idealized in
my head. Not the magical, innocent girl I believed her to be. It
was the real Rosa-- with her dark secrets and her tragic flaws-- the
ones I’d never bothered to see until after she was gone, who came
to my rescue.

Don’t get me wrong. She stayed dead. This isn’t made up

comic fantasy bullshit, ok. I spent a lot of time sitting on a chair in
her bedroom at my dad’s, wallowing in the hello kitty stickers on
her mirror, and the dopey Care Bears and Popples that she’d long
since outgrown and stuffed into a corner, more as a prop than as a
beloved friend. I would sit and hold the overstuffed koala bear
that she used as a second pillow while she slept.

I inevitably found her diary. It was one of those simple,

leather bound journals with the tiny but ridiculously easy to pick
lockets that wrapped over the binding. Pink, suede. I spotted it
sticking out of the corner of her mattress the night she died. I
ignored it for a long time.

I think it was the night after Christmas, although it might

have been New Year, or Valentines Day, or thanksgiving, I’m not

It was one of the many hours of endless time I spent

wallowing under a blanket stretched out in Rosa’s room. The
carpet -- in fact most of the house-- was crusty from my occasional
excretions, and although by the time I’d brought myself to open
the diary, I’d mostly brought my goo under control, but I would
still weep from time to time. The first two nights I went to read the
diary, I couldn’t bring myself to open the lock. The third time I let
the goo did it for me.

I pressed my finger into the keyhole and imagined my gooey

fluid spilling and pouring into the keyhole, running down the
latch, pushing through the tumblers. I imagined to go filling up
the lock, pressure building. And then the goo broke the latch and
the spell was broken. Rosa’s diary was open.

I’m not going to tell you what it said. Not all of it. A lot of it
is private stuff that Rosa never meant for anyone to read. I
shouldn’t have read it myself. But I did. I was in pain, ok. I was
looking for something to keep me in pain. I was a sadness junky.
What better way to stay depressed than to force myself to read my
dead baby-sister’s private thoughts. I needed pain like a junky
needs junk.

I decided to read it from the beginning. She started the diary

at the request of her therapist. It started about a year after dad
went to jail. Most of it was the kind of angsty stuff a teen-age girl
rights in her diary. Instead of making me miserable, it made me
happy to remember her. I could feel her in her writings, and for
the first two thirds- she was the little girl I believed her to be. She
was sweet, innocent, wonderfully observant and detailed.

And it turns out. Rosa was proud of me. Can you believe
that? Proud of me! She said I was going to be the next a-lister hero.
She said I’d be the one to lead a new-generation of heroes. She
knew I’d do it. She had a few newspaper clippings of some of my
college antics-- I won a student writing award, for example-- in
the diary.

I kept reading the diary over the next few days. I read slowly
and enjoyed each passage. And as I spent more and more time
engaged in my college and hero training, Rosa’s writing changed.
She confided that she was jealous, and sad and lonely. I cried and
cried the night I found out that, all though our adolescence,
dealing with dad’s incarceration, and mom’s death, the trail, and
our emancipation hearings, Rosa and I had nearly the same
feelings. We both wished we could have saved mom. We both
wished we’d have told her we loved her one more time. We both
didn’t hate dad for what he did, and we both felt horribly guilty
for not hating him.

Somewhere nearing the end of the diary-- it still makes me

uncomfortable to think of a diary as having an end-- but Rosa’s
did. She stopped writing in it about 3 months before she killed
herself-- she became more and more distant. She stopped writing
in her internal monolog, but more in angry ramblings directed at t
to someone else. Her handwriting changed. It used to loop and
swirl, leaning forward. By the final entry it was jagged, angular,
and sloped to the rear. The final entry said simply. “Suffering is
human. Suffering is sorrow. Sorrow can be broken. Just broken.”

Broken. That’s what I was. I realized, sitting on her bedroom

floor, weeping softly the night I paged through the final entries. I
was broken and sorry. When I finished reading that final phrase
“Just Broken,” the sun had risen partially.

I’d spent a lot of time in Rosa’s room over those dark six
months, but that day was the fist time I’d ever noticed as the sun
came up a beam of light, directed by a crystal hung from the
window’s lock, traced down the far wall, bounced off Rosa’s
dresser mirror and landed in a rainbow swatch across the bottom
drawer of Rosa’s bureau.
Would you have opened the bureau? Would you have
dashed over there expecting to find something wonderful and
meaningful? I did.

I tore the drawer off its hinges hoping to find out what she
had in that chest. I took the drawer apart looking for the secret
payoff, flapping the t-shirts open and tossing them over my
shoulder when there was no payoff. All that was in the drawer
was t-shirts. Retired t-shirts-- the ones she didn’t wear anymore
but still loved too much to give up. Peter Murphy. The Cure. Nine-
Inch Nails. Powel Peralta Skateboards. Finally, I was so frustrated,
I knocked the whole dresser over with a punch and a swipe. A
block of goo formed over my hand as I punched. I slumped over
where the dresser had been, putting my back to the wall and my
hands to my knees, crying softly.

I was waiting for some magical incantation or symbol to

come along and make life right again. I was looking for something
that would tie it all together and give me some kind of deeper
understanding. The stone in my gut told me It wasn’t coming.
Life doesn’t work that way. Rosa was right. Suffering is human. To
be human is to suffer. Suffering is sorrow. And I could end the
suffering. If nothing else, I could end the suffering.

Sobbing, I closed my eyes as I put two fingers into my

mouth. I imagined the goo filling my throat. I willed it to push
through my fingertips, down my neck, into my sinuses, clogging
my windpipe, cutting the air off and suffocating me. I saw in my
minds eye, the goo seeping from ears and eye sockets, dribbling
out my nose.

But the goo would not come. It would not come.

I sobbed and opened my eyes, and noticed that that beam of

light-- the one that had directed me to the drawer of retired t-
shirts, had risen with the sun, and was not pointing directly into
my chest. The beam was centered on me. It was warm, almost hot,
like the sunlight from a magnifying glass. I willed up a puck of
goo at my chest to protect myself from the heat.
I followed the beam, which was now far more visible in the
room because of the dust I’d thrown when I knocked the chest
over. I walked over to the dresser mirror, and looked at the spot it
was bouncing from. The crystal, I realized, was magnifying the
light and intensifying it. I went over to the window and when I
picked the crystal up, It was a miniature glass strawberry. Mom
had given it to Rosa.

I pushed the window open and crawled out onto other

sloping roof. I climbed up to the point of the two-story farmhouse
and stood, with one foot on either side of the ridge, for a moment,
looking out over the city. It was rural, and it was dumpy. I
belonged in a city like this, I thought. I slid the crystal over my
head, hanging it from my neck. My minds-eye recalled the image
of Rosa as I remembered her at 14. Bubbly. Wonderful. Cute. Then
I remembered the young woman who’d died at 17-- blue, swollen,
covered in her own puke. Sad.

Like the city. Suffering. Like me.

I shuttered. Then, holding the crystal in my left hand, I ran as

fast as I could down the point of the house, hit the edge and
jumpped out over the street.

My body twisted and the ground came up faster than I ever

thought possible, but with a twitch, I threw a river of goo down
from my feet and my hands, and the force of the goo, soft and
liquid, pushed me back, gently slowing my fall. I righted my body,
letting my goo set me feet down in the middle of the street.

A jogger passing by was notably startled by my sudden

appearance from the sky. “Are you ok?” he blabbed, and I turned
to him.

“I think so,” I said. “My name is Gordy McPharpentstien,

and I have suffered long enough.”
The End.

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