This is a story about Tommy Truncero and how I know there are Martians, but that they're up front guys.
Tommy is Eddie's kid brother. He's okay, now. This all happened last March, when Tommy was still a kid. Not enough fuzz for a cat to lick off if you covered his face with cream. Every afternoon, when all of us were down lifting, Tommy'd come in with towels and soap and those skinny white legs of his hanging out of his superman red gym trunks. And he idolized us, so we watched out for him. We kind of took him under our wing.
Anyway, we were at the iron and Tommy comes in looking like he knows where the last Eskimo Pie is. "Hi, Ange. Working on the lats today? Looks good."
I couldn't answer because it was my third rep with 300 and the sky was getting hazy. Tommy had a way of always talking to you when your guts are busting. If not me, then to Eddie or maybe Benjamin. Benjamin's a thinker. Great guy. Don't like to be called Benny.
Benjamin drops his bar like a trash truck dropping a dumpster. "Hello, Thomas. What do you have tucked under your arm?"
Tommy jumps over the weights and hands him a magazine. "I wanted to show you guys. I hope you won't laugh." Benjamin reads it and "hmms" a few times.
"What do you think?" Tommy says. "Pretty good, huh?"
"Angelo, when you have a moment?"
Benjamin shows me a full page ad for some company called "Power Unlimited." Under the title is a picture of some guy that you know's been lifting for maybe six, seven years. The guy's got women climbing his thighs. Tommy's got highlights on "30 DAY, NO RISK FREE TRIAL POWER+ PILLS" and "No drugs, no steroids, just EVERY vitamin and mineral YOUR body will EVER NEED!" The ad says it also comes with an exercise booklet.
And all the while I'm reading it, Tommy's pumping me. "Well, Ange, what d'you think? I could give it a try?"
Now, like I say, Tommy's a good kid. And everybody knows these things don't work. But it's free. Thirty days we can set him straight, right? "Tell you, Tommy, I don't go for these things myself. Eddie, you seen this?"
Eddie comes over and reads the ad. He pats Tommy on the back, "Hell, kid, can't hurt nothin' if it's for free."
Benjamin takes the magazine back and looks the ad over again. Now, you got to know Benjamin. He's always reading, and he's the only one of us went to one of those big, four-year colleges. Studied some kind of math. He's got a blackboard in his office and I seen it once. Hell, there wasn't even any numbers on it, just a bunch of triangles and stuff. Some guys make it big, they forget who they knew as kids. Not Benjamin.
Anyway, he's looking the ad over and says, "Thomas, I agree with Angelo. But if it makes you feel better, well, perhaps you should try it. Just let us know if they start asking for money or call you on the phone. Agreed?"
"Gee, thanks, guys. I really mean it," and he's out the door. Kid could make it in track, if he wanted.
Two weeks later Tommy comes back with this box. Inside is thirty elephant pills and a book. I'd never seen the kinds of exercises they had in that book. Neither had Eddie or Benjamin or anybody else. Benjamin reads it through twice and says, "They're neither isometric nor isotonic. But the book does say these are the preliminaries designed to increase flexibility, which makes sense." So I guess it was okay. Those pills were big mothers, though, and they smelled like the water 'back of the paper plant. I couldn't do it, but Tommy pops one right there by the leg machine.
Well, we went back to the weights. Five minutes later, Eddie drops his bar and runs over to the kid. "Tommy, you all right?"
The kid was puke. He's pushing Eddie away, "Yeah, yeah. I'm fine. Those pills work fast." But the kid looks real bad so Benjamin drives us home. We didn't even shower, which made Mrs. Truncero real happy.
Anyway, the kid was golden when we got to his house. Said he felt great. Went straight into the kitchen, sat down and chowed.
Well, a week goes by and nobody sees Tom. Ed was doing Reserves, so we didn't know what was going on. Anyway, one night this guy walks in, clean. Good definition, needs some cutting. Benjamin does a double take, "Thomas?"
I looked again. "Where the hell'd that come from?"
"Great, huh?" He talks like he used to, but now he has more to echo with. Some of the other guys walk over and congratulate him. "Just wanted you to know, I'm sending away for more of those Power Unlimited pills." Three other guys wanted to buy some, too, and he takes their orders.
One of them kids Tommy about his beard. Tommy looks in a mirror and rubs his cheeks, "Damn. That's twice today."
Two weeks later, Tommy's benching as much as me. Now, I'm not jealous, but I know this ain't right. "You still doing that Power Unlimited stuff?"
"Yep." His voice has a barrel behind it and he's given up shaving. And he smells like he's lived in his shorts for a month.
I knew Eddie was coming home that night and I wanted to talk about what was happening to the kid, so I picked him up at the station.
We stop in front of Eddie's house and this big black Lincoln pulls up behind us. When we get out, somebody inside the limo says, "Mr. Truncero?"
Eddie walks over, "Yes, sir?"
The door opens and a beanpole gets out. We practically fell over looking at him. "Mr. Thomas Truncero?"
Now, we know practically everybody around. We don't know any beanpole white guy with a black Lincoln who dresses like an undertaker. Eddie and I stood between Stretch and the house. "What d'you want with my brother?"
Stretch looks at the house and – get this – pushes us aside like we're twigs in a tornado. Eddie tries to blindside him. Stretch doesn't budge and Eddie goes down for the count.
I get in Stretch's way. "Hey, I don't want trouble, but you ain't getting near Tommy till we know what's going on." Stretch stops. Another beanpole, a twin of the one I'm dancing with, gets out of the Lincoln. He shows me a card that says 'Power Unlimited' in big black letters, then underneath is 'Dolman Rigch: 032516-295'. Hey, you know any phone numbers like that? So I says, "You guys work for that company that's been sending Tommy those he-man pills?"
Beanpole #2 talks like he busted his nose and nobody fixed it, "There's been a mistake. Mr. Truncero's name was never on our master list."
Right then Tommy comes out of the house. I only know it's Tommy because he says, "Hi guys. What's up?" He looks like he should be swinging from trees. We're talking severe. I mean the kid needs a body shave, he's got arms like my thighs, a back you could rent ad space on. Unbelievable! And you know Mrs. Truncero, she ain't had it all since that stroke, she follows him out saying, "Oh, my boy's now a man."
Eddie hasn't seen his kid brother in two weeks and goes, "Tommy?" Tommy smiles and waves. Eddie gets up and runs at the beanpoles, "What've you done to Tommy?"
Beanpole #1 catches Eddie with an open hand and down goes Eddie again. Tommy runs over to the beanpole twins. He grabs one in each hand and lifts them over his head.
"Nobody touches Eddie." All I could think of was Ben Grimm yelling, "It's Clobberin' Time," like he does in "The Fantastic Four."
Beanpole #2 says, "Please, put us down. We can explain."
The way Tommy's flapping these two around, I figure they ain't gonna touch Eddie and me. "Yeah, Tommy," I say. "Put 'em down."
They tell Tommy who they are and look him over. "This should never have happened," Number One says. "How could we make this mistake?" And they nod and hum to each other.
Then Number Two says, "Mr. Truncero, you have to give us whatever Power+ pills you still have."
Tommy goes, "No."
"But you don't understand – "
"Understand what? I'm strong. I feel great. That's what your ad said would happen, and it did. What do I have to understand?"
Next thing Benjamin drives up. He's getting out of his car and says, "Welcome home, Edward." Then he takes in the scene and sees Tommy. "Holy Mother. Tommy?"
Beanpole #2 starts up again, "Someone has to make Mr. Truncero understand. These pills aren't for your people."
Benjamin is still checking out Tommy but he says to Number Two, "What d'you mean 'your people'?"
Just then this swarm of bees comes over us. We couldn't see any, but we all ducked anyway. All of us except for beanpoles one and two. They're just looking at each other, waving their long, skinny arms at each other. Finally, Number Two brings his hands down in front of him and they look at us, sprawled on all fours looking for bees. The buzzing stopped so we got back up. "Have you ever traveled to another country?" he says.
"Sure," I nod. "Canada."
The beanpoles got real close to each other and the buzzing starts again, but quiet like. Benjamin is watching them like a hen counting chicks. The rest of us are getting ready to swat bees, if we can ever find them. Beanpole #2 starts again, "No, some other, less developed country, maybe South or Central America or parts of Africa?"
Benjamin takes over. "Go on."
"And before you go you have to take medicinal precautions to insure you won't become ill due to the foreign country's environment?" Benjamin nods. His face has that "Oh yeah, I think I understand" look on it. I hate that. It means he's going to explain the movie while we're driving home. I figure "what the hell" and nod, too. "Some places even recommend you bring your own water and food?" Benjamin's eyes open up wide. I even think I'm beginning to see.
Benjamin says, "Where is home for you gentleman, exactly?"
The bees come back but nobody cares anymore. We're all watching the beanpoles. They don't say anything for a couple of seconds, then together they say, "France," through their noses. Benjamin nods. The second one goes, "We use the ad to contact our people. Names not on our master list get an earth-style exercise booklet and placebos. The pills Mr. Truncero has may do him permanent damage."
Tommy's knuckles are already dragging, so I'm wondering what more damage could they do?
"We're only here to observe," Number Two tells Benjamin, "not to harm. He must stop taking those pills." He hands Benjamin a box of pills, same label as before but they don't smell as bad. "He must take these until he is Earth-normal." He looked real sad. I lean over to Eddie and mouth "Earth-normal?
Benjamin says, "We'll take care of it," and holds out his hand. The beanpoles hold out their hands and do a soulshake. Benjamin looks at them and says, "Tourists mimicking local customs." The beanpoles smile and nod, then get back in their limo and drive off.
As it turned out, Tommy didn't have any more pills and Benjamin talked him into trying the new ones. Tommy looks okay now, a little heavier than before he started taking those pills. He lifts now, too. Good potential. Late bloomer was all.
Benjamin never offered to explain the beanpoles, Eddie didn't care to know, and I never asked. I figured it out myself.
And people say you can't learn nothing from comics.