Study Guide

Tales of the Madman Underground Summary

By John Barnes

Tales of the Madman Underground Summary

Tales of the Madman Underground covers five days in the life of Karl Shoemaker, a high school senior from a small town in western Ohio whose life is coming apart at the seams. Placed in a mandatory therapy group at school for beating up a football player and killing a classmate's pet rabbit in eighth grade (whoa), Karl has been pigeonholed by classmates as a psycho animal murderer, and most of the school is scared of him. While this often comes in handy when dealing with bullies, Karl longs for one school year when he can just be like everyone else.

That's why, on this first day of his senior year, Karl is instituting Operation Be Normal. He has a few objectives in doing this—mainly finding a way to get a ticket out of group therapy and avoiding his best friend and fellow Madman, Paul Knauss. Paul is not only in group therapy but also gay, which wouldn't do much for Karl's new image.

At first, things seem to be going well. Coach Gratz, his ultra-manly English teacher, offers to write him a letter excusing him from therapy because all of the therapy kids are in his first-period class and he doesn't want a chunk of the class missing every other Monday. Karl thinks that from here on out, everything is going to be a breeze—no more therapy will equal no more people seeing him as Karl the Psycho. That's one in the win column for him.

Meanwhile, on the home front, Karl is living on shaky ground. His mom, widowed almost four years ago when his dad died of lung cancer, has gone over the edge and now spends most of her time getting drunk and high and having sex, spending Karl's wages from his five jobs, and investigating theories that link President Nixon to UFOs. She also is literally a crazy cat lady, with dozens of cats that roam the house and are regularly buried en masse in the backyard. Oh yeah, and Lightsburg is a small town and Karl's dad used to be the mayor, so everyone knows about his mom going off the deep end.

Sheesh. No wonder Karl wants to be normal.

Anyway, with his get-out-of-therapy letter safely in his locker, everything appears to be coming up Karl. There are a couple of glitches in his plan, though. The first is Marti Nielsen, the new girl in school and the newest member of the Madman Underground. Marti comes from a mega-dysfunctional family, but she is a really cool girl who is totally unapologetic about how weird she is, and she kind of gets Karl thinking about what it would mean to lose the therapy group members as his friends. He also seems to kind of like her—just a little.

The other problem is Paul, who isn't talking to him at all. He later tells Karl that he, too, is trying to be normal and get out of therapy, and he believes that interacting with Karl would ruin his plan. The two get in a humongous fight about this in the hallway, and there's serious tension between them for the majority of the book. The whole situation ultimately gets Karl thinking about whether he really wants to lose his best friend, let alone the rest of the Madmen.

A lot of things happen over the course of the week that reinforce this for Karl. For instance, after the football game on Friday night, the gang has to go to Toledo to rescue Paul—who had a fight with his dad and is cruising the section of town where gay people hang out—and keep him from getting beat up. As a result, Paul and Karl make up and spend most of the next night working out their conflicts.

By Sunday night, when a fight with his mom and a lockout at Marti's house forces the two to share a hotel room downtown, Karl has started to realize that the Madmen may be weirdos, but they're his weirdos—and his best friends. On Monday morning, after an extremely awkward encounter at the hotel with his and Marti's moms, Karl goes to Gratz's room, makes sure the magic letter goes in the trash, and heads to therapy with his comrades.

That's not all, though: A serendipitous meeting between Gratz, Karl's AA sponsor, and his mom's boyfriend results in Karl finally getting some help for his home situation in the form of a bank account so that he no longer has to hide his money all over the house and risk his mom stealing it. By the end of the book, Karl finally seems to have some peace about who he is, who his friends are, and whom he can count on.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    The Year of Being Normal (Wednesday, September 5, 1973)

    • It's the first day of Karl Shoemaker's senior year of high school, and his primary goal is to be as normal as possible. Karl is totally committed.
    • His home situation isn't exactly the greatest. His dad has been dead for four years, and his mom has completely derailed. She has a ridiculous number of feral cats living in the house, and they poop on everything, including Karl's bed.
    • Not only that, but his mom is also an alcoholic who likes to steal his money. Awesome.
    • On this particular morning, Karl finds her passed out in bed with her boyfriend, Neil, new clothes all over the floor. This can only mean one thing—she raided his financial stash.
    • Sure enough, Karl finds one of the cans he hides money in empty except for an IOU, which would be cool if his mom actually paid back her IOUs.
    • As if on cue, his mom shows up in his bedroom and says she "had to" take his money because she wanted a night of freedom. OK, Mom—how about you exercise your freedom to get a better job? We're pretty sure that's what Karl is thinking.
    • Karl shoves past Neil, who's naked, and heads for the bus stop, thinking about how to keep his "be normal" plan moving forward.
    • The main reason he's so into this being normal thing is because he wants to avoid group therapy—aka the Madman Underground, as his best friend, Paul, calls it.
    • Basically, it works like this—if you come from a bad home situation or do something that makes a teacher question your sanity, you get thrown into mandatory psychological therapy.
    • Karl is in it because in fourth grade, he got emotionally overwhelmed during story hour and started crying.
    • Paul, on the other hand, had it worse. His mom tripped in the street while trying to take a picture of her kids before church and got hit by a car. Since then, the two have been co-Madmen as well as friends.
    • Unfortunately, part of Operation Be Normal involves ditching Paul. He's kind of the unofficial Madman Underground leader, and avoiding him is key to Karl's plan to escape group therapy.
    • That's why Karl is taking the early bus to school: He and Paul always catch the second one, and by beating Paul to school, he can get things off on the right foot.
    • Except there's a hitch in the plan—when he gets on the bus, Karl finds that Paul seems to have had the same idea. He also won't talk to Karl at all, which seems weird.
    • Karl tries to compensate for this setback by sitting way in the back so that Paul will get off before him.
  • Chapter 2

    How the Most Expensive Pizza of My Life Resulted in Delayed Gratzification

    • Gratzification? Is that a typo? No, we assure you it's not. It's time to hear the first of many stories of Karl's bizarre life in Madman Land.
    • Last spring, Karl decided to take his mom out for an expensive pizza dinner. Typically, he just gives her money to get drunk and stuff, but he decided a mother-son date might prevent that.
    • While they waited for their pizza, his mom ranted about Vietnam, the ladies at her secretarial job, the Nixon/extraterrestrial conspiracy (don't even ask), and a lot of other random topics that take up a lot of pages in this chapter.
    • Finally, the pizza arrived, and the topic changed to what classes Karl signed up to take his senior year. Because he's going to join the Army, his original plan was to just coast, but his mom changed all that.
    • His mom gave him a massive guilt trip about how the town is dying and how his dad went to college and was mayor of Lightsburg and how men in their family go to college. Therefore, Karl should take college-prep courses.
    • Karl was super annoyed by this, especially since she ordered wine with dinner and got smashed, which is exactly what he was trying to avoid to begin with.
    • After he took her home and put her to bed, it was off to McDonald's for one of his five jobs. As he cleaned up the restaurant, he drank alcohol he smuggled in and thought about what his mom said.
    • Karl realized that there was some truth to it all—Lightsburg really was a pathetic place, and it couldn't hurt to have some options. But the bigger realization he had is that he needed to quit drinking.
    • Karl tossed the bottle in the dumpster and made a resolution to start going to AA and sign up for college prep-classes.
    • The latter, however, had one tiny hitch in it: college-prep lit with Coach Gratz, a self-righteous Vietnam vet whom Karl pretty much finds obnoxious.
    • He was supposed to have Mrs. Kliburn, who had a reputation for being a really easy teacher, but she left and was replaced with the not-as-desirable Gratz.
    • And that, folks, is how he ended up with first period in Gratz's class. Not exactly the greatest way to start your senior year, and the no-alcohol part sure doesn't help.
  • Chapter 3

    Eight Madmen, the Biggest Asshole in Ohio, and One Very Normal Guy

    • Because of taking the first bus, Karl arrives early to Gratz's class. The only other person there is Cheryl, who is notorious for being not only queen of the popular girls but also queen of the Madmen.
    • Cheryl may look great on the outside, but like her Madman compatriots, things are kind of messed up at home. Her grandpa lives with her family and has been behaving inappropriately with Cheryl and her little sister, Sammy.
    • Cheryl and Karl talk about this until more students begin to arrive.
    • Among them are the rest of the Madmen—Danny, a football player and Future Farmer of America whose dad beats him; Darla, who is best friends with a stuffed rabbit and abused her little brother; and, of course, Paul.
    • There's also a new girl, Marti, who has wire glasses and bad acne and the audacity to speak to Gratz before he speaks to her. It's hate at first sight.
    • Gratz is really fired up about America and having been in Vietnam, and he is particularly stoked because his class is going to read Huckleberry Finn.
    • After class, Gratz ticks off Karl something awful when he calls all the Madmen's names and asks them to stay after class for a brief announcement. So much for being seen as normal when he gets called up with all of the crazies.
    • Gratz tells the Madmen that he isn't exactly thrilled about having most of his class miss every other Monday morning, so if they want out of therapy, he's on their side. Still, the students walk away mocking him and calling him bad names for embarrassing them in front of everyone.
    • Next up on Karl's schedule is trig, where he gets to see Bonny, his other Madman acquaintance whom he briefly dated and took to the prom.
    • Bonny's story is that her parents own a consignment shop in Toledo, which is a bit of a drive, and as a result, they aren't home a whole lot. This means Bonny is in charge of the house and her younger siblings, as well as the bills.
    • Bonny and Karl banter about having to work multiple jobs. Karl makes an off-color remark about school being a joke just as the teacher walks in. Oops. Luckily, she's not one to write kids up for bad behavior.
    • In gym class, Karl runs on the track outside and reconnects with another Madman, Squid Cabrillo. Squid's dad went to prison when he was a kid, and when he got out, he left Squid's mom for a hillbilly babe several years younger than him.
    • It gets worse: Squid's mom died, and now he's stuck with Dad and Hillbilly Babe—and taking physical abuse from his dad.
    • You're probably wondering why these kids never say anything to anybody about how terrible and hard their lives are. It's simple—rat on their parents and social services gets involved, and then the next thing they know, parents are getting arrested and kids are put into foster care. That's just, you know, a lot.
    • Coach Korviss tries to talk Karl into running track and cross country, but Karl's heavy work schedule doesn't allow for it.
  • Chapter 4

    How to Get Your Very Own Madman Nickname

    • Since seventh grade, Karl has been known far and wide (at least in Lightsburg) as Psycho (you know, like Norman Bates). And Shmoopers, here's how that came to be....
    • The summer before seventh grade, Karl's dad found out he had lung cancer, and things got progressively worse at home.
    • While Karl's dad quit drinking after the diagnosis, his mom started drinking for the both of them, and they spent a lot of time fighting.
    • Meanwhile, to make his dad happy, Karl played football, even though he hated it and wasn't any good.
    • What made playing football particularly awful, though, was Al, the quarterback, who had taken to making Karl his own personal punching bag. Squid, who was then his best friend, also played a pretty big part in the beatings.
    • Anyway, Karl kept playing football and taking the accompanying beatings in order to please his dying dad. Until one day, when he decided he wouldn't put up with the beatings anymore.
    • Karl got revenge by hitting Al with a baseball bat and busting up his elbow. What he did to Squid, though, was way worse: He sneaked into his backyard and slit his pet rabbit's throat.
    • At school, Squid was really broken up about what happened, but no one could prove Karl did it instead of a rabid dog wandering the neighborhood in search of bunny jerky.
    • The thing with Al, however, could be proven, and when Karl's dad found out, he beat him up.
    • As a result of all this, Karl realized that everyone, including his classmates and parents, were scared of him and watching him like he was going to explode.
    • Things got better for a while when the school therapist, Mr. Bradshaw, took an interest in Karl and helped him express what he was feeling. Eventually, though, Mr. Bradshaw took another job at a college.
    • The next year, Karl's dad died. What he remembers most about the funeral is that Paul was there for him, and he hadn't realized how badly he needed a friend. When Squid's mom killed herself, Karl remembered this and did the same thing for him.
    • That wasn't what sealed Squid and Karl's friendship, though. The week after his mom's funeral, the current Madman therapist tried to get Squid to open up about his feelings, even though he didn't want to. Karl got him off Squid's back by saying they were hanging out that afternoon and maybe they'd talk then.
    • While Squid and Karl got to be pretty good friends, the rabbit has always hung over their relationship like a creepy, bunny-shaped dark cloud. Karl knows Squid knows he did it—but he also knows that his friend has forgiven him.
    • Meanwhile, people remain wary of Karl to this day because of the bunny incident. And that's how he came to be known as Psycho.
  • Chapter 5

    Normal Guys Walk with Pretty Girls Who Giggle

    • At lunch, Karl meets up with Larry O'Grary, who is super weird but somehow has managed to not end up in the Madman Underground. They take a seat and start talking about what's up with Paul and why he won't talk to them.
    • Karl has decided that in contrast to his original plan, avoiding his best friend isn't going to make him appear normal. Instead, he's decided to figure out what Paul's deal is and fix things as soon as possible.
    • Paul totally ignores Karl and Larry and goes outside to eat, though. Meanwhile, Larry runs his mouth for the entirety of lunch about sci-fi novels.
    • Karl finally can't take it anymore and tells him he's going to the library and isn't hungry; as a result, Karl spends the rest of the afternoon starving.
    • On the way home, he meets up with Marti. Like all Madmen, Marti has a story of her own. Her dad is a genius and because he thinks genius is genetic, he's sent her to genius schools her whole life.
    • Marti, however, hasn't become a genius. She's just become neurotic and stressed out and finally had a nervous breakdown. As a result, she's now giving a regular, non-genius school a try.
    • Karl explains the relatively complex social structure of Lightsburg High to her. Here's the short version: It's all about the clubs that start with F.
    • Anyway, there's a first-day-of-school dance that night, and Marti asks Karl if he will ask her to dance with him just so people will see that she isn't a total loser. Karl is cool with this—after all, if she didn't have braces, she'd have a pretty nice smile.
  • Chapter 6

    A Word From My Sponsor

    • After school, Karl heads over to Philbin's, the local drugstore/eatery that was probably cool back in the 1950s but is now just fifty shades of lame. Their main customers are the kids who come for comic books and candy and old people getting their meds filled.
    • At Philbin's, Karl gets himself some coffee and a new book, deciding to try Larry's favorite, Philip K. Dick. He has plenty of money even after being robbed by his mom.
    • The pilfering of his cash by his mom has been an ongoing thing for the last three years. Hiding the money in cans in various places in his room is the only real answer to the problem, and even that isn't foolproof, as the previous night's episode clearly shows.
    • Truthfully, Karl would like to get a bank account, but that would require a car and frequent trips to Toledo, which would just make his mom suspicious. Also, he'd need an adult to cosign.
    • Mr. Philbin clearly knows things aren't exactly good at home with Karl and his mom, and he spends part of their conversation trying to get Karl to tell him as much. Karl, however, doesn't rat out his mom.
    • Karl also has an encounter with Dick Larren, his AA sponsor who frequently buys him groceries.
    • Meanwhile, Philbin tells Karl that he has a plan to get the business back on track. The movie theater across the way is reopening to show foreign films and classics, and Philbin has decided to extend his hours on the weekends so moviegoers have a spot to chill afterward.
    • Karl agrees to take on extra hours over the weekend to make this plan a reality.
  • Chapter 7

    Shoemaker's Kid

    • Karl gets home, gets his McDonald's uniform out of the dryer, and makes sure everything is ready for him to go to work after he gets out of the First Day Dance.
    • He contemplates going through his mom's purse in revenge, but the last time he tried that, all he found were used condoms, alcohol, and joints.
    • Karl is taking the dirty kitty litter outside when Wilson, his eccentric elderly neighbor, comes over to inform him that the neighborhood raccoon killed one of Karl's mom's cats.
    • Wilson and Karl locate the corpse and bury it in the massive kitty cemetery behind Karl's house.
    • Karl gets to the dance a little early, so he wanders over to an old display case with a yearbook from the class of 1961. Marti shows up, and the two of them marvel at early '60s hairstyles and how it's impossible to tell which kids fit into which cliques.
    • They talk about their mutual daddy issues—Marti's being that her dad has impossibly high standards for her and Karl's being that his is dead. Marti reminds him that he promised to ask her to dance.
    • As they go their separate ways and head for the dance, Karl runs into Bobby Harris and Scott Tierden, the class troublemakers/really bad amateur comedians.
    • Harris and Tierden make fun of Karl's dead dad, then pick on him for hanging around Marti and call her several bad names.
    • Karl threatens them and tells them to leave him and his friends alone. Fortunately, Gratz intervenes and kicks Harris and Tierden out of the dance.
    • During the dance, Gratz warns Karl to stay away from those guys and not get involved in their antics. Karl says that he was defending Marti, and Gratz tells him how much like his dad he is.
    • Marti and Karl dance and start having a lot of fun. She even offers to give him a ride home and to McDonald's for work so they can spend more time there.
  • Chapter 8

    Tales of the Madman Underground

    • Marti gives Karl a ride back to his house, where he finds his mom working on her theory about Nixon being an alien.
    • Karl's mom asks him if he can take her paycheck off direct deposit and stop making "all those payments." "Those payments," as she calls them, are the mortgage and bills.
    • Karl tries to explain to her (again) that she can't just party away all of her money—she has responsibilities as a homeowner. Then, to make things worse, he has to tell her about the raccoon mauling her cat.
    • His mom also tells Karl that she met Marti's mom, and the two of them are going out drinking. So, now we know Marti's mom is terrible, too. The plot thickens.
    • When he returns to Marti's car, Karl breaks the news to her about their moms partying together. Marti doesn't seem too thrilled to hear this.
    • Karl's McDonald's boss is super chill and lets him bring friends to work with him while he mops up the place. Marti hangs out with him, and they talk more about his life, including his five jobs.
    • Karl is in the middle of explaining how he doesn't understand what's up with Paul when Harris and Tierden come screeching through the parking lot to perform their nightly ritual of splashing water all over the front window so Karl has to stay late cleaning it up.
    • What they don't know is that he deliberately waits to do the windows last because of this. Ooh. He's got you there, losers.
    • Karl tells Marti not to worry about Harris and Tierden—they have dumb nicknames for everyone at school and she's only stupid if she listens to them.
    • One thing they do know, though, is to leave the Madman girls alone. Last year, an incident with Cheryl forced the Madman boys to teach them a lesson.
    • Want to hear the story? Good—because here it comes....
  • Chapter 9

    "Don't Be an Asshole" Explained in Easy-to-Understand Terms

    • It all started the day last year's idiot therapist, Dr. Marston, decided to make a public issue of Cheryl's sexual abuse issues by writing them on the white board with the rest of the day's agenda.
    • When Cheryl walked in and saw it, she ran into Dr. Marston, who got coffee all over her blouse. He offered to take her home so she could change, leaving the rest of the Madmen alone.
    • The Madmen decided that Harris and Tierden's tormenting of Cheryl had to stop. They decided to all meet that night at Pongo's, one of the local hangouts where Bonny and Darla work, to discuss the situation.
    • Two days later, Paul and Karl went to New Life, a coffeehouse run by a local youth minister. It was supposed to be a place where students could stay out of trouble and get religion, but the public phone there actually ended up just attracting drug dealers.
    • Darla called New Life and recited a scripted bit the group had come up with—that two jerks left her a 15-cent tip at Pongo's after tying up her table for three hours. Karl suggested that she talk to Reverend Dave, the youth minister, about the situation.
    • Karl engaged The Rev about his poor, lost friend's tendency to call him and ask ridiculous questions. That night, the question was why God lets bad stuff happen to good people.
    • Reverend Dave really got going on this topic, and Paul and Karl just sat back and served as an audience.
    • Meanwhile, down the street at Dairy Queen, Squid and Danny accosted Harris and Tierden in Harris's car while they were doing drugs, dragging them out and beating them up.
    • With the mission accomplished, Squid and Danny left them and headed for New Life.
    • It gets better. Danny and Squid called New Life from a payphone so Karl could talk to "her" and explain the problem of pain with Dave hovering over his shoulder. Meanwhile, Danny and Squid hung up and came inside to play pool.
    • Danny and Squid, as a result, had an alibi when Tierden and Harris inevitably told on them. Not only that, but so did Karl and Paul—Reverend Dave was more than happy to relate their conversation about why God allows pain.
    • When Principal Emerson got wind of all this, he knew it was too good, and since his wife was the cheerleading coach, he also knew those guys had been harassing Cheryl. Even more, he knew the Madmen stuck together.
    • Still, the plan was so good that he couldn't prove something different had happened. And, Harris and Tierden left Cheryl alone.
    • In exchange for listening to this epic story, Marti asks Karl, who has to hang around McDonald's until it's time to clock out, if she can tell him some more of her own experiences.
    • Basically, Marti has lived all over the place, never staying anywhere long enough to make friends. Her dad lost his last job because he wouldn't put his name on some report due to ethical issues and the whole situation is classified.
    • Meanwhile, Marti's mom was a 16-year-old dropout waitress when she got with Marti's dad and subsequently brought Marti onto the scene.
    • Earlier that year, Marti had a nervous breakdown due to the stress of her dad making her be a genius, and her therapist suggested she go someplace normal and live a normal life.
    • Finally, it's time to clock out. Marti and Karl talk about the unfortunate fact of their moms being friends and discuss possibilities of what might be wrong with Paul.
    • As a result of this late night McDonald's talk, Karl decides he can trust Marti with the details of Operation Be Normal. This turns out to be a bad idea. After hearing the tales of the Madmen's loyalty, she can't understand why he would want to throw away great friends.
    • She's mad, but she'd promised him a ride home and follows through on it.
  • Part 2, Chapter 10

    Cussing a Blue Streak Does Not Work on Goddam Ghoul Bastards (Thursday, September 6, 1973)

    • Rise and shine, kids. It's a whole new day in the life of Karl Shoemaker … and it's starting at 5:30 a.m. Karl has work at another one of his jobs—hauling furniture for the local upholsterer, old Mr. Browning.
    • In the living room,his mom is passed out on the couch in her party clothes, including her signature sexy boots. She briefly wakes up and mumbles about how Mr. Browning doesn't pay Karl enough.
    • He covers her up with a blanket and sets her alarm clock for her. Watching her go back to sleep, he thinks he can see what his father must have seen in her years before.
    • Today, Karl is just helping Browning with a pickup, which means a ride across town in his hearse. Yup, you read that right. Apparently, it's the only vehicle he could get that a couch would fit in.
    • On the way, Browning makes small talk with Karl about school and whether he has any friends. This just makes Karl think about whether Marti still likes him after his disastrous admission of the Operation Be Normal plan.
    • The pickup is at the home of Rose Carson, Browning's best friend from when he graduated high school approximately a million years ago. Rose and Browning have a bizarre conversation that mixes sexual references and nostalgic stories of their youth with reports of how nice their friends' funerals were. Um, weird.
    • The hearse draws a crowd of neighbors who think Rose is dead. When they carry the couch outside, Browning launches into a profanity-laden tirade about what horrible people they are.
    • On the way home, Browning continues the rant privately for Karl, saying that those people should be !@#$%* ashamed of themselves and it's his !@#$%* job to use a lot of !@$%*& bad language to !@#$%* make them ashamed.
    • He finishes off the tirade with a moral: You have to keep your friends close because when you get old, they'll be all you have left. Karl doesn't seem to quite see how this fits in with the previous topic of conversation, but oh well.
  • Chapter 11

    I Was a Third-Grade Communist

    • When Karl was in third grade in 1964, his dad started facing opposition as mayor because he wouldn't go along with a plan to open a cheap housing development in town.
    • This might not seem like such a big deal, except everyone who had money invested in the project or stood to make a lot of cash from it got mad at him, and he ended up losing the next election over it.
    • Before then, city council meetings always ended up getting out of control. Karl always came to the meetings because he liked watching his dad do his job and getting ice cream afterward, but as the battle over the development came to a head, the meetings ran late and Dairy Queen was always closed afterward.
    • In school, Karl's teacher talked a lot about Communism and how people could get thrown in jail for disagreeing with the government. Karl started thinking there might be something to this—if all of the people who disagreed with his dad got arrested, meetings wouldn't run over and Dairy Queen would be open.
    • Karl decided to announce the idea on his dad's birthday, which started out with his parents having a drunken brawl and throwing the cake on the floor. To help the situation, Karl shared his idea, thinking it would cheer up his dad.
    • Except it didn't. His dad just started screaming at him and calling him names; he seemed super paranoid about whether Karl had shared his idea with anyone. (He told Paul, and Paul tried to talk him out of it. Just for the record.)
    • His dad went outside to drink while Karl's mom tried to explain to him that Communism was bad. Seriously, it's 1964, the height of the Cold War—you couldn't just go around saying that.
    • His dad came back inside and apologized, saying it was wrong to send people to jail for disagreeing. His mother told him that she knew he loved his dad, but that Karl should try not to be like him.
  • Chapter 12

    Two Stooges Short of an Act

    • So, what's the moral of that story? According to Karl, it's that old people are the worst and life is unfair.
    • Browning drops Karl off four blocks from school because arriving in a hearse to school is definitely not normal (although the "be normal" plan is gradually losing its potential for success).
    • Except then, Marti shows up and offers him a ride, which he takes her up on, even though arriving to school with her is only slightly more normal than arriving in a hearse.
    • Marti apologizes to Karl for getting mad at him the night before and offers him an explanation of why the Operation Be Normal plan should be discarded immediately. Mainly, her thesis is that you can't just ditch all of your friends.
    • Karl figures she's probably right. After all, he's broken up enough about Paul giving him the silent treatment that he isn't sure he has the stomach for much more of this.
    • Karl and Marti pass Harris and Tierden on their way into school and make snide comments about them as payback for the night before.
    • In Gratz's class, Karl zones out during the announcements and pays more attention to Darla, who is scolding her stuffed bunny, Mr. Babbitt, for being naughty during the announcements.
    • Next, Gratz goes into full-on Gratz mode and explains that it's now time to start their unit on the Wonderful World of Huckleberry Finn. In particular, they need to learn how not to read it.
    • Basically, here's the rundown: Huckleberry Finn is not a 19th-century version of Easy Rider with two buddies going on a road trip on a raft.
    • It's also not racist, even though it uses the n-word a lot because that's how people talked back then. Gratz is particularly big on the fact that while they'll be quoting the n-word, they can't call the characters or other students by it.
    • After class, Gratz asks Karl to stay for a few minutes to talk. He tells him there's a loophole they can use to keep him out of therapy this year: If he meets with Gratz on a regular basis to talk about his problems, he doesn't have to go. All he has to do is sign a letter that Gratz will prepare for the next day.
    • Just to recap, this means that Karl doesn't have to go through with Operation Be Normal. He doesn't have to do anything except sign a letter and it's bye-bye, Madman Underground. Talk about a golden ticket, right?
    • Karl now goes back in time again and remembers two years ago, when Gratz experienced the loyalty of the Madmen firsthand.
    • What happened was this: Someone made a remark about Paul's sexuality in class, and Karl jumped up and yelled at him. In response, Gratz kicked him and Paul out of class.
    • Karl was on his way down the hall when Bonny came up next to him. She called Gratz an asshole on purpose and got kicked out, too.
    • Principal Emerson gave them a three-day suspension as a punishment, but in the world of Lightsburg High, suspensions are more like a free vacation since you're forbidden to make up any work. So Karl, Paul, and Bonny just hung out the whole week.
    • Now, though, that loyalty is history. Karl is taking Gratz up on his offer and turning his back on the gang. If getting out of therapy is what he really wants, though, then why does Karl feel like such a bad friend?
  • Chapter 13

    An Afternoon Down the Toilet

    • After school, Browning meets up with Karl and offers him $20 to help build a new frame for Rose's couch.
    • She doesn't know he's doing this—the couch was her last anniversary gift from her dead husband, and Browning doesn't want her to know what a sorry excuse for furniture the couch is.
    • The other part of the deal is that Karl has to fix his clogged toilet, which is no big deal to him; his dad taught him how to do household repairs.
    • After they get the jobs done, Karl and Browning go to Pongo's for dinner. Darla is their waitress, and Browning shamelessly checks out her butt.
    • While they eat, Browning runs his mouth about Lightsburg in the old days. Karl, however, stops him in his tracks when Browning uses the n-word and tells him to please not say it.
    • This just makes Browning go off about how kids today are being brainwashed by the liberal agenda. Or, something.
    • Then, he crosses even more boundaries and tells Karl that Darla likes him, but he doesn't need a girl like her for a girlfriend because she's kind of easy.
    • This is a regular occurrence. Karl once hung out with Darla late at night, and when he got home, his mom started taunting him about whether or not he and Darla had sex. She was also drunk, which didn't help.
    • Then, she spun around the room singing a song she made up about Darla and Karl having sex and broke a lamp and started crying. Karl had to replace the lamp.
    • The next night, his mom went crazy on all of the cats and broke another lamp because one of them pooped on her skirt. When he came home from McDonald's, he found her lying on the floor with them, begging for forgiveness.
    • Anyway, back to the present day. Browning keeps being pervy about Darla the whole drive back to Karl's. It would be a relief to go home if he didn't have to go home to his mom's latest rampage.
    • The cats are eating a can of tuna fish in the living room, which only means one thing: Karl's mom went shopping again and likely bought herself new clothes. All of this with Karl's money, of course.
    • Karl has a fit of anger and starts crying because his mom is ruining his life. Can't say we blame him or disagree with him.
    • When he goes up to his room, though, Karl finds his dirty pants from that afternoon with the $20 he earned from Browning gone. He's overjoyed that all his mom took was the $20 bill.
    • He's so thrilled that he almost doesn't care that one of the cats pooped in the middle of his bed again.
    • This gets him thinking—burying dead cats is a regular event at their house because his mom never takes them to the vet or gets them spayed or neutered. Accidents happen all the time. Would it really be a big deal if he sort of picked the next one whose funeral he'd hold?
    • The more he thinks about this, the better it sounds. All he has to do is find out which cat is pooping on the bed and kill it. Seriously, whatever he does to it has to be more humane than getting mauled by a raccoon.
    • Karl feels like a jerk for thinking this and figures it's because he wants revenge on his mom for ruining his life. He finally decides that for now, he really just wants a clean bed, so he decides to wash his sheets.
  • Chapter 14

    In Their Backseats or at McDonald's, the Madmen Sleep Tonight

    • This latest incident with the $20 gets Karl reminiscing about the night things really started to go bad—the party his mom threw for herself seven months after his dad died.
    • After being gone at Paul's all weekend, Karl came home to find his mom decorating the living room with band posters and putting out bowls of chips and snacks.
    • She told him she had to clean out his bank account so she could throw a "coming out party" for herself, as well as give her and her friends a chance to talk through the students getting shot at Kent State a few weeks before.
    • The party was a disaster—Karl got drunk and woke up the next morning with a killer hangover.
    • Then, it got worse: The cats made an appearance. His mom's friend, Judy, brought over a box of kittens, and then they spent more of Karl's money on pizza to celebrate the party and the cats.
    • That was the beginning of the IOUs, and by Christmas, Karl had a collection of them stapled to his bulletin board.
    • That night at work, Karl burns off his angry energy at his mom by cleaning the place twice as fast as normal. He's reading his Philip K. Dick book when Marti shows up and bangs on the window.
    • Karl lets her in, and she tells him that she's locked out of her house and it's too cold to sleep in the car. On top of that, her parents had a big fight when she came home from school, and she didn't get dinner.
    • Karl fixes her up with a leftover burger and fries. He admits that he often sleeps at McDonald's to get away from his mom and the cats.
    • Then, he explains what other places in town are good for a night locked out, including the old hotel lobby downtown, where one of the employees is really nice and will give you a room for free if she's working, and the Salvation Army.
    • Karl and Marti decide to sleep until the morning shift comes in at 3:45 a.m. They are about to nod off when Marti tells Karl that Paul asked her out on a date to the movies, and she wants to know if he's gay.
    • This isn't news to Karl. Paul likes to go up to Toledo and cruise around looking for gay parties. Still, he tells Marti that Paul is a good guy and she should go on the date anyway.
  • Part 3, Chapter 15

    That, Son, Was the Lone Madman (Friday, September 7, 1973)

    • Marti and Karl wake up at McDonald's to her pocket travel alarm and clear the premises. She gives him a ride home, but when Karl arrives, he finds himself locked out. Ha.
    • Fortunately, he's able to climb in through the living room window. He goes up to his room and gets a few hours of sleep.
    • Friday mornings are kind of a big deal for Karl because they mean breakfast at Philbin's. He really has to hustle today because he also needs to get to Gratz's class in time to get his Get Out of Therapy Free letter.
    • On his way out the door, though, he gets held up by his mom, who apologizes for taking the $20 and says she wants Karl to meet her new boyfriend this weekend.
    • Ugh. This is going nowhere really fast, as usual.
    • Karl gets to Philbin's in time for his breakfast. On the way to school, though, the clouds open up and there's a thunderstorm. Luckily, Browning shows up to give him a ride in his hearse.
    • It's an awkward ride and not just because Karl is in a hearse and that looks weird—mostly it's because Browning is making perverted comments about all the high school girls in their wet shirts. Oh, and he mistakes Larry for a girl. Oops.
    • Karl is about to head to Gratz's room to get his letter when he finds Paul waiting for him at his locker, staring at him in a way that looks like he's going to beat Karl up. Paul then tells him they should probably talk.
    • It turns out that Paul is trying to do the same thing Karl was—get out of therapy by being "normal"—and that means avoiding his friends. This should be one of those really cute moments where Karl tells him he's been doing that, too, and then they both say oh, gosh or something, but it doesn't turn out that way.
    • Paul grabs Karl by the lapels totally unprovoked and starts screaming at him. Karl punches him in the stomach and calls him an anti-gay slur. Both of them are on the verge of crying and screaming at each other.
    • Karl still has plenty of time to go meet with Gratz, but he doesn't feel like it anymore. Instead, he goes to the bathroom and has a meltdown in one of the stalls.
    • He gets to Gratz's class late and makes a half-funny comment about being late because of a reason involving the bathroom. Everyone laughs except Paul.
    • Today in Gratzland, we're going to be learning the third way not to read Huck Finn. According to Leslie Fiedler, author of Love and Death in the American Novel, it's a book about—and these are Gratz's words, not ours—"two queers on a raft."
    • So, apparently, Huck and Jim are gay. At least in this reading of the story. And Gratz, who's all about being a big, tough man, gets really up in arms about this.
    • Then, Marti does something really stupid. She raises her hand and says that she's actually read Fiedler's book and that Gratz is misrepresenting the argument.
    • Gratz starts yelling at Marti about how Huck and Jim aren't gay and absolutely loses his stuff.
    • When Paul, Danny, and Cheryl come to Marti's defense, Gratz makes a rude remark about the therapy kids all sticking together. Then, he kicks Marti, Paul, and Danny out of class.
    • Darla starts talking to Mr. Babbitt about how Gratz is a twerp and then gets up and walks out. Cheryl follows.
    • This leaves Karl alone, the only Madman left in the room. He feels guilty for not walking out with the others, but he has that letter waiting for him on Gratz's desk.
  • Chapter 16

    The Value of Anything

    • After class, Karl sees Gratz and gets his letter. Gratz apologizes for freaking out and tells him to relay to the Madmen the next day's assignment and let them know he'll be making a public apology next week.
    • In trig, Karl tells Bonny about the walk-out in Gratz's class. He thinks about how she was a good girlfriend but had too many problems. Like, how he was only allowed to touch her when she was drunk so she'd be absolved of any role she played in it.
    • Also, how she got mad at him after prom because he didn't have a condom and wouldn't have sex with her. Yeah, we don't really know what to say about that either.
    • Karl says he doesn't know why he didn't walk out of class with the others; Bonny says it's because he's different since he stopped drinking.
    • Danny and Cheryl show up from the principal's office, and Karl gives them Gratz's message. Larry makes a bunch of weird comments about going to Detroit with horny fat girls. Typical.
    • Karl can't concentrate in math because he keeps thinking about the letter in his locker and how he's out of therapy. Meanwhile, Paul's outburst in class will probably keep him there.
    • In gym class, Danny is acting ticked off and not talking to Karl. Squid tells Karl that he heard about Gratz's outburst and that Paul told him Karl didn't go to the office because he has a letter to get out of therapy.
    • Karl feels guilty, even though Squid says he can tell Karl still wants to be friends with their group. Mostly, Karl feels terrible about losing Paul as a friend.
    • After school, Karl tries to talk to Paul on the bus and give him the message about homework in Gratz's class. He asks how Paul knew he has the letter to stay out of therapy.
    • Paul tells him he overheard Karl's conversation with Gratz after class the day before. He said he thought about asking for the same deal, but sucking up to Gratz wasn't worth it.
    • When Karl gets home, he finds his mom packing for a trip to Put-in-Bay with her new boyfriend, Bill, who's a college professor at Saint Jerome in Sandusky. She's super stoked.
    • Karl knows this will probably end badly, but he knows better than to actually say as much. He tells her he's happy for her. When he leaves for work, she's relaxing on the porch with her suitcase, waiting for Bill.
    • Tonight is Karl's first Friday night at Philbin's, so he decides to just eat dinner there, too. While he's eating, Squid comes in and sits on the stool next to him at the counter; Karl gets the staff to make him a meal.
    • Karl and Squid talk about Karl's feelings regarding the uproar in Gratz's class and his letter and how he feels like he's betraying his friends. He wishes Squid luck at his football game.
    • Karl serves food to a big post-movie crowd after Casablanca lets out, then kicks back and decides to read Huckleberry Finn. He decides that if Huck lived in Lightsburg today and went to their school, he'd definitely be a Madman. Listening to his story of abuse is like hearing a new person's tales of woe at a therapy meeting.
    • Philbin's idea of opening the drugstore for the movie crowd works. They even get some kids from the school in after the game. He slaps Karl on the back and tells him they'll do it again the next night.
  • Chapter 17

    Tonto Joins the All-Faggot Midnight Softball League

    • Karl is about to leave Philbin's for the night when Cheryl and Marti show up and tell him there's an emergency with Paul. After the game, he had a bad fight with his dad about being a drum major instead of a football player.
    • This can only mean one thing—the Madmen have to rescue Paul.
    • We're not sure exactly what they do as part of said missions to rescue Paul, but we know it involves a baseball bat, so it can't be good.
    • If you're feeling like you just got dropped in the middle of another Madman story, you're not alone—Marti kind of feels that way, too. So, here's a basic rundown:
    • Paul does theater and music at Lightsburg High, and his dad likes to show up for his plays and events and heckle him afterward for being an embarrassment to their family. Paul is really sensitive and usually responds by going up to Toledo to cruise the gay circuit.
    • This usually works out well for Paul. Sometimes a guy takes him home for a couple days and even buys him new clothes, but sometimes, it just ends badly. Like the time some football players followed him up to Toledo and beat him up.
    • Cheryl is also essential to the plan because in spite of the fact that he prefers guys, Paul likes her, and for some reason, he'll listen to her when she reasons with him about coming home.
    • The baseball bat is also essential. Due to the aforementioned incident with Karl beating the poop out of Al the Quarterback, football players are kind of scared of Karl with blunt objects.
    • When they get to the gay cruise strip in Toledo, they start looking for Paul. They have to go around the block twice before they see him getting out of a Cadillac. He sees them and immediately looks angry.
    • Cheryl and Marti get out of the car to chase after him, while Karl keeps the bat handy and also holds Cheryl's purse for her.
    • They bring Paul back. As they're about to leave, a girl sneaks up behind Karl. It's Bonny, with Squid and Danny in tow.
    • Here's what happened: Bonny broke up with her boyfriend, Chip, because he said he was going to Toledo to go beat up gay people. She immediately got everyone together as a back-up team to rescue Paul. The gang is united.
  • Chapter 18

    Tales the Madmen Never Tell

    • As per Madmen tradition, the group goes to a Denny's in Maumee to celebrate another successful rescue of Paul.
    • Part of this ritual involves retelling the story of what just happened, but since Marti is new, they end up telling her about a dozen additional Madmen legends as well.
    • They start talking about the new therapist they'll be meeting next week. Her name is Leslie Schwinn, and she's fresh out of a fast-track shrink program, which basically means she knows absolutely nothing.
    • Paul makes a snide remark about how they'll find out on Monday, except for Karl, who has his ticket out. He then calls Karl's mom crazy.
    • Karl is really ticked at Paul for bringing this up and feels like he has to defend himself (and, oddly enough, his mom). He basically tells Paul to back off.
    • It doesn't work. Paul continues trying to pick a fight with him. Cheryl tries to extricate herself from the situation by asking if anyone needs a ride home, and Karl takes the opportunity to leave and goes with her and Squid in her car.
    • On the way home, Squid conks out after a long day of school, work, and playing football. Cheryl tells Karl that he is still her friend and knows that he still cares about the group, even Paul.
    • Karl tells Cheryl about the fight he had with Paul and breaks down crying. Instead of taking him home, Cheryl drives him to the tar pond outside town to talk about the Paul situation.
    • Unfortunately, the tar pond is also where people go to make out, so Karl is understandably panicked when Stacy, one of the popular girls, sees them in a car there together.
    • When Cheryl takes him back to his house, Karl sees his mom's suitcase sitting on the porch—without his mom. Uh-oh. This can't be good.
    • Inside, Karl's mom is lying on the couch hugging herself, still all dressed up for her trip and surrounded by her cat army. Basically, Bill stood her up, and she got drunk as a result.
    • Karl tells his mom she needs a shower and sleep, then goes up to get ready for bed himself. He finds that the mystery cat has pooped on his bed and peed all over his throw rug, and he begins to think about his plan to find out which one it is and deposit him in the cat cemetery.
  • Part 4, Chapter 19

    Love, Waffles, Capitalism, Scooby-Doo, and a Grave in the Rain (Saturday, September 8, 1973)

    • Karl wakes up on Saturday morning and realizes he's slept late—it's 10:30 a.m., and he should already be at job number two for the day. Oops.
    • He's about to start freaking out and putting on his pants when he realizes it's raining and the jobs he has to do are outdoors. So, no work today. Phew.
    • When he goes downstairs, he finds something very bizarre going on: His mom is making waffles, which hasn't happened since his dad died. To make things perfect, Karl runs down the street to the grocery store to get strawberry syrup and whipped cream.
    • Karl and his mom have a shockingly normal morning of eating waffles together and watching cartoons. No talk about Bill or money or Nixon and UFOs. They watch Scooby-Doo and Road Runner and enjoy the normalcy of the whole thing.
    • Then, things get serious: His mom tells him the story of meeting Karl's dad while wiping down the counter at Philbin's, and they talk about when Karl's parents used to fight a lot when he was a kid.
    • And then, just like that, the other shoe drops, and we're back to chaos again. Karl's mom screams from the kitchen, and he comes in to find her crying about the mangled corpse of a cat outside.
    • Karl goes outside to bury the cat; he can hear his mom cranking up music inside and smells pot. Yup. Things are back to normal … or whatever version of normal this is.
    • After reading some more of Huckleberry Finn, Karl gets ready to head out for his AA meeting. On the porch, he runs into a stranger who has to be Bill and is carrying a dozen roses. Karl is just glad it isn't booze.
    • Karl snidely tells him that his mom's suitcase is still packed and heads to his meeting.
  • Chapter 20

    You Can't Throw Away a Great Deal Like That

    • Karl goes to his AA meeting and listens to some testimonies, including Dick's story, which is that he basically drank his family and job away before realizing he needed to get some help.
    • Afterward, Karl and Dick go to Pongo's for dinner and visit until Dick has to leave for a date. He offers to buy Karl and Darla dinner.
    • Darla and Karl sit in a booth in the back so Darla can smoke. They talk about Huckleberry Finn, and then Darla starts having a dirty conversation about Karl with Mr. Babbitt. Um, weird.
    • They talk about Karl's ticket out of therapy, and Darla feels like an idiot for calling Gratz names and missing out on the deal. She also tells him he's going to miss out on all the reruns of the Madmen's bizarre stories.
    • Darla goes off on a tangent about what a bad person she is and what she almost did to her brother. Then, she checks to make sure no one is listening to their conversation and launches into a new topic—somebody told Darla what Karl does to cats down by the river.
    • Wait … Karl does stuff to cats by a river? According to rumors that are flying around the school, yes—he does a repeat performance of Squid's bunny with his mom's cats.
    • We've spent enough time with this guy to know that while he may be an unreliable narrator, he's probably not a cat killer, especially since he's been debating whether or not it's right to want to kill the bed-pooping cat.
    • Karl tries to explain to Darla that it's a raccoon killing all of the cats, but she doesn't believe him. She asks if he killed a dog, too, as well as various other small animals. And here's the really weird part: She seems turned on by it.
    • She also thinks he got his letter so that he could stay out of therapy and not get caught doing bad things to animals.
    • Then, it gets downright spooky: She asks if she can come along the next time he kills a cat and then lists the things she wants to do afterward. We'll skip the gory details because you're probably traumatized enough from reading them in the book.
    • On her way out of Pongo's, Darla hugs Karl in a really intimate way, and Stacy walks in as this happens. She looks horrified. Karl realizes she thinks he's cheating on Cheryl with Darla.
    • Meanwhile, Karl thinks about the good that could come out of this conversation. If he can figure out who the bed-pooping cat is, he can kill it, invite Darla along, and lose his virginity to her all at once.
    • Hmm, maybe there's something to his Psycho nickname after all.
  • Chapter 21

    How Many Madman Stories Ever Made Sense?

    • Karl wanders out of Pongo's and is thinking about Darla's cat-killing sex proposition when he's ambushed by Tierden and Harris. They start talking smack about the Madmen, but things get really ugly when they start saying things about Karl's mom.
    • Karl is about to beat them senseless when old Mr. Browning comes outside and stops him. Tierden and Harris give him the finger and disappear.
    • Meanwhile, Browning invites Karl in to see what he's done to Rose's couch, so they head inside and he puts some coffee on.
    • Browning tells Karl that he saw him freak out on those guys when they insulted his mom. He tries to explain to him that the way she is isn't her fault or Karl's.
    • Really, he's just trying to be nice, but Karl gets mad because he thinks Browning is judging his mom. He tells Browning to leave him alone and exits his shop.
    • Karl starts to head for home when he realizes that doing so means he's likely to find his mom and Bill having sex and smoking pot. He's due at Philbin's in an hour and decides to just head over now and maybe read more of Huckleberry Finn.
    • When he gets to Philbin's, he finds Mr. Philbin arguing with an older, blonde hippie lady about why he doesn't care more for herbal medicines. She looks like she could be Karl's mom a few years back.
    • It turns out she is a mom—Marti's mom. She brushes Karl off when he says how much he likes Marti but then rhapsodizes about what an amazing woman his mom is. Karl politely tells her that he's always happy when his mom makes a friend.
    • Just like the previous night, the movie theater draws a good crowd to Philbin's; after the second show, almost the entire place is full.
    • Karl is not surprised when he sees Paul and Marti sitting in the back. Then, he notices all of the other Madmen are on their date with them. He takes their order and makes some jokes about calling it the Madman Special.
    • Really, he feels kind of weird about them all being out in public together in town. Now, it's going to be obvious that the Madmen are their own group. He figures Paul made that decision.
    • He goes back to talk to the Madmen after the crowd thins out, and they explain things. It was actually Marti's idea for them to be friends in public and stop worrying about what people think.
    • Meanwhile, since Karl works at Philbin's on the weekends now, they've decided to become the Saturday movie gang and come in, then all hang out when he gets off.
    • After work, Karl catches up with Paul and apologizes for calling him an offensive name related to his sexuality. Paul says it's OK because it's true—he thinks girls are pretty, but that's about it.
    • Karl asks Paul if he likes him in the way he likes other guys. Paul says he does but that he'd never pursue anything because he knows that being straight is who Karl is.
    • What he has decided to pursue, though, is the Madmen. He says he saw Gratz go off on Marti the day before and decided he couldn't give up their group. Really, he's been scared that he's ruined his friendship with Karl beyond repair as a result of trying to.
    • Karl and Paul make up and start hugging on the sidewalk when Stacy drives by and sees them. Now, she thinks he's cheating on Cheryl with Darla and Paul. Ugh.
    • They talk about Marti and how they're glad she's part of the group. Paul says part of him is actually in love with her, which doesn't make sense with him being gay.
    • Karl tells Paul about Darla's proposition to kill a cat and have sex. Suddenly, things feel like old times again.
    • When Karl gets home, he finds a note from his mom that says she and Bill have gone off to Put-in-Bay after all. He and Paul hang out and talk about this latest development in his mom's life.
    • Actually, they talk about everything and everyone on the planet until they both fall asleep.
  • Part 5, Chapter 22

    Paradise Lost, Beds***ter Found, Paradise Regained (Sunday, September 9, 1973)

    • Paul and Karl get up around 8:00 a.m. and eat cereal while making fun of the religious programs on TV. Fun fact: Apparently, the world was supposed to end in 1980.
    • Paul gets paid to sing at his church, so he has to shake a leg. Before he leaves, he tells Karl that the stuff that happened the previous week is officially over and when they're Browning's age, they'll still be buddies.
    • With Paul gone, Karl gets started on re-glazing the storm windows, one of the tasks his dad left behind for him to do to take care of the house. He decides to get it done by the time Darla gets off work at 2:00 p.m.
    • Obviously, he's still thinking about her offer—you know, the whole cat-killing-and-sex one.
    • Marti's mom calls and leaves a really complex message for Karl's mom that involves Nixon, the Bermuda Triangle, and getting together that night to smoke pot and get drunk. Typical.
    • He's in the middle of taking down the message when Bill's car rolls up in front of his house. He and Karl's mom come in, and Karl gladly passes the phone call off to her and goes back outside.
    • His intention is to get going on the storm windows, but then Bill comes outside and decides he wants to chitchat since Karl's mom is wrapped up in her talk with Marti's mom.
    • Bill needs to talk to Karl's mom before he leaves, so he helps Karl with the windows until then. He confesses that he stood up Karl's mom Friday night because he got scared she'd reject him and went and drank all night instead.
    • He also met her in a bar a couple nights before that. At least he's honest that he has a drinking problem. Karl figures their relationship will last about a week, which is sad because Bill is a step up from the other guys she's dated.
    • Because of the help, Karl gets done with enough time to shower and change before going to Pongo's to meet Darla. He takes a shower and fantasizes about her boobs. Hey, we're just being real here, guys.
    • After the shower, Karl goes into his room and catches Hairball, the cat that's kind of his, taking a poop on his bed and staring innocently at Karl. This makes him feel all kinds of weird—now, he's going to have to kill his cat in order to get it on with Darla.
    • Still, his desire to have sex with Darla trumps his feelings for the cat, and he puts Hairball in a pillowcase and calls Darla, telling her the cat has been acquired and he's ready.
    • He takes along a box cutter and garden shears. He's unsure of exactly what to do, but he'll figure it out when he gets there.
  • Chapter 23

    Water Under the Bridge, Letting the Cat out of the Bag, Everyone's Beautiful Naked, and Several Other Clichés

    • Darla wastes no time getting down to business when she picks up Karl in her car. They immediately make out, and she talks about her afternoon plans of cat killing and sex.
    • Darla has brought Karl a gigantic Pongo's burger, saying he needs to keep up his strength. Then, she tells him she's been thinking about this since he killed Squid's bunny in eighth grade. Geez, this is weird.
    • They go down to a bridge, and Darla takes off her clothes while Karl eats. Hairball pokes his head out and starts licking the grease dripping off the burger.
    • Darla says the cat is gross and understands why he wants to kill him. Without thinking, Karl tells her that he actually doesn't want to—and then realizes it's true. All of a sudden, Darla standing in front of him naked doesn't seem worth it.
    • Karl asks Darla what this is really about because he's starting to think there's more to this than a cat-killing fetish.
    • She tells him that when she goes to college, she wants to be a legend, with all kinds of whacked-out stories about stuff she did, and having sex with the school cat-killer was one of her ideas.
    • Then, she puts the whole thing together and realizes that Karl would rather keep the cat than have sex with her.
    • Darla starts talking about the whole thing with her brother and how she felt slighted and neglected when he was born before figuring out that her mom actually didn't want either of them.
    • She tells a story about her brother crying in court when he realized that they were going to take him away from his hillbilly foster family, and she starts crying.
    • She makes one more comment about Karl liking the cat better than her, and Karl confesses that he just can't kill Hairball. Darla thinks it's gross.
    • Darla asks him to turn his back like a gentleman while she gets dressed. When he does, she kicks him in the back and screams obscenities at him, then takes off running, naked, and drives away in her car.
    • To make things worse, Karl gets the sensation that someone is watching him. He looks up and sees Stacy looking over the bridge.
    • Just to recap, according to the way things must look, Karl cheated on Cheryl with Paul and is now also having a side thing with Darla. Awesome.
    • Karl drives home with Hairball hanging onto him for dear life and cries the whole way.
    • When he gets home, he finds his mom in his bedroom and is about to freak out over her potentially taking more of his money when she makes a comment about Hairball being alive.
    • Wait … How did she know what he was going to do?
    • He also notices that his mom tore up his dad's directions for taking care of the house. Now, they're just staring at each other, and things are getting really awkward.
    • Karl's mom tells him that she knows he's been killing the cats and even read a book about teenage boys who like to torture animals. Karl tries to explain that, for the last time, it was a raccoon, but she doesn't seem interested in believing that he just buried them.
    • Then, she grabs the pillowcase, and the box cutter and shears fall out. Uh-oh. That can't look good.
    • So, he does the only thing he can: As uncomfortable as it is, he tells her the whole warped Darla story.
    • His mom explains where Darla got the idea that he's a cat-killer. It's summed up in one word: Neil, her on-again, off-again moron boyfriend.
    • He started a rumor that Karl killed cats, and the whole town has been debating behind his back whether he's a vicious murderer of animals or just a weirdo. Awesome.
    • Then, his mom confesses something else: She saw him take Hairball out of the house and went crazy over the idea that he was going to kill him and went outside and smashed all of the storm windows.
    • She takes him outside and shows him. Karl, surprisingly, doesn't get mad. He says he'll get Browning to help him transport the new glass so that a hearse can pull up in front of the house of the old guy next door. Both of them have a good laugh over this.
    • They try to put his dad's list of chores back together, but it's no use—the paper is too dry and practically disintegrates. Karl's mom apologizes for neglecting him and tells him that she knows the last few years have been horrible for him.
    • Something snaps in Karl just then, and he runs outside and keeps running until he gets to the city park and can't run anymore. He stays there until it gets dark and he gets hungry.
    • Truthfully, Karl feels ashamed of his behavior. His mom just acted like a normal mom for the first time since his dad died and he ran out of the house. That had to have sent her into a tailspin, and she's probably out getting drunk now.
    • He decides it's probably best that he not go home, so he makes plans to do his shift at McDonald's and then get a room at the hotel downtown. He decides he'll figure out how to handle the situation with his mom later.
    • While finishing up his McDonald's shift, Marti shows up. Her parents had a huge fight about her mom contaminating her dad's "genius blood" with "crazy drunken whore blood" and ruining Marti.
    • She snapped and drove halfway to Cleveland, then realized she didn't have enough gas to make it there. Karl invites Marti to share his room at the hotel for the night, and they head over when his shift is over.
    • At the hotel, Marti brings up the subject of what to do about showers and pajamas. They decide to take showers, then sleep naked to avoid having to sleep in their dirty clothes.
    • Marti asks Karl to rub her acne cream into a sore on her back. He thinks two things: First, that Marti is actually beautiful, and second, God must have a serious sense of humor. He got to touch a naked girl today, after all.
    • There's a thunderstorm, and Marti admits to being a little scared of them. She and Karl fall asleep holding hands.
  • Part 6, Chapter 24

    The Long End of the Stick Isn't So Hot Either (Monday, September 10, 1973)

    • Marti and Karl wake up to the police banging on the door of their hotel room. Yup, you read that right. Just when this story couldn't possibly get more messed up, it does.
    • They're scrambling to get into their clothes, but the hotel owner uses her key to unlock the door and a parade of cops, Marti's and Karl's moms, and Bill come in. Two kids stumbling into their clothes with the sheets in a hotel bedroom all messed up? Yeah, it looks pretty bad.
    • Marti's mom freaks out and starts asking what Karl did to her daughter. Then, Karl's mom gets mad at her for insinuating bad things about Karl. Really, Marti's mom is just interested in how quickly they can get her daughter a pregnancy test.
    • Then, everyone except Marti starts yelling at each other and fighting about whether Karl or Marti is to blame for this situation. Great. Just when we got to the bottom of the cat-killing rumor.
    • Bill finally breaks through the insanity and point-blank asks Marti and Karl if they had sex. They both say "no" rather loudly and also affirm that they did not come there for the purpose of having sex.
    • Marti's mom, however, refuses to believe this and insists they go to the hospital for a pregnancy test or to check for STDs. Then, Karl's mom insists the same thing because there's no telling what diseases Marti gave him.
    • To keep the peace between their moms, they go to the hospital. A police officer attempts to tell the moms that he thinks Karl and Marti's testimony can be trusted, but they are too busy fighting over whether Karl got Marti pregnant or Marti got an STD from him.
    • Even though he's told that the test is relatively uncomfortable, Karl agrees to get checked for STDs. It's not a nice procedure. That's really all you need to know.
    • Bill takes Karl and his mom to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. Karl's mom hasn't had a drink in several days and isn't doing well, so Bill agrees to take her home and drop Karl at school.
  • Chapter 25

    A Completely Normal Monday, If You Happen to Be a Madman

    • Bill drops off Karl at school. He's taken the entire day off from work and has a conversation with Karl about going to Port Clinton for bad Chinese food sometime. Karl decides that when his mom inevitably gets rid of Bill, he'll miss him.
    • There's a crowd gathered at the front entrance to the school and everyone gets super quiet when Karl shows up. Looks like the news about him and Marti getting busted naked at the hotel traveled fast.
    • Paul's really mad because Karl allegedly slept with his girlfriend (even though he's not really into girls), and just 48 hours after agreeing to end their fight, they're punching the daylights out of each other in front of the school.
    • Now everyone is going to be talking about how the gay guy beat up the psycho. It just keeps getting worse.
    • In his locker, Karl finds Gratz's ticket to get him out of therapy. He takes it out of his locker and brings it to Gratz's class, where he puts it down on the desk in front of him.
    • Karl tells him that he doesn't know if he's on drugs or what, but he can't stop thinking that Huckleberry Finn is about two gay guys on a raft. Gratz promptly puts the letter in the trash and tells him to get to therapy.
    • Karl walks into therapy and announces that he just disrupted Gratz's class and is now back in the group. Immediately, he and Paul make up and apologize for punching each other out.
    • Meanwhile, the girls are concerned about how Marti is going to be viewed by the whole school post-hotel incident. Squid and Danny, though, are celebrating the fact that the fight with Karl did a lot for Paul's image.
    • Darla is also blaming Karl for the whole thing about Marti's inevitable harassment at school. Probably because she's bitter about the cat killing sex not panning out.
    • At that moment, their new therapist, Leslie Schwinn, walks through the door. She looks like a sorority girl and obviously has no clue what she's getting into—and then she commits therapy suicide by actually admitting this to the group out loud.
    • Dr. Leslie starts talking about spending the day "building the group." Um, they're not exactly strangers and apparently nobody told her this.
    • The group grabs control of the conversation and starts talking to each other—Darla and Marti even realize both their parents are rich and that they both hate Karl and decide to be BFFs like forever.
    • The room kind of explodes as the Madmen take over the session and share their individual problems with the doc. When it's Karl's turn, he brings the Marti situation to the group's attention.
    • Marti admits that while nothing happened, she wanted something to happen because Karl was a gentleman and made her feel beautiful.
    • Together, they decide that the other girls will have Marti's back and stop the gossip in its tracks, while Paul and Karl will make a big deal out of being friends again so everyone can see that nothing really did happen and Marti and Paul will try to salvage their relationship. Whew.
    • Ultimately, Danny reminds everyone that this is high school and within a day or two, everyone will have moved onto the next piece of hot gossip.
    • After therapy, Darla grabs Karl by the shirt, holds up Mr. Babbitt, and demands that he tell her whether what Marti said about him was true. He says it is. She then rants about possibly wanting to still go out with Karl and kisses him in the hall.
    • Danny makes a comment about the female praying mantis eating the male's head before sex. Looks like everything's back where it's supposed to be.
  • Chapter 26

    How Uncle Al Became My Favorite Hollering Asshole, and Vice Versa

    • By noon, Karl's rumored hotel rendezvous with Marti and hallway make-out session with Darla are the talk of the entire school, though no one has said anything about the incidents with Cheryl, Paul, and naked Darla. Apparently, Stacy isn't talking.
    • They stick to the plan the group developed in therapy: Karl repeatedly explains that they didn't have pajamas and didn't want to sleep in dirty clothes. Also, he and Paul are cool now.
    • Later, Karl runs into Stacy at his locker. Stacy quietly asks him to tell her the whole story. Karl says he will, if she promises to believe it. Then, it kind of seems like she's hitting on him, which is just weird.
    • On his way out of school, Gratz approaches Karl and says he wants to give him a ride home because he has some important things to discuss with him.
    • Here's the short version: After their encounter that morning, Gratz realized Karl was making him want to drink, so he caught a midday AA meeting. There was a new guy there—a college professor named Bill who had a big problem.
    • The thing about AA meetings in a small town is that there aren't any secrets. You immediately know whom everyone's talking about and what happened. So, it's pretty easy for Gratz to figure out that the girlfriend Bill was confused about is Karl's mom.
    • The end result of all of this was that Gratz, Bill, and Dick had a meeting and have a proposal they want to present to Karl. Gratz pulls up to Karl's house, where Dick and Bill are already in the backyard. Karl is so touched by this that he starts crying.
    • Bill explains that earlier in the day, his mom was already lining up a trip to the bar with Marti's mom, whom she's apparently friendly with again. She also asked Bill to help her look for Karl's stashes of money.
    • In the past, his mom's boyfriends have been such deadbeats that they've just gone along with this. Not Bill. He refused, stormed out, and went to AA, where he met Gratz and Dick.
    • There's more. Bill also went snooping in Karl's room and found his book of IOUs. Karl tells him he would always leave it in plain sight because he wanted his mom to read it and feel guilty.
    • The guys tell Karl they didn't know he didn't have his money in a bank account or that there were obstacles to this happening. Suddenly, he becomes stunned by the fact that someone actually wants to do something about this situation.
    • Here's the plan: Karl is going to open up an account in the bank in a nearby town with "Uncle Al"—aka Coach Gratz—as his cosigner. And they're doing this tonight before the bank closes.
    • Overwhelmed, Karl goes through the house grabbing all of his hidden cans of money.
    • Gratz explains that he doesn't want Karl to keep more than a couple days' worth of earnings in the house at a time and to make a deposit in the bank three times a week. If he doesn't have a ride, one of the guys will take him.
    • He also thinks that if Karl's mom can't get to his money, a lot of her shady friends will stop partying with her, and the whole situation will calm down a lot.
    • They are also debating whether it's a good idea to confront Neil about enabling his mom, but they are on the fence about whether that would alienate her completely. For obvious reasons, Karl wants total revenge.
    • After Dick gets off at Philbin's that night, they're also going to have a long overdue talk with his mom that she's likely not going to appreciate.
    • Gratz and Karl go to the bank and deposit his money, then get sub sandwiches and walk around the park. Karl asks him if there's a way he could help Marti. Then, he realizes that doing so would mean betraying his friends.
    • Gratz and Karl agree that if Karl knows something is going on, he'll be Gratz's informant and tell him, and they'll keep Karl's name out of it. At least then, they can get someone unrelated involved who can help.
    • They talk a little about Karl's dad and how he only cleaned up his life when he found out he was dying. Karl used to feel offended that it took death to make him realize he needed to spend time with his son; now, he just feels glad to have had his dad for the time he did.
    • When Gratz drops him off at home, Karl decides to clean the kitchen. It will be a nice surprise for when his mom comes home.
  • Chapter 27

    I Love the McDonald's Crowd, I Always Feel Like I'm Coming Home Here

    • That night, Karl is at work at McDonald's when the whole Madman Underground shows up at the front window. Surprise.
    • He goes outside, and Marti explains that they're there so Paul and Karl can officially make up in front of the whole group.
    • Also, the cops came by Cheryl's to talk to her dad. It seems his car was caught cruising the gay strip in Toledo. Gee, how did that happen?
    • Karl and Paul officially shake hands and declare themselves friends again. To celebrate, Bonny tells Karl to fake out the McDonald's time clock so they can go down to the tar pond.
    • They're about to put the plan in motion when Harris and Tierden drive by to splash water from the puddle onto the windows. Since everyone is in the parking lot, they all get nailed. Squid chases after the car, and Marti throws mud.
    • They never make it out to the tar pond. Instead, they just hang out at McDonald's and talk all night.
    • Darla gives Karl a ride home and kisses him before he gets out of the car. We're not sure if there's going to be a Madman Underground 2, but we're pretty sure these two are getting together.
    • Inside the house, Bill and his mom are watching TV on the couch. His mom asks Karl to wake them up when he gets up the next day. That's going to be at about 5:30 a.m. since he has to help Browning with Rose's couch.
    • Karl (and Hairball) head up to his room and go to bed. He's going to get less than four hours of sleep, but he doesn't regret the time he spent with his friends.