I ask my wife why she picked me out of all the Shane Hintons she could have had.
I think about them, sometimes. I run searches on the internet, look at their social networking profiles, the records of their arrests, their notices of engagement, the results of their college sports careers. They are a little bit like me, maybe.
My wife is beautiful and could have been with the Shane Hinton from Iowa who is a basketball coach, or the Shane Hinton from New Jersey who sells health insurance. They both make more money than I do, and are more handsome. They are better at combing their hair. Their beards grow in thicker and they weigh at least fifteen pounds less than me.
I ask my wife why she picked me and she doesn’t answer, but that’s okay. There are some things you don’t want to know, even though you ask your wife over and over again in a whispered voice while she sleeps. There are some things you can’t help asking your wife until she wakes up and pushes you to the other side of the bed.
Shane Hinton is a convicted rapist and former boxer. The newspaper articles about him are especially unflattering. I write him a letter, but my wife doesn’t want him to know our address.
“He gets out of prison in a few months,” she says.
“Montana is a long way from here,” I say.
“Not by plane,” my wife says.
I have to agree.
Shane Hinton is a high school football star who slams his motorcycle into a minivan around the corner from our house. He dies instantly, leaving a blood stain on the pavement that I drive over on my way to work. Someone paints his name and jersey number on a stone wall by the road.
The road is lined with mourners. They park their cars and stand in a circle around his blood stain. One of them yells at me to slow down as I drive by. I yell back that they should get out of the road. It’s silly to stand around a blood stain.
I go to the high school and find a trophy of his on display outside the office. Next to it is a picture of him, kneeling in the grass with his pads on, holding a football on his knee. An administrator comes out of the office.
“Friend of the family?” the administrator asks.
“Kind of,” I say.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” he says.
I drive home past the blood stain. Within a week, the rain washes it away.
Shane Hinton survives a gas station explosion in Pennsylvania. “I smelled smoke and knew something was wrong, so I got the hell out of there. Right after I crossed the street, she went up. I felt the shockwave in my shins.”
I download the article onto my hard drive and label the file “Shane Hinton shockwave.”
Shane Hinton comes to the house to install our new toilets.
“Are you named after the movie?” I ask.
“Shane is a derivative of John,” he says.
“Like John the Baptist?” I ask.
He nods. “That will be one hundred dollars,” he says.
I compile a list of Shane Hintons in a word processor document and send the same query to them all:
Do you realize that your initials are the same as the first two letters of your first name?
Do people always call you Sean? How do you respond?
Has my wife tried to contact you?
Of course I trust my wife, but sometimes it’s good to make sure.
Shane Hinton is a charity marathon organizer in Tennessee. I send him the questionnaire and a check for five dollars. I write: “I know it’s not much, but this is the best I can do right now. I hope this makes a meaningful difference in the fight to cure cancer.”
He writes back: “About six months ago, your wife sent a check for twenty dollars. People always call me Sean. It kind of hurts my feelings.”
One of the Shane Hintons I send the questionnaire to suggests we organize a festival. We could have a barbecue contest and ride our bicycles together, he says. I send out a mass email and the response is enthusiastic. The basketball coach wants to make sure we have plenty of sports equipment.
“We do if you’re willing to bring it,” I write.
He writes that gas is so expensive that he might as well fly. We can all tell that he’s fishing for someone else to offer to bring the equipment.
No one does.
We set the date a couple of months before the rapist is released from prison. We don’t necessarily want to exclude him, and several of us believe strongly that people deserve second chances, but it also makes us uncomfortable to think about that guy around our wives and daughters. The health insurance salesman is bringing his grandmother. We agree that we don’t want the rapist Shane Hinton around his grandmother.
Probably nothing would happen, we tell each other, but it’s best to be on the safe side. A bunch of us really do believe in second chances.
My wife handles the graphic design for the invitations and the signs that we’ll hang over the different activity stations. She spends hours looking at fonts and picks ones she thinks will make people laugh.
“Look at this one,” she says.
“That’s funny,” I say.
“You didn’t laugh.”
“I laughed a little bit,” I say. “It was just down in my chest, so you couldn’t hear it.”
I file paperwork with the city and call rental companies to see about bringing tables and chairs, an inflatable castle for people who bring kids, and canopies for people to get out of the sun. The guy at the rental company wants to know what the event is for.
“It’s for all the Shane Hintons I could find on the internet who could get the time off work,” I say.
“I’m a Shane Hinton,” he says.
“You can bring two guests. We didn’t invite the rapist, so don’t mention it to him.”
“I won’t,” he says.
I practice my barbecue recipe every Sunday. The trick is low heat, I tell myself. You have to take your time.
My wife hates barbecue, but finishes everything on her plate. That’s why I love her.
She gets the proofs of the invitations back from the printer and she isn’t happy with the bleed, so she asks for a discount.
It saves us a lot of money.
I get a phone call from a blocked number. No one talks when I answer, but I can hear something in the background that sounds like a laundromat. “Hello,” I say, over and over. A dryer buzzes and the call ends. I tell my wife about it, but she’s busy making a rubric for the barbecue contest and a schedule for the bicycle ride and three-legged race.
There is still a lot of work to be done, and most of the Shane Hintons who have said they will help us are slow to respond to emails.
A week before the event, Shane Hintons start arriving on planes from around the country. “It’s so temperate here,” a Shane Hinton from Quebec says. He takes his family to a theme park and they all get terrible sunburns.
A Shane Hinton from Kansas City shows up and assumes he’s staying with us. He says he’s in imports and exports, but I think he’s probably a drug dealer. Who imports or exports anything from Kansas City?
I don’t want to be rude, so I fold out our futon for him. “The black spot is just dirt from our dog,” I say. “If you wake up smelling dog, it’s probably just the black spot.” The drug dealer Shane Hinton doesn’t seem to mind. Packages start coming in the mail addressed to him and he won’t let me watch when he opens them. At night he sits on the back porch and smokes something out of a light bulb.
“He makes me feel itchy,” I say to my wife in bed, quietly, because our house is small and sound carries well.
“He’ll be gone in a few days,” my wife says. I curl up next to her.
“Why do you smell like Kansas City?” I ask. She pretends to be asleep.
The day finally arrives and I spend all morning hanging signs around the park. My wife tells people where they can set up their grills.
At the opening ceremony, I try to break a bottle of champagne against the podium. After two or three whacks, I give up and uncork the bottle.
“I’m so glad you’re all here,” I say into the microphone, holding back tears. “There have been so many times––in line at the post office, driving on the freeway, watching someone load grocery bags into a minivan––that I thought I was the only Shane Hinton in the world. It makes my life a lot more bearable to know there are Shane Hintons all over the country.”
My wife takes the bottle of champagne and lifts it to her lips. A little bit dribbles down her chin as she takes a long pull. “Registration for the three-legged race is at the table by the big oak tree,” she says. She heads for the oak tree, where a line of Shane Hintons begins to form.
We get carried away telling jokes and stories and decide to start the bicycle ride a little bit late. The park has tall boardwalks that go over the river and the swampland. Birds have flown in from up north and sit with their wings open, waiting to grab fish that swim too close to the surface. The riders stick together in a tight pack. We pedal and lean in formation.
A Shane Hinton from Maine who is a lighthouse attendant hits a loose board and goes flying over the handlebars. Two more Shane Hintons run over him and also hit the ground. Most of the rest are able to stop in time, but just barely. The lighthouse attendant probably has a broken clavicle, a nurse Shane Hinton from South Carolina says. We decide that’s enough bicycle riding and head back to the picnic area, wiping blood from our scrapes.
Back at the picnic area someone is sitting with my wife at the registration table. They are the only two there. Everyone else went on the bicycle ride.
When we get closer, I recognize him from his mug shot.
He isn’t supposed to be out yet, I think. He must know what I’m thinking, because he says, “Good behavior,” then winks at my wife. She looks uncomfortable.
None of the Shane Hintons admit to inviting him.
The barbecue contest goes okay. We all eat too much and the prize goes to a restaurant-owning Shane Hinton from Oklahoma, which doesn’t surprise anyone. The rest of the Shane Hintons seem to be having a good time. Their kids pull at their arms and ask to go play in the inflatable castle. I speak to a couple of the Shane Hintons and we decide it’s best if we post someone at the castle to make sure that the rapist doesn’t end up there by himself.
We really do believe in second chances, but these are kids we’re talking about.
The three-legged race has to be canceled because no one wants to be paired with the rapist. “Come on, guys,” I say. “He’s probably not going to rape anyone here. I bet he’s changed a lot.”
Someone asks why I don’t volunteer, but I don’t want to be paired with him either. “Come on, guys, I’m already with the drug dealer. He smells funny. I’m taking one for the team.” I look at the drug dealer and say, “No offense. I think it’s just the drugs.”
“Imports and exports,” the drug dealer says.
“Right,” I say. “I think it’s the imports and exports.”
Things get heated when the rapist is caught spying on the health insurance salesman’s grandmother in the bathroom. “You’ve crossed the line,” the health insurance salesman says. “How could you? That’s my grandmother. Now she’s never going to be able to use a public bathroom again without thinking of your big, stupid face.”
The rapist crosses his arms over his chest and a vein in his forehead pops out. A few of us grab the health insurance salesman before he does something regrettable and walk him and his grandmother out to the parking lot.
“It’s been fun meeting you all, but this isn’t a safe place for us anymore,” he says.
“We’re going to miss you at the closing ceremony,” I say. “There will be pie.”
“We’ll get a slice at the airport,” the health insurance salesman says.
The closing ceremony is quiet and boring. My wife has a bunch of novelty awards, but they all seem inappropriate now: “Most Mustache,” “Roughest Jeans,” “Loudest High Five.” She pushes the box under the podium and doesn’t tell anybody who won. No one seems to care anyway.
The sun goes down and the Shane Hintons set off a few half-hearted fireworks before the park ranger tells them to stop. They pack up their picnic baskets and load the trunks of their rental cars and give each other hugs and tell each other to expect Christmas cards. The rapist sits on a bench by the parking lot, watching everyone leave.
I take the box of novelty awards and sit down beside him. “It’s not that I think you’re a bad person,” I say, “but you kind of ruined everything.”
He stares straight ahead. “I wasn’t supposed to leave the state,” he says. “They’re going to arrest me when I get back.”
“You can have these,” I say, handing him the box of novelty awards. “Maybe they’ll make you feel better.”
He opens the box and starts taking out ribbons, reading each one out loud. “Best Laugh: Shane Hinton. Longest Hug: Shane Hinton. Weirdest Smell: Shane Hinton. These are all for me?”
I nod. He sets the ribbons down in his lap and starts crying. “I don’t want to go back to prison,” he says.
I touch his shoulder. “Lots of people don’t want lots of things,” I say.
Shane Hinton holds an MFA from the University of Tampa. His first book, Pinkies, will be published by Burrow Press in June 2015.