Mario Stories

Button Day

THE REQUEST: Write about a time when you won something

My mom just wanted me to be cool, you guys. That's all she ever wanted for me.

She just wanted me to be popular and cool.

Popular. Cool.

But here's the problem with my mom wanting me to be cool. I was NOT cool. I have NEVER been cool. And I was never GOING to be cool, either, because I was just such a strange awkward kid.

And I'm sorry, but no amount of my mom dressing me in the most fashionable possible clothes was ever going to change that.

In fact, here's me in 1974, being auditioned for the Sears catalog

Here's me in 1975, as a wee German prince

Here's mom dressing me up as a blue velvet pimp

As you can see from the pictures above, my mom LOVED to dress me up in the most fashionable possible clothes. The coolest suits. The sweetest threads. Just so people outside our family would look at me, and they would think, "You know what? That Mario kid, he's always so cool."

Want a picture of me in a Hugh Hefner bathrobe? Well guess what, mom had one for you.

Need a picture of me as the king of all clown babies? Well mom had one of those for you, too.

Although in all fairness, I should point out that I wasn't the ONLY one in our family who mom would always try to make fashionable. My little brother got the EXACT same treatment that I did. Mom did her best to make sure he always looked cool, too. And unfortunately, Dom was just as far away from being cool as I ever was, if not even further.

The Brothers Lanza. Basically Garbage Pail Kids.

In fact, for a couple of years in the late seventies, my mom went through a phase where she would always dress my brother and me IN THE EXACT SAME OUTFIT. Which, in retrospect, although cute, also looked completely ridiculous. Because Dom and I DON'T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE ONE ANOTHER. You're only supposed to dress kids alike if they're twins!

I mean, check out my face. Do you think I'm happy about this?

I'm three, and I'm already dead in my eyes. Cause you can't fight this.

So here's my mom. Doing everything she can to make me look trendy, and give off the impression I'm cool.

Hey ladies. 'Sup?

And then meanwhile, here's ME. In reality.

In a picture that is FAR more representative of what type of kid I actually WAS.

A kid who desperately has to go pee

Hey, look. There's the lord of high fashion, picking his butt.

And anyway, let's just say there was always a huuuuuuuuuge divide in how cool my mom THOUGHT I should be, and how cool I actually WAS.

I think we'll let the rainbow mesh shirt speak for itself

And this divide between "how cool my mom THOUGHT I should be" and "how cool I actually WAS" is the theme of this next story. Which is absolutely one of my favorite stories about me and my mom, and our relationship growing up. And how completely far apart we were in who we thought "Mario Lanza" was.

I've written this story before in the past, so if you know me in real life, you're probably already familiar with it. But if you HAVEN'T heard it before, well, get ready to laugh. Because this is absolutely one of the all-time best Mario Stories.

And with that, let's delve into how my mom decided to make me the coolest kid in school one day.

On the infamous... 1981... Button Day.

Buttons. If you're cool you'll own thousands of them.


For this story, we're going back to the fall of 1981. When I was seven years old.

And, more importantly, I had just moved across the state of Washington, from Spokane to Bellevue.

1981 was the year I switched worlds

I was seven years old in this story. And I was in a new city (Bellevue) for the very first time. And I was in a new school (St. Louise Catholic School) for the very first time. And those are VERY important variables as to why this story played out the way that it did.

The "Button Day Debacle" only could have happened the way that it did because I was the new kid.

In fact here I am now, clearly thrilled to be known around St. Louise as "the new kid."

So anyway, I'm in about my third week of second grade at my new school. Which means this probably would have been in October of 1981. Somewhere around there. And obviously, no one in my new second grade class has ANY idea who the hell I am yet. To the kids who have already been in school together for two or three years, I'm just some nobody from somewhere else in the state who's shy, who sits in the back of the class, and who never really says anything. Oh, and who has a weird name. At this point, that's really all that these new St. Louise kids know about me.

Oh yeah, they also knew I had a problem with my time management

So here I am in about my third week at my new school. And I'm a complete nobody. And this was not unusual for me, because I would ALWAYS be a complete nobody. That's just the way that I was when I was a kid, especially as I got older. I never liked to be noticed at school.

And for whatever reason, this idea that I was "a complete nobody at school" really bothered my mom.

Because remember, my mom's NUMBER ONE GOAL IN LIFE was she always wanted me to stand out.

I mean seriously, mom. Where the hell did you even find this?

I mean, seriously. The idea that I, Mario Joseph Lanza, the most amazing, cool, and popular kid in the world, could be a big nobody? That people in my school didn't even know who I was??? To my mom, statements like these were UNACCEPTABLE! In fact, more than being unacceptable, I think they actually just pissed her right the hell off. Whether I was four years old, or whether I was seven years old, or whether I was a teenager, she always seemed to have a chip on her shoulder against anyone who didn't think that I was THE BIG MAN ON CAMPUS.

All hail the big man on campus

My mom believed that I should always be the most popular kid. ALWAYS. Anywhere. At any school I attended, at any camp I attended, hell even if I just rode my bike down to the candy store. She thought that people should just bow down before me, and tremble in awe, because I was the coolest. And you probably assume I'm exaggerating about this, but I'm actually not. If you knew my mom at all, you'll know she was TOTALLY serious about this.

She was flabbergasted that, after three weeks of school, nobody at St. Louise had figured out yet that I was the cool kid.

And if there's one thing you're gonna learn from these stories, it's that you don't want to piss off my mom

So going back to 1981. I'm in about my third week at my new school. And it's announced in the PTA bulletin one morning that the next week at St. Louise is going to be "Spirit Week." Every single day the next week is going to be some "crazy costume day" at school. And the winner of each day is going to wind some type of a prize.

And boy oh boy, you better believe it. My mom INSTANTLY latched onto this thing.

The minute she read about Spirit Week, my mom decided that THIS was how I was going to make my presence known to the world. THIS was going to be my big coming out party, if you will, at my new school. Because she was going to make for goddamn sure that I was going to win at least one of those prizes. I was going to win at least one crazy costume day, maybe, hopefully, in an ideal situation, maybe even all five.

She was going to use EVERY tool in her arsenal to make sure that I became the kid that everyone knew.

And if you don't think we're going A Christmas Story here, you don't know my mom

So anyway, Spirit Week 1981 arrives. And Monday comes along. And Monday is something like "Crazy Hat Day." Whichever kid wears the craziest hat to school wins some big prize. And my mom, of course, knows EXACTLY how I am going to win this. Because my dad has a part time job as a Seafair Clown (long story, don't ask) she takes his big green floppy clown hat, and she decorates it with pom-poms, and she makes me lets me wear it to school.

She is POSITIVE that no other kid is going to show up on Monday with a big pom-pommy clown hat.

Artist's rendition

So I wear the stupid clown hat to school. And for whatever reason, some other kid wins Crazy Hat Day instead of me. I don't remember who he was, or what he wore, specifically, but his hat was clearly a little bit crazier than mine.

And anyway, strike one. Game over.

Crazy Hat Day is done. And my mom I did not win.

And my mom is like... okay you St. Louise fuckers, now it's on.

By the way, at this point in the story, I should probably point out an important fact about my mother. Because to understand why the rest of this story plays out the way the way that it does, you really need to understand this.

You know the phrase, "Well, that escalated quickly"?

Well, let's just say that phrase was only invented because of my mom.

Because we're only ONE day into this contest. And for her, this shit is already personal.

So I come home after the first day of Spirit Week. And I tell my mom that some other kid won. My crazy hat just apparently wasn't crazy enough. And my mom, of course, is PISSED OFF. Right off the bat, she feels that the contest was rigged. She feels that, because our family is new to the school, the judges probably snubbed me, and just voted for one of the more popular kids instead. They just voted for one of their friends. And how DARE they treat her special little prodigy of a son like that. How DARE they crush her little baby bear's dreams.

Important side note:  Naturally, I couldn't have cared about this stupid contest. So I didn't win Crazy Hat Day. Big deal. But this was NOT a sense of largesse that was shared by my mother. My mom LOVED to fight battles for me that I didn't even know I was in. You're going to see that in a lot of these stories. The minute she felt the school had insulted her me, that meant that Spirit Week was now very personal.

And anyway, so yeah.

Unfortunately, these St. Louise people had no idea of the type of fighter they were now up against.

Gloria Lanza's first instinct? Take out the whole school.

Now, unfortunately, I don't remember what day two of Spirit Week was. I'm sure it was something similar to Crazy Hat Day. Maybe it was Crazy Pants Day. Maybe it was something about shoes. I don't really remember.

What I DO remember, of course, is that my mom spent HOURS that second night, putting together an entry that she thought was going to win.

She spent HOURS in her little sewing room on Monday night, putting together my unbeatable new outfit.

Artist's Rendition, Groovy 70's Day

Artist's Rendition, Sir Francis Drake Day

And unfortunately, hey, guess what?

Although my mom tried her best, she I wasn't named the winner on day two. Some more established (aka more popular) St. Louise kid won yet again. And that meant for TWO straight days, some other kid who wasn't me was now the cool kid in school.

And at this point my mom was like, two losses? Two losses in a row?? Two consecutive losses during Spirit Week?!?!?

After two consecutive losses, my already competitive mom was now BLOODTHIRSTY.

Because no matter WHAT happened in the final three days, she I was winning a prize. You better believe it.
You don't challenge the G-Devil and not get the horns.

After two consecutive losses, this was where my mom decided it was time to get serious. This was where she decided, okay, it's now time to finally break out the BIG guns.

Because what happened was, she looked at the calendar to see what the last day of Spirit Week was going to be. What the grand finale was going to be. And there it was. Listed right under Friday on the calendar. In big bold letters.

The grand finale of Spirit Week was "Button Day."

Right there on the spot my mom decided, okay Button Day. Button Day would be hers. Er, I mean, Button Day would be mine. No matter WHAT else happened in the world, on Friday, October whatever, 1981, she was going to abandon all diplomacy, and she was going to declare all out total war on St. Louise Catholic School. And woe be the person or people or clergy member who stood in her our way. Because she was GOING to get me my god damn Spirit Week prize. Her son was GOING to win Button Day.

Side note: By the way, did I mention that my mom was competitive? And not just normal competitive, but... like... scary competitive? To the point that she played in a women's soccer league in the mid 80s, and they eventually asked her to stop playing because she was just WAY too competitive. Oops. Yeah, I probably should have mentioned that.

It's a staged picture, but it's a pretty good recreation of my mom being asked not to play soccer anymore

Oh yeah, and for the record, you might find yourself wondering "Why Button Day? Why was Button Day the day that jumped out at her?" Well to be honest, it was because that was the one day of Spirit Week that was a little bit different. You see, Button Day was the only day of Spirit Week where the winner wasn't going to arbitrarily be decided by a judge. The winner of Button Day would be determined... and this is important... solely by the kid who wore the most buttons.

In other words, it was the only contest all week that wouldn't be decided on the whims of a judge. On Button Day, she would be able to overwhelm the competition with numbers, and win quite easily. Out of nothing but sheer willpower, determination, ability to find buttons, and spite.

Because honestly, want to know how many buttons you can fit on a seven year old kid?

I'll give you a hint. It's a LOT more than this.

So at this point, my mom decided to punt on days three and four of Spirit Week. Didn't want 'em. Didn't need 'em. Didn't trust the judges to pick the correct winner, anyway. She said to hell with days three and four. We're gonna rope-a-dope the kids in your class, we're gonna lay low, and then we're gonna drop the big hammer on everyone on the last day on Button Day. We're just gonna overwhelm them at the end with sheer numbers.

And I, of course, already knew this wasn't going to be pretty.

Even though I had no interest in this contest whatsoever (and I never had), I was now just a pawn in my mom's incessant need to not lose.

One way or another, by Friday this kid was GOING to be known

So here's what my mom did. In her now obsessive, three-day quest to acquire every single button that she could find on the entire west coast.

She went over to the Seafair Clown Headquarters in Seattle (again, my dad was an employee there, and again, don't ask). And she basically said hey look, I need as many buttons as you guys can provide. Any button you've ever worn on an outfit, any button you've ever sewn onto a clown, I want it. And she said if you guys can reach out to other clown organizations in the area too, that would be helpful. Have them overnight their buttons to Seattle, I'll pay for it.

Next, my mom went to every single craft store she could find in the city of Bellevue. And she bought up all of their buttons. Then she went to all of the craft stores in Seattle. And then all of the craft stores in Tacoma. And then, hell, I don't know. Maybe she even drove up to Canada? I have no idea how she acquired as many buttons as she did. My mom tended to be very secretive about the way she accomplished things most of the time. The only story I ever got from her during Spirit Week was, "Don't worry, I'm getting some buttons." Hell, for all I know, she could have driven all the way out to Montana. She was DETERMINED to win this for me.

Swear to god, she eventually wound up with about two thousand buttons

Okay, you think this story is getting over the top? Well it's about to get even MORE over the top.

So my mom takes the two thousand (plus or minus a few hundred) buttons she has managed to acquire. And she sews them all to this big bulky coat. She buys the thickest winter coat she can find down at K-Mart, and she either pins or sews a button onto every square inch of this coat.

NEXT! She buys a big bulky pair of winter pants. And she sews or pins a button onto every square inch of the pants, too. Just like she did with the coat.

THEN! She buys me a knit cap. And she either sews a pins a button onto every square inch of the hat.

And at this point, you can pretty much guess what my outfit is going to look like when I wear it to school.

Mom, no. Please, I beg you. I no longer want to stand out.

Oh, but was my mom finished with my outfit yet? HELL NO!

After she had attached nearly two thousand buttons to my new suit of body armor, my mom decided that she wanted to run up the score a little. Because, you know, she didn't just want to score a touchdown with this. She wanted to spike the football right in their goddamn faces afterwards. Because that was always the deal with my mom. She didn't want to just win by a little. When she won something, she wanted to win it CONVINCINGLY.

So she went to an office supply store, and she bought a whole roll of little white stickers.

Like this

These stickers weren't buttons. But unless you were looking very closely, they certainly LOOKED like buttons. And that was her goal. She wanted to just overwhelm everyone with the visual.

My mom took these white stickers, and she must have plastered another five hundred of them all over my clothes. Anywhere there was a fabric left between or under the buttons, there went a sticker. And at this point now, when she was done, there were literally NO clothes left under the buttons. If I wore this outfit to school, all you would see when I walked around were buttons. You'd barely even be able to see there was a kid under there.

And also, god help me if I ever fell down

Now naturally, you can probably guess what happened next.

I saw this suit of medieval plate mail that my mother had created for me, and I said no way. I am NOT wearing that to school. I'll get laughed out of class if I walk around in that thing all day.

I didn't use these exact words, of course, but I pointed out that if I walked around in a suit of body armor all day, I would look like the goddamn Tin Man.

Artist's rendition

I said no. No way. I'm not wearing that to school. No way, no how, not ever. I don't care how much you want to win Button Day, IT'S NOT GONNA HAPPEN.

And anyway, yada yada yada. I don't remember how it happened (there was probably a bribe involved), but I wound up wearing it to school.

All I remember is that on Friday, on the last day of Spirit Week, I walked into class wearing my mom's macabre tribute to buttons, and to obsessive compulsive disorder.

Just imagine this, but covered by thousands of buttons

Side note: My mom wanted to take a picture of me wearing my button suit, but there was no way I was going to allow that to happen. So there is no visual record of it actually existing. But it did exist, I promise. Like Jack Dawson, it exists now... only in my memory.

And anyway, it's here where we finally get to the end of the story. Did my mom I win Spirit Week? Did my mom's creation win Button Day?

Oh yes. She I won.

She I won quite handily.

It's good to be the king

You know how most people would have been happy to win a contest like that by five buttons? Or by ten buttons? Well my mom I didn't win Button Day by ten buttons. She I won Button Day by at least twenty five hundred buttons.

I may have been a big nobody at my new school PRIOR to Button Day, but I sure was well known at my new school AFTER Button Day. So I guess, at the end of the day, my mom actually did get her wish. People finally knew who I was.

Now I was that dork who showed up in a body suit of button armor

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