Summers in Green Bay at best are warm, and if you’ve ever lived anywhere south of Wisconsin you know this is true. This is especially apparent in the springtime, just before the end of the school year. The highs are usually in the mid 70s and the lows in the upper 50s. Perfect weather for kids to ignore what their teachers are trying to tell them and let their minds wander out over the great expanses of green parks, empty city lots, abandoned warehouses and the open waters of the Fox River and Lake Michigan.
Fish, Fin and I were not immune to these thoughts. Nor, did we hold any of them back from each other. During recess we would talk about how many fish we’d catch, how many home runs we’d hit and where the best empty buildings were to explore. Our thoughts were on anything but schoolwork, I suppose we took that cue from our teachers. You see they, the teachers, had already given up hope on getting us to calm down and learn anything. Hell, they had spring fever just as bad as we did, they’d even taken to showing films during class just so they could meet in the Teachers’ Lounge and discuss their summer plans.
With only two weeks left of the school year no one wanted to be at school. The air was so thick with the distaste for educational structure and organization that when a teacher called in sick the school couldn’t even get a substitute to replace them. We even had our mathematics class taught to us by the school’s librarian. Also, that very same day, our Vice Principal had to teach our gym class. Fish and I laughed hysterically as he tried to pace us as we ran laps around the peewee football field. Fish nicknamed him “Coach Heart Attack” because he was sweating and wheezing so much that we thought he was going to die. Fin missed all the fun because he had been diagnosed with asthma and was relegated to sitting on the sidelines. How we found out about his condition is another story completely.
On the walk home that Friday afternoon the three of us discussed more of what adventures we would have. Fin suggested a camping trip out to Green Isle Park with our BB guns, pup tents and all the old Boy Scout equipment we had accumulated over the past few years. “Great idea Fin!” Fish called out.
“I like it. We can go the first weekend we’re out of school. I even have some of my dad’s old fishing poles and a tackle box full of lures he left behind last year that we can use.” I said.
“Then it’s settled.” Came Fish’s response “On the last day of school we all head to Fin’s house, grab all our gear, load up the bikes and head to Green Isle. In the meantime we need to get all our stuff and store it in Fin’s garage.”
“Uh, guys,” I said, “We might have a problem.” And with that statement both Fish and Fin looked at me as if I had just kicked their pet dog and would never forgive me for doing so.
“What man?” Fin asked me.
“Yeah, you just said it was a great idea and even told us of all the fishing crap your old man left you that we can use.” Fish said belligerently.
“Um, guys, I don’t have a bike. Remember? Mine got stolen last year at Snyder Drug Store. You know, when Ricky got caught stealing all that candy.”
“Shit, that’s right.” Came Fin’s voice from behind me. “Your Mom hasn’t gotten around to getting you a new one?”
“Not yet, I’ve been asking for one for a while but she’s’ been so busy with work I never see her. Hell, I haven’t seen her in almost 2 weeks as it is.” I complained.
“Don’t worry about it man, you can use one of your sister’s bikes or maybe one of my sisters bikes.” Fish offered.
“Yeah Skip, you’ll look great riding a girls ten speed.” Fin chided.
“Stick if Fin, you don’t have say so in this. Your parents buy you everything just so they can piss each other off.” I said.
“Hey guys, knock it off. Who’s got some matches?” Fish asked as he dug out a few cigarettes from his jacket pocket and passed one to me and one to Fin. I pulled some matches out of my back pocket and lit my smoke and passed on the book of sulfur to Fin. Once Fin lit up and handed the book off to Fish who followed suit and then handed me back the sulfur infused cardboard which I then put them away. The whole ceremony took about 2 minutes and was committed in complete silence with total concentration.
Once we were all lit up we continued on our way towards Brookridge hill smoking in silence. My thoughts were on the end of school, getting into the seventh grade and a summer filled with hanging with my buddies and trying to figure out how to get a bike so I could go on all the adventures.
“Hey, Skip, when does the Pack start spring training?” Fin asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Huh? Um, I think next week. I’m not sure, Debbie has a couple of the players on her paper route and they just came back into town. So I’m sure it has to be soon.”
“Sweet, man. Which players and why haven’t you said something sooner? You holding out on us?” Fish peppered at me.
“No Fish, nothing like that. Hell, Debbie didn’t say which players she delivered to, but she has roped me into helping her a couple times a week. I do the houses in our neighborhood and near the school and she takes the ones further out.” I explained
“That’s cause she has a bike.” Fin chided me, I tried to ignore him but his ribbing was starting to get to me.
“Don’t worry Skip.” Fish said as he exhaled more smoke into the atmosphere. “We’ll figure something out. Hell, we’ll build you a bike if we have to.”
“Build a bike? “Where are we going to get tires, handle bars, rims, a chain and all the other crap that goes on a bike?” Fin complained as he ticked off the different parts of a bike on his fingers.
“There’s plenty of stuff at the junkyard behind the cemetery on Webster Ave.” Fish said and then added “Remember all the wood, tires, rope and tools we found there last year? Hell, we built an entire tree house out of that stuff. I’m sure we can find some bike parts there.”
“Guys, we don’t need to go all that trouble. I’ll just use my sister’s bike for our camping trip and ask my mom for a bike for my birthday.”
“To hell with that. You’re not going to be riding around on a girls Sana Fe or whatever kind of bike Debbie rides. Cause if you did, Fin and I would have to stop being your friends. I have an old bike frame at home that you can have but I don’t remember what it needs so let’s go check it out.”
We headed straight to Fish’s house and once there we tossed our school books on the kitchen table and followed Fish out into his garage. At the back of the garage, near the door to the backyard, was a gray tarp covered in paint splatters and dirt. The tarp was covering what appeared to be a small mountain of boxes. “Grab the other end Fin and help me get this tarp off all this crap.” Fish ordered.
As Fin and Fish each grabbed an edge of the tarp and began to pull it off the boxes, I stood back and watched. Clouds of dust exploded into the air and glimmered in the rays of sunlight pouring through the windows of the garage. Each speck glimmered and danced in the air with promises of fulfilling every boy child’s hopes and dreams. New bikes, skateboards, baseball bats, footballs, radios, smokes, and the hottest party in the neighborhood. Thoughts so contrary in nature that only a youthful mind in a state of ignorance can come up with them at one time.
My buddies dropped the tarp with a dull thump, “Here it is.” More dust billowed up from the cloth obscuring my vision and bringing my thoughts back down to earth. I cast my gaze down towards where I assumed the bike frame lie. All I could see through the fog of a winter’s layer of forgotten dirt were Fin and Fish’s backs. “Man, how are we gonna fix this piece of shit?” I heard Fin’s voice from beyond the haze.
“Shut if Fin. Man, you are so fucking negative sometimes.” Fish defended.
“Guys, I can’t see shit through all this dust. Move out of the way.”