Monday morning brought with it the ritualistic routine of getting ready for school. Jockeying for position at the bathroom, fighting to see who gets the last of the Cheerios and who gets stuck making Crème of Wheat and as always the last minute frenzy of finishing any and all homework that was put off until the last moment.
I left the house earlier than my sister and met up with Fin at the foot of my driveway. He was leaning against the telephone pole, his books on the ground at his feet and he was picking at his fingernails. “About time you got out here. I’ve been waiting for you for at least 15 minutes.” He called out to me as I approached.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Vera Lynn gave all the Cheerios to Suzy so I had to make some Cream of Wheat for breakfast.” I explained as I drew near my buddy and continued down our street.
“Hey, did you finish your math homework?” Fin asked as he fell into step alongside me.
“Yeah, I got it done this morning. Why? You need to copy it again?”
“You know I do Skip. I suck at numbers.”
“Ya know Fin, if you could memorize your math tables the way you memorized songs you’d be a straight A student.”
“If they put the equations to music then maybe I could memorize them but until they do I am just gonna have to struggle my way through it.”
“Didn’t you ever watch Schoolhouse Rock on Saturday mornings? They got all the multiplication tables on those cartoons. They also have some with History and English.”
“Nah, you know I’m not big on cartoons. Besides, if I turn the TV on while my mom’s asleep she gets pissed ‘cause it wakes her up.”
“Did you talk to Fish this morning?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“Nah, he sometimes calls but he didn’t today. Hope he’s ok. Say, did you bring the tools?”
“Yup, he said to carry them in case an opportunity presents itself so I’m making sure to keep them with me. You got yours?”
“Yeah, not that we’ve needed them yet but ya never know I suppose.”
With that our conversation lulled as we walked into a sunrise that was slowly fading from orange, red and gray into the rich blue of the oncoming Midwestern spring morning.
About two blocks from school we met up with Fish, he was on his bike, riding circles in the middle of an intersection. He was wearing a backpack and smoking while early morning commuters honked their horns as they drove past him. With every horn blast Fish would flip the driver off and laugh.
“Fish, you’re gonna get killed!” I hollered.
He just laughed, straightened out his bike and rode a wheelie all the way to where Fish and I stood at the edge of the intersection. “Nah, they aint gonna hit me. None of them has the guts to do something like that.” He said confidently and then added “You bring the tools?”
“Yeah we both did.” Fin answered for me.
“Good, cause we’re gonna pick up a seat for the bike today. Skip, when I lock my bike up at the bike rack find a bike with a seat you like, then at lunch we’ll take it off the bike and put it in my back pack. Plan?”
And with our plans settled, like sheep or the lemmings of the Arctic we headed stepped foot onto the hallowed ground of our school. Only to be greeted by hundreds of other kids of Green Bay doing the same thing. Footballs and Frisbee’s whizzed over our heads, girls giggled at boys showing off by the tether ball poles or doing flips off the monkey bars and of course the shocked laughter of other boys when one of the stuntmen-showoffs inevitably landed on his face.
“Morons.” Fish said shaking his head and lead us all towards the bike rack. When we got to the bike rack to lock up his bike we had to fight to find a spot to place his ride.
As we walked up and down the one hundred foot bike rack trying to avoid the litter of school books, back packs and girls purses we all kept our eyes open for a seat that we could pilfer. Fin found it and let us know by punching both me and Fish in our arms.
The bike/seat in question was a beat up piece of crap, there was more bare metal then there was paint on it. But the seat was pristine, as if it had just been put on the bike the day before. Fish nodded, I nodded and Fin grinned.
“Make some room between the bikes, I’ll put my bike here.” Fish commanded.
Fin and I pulled some bikes apart with little effort and Fish shoved his ride in, pulled the lock and chain out of his back pack and commenced securing his bike to the metal pipes. While he was doing so he handed Fin his school books and ran the chain through the straps of his backpack.
“Ok, we meet here at lunch, and get the seat. Also, we need to put all our tools in the back pack. No need to have a teacher confiscate our things.”
We all agreed and emptied our pockets, handing over our tools to Fish and he swiftly stuffed the implements of theft into the now secured pack at his feet.
As we headed towards the back doors to the school Fin expressed a concern I had been thinking about “You think the pack will be safe by your bike?”
“Look around Fin, hell, the teachers are all hiding inside the school waiting for the end of the day. Aren’t there usually three or four teachers out here monitoring us? They don’t want to be here anymore than we do. You saw what was going on over at the monkey bars. Usually there’s one teacher there making sure no one gets hurt but not today or at all this week. They’ll be inside, talking about summer vacation and not having to work. It’s what they do.”
“Alright, alright… you don’t have to prove how right you are all the time.” Fin defended himself.
“Forget about it. Just make sure we meet at my bike at lunch time.” Fish reminded us and with that we crossed the threshold of the school.
Once in homeroom I handed Fin my copy of the math papers, he quickly copied the answers, changing one or two so they would not match perfectly and when he was done he handed me back my paper. No one in our class paid us much attention, everyone was more concerned with what they did over the weekend, what they were going to do next weekend or what sort of school work we were going to get during the last week of school.
We soon found out…
Our teacher came in the room pushing an audio-visual cart with four movie reels on it. Our answer had arrived. After attendance was taken, homework passed forward our teacher turned the lights off, turned on the projector and we watched films on nature and the cycle of life including the food chain.
At lunch time, Fish, Fin and I met up near the back doors. Fish had a bag lunch where as Fish and I each had a hot lunch served to us on a pale blue plastic tray. On our tray’s were rectangular slices of pizza, a carton of milk, an orange for me, Fin had taken an apple and we had both picked fries for our vegetable.
Fish led us near his bike and we all sat down to eat and enjoy the sunshine. Kids were scattered in different groups around us, across the kickball field and even onto the dirt playground where the swings and monkey bars sat.
“As soon as it’s safe, I’ll get the tools. Skip, I want you to get the seat.” Fish said between bites of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“Ok.” I responded and felt my stomach knot up with guilt.
“Fish, I want you to stand behind Skip so no one can see what he’s doin. Got that?”
“Yeah man, I got it.” He said and put down his pizza with a sickly look on his face. I imagine he was feeling pretty much the way I was.
“Relax guys.” Fish said and grabbed some of my fries, “It’s all gonna work out. Just be quick and try not to draw attention to yourselves.”
A few minutes later most of the kids on the playground had finished their lunches and were now running around, playing tag, freeze tag, Red-Rover, catch or fighting over turns on the swings. Our opportunity had come and Fish let us know.
“Ok, let’s do this.” Fish’s voice echoed in my ears as I felt the cold steel of a crescent wrench thrust into my hand. “Fin, walk over between the bikes, Skip, get on the side with the nut and act like you’re tying your shoes. It shouldn’t take much to loosen the seat.”
Fin and I followed our orders like robots. I knew there was no way to back out of this and keep Fish as my pal. With every step I took all I saw in my mind was being hauled off to Juvie in the back of a squad car with both my pals.
“Hurry up Skip.” Fin’s voice penetrated my reverie. I looked up at him, he was in position, I turned to look at Fish who was standing at near the rear tires acting as a lookout.
I knelt down between the bikes, acting as if I were tying my shoe. I felt something poking me in the back and turned to look, it was Fish’s peddle. “Get to work man!” came Fish’s voice from a few feet away.
“Ok,ok. Shit, give me a second. You bike peddle is stabbing me in the back.”
“Ignore it and get the damn seat.”
I brought the wrench up to the securing nut, my hands sweaty and shaking as I tried to adjust the thumb screw for the jaws of the wrench to fit and almost dropped it. “Shit.” I muttered.
“Hurry up man, there’s only a few minutes left of lunch.” Fin whispered and then added “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosy.”
“I know, I know. Shut up Fin.” I said as I got the wrench snug on the nut and tried to loosen it. The nut was on tight, real tight, I was putting all I had into trying to get it loose. I felt sweat on my forehead, under my arms and seeping through my Dr. Pepper t-shirt. I was straining so hard my knuckles were turning white. And then the nut came loose. I almost dropped the wrench when it came free. I was shocked, and I felt a big grin spread across my face.
“It’s loose.” I said and set the wrench down near my foot and unscrewed the rest of the nut with my fingers. I saw Fish’s hands reach in and grab the seat and pull it out of the down pipe and make it disappear into his back pack. I grabbed the wrench, handed it to him and he stuffed it in pack as well.
The three of us headed back to the doors to the school as if nothing had ever happened. We all had big grins on our faces, we couldn’t help it. We’d just pilfered a great seat and the kick to the gut feeling I’d had earlier had disappeared along with the seat. As far as I know, that feeling was keeping the seat company inside Fish’s pack right next to our tools.