Saturday, April 23, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 15)

I can’t say for sure how long the spitball fight lasted. I can say that I did not participate. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because my straw and my paper were at my desk. I know Fin wasted no time getting out of the classroom because I heard him scream as a spit soaked wad of paper hit him in the back of the head.

I ducked quickly down behind the slide projector and peeked out to see the unfolding madness only semi-innocent eleven and twelve year olds knew. Madness defined by a purloined luncheon milk straw and some Mead wide ruled spiral notebook paper. A dangerous combination in the late 70’s and a guaranteed expulsion offense in this day and age of oversensitive political correctness that has taken over the Republic of the united States. (Yes, I just made a political statement.)

Saliva soaked balls of paper flew in arcs and incalculable tangents that only Euclid or Newton could figure out. I felt someone poking me in the back and I turned to see Marky Borrowitz hiding behind me. “What are you doin?” I whispered.

“Hiding. I don’t want to be the target like I usually am.” He said with a bit of panic in his voice.

“Uh, I don’t think you’re the target this time. Karen has cornered the market on that.” I replied.

“Didn’t you guys used to go steady? You know, a couple years back?”

“I wouldn’t call it going steady we... DUCK!” I said as a wad of freshly soaked paper hit the side of the A/V cart. “We kissed a few times and hung out in her basement and went to a movie.” I finished.

Marky looked at me and grinned “Thanks Skip.”

“No problem, now get outta here before people start targeting me.” I ordered. He scurried away on his hands and knees and hid behind the bookshelf that held the classes complete collection of Encyclopedia Britannica. As he disappeared behind the shelves he looked at me and gave me a quick thumbs up and a smile.

I turned my attention to the front of the room, Karen was screaming at everyone to settle down but no one was listening to her. Her attempts at dodging the spit balls only seemed to make her an even more irresistible moving target. Some of the kids had given up on making spitballs altogether and were just throwing wadded up pieces of paper, pencils, erasers and I think I saw a “Happy Days” pencil box go sailing across the room and hit the black board only to get smashed into hundreds of broken plastic pieces.

“WHAT IS GOING ON IN HERE!” a voice boomed over the cacophony of screams and laughter.

Everyone in the room froze in place and looked at the source of the inquisitor. It belonged to the Vice Principal. We were DOOMED! Karen stood at the head of the class sobbing and trying to explain what happened. No one could understand a word she was saying.

“Suh Suh Suh… deys juss nddd ives den…” was all she was managing to get out. She really looked pathetic and I felt a bit sad for her but there was no way I was gonna put my neck or my reputation on the line for her. Even though I still had a crush on her.

“Nobody move.” He ordered as he came into the room and turned on the lights. Bits of paper still hung in the air and made their way to the floor in a lazy unpredictable descent. I could see him walking up and down the aisle of kids and he would occasionally make a “Tsk Tsk.” Sound with his voice. “Mr. Borrowitz… what are you doing behind the bookcase?” I heard him ask.

“Hiding Sir.” I heard Marky’s meek voice reply.

“Come out from behind there and take a seat at your desk.”

“Yes Sir.”

I felt a hand on my shoulder “And you Mr. Novak, what are you doing down here?”

“Uh, hiding.” I replied and then added “Sir.”

“Ok, is anyone else hiding that I should know of?” He called out to the class. Only silence greeted him.

“Well then, Mr. Borrowitz, Miss Cornett and Mr. Novak, the three of you will report to my office and wait for me there. As for the rest of you, you are now all on clean up duty.” He ordred.

We hastily left our classroom and made our way down to the Vice Principal’s office in silence. When we arrived at the office we saw Fin sitting on one of the chairs three chairs outside the office door. The look on his face told me he was in trouble. Karen sat down and so did Marky, I stood next to Fin and leaned against the wall with my hands behind my back.

“This is all your fault Jimmy Finnegan.” Karen whispered venomously.

I looked down at Fin and he shrugged his shoulders at me as if to ask “What did I do now?” I just shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. Nothing I could say or do could help our situations. I didn’t know what sort of trouble we were in and in my thoughts were filled with after school detention, eraser cleaning, blackboard washing and the most cruel punishment of all, scrapping chewing gum off the bottom of desks.

Our nervous tension filled the air with an almost palpable stench. We were all wondering what our fate would be and we didn’t have to wait long for our answer. We all heard the footsteps of the Vice Principal as he came down the steps and we all looked at each other and I believe we all felt the same ball of trouble stuck in out throats.

“Ok, you four, in my office.” He ordered as he walked past us. I followed behind him and my classmates marched in behind me.

There were only two chairs in front of the large desk he sat behind. Karen quickly took one of the open seats and Marky took the other. I stood behind Karen and let Fin stand behind Marky. The Vice Principal sat at his desk and shuffled papers back and forth for a bit, took a pen out and scribbled some notes. Then he sat back and looked at us and shook his head.

“You four are in quite an interesting situation.” He started. “It seems out of all the kids in the class you’re the only ones who didn’t participate in the mayhem earlier. I can understand why Miss Cornett didn’t and even Mr. Borrowitz, but you Mr. Novak? Not participating? Normally we find you in the middle of incidents like this and Mr. Finnegan, the only reason you weren’t involved is because you weren’t in the class room. I am truly at a loss of my senses in this situation. I can’t punish any one of you four simply because you did nothing wrong, while the rest of your class has been assigned extra work and detention.”

“So… what does that mean for us Sir?” I asked

“You four are free to go about your regular daily schedule. But know this Mr. Novak and Mr. Finnegan, I WILL be keeping an especially watchful eye on you two and your friend Mr. Minnow.”

“But Sir,” Karen interrupted “Skip was flipping the slides in the projector and Jimmy…”

“Miss Cornett, be quiet. No one likes a tattle tale and since they did not participate in the incident there is no need to punish them. Now, I want all of you to go back to your classroom.” He ordered and we all began to leave “Oh, and Miss Cornett, you may want to stop by the ladies restroom and clean yourself up a bit.”

We separated once we all got into the hall, Fin and I headed back to the classroom and Marky and Karen to the bathrooms. None of us were in a hurry to get back to class and lunchtime was only a few minutes away.

“We dodged that bullet.” Fin commented.

“Yeah, you got that right. Shoot Fin, I’m glad you ducked out when you did. Wish I’d been with ya.”

Fin shrugged “Can you believe the whole class is in detention? I think that just might be a school record.”

“Well, technically not the whole class.”

“Ok, everyone but us four.”

We were halfway down the hall when the lunch bell rang and kids started to pour out of their rooms. “Skip, go grab our lunches, I’ll go get Fish and we will meet over by the bike racks like we did the other day. Ok?”

“Sure man, no problem. See ya in a while.” I said as I fought my way through the crowded passageway. I felt like a fish swimming upstream. The whole school was talking about my classroom and all the trouble we’d caused earlier. As I walked, I heard the rumors already starting up, “So and So KILLED the Teacher!” or “…and then they threw the desks out the windows.” And “It was a fight and someone was stabbed, I don’t know who, a new kid from what I heard.” I shook my head and made my way into the classroom which was now empty and surprisingly clean.

I walked over to Fin’s desk, grabbed his lunch bag and quickly retrieved mine from my desk and headed out to lunch.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Flatheads, Crescent Wrench's and Pliers (Part 14)

When I left the house Tuesday morning my pal Fin was not standing at the telephone pole waiting for me as I had come to expect. The familiar routine we had built up over three years of walking to school had suddenly become interrupted for reasons I did not know. I stood by the pole waiting for Fin with a growing sense of nervousness that something bad had happened between dusk and dawn. After five minutes of waiting for him I headed next door to his house and knocked on the front door only to be greeted by the echoing silence of an empty house. A few more knocks, more silence.

I waited around for another ten minutes to see if he was running late or had overslept but I received no satisfaction of an answer. It was getting late so I headed off to school walking by myself for the first time since kindergarten. I had forgotten how desolate the streets were early in the morning. Sure, I delivered papers before the sun came up and the streets were usually empty but in those first ninety minutes when the sun is up and the birds are just starting their morning songs, it can be pretty scary.

As I passed houses on Memory Avenue I could see shadows moving inside. Shadows of people I knew or thought I knew. Shadows that in my mind formed Rockwellesque movies of Mothers and Fathers making their kids breakfast, helping with last minute homework and giving out hugs with unbridled joy, and as I passed each of those homes, with those thoughts, the searing pain of jealousy and rage built up inside of me. I had no outlet, no pressure release valve, no Fin to talk to about the non-sensical bullshit that distracted both of us from the shitty way we felt about our particular family woes.

A few blocks from school I became aware the streets were starting to fill with more kids in my situation. Kids who had no friends, outcast kids with little or no social skills, kids who seemed to have been alienated from everyone since their conception. I felt like shit. I’d heard my name called out by some of the outcasts and I ignored them. The last thing I wanted to do was field questions about why I wasn’t with my normal group of punks and greasers. Some of the older kids who hung out by the drug store smoking saw me and started to chide me about not having Fish or Fin with me. I scowled at them and flipped them off and then quickly crossed the street to put distance between me and a guaranteed ass whipping.

I kept my head down, fists in pockets and just barged across into the street without looking. I ignored the honking horns of cars and the screams of kids I did not know the names of kids I never took the time to learn. One voice rose above the others “SKIP! DAMMIT! LOOKOUT!!!” I stopped and looked around. I was standing at the median with cars passing in front of me and behind me and as I looked towards the voice calling out to me I saw Fish yelling my name again. His hands were clasped around his mouth making a funnel to help amplify his voice. “SKIP!!! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!!!” Standing next to Fish was my neighbor and friend Fin. Fin was pale and shaking his head and he looked as if he were about to throw up.

I stood there in shock and wondered how the two of them got to school before me and why Fin had left me to walk to school alone. I half-heartedly lifted my arm in a wave. The cars that were approaching me started to slow and come to a stop and when they had I continued across the street. I was still upset at my friends and I was in no mood to talk with them. They had both ditched me and I felt betrayed. I wanted to punch them both in their noses and watch their blood spill from their bodies, then sit back and laugh at them. But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, we were the Musketeers! I had to work out my anger, frustration and my sense of betrayal before I got to them. I started counting as I took a step forward.

One…Two…Three…Four… I could feel the tension in my shoulders receding…Five…Six…Seven… My fists started to unclench…Eight…Nine…Ten… Thoughts of us sitting in Fish’s basement listening to Blue Oyster Cult albums and sharing a stolen beer started to make me smile…Ten…Nine…Eight… I remembered a couple of fights all three of us were in and how we had watched each other’s backs…Seven…Six…Five… Fin and I were catching pigeons under the overpass and we both about killed ourselves crossing the interstate…Four…Three…Two…One…All the damn work we’d done over that last week on the bike filled my mind and all was forgiven.

“Hey Guys!” I said a little too loudly as I stepped onto school property.

“What the hell was that?” Fin said

“Yeah Man! You suicidal or something? You drop some acid and think your Superman?” Fish peppered at me.

“Nah, nothing like that. I was just thinking about the bike I guess. I’m pretty excited to get on her and ride tonight.”

“Yeah. Tonight.” Fish said and elbowed Fin in the arm.

“Ouch! What the hell man?”

“Nothin, let’s get going before the first bell.”

“Hey Fin, where were you this morning?” I asked him as all three of us fell into step next to each other.

“Oh, uh, my mom took me out to McDonalds for breakfast and then dropped me off here about ten minutes ago.”

“Cool, what’s the special occasion? She get a pay raise or something?”

“Uh… no, nothing like that.”

“C’mon, Skip, stop being Kojak for a few minutes. So what if Fin’s mom wanted to spend some time with him. Shit, he sees his mom less then you see yours.” Fish interrupted.

“I’m not pulling a Kojak. I was just worried when Fin wasn’t waiting for me at the telephone pole like usual.” I said a bit defensively.

We had just gotten to the front steps of the school when we heard the first bell of the day ring. We nudged our way through the throng of classmates and made our way to our respective homerooms. Fish was in a separate homeroom than Fin and I and we quickly said our goodbyes with a promise to meet for a picnic lunch in a few hours.

Once again our morning education was turned over to Public Service Movies and naps filled with dreams that took each kid out of the concrete block walled educational prisons. I dozed in and out of consciousness like the rest of the class, my thoughts and dreams were filled with the freedom of riding around Green Bay, exploring the parks, being a bike kid for the Green Bay Packers, camping, and just being able to get out of the neighborhood and away from some of the crap that had been brewing with the older kids. Besides, I had some paper route buddies on the West side that I’d only seen during our subscription drives and they’d been pestering me to come by their house since we met. It would be pretty cool if I could ride out to their house and see them over the summer.

You know, summer dreams filled with endless supplies of soda pop, candy bars and trips to Hansen’s Ice Cream to eat the twenty five cent drip cups until my stomach burst! Swimming all day at Joannes Park Pool or riding out to Bay Beach where everything cost a quarter from the rides to the popcorn. No parents leaving notes of endless chores and rules on where not to go and what not to do. Mornings where I wouldn’t have to wake up until the clock was in the double digits and the sun was approaching its apex. Dreams of lazy days and crazy nights, dreams I still have today. Hell, probably dreams you have right now, just like me.

The end of the Public Service Films blurred into slide shows that required some class participation. I was lucky to not have to participate because I had been chosen as the class A/V kid and all I needed to do was set up the slide show and hit play on the tape recorder and then press the “Advance” button on the projector. The teacher had left the classroom stating she needed to use the mimeograph machine and left Karen Cornett in charge of a 25 lethargic kids who wanted nothing to do with watching movies or slide shows.

So, for fun, and since opportunity had presented itself to me, I chose to just flip the slides as fast as I could both forward and back. When Marlin Perkins was talking about how him and Jim had brought down a wild African lion my slides were on the half naked people of a recently discovered tribe of what looked like cannibals. The boys that were awake cheered and the girls hissed at my antics. Karen “tut-tutted” me and I ignored everyone. My shenanigans were strictly for my own amusement and I had been keeping a running count of how far ahead or behind I was with the audio so if I heard the teach opening the door I could easily get back to where I needed to be.

“Skip! That is not the way you’re suppose to work the slide projector.” Karen scolded.

I ignored her. I had no choice. If I stopped what I was doing I would have been razed at lunch and probably for the rest of the week.

“Karen, give it a rest!” little Marky Borrowitz responded from the behind me. “Heck, this is the first time this week anything we’ve done seems interesting. Marky lived on my block about seven houses down from me. He had been the first kid to even speak to me when we moved in. When I slept over at his house we would read all his comic books over and over again. Hell, he had been the one to introduce me to The Amazing Spider Man. When Fin moved into the neighborhood all three of us built the first Memory Avenue Soap Box out of scrap lumber, with the help of Marky’s dad. But, like most friendships in life, Marky had fallen on the popularity food chain that occurs between elementary school, middle school and junior high school. I still liked him and I never picked on him but I knew if I were to reignite our friendship I would suffer the same fate as him. Being an omega kid in an alpha driven educational hierarchy. I slipped my left hand behind my back and gave him a quick thumbs up.

“You’re gonna be in a lot of trouble when Miss Schmidt gets back!” Karen warned.

I saw my buddy Fin stand up, “I have to use the bathroom if that is ok with MISS CORNETT!” he said and walked out of the room.

“Jimmy Finnegan! You are not supposed to leave the classroom while the teacher is not present!” Karen shouted.

And that is about the time the spitball fight started. The main target… Karen Cornett.