The Transition

Okay, I've never claimed to be completely rational or consistent in the eyes of others. I came of age in the Summer of Love, and yet hung out with a group of hellions straight from the Hollywood Knights. Perhaps I suffered from the same affliction which tormented those hooligans: the times they were a-changin'. Hoods and beatniks could barely see it coming and only adjusted in jumps and spurts. Yes, we wanted what the hippies offered (especially the chicks), but it was hard to leave the hell-raising completely behind in the dust kicked up by a rose-pink ten-dollar Plymouth Savoy whose paint job was suffering from the worst case of seborrhea imaginable, heading out yet again for another night of trouble-making in Story County.

I'm still writing chronologically at this point. The first two menus (on the right of this screen) have led you through my progress from Louise to West, respectively. Now it's time to start meeting The Gang, but a transition is required first.

My hometown had two junior highs, and the classes conjoined to form a single high school of about 12oo students. This was my last summer as part of the insular crowd of West Junior High. A little bit of trepidation, but in general I was looking forward to mingling with an expanded crowd.

Somehow, and I don't remember how it came to pass, that summer I made a good friend, Wilfrid, who attended Central Junior High. This probably doesn't mean much to you, but in those days, it was unheard of for two guys from the two different schools to be friends, to hang out together.  The
Montagues and the Capulets, don't you know.

Yet Wilfrid and I had so much fun together that summer. His home was
way downtown, a very foreign and scary place to a kid like me who grew up in the middle of Academe. (I lived within shouting distance of the ISU campus, and my friends were virtually all progeny of faculty parents). Downtown was different, more blue collar. These guys were tough and let you know it in general. And, of course, I was scrawny and timid around such rough folk. But Wilfrid and I surely hit it off for whatever reason. He was simply a kind person by nature, I guess. If you're looking for a mental image to go with him, try "the friendly giant."

I used to spend Friday nights at his place, hot and muggy summer evenings so common in our town. His folks had a screened-in porch abutting the garage, and would let us sleep out there, free of parental supervision. Even better, we could roll in a cheap black-and-white television set enclosed within a tan plastic wood-grained cabinet sporting trashy gold-flecked knobs to watch monster movies. In those days, KRNT, out of Des Moines, ran
Friday Night Movie Date at 10:30. This station had a contract to air films from Allied Artists and similar schlocky distributors, just the sort of detritus that really appealed to Wilfred and me: The Hypnotic Eye, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Frankenstein 1970, The Wasp Woman, Attack of the 50 Foot Woman and more. I'm sure there was some discomfiture and rearranged crossed legs during the latter, but then again, in those days everything had that effect on me, height or no height. Now that I think about it, nothing has changed. "You're so mature," as Pinkie once said to me. Yup.

So anyway, here's this warm summer evening and I arrive at Wilfrid's, his kindly mother and father hosting me for supper. And then there was the requisite gawking at the Playboy magazines his college-aged brother, Jack, had stashed away upstairs. Dreaming of jiggles was so important back then. But, oh, I already said, nothing has changed. After that, Wilfrid and I set out for Brookside Park, just across 6th Street and the railroad tracks from his home.

A night on the town for some revelry, a bit of hanging out on a Friday, nothing more, no plans, no expectations. Just two 14 year-old boys growing up, finding out what friendship means, words indifferently required. We liked each other, and in each other's company, telephone pranks reached a new high.

I just have to describe a scene we were lucky enough to witness. Before crossing the tracks to the park, we took a brief detour to Mezvinsky's grocery store to load up on licorice, gum and anything else which might rot teeth. While returning we wandered through the surrounding neighborhood and came upon a croquet game in progress. Taking place on the resident's front lawn, the participants were a fat little boy and his mother and father.

Get this! The rotund kid was wearing lederhosen. Not surprisingly, his parents spoke with strong German accents. A year or two later, I determined that the lad's name was Herman. His surname was also distinctly Teutonic in nature, but wishing to avoid a libel action, I'll decline to mention it here. But rest assured, the combination definitely tripped lightly off the tongue.

So anyway, try to visualize this family croquet match on that warm evening. The weather wasn't the only thing that was warm!

The mother's ball had just tapped Herman's, meaning that she could "send" the lad's ball. If you've never played croquet before, this is done with the balls touching, steadying yours with your foot, concluding with a whack of the mallet, which sends the opponent's flying away. Newton's Third Law in action.

The mother carried out this operation, and Herman's ball shot some thirty feet away. He became very vexed. To pour salt in the wound, his mother proceeded to laugh like a hyena. To which the round Herman in lederhosen replied with the quaint contumely:

"Shut-up, Crap!"

Wilfred and I gazed at each other in wonder. We suspected that wasn't his mother's name. Even more stunning was neither father nor mother responded to this distinctly unsportsmanlike behavior, but just kept playing as though nothing had happened.

We continued on our way.   

Brookside Park was quite spectacular, canopied with tons and tons of magnificent, mature trees of all species: elms, maples, oaks, walnuts and chestnuts, even a sycamore, perhaps the sole thing I miss about Iowa, never letting a bit of sunlight through the leafy boughs.  And there were wonderful walking trails throughout, padded with comfortable pea gravel. Even running water, with the Squaw Creek babbling in the midst. I suppose the name has been changed now.

A beautiful old footbridge traversed the Squaw, spanning the surprisingly sharp valley this pittance of a creek normally cuts. As Wilfrid and I crossed the cable-spanned walkway, a bit of racket erupted from below:

Thud, thud, thud...something sure struck a lump three times in rapid tattoo.

Whoosh...something swung through the air, kicking up atmospheric molecules, but clearly missing the mark, whatever intended to be.

Thud, thud, thud...and then...

"Oof."

This was repeated at least a dozen times, capturing our attention. So Wilfrid and I disembarked from the concrete skirting at the edge of the footbridge, and slid down the moss-covered slopes to see what was going on below.

It was a fist-fight.

Far too hot on this typical sweaty August Ames night for such activity, but there they were, two chaps going at it. I was captivated, for this truly was David and Goliath engaged.

Goliath was a gigantic clod of a fellow, a good six-foot-four and 250 pounds, greasy, dirty blonde hair pomaded to his head by sweat and an absence of ablutions for who knows how long. He was a legitimate oaf, the sort medieval English folktales describe. Every swing of his blunt, timber-like arms missed by a mile, and he was huffing and puffing like an asthmatic tuberculosis victim.

On the other hand, David was popping in three or four good blows every ten seconds or so, meeting the mark of that Boris Karloff jaw, rabbit punches so quick, so graceful, that were you critiquing this as ballet, you'd swear you were enjoying Nijinsky on stage in the midst of his finest moment. In between, David was ducking, feigning and just in general avoiding the lumbering windmills of Goliath with so much panache, that he had a supererogatory amount of air just to laugh. He was clearly focused, paced and practiced, and despite the more than 100 pound difference in weight classes, totally at ease and ready to win this bout.

Which he did.

And that was how I learned of Sheel-Teat, who later became one of my best friends in high school, a most trusted companion in all manner of evil-doing, partner in skirmishes with Beetface whom you will encounter another time.

Sheel-Teat and I didn't meet that night, but I really did make a mental note: this is a guy I want to join forces with. As for Goliath? Well, I came up against him too a month later that sophomore year, for he's the guy who KO-ed me in the hallway--a sucker punch while I was attending to my locker, back turned. And who should rescue me from this cretin? Why, Wilfrid of course, who read him the riot act.  I was out cold for five minutes or so, and remember awakening to Wilfrid's ministrations.

Goliath, Jon if you want to know his real name, made a fatal mistake of blasting my jaw that day. I may have been scrawny, but was blessed with a long memory and had a coterie of new companions. Matters were put right a little later, if you take my meaning. I'm surprised that glaziers have never considered safety glass for picture windows. Supposing the statute of limitations has passed, one day I may work up the courage to relate how Van-O (another close friend) and I took the law into our own hands.

It's funny how friendships change when surroundings change. Wilfrid and I, while always cordial to each other thereafter, never had that same camaraderie we did while watching Friday Night Movie Date together. He gravitated toward the "mature" high-schoolers anxious to deck out in neckties for a class photo, hair neatly parted, while Sheel-Teat and I moved in the direction of West Side Story.

Lose one, gain one. As you'll discover shortly, Sheel-Teat was the guy who introduced me to De Sade, an intrinsically signal event in my life. I will always be indebted to him for that...and...for forming an alliance with me against the Napoleon of Headmasters, he of the rubicund cheeks. But more about that in the next entry.

I loved high school and was really in my element. I am not kidding when I report there was a skip in my step every single day heading out each morning. I was never late. So many things to accomplish...

Next installment: Sheel-Teat

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