A sky filled with a haze thick with a pungent smell from factories, mills and foundries was part of life in Midland, and those who called the community learned to cope. Letting fresh air into houses became nothing more than a relative term, and an activity limited to the weekends, when the smell decreased enough so windows across the town could open to let a breeze float through. Through the weekend a different smell would float through town, one of libations and excess.
Just as Fridays marked the end of industries work week and a reprieve from their emanations, Friday night offered a similar break from the ordinary routines to which both parents and teenagers were accustomed.
Because for a teenager in Midland, the weekend didn’t differ much from their parents, except for the location, as both engaged in what surrounding communities labeled “the Midland past time.”
Known as much for its foundries and mills as for its bars and taverns, a visitor was likely to find the sharp smell of molten lead and steel coming from McMillian’s Iron Works or the sweet, sticky, scent of whisky cavorting out of Barbary’s Tip ‘Em Back Inn. Confined to drink through the weekend, the parents would rise early and shake off their stupor and look forward to another night of the same. Their children could at least go running and jumping.
It had been years since the crack-down on racing, yet the Roosevelt Bridge still hadn’t been torn down and rebuilt like the others in town. As a result, the bridge had a humped arch that was conducive to its secondary role as a launching pad for the Shelby Mustangs and Chevy Impalas, all modified with the knowledge of the shop teacher at the local high school.
Fueled by watermelon schnapps, Boone’s wine and Marlboro reds, the teens dressed in Vietnam-era fatigue jackets and torn flannel shirts would scream down Roosevelt Avenue towards the finish line, the bridge, and attempt to win style points from the judges with the best air once the car took flight from the humped relic of a by-gone era.
Races would often last till bar time, when the two squad cars went on patrol for the parade of intoxicated and sloppy drunks to make their way home. When the Midland police caught wind of a race, which were usually set up the morning of, elaborate bluffs were carried out by the kids. Often a diversion was set up on one side of town, preferably away from Roosevelt Avenue, to lure the cops away. The pranks were harmless but over-the-top, winning points not only for style, but for redundancy.
Once eggs were thrown at the church bell and kids ran up the staircase to sprinkle birdseed on the bells in the hopes of bringing birds there. After it was realized the cops wouldn’t come for birds, someone just stood up there with toilet paper taped around his ears whacking a tire iron into the side of the big ole bell. It only took thirteen whacks until someone in the neighborhood noticed and after 20 minutes of gongs the cops showed up. A convenient call out on the CB radio and the race was
From all appearances, on the first day of class, not much had changed at Midland High School. Sure, a summer-long remodeling project brought beaming fluorescent lighting to the school’s hallways. As a result, every blemish on the teenagers’ faces was now in the spotlight. The lockers, gun-metal grey only three months ago, were now a pasty beige that intensified the lighting. Indeed, to say some of the more imaginative students felt as though they were on-stage, wouldn’t be a stretch. But upon a closer look at the tenth-grade hallway, a keen observer could see a new energy dousing the students.
Nelson Hammerschmidt was not one such observer. He stared at the grooved metal locker, muttering to himself. He decided to put his books away before heading to the gym. His stubby fingers twirled the combination lock, which still didn’t work despite his numerous pleas to the janitorial staff. Nelson took a step back, and upon doing so, nearly knocked young Judy Raemisch to the ground.
“Hi Nelson,” she said.
“Hello Judy, it’s good to see you. How are you today?” Nelson said, just before he rammed his elbow into the locker door. It popped open, but the resulting sound was a hollow clang that echoed for a few seconds, and then faded. Nelson didn’t hear a reply from his friend and turned around. He found the collective gaze of the other students fixed upon him. Embarrassed, Nelson opened the locker and stuffed in his backpack. “Here we go again,” he said under his breath. Trudging away towards a required assembly, Nelson wondering why Judy didn’t talk to him.
Some teenage boys are better equipped to be considered attractive to the opposite sex. Billy Collins is a perfect example. As a sophomore, Billy received the winning lottery ticket this year. Groomed as an athlete since he could walk, Billy was the starting quarterback for the football team. The position allowed for both exposure and stature. As a result, he exuded the confidence of a bull thrashing through the streets of a small Spanish village.
However, being the chosen idol of Midland’s sophomore class came with a price. Billy had to endure endless questions and inquiries about his love life. Armed with answers straight out of a “How to Succeed with the Ladies” book, Billy offered his classmates various strategies and tactics. Yet when they followed this advice, they failed miserably. His friends never realized he was only a fine leader to follow if the goal is to score touchdowns. But inside he had neither the moxie, nor the intelligence, to score points with the ladies.
If proof of Billy’s exploits with the ladies was required, no one was asking for it. His prowess for arranging dates with a new girl every weekend sufficiently implied the results. Through his friends, the whole school heard of his weekly conquests in the backseat of his Oldsmobile. But because Billy never told anyone his sexual advances were rebuked, his legend only grew.
It shouldn’t be surprising then, that as Nelson returned to the hallway, the sight of Billy hovering near Judy’s locker dragged a fist-sized lump from the pit of his stomach into his throat - a gag reflex to keep from saying anything embarrassing. Digging through his backpack, he found a notebook. He decided to linger, to pretend to be busy. Perhaps he could catch a stray word from Judy’s conversation.
For five minues Nelson stood at his locker staring, Occasionally stealing a glance, he leered at Billy with a mixture of contempt and envy. Judy was one of the only people privy to Nelson’s charm and sense of humor. She saw it on display during the summer when no one else was around. At a neighborhood park, the two of them would meet after suppertime and talk on the swing set until the stars peaked out from beneath the cloak of dusk’s blanket.
Nelson couldn’t have known that at first, his friend felt uncomfortable with Billy’s attention. He couldn’t have known that she soon realized not every girl receives such a display. And although she knew the reason for the attention, it didn’t matter. So she humored Billy just a little longer because it made her feel wanted.
Inside, Nelson knew that he could make her feel wanted. However, he lacked a major advantage; he was a nobody but was certain that could change. All he needed was the right teacher.
|August 10, 2013
|August 10, 2013