Good kids gone sour? Noble punks?
| “How about that, his registration’s expired.”
That’s not what popped into my head at that particular moment, though it could have. Nor was I too concerned with the chrome peeling off the bumper. What did concern me was, while I had been crouching behind the station wagon in Dickie’s driveway, that flaking bumper ground to a halt ten inches behind me. Dickie had pulled his decrepit Volvo in close enough to see that scaling bumper and the expired tag on his license plate. What I did think was the only thing anyone in my predicament could think.
“Oh, shit. Shit!
Dickie Day taught freshman English. I sat front row center, first period, and the cross hairs on Dickie’s desk targeted my forehead first thing in the morning. Right between my damn eyes. Dickie stood maybe five foot eight, his dark brown hair getting thin and maybe parted too far over on the left side. He struck me as a man who would get a rug, not for vanity, but to keep his looks unchanged. He was soft and going to pudge and the three buttons at his belly always looked stressed. He was a pasty pink fleshy guy, whose chin seemed to be about to reproduce itself. And Dickie was a man of habit; you could tell the day of the week by his shirt color. Every day he wore a short-sleeved shirt with a white, V-neck t-shirt beneath, and three basic pairs of polyester slacks. Mondays were the pink shirt and navy pants, Tuesdays yellow shirt over brown, Wednesdays were, well, you get the picture.
Dickie taught freshman English, the college prep and Honors sections. I sat in the front, John behind me, Jim and Greg in the back. Dickie was tough, demanding and a taskmaster with endless work. Copious doesn’t begin to the describe our note-taking. We floundered in grammar, drowned reading, and were buried in a sea of essays. We learned to bring two pens to class. He expected us to learn since he was a good teacher and so we plotted to repay him.
I could feel the concussions and the paper detritus from exploding firecrackers against my right arm and neck; there was no sound, though. Nothing. My focus was over my left shoulder, staring at the double aluminum grill on the Volvo. They looked like prison windows, the kind I was going to be looking out from when Dickie grabbed me.
“Oh, shit. Shit!”
We weren’t the first group of pubescent punks to pull a prank on Dickie. But our assault would be premeditated. We were going to be the first group of pubescent punks to pull a prank on Dickie, and not get caught. See, other kids, their strikes were impulsive, unplanned. Worse yet, even if they escaped the actual raid, they weren’t smart enough to keep their mouths shut. They just had to brag about their misdeed, forgetting that teachers have ears, too.
Jim and John, they were in the Boy Scouts or Civil Air Patrol, or something. Something that had uniforms and encouraged reading from fine literary magazines like Soldier of Fortune and Ammo. John was my height and looks, glasses, braces and asthma enough to keep him from his dream of driving a tank in battle. Jim looked exactly the opposite of someone who you’d picture in the military. Hips wider than his shoulders, a goofy, splay-toed walk and glasses so thick they were bulletproof. And he was topped with a bowl of a haircut too. But they had the tools of stealth. Greg and I, we had the imagination for a truly cunning and ingenious blitz. And we weren’t going to be caught. Not us.
We planned our incursion, right down to the clothes we’d wear, the face paint to disguise ourselves, our routes in and out, and positions for attack. We mapped out escape routes and worked out contingency plans in case all hell broke loose. John and I made reconnaissance treks, sketching routes and timing distances to travel. Greg and Jim assembled our assault packs: six eggs, a pack of firecrackers and two phosphorous tipped matches each, face paint and camouflage attire.
No where in our plans did we think to make sure the object of our wrath was actually home. That’s why I was caught between a rock and a hard place. Or rather, the two steel bumpers of Dickie’s cars. I couldn’t hear my firecrackers, couldn’t see their flash, but the acrid smoke of gunpowder tickled my nose. The headlights on Dickie’s Volvo weren’t exactly bright, the car on the verge of being vintage-status and all, but there I was, onstage and up to no good. And right smack under the lights.
Sound, like someone cranked the volume, returned in a My firecracker gave their last breaths, and I could hear others going off. And then I heard the grinding metal creak of Dickie opening his car door. It sounded like the creak of an opening coffin lid from an old B-movie. It was going to be my coffin if I didn’t get the hell out of there. The man was less than ten feet from me, with both headlights lighting up my face and all I could think was, “Oh, shit. Shit! I’m dead.”
“So what are you boys up to tonight?” Robbie asked. Robbie was John’s mother. We agreed to meet there to start the night’s operations. Greg and I had a fifteen minute walk, but Jim had to bike five miles across town. He lived on the south side of town, on the wrong side of the tracks. Jim had seen us walking up so we came in together.
“Um, I don’t know, just going out for a while,” I said. I could hear John thumping down the stairs; AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds playing in the background. God, I had to turn around so Robbie didn’t see my shit-eating grin.
“Hey mom, have you seen my jungle hat?” John came in the kitchen, his pack open with the face paint tubes and firecrackers showing. My grin vanished.
“You wore it on your last campout; it’s still on the floor down stairs waiting for you to wash it.”
“Hold this,” he said, handing Jim his sack. He reversed direction and went downstairs with more thumping. He came up carrying the hat and his fatigue coat.
Robbie folded her arms across her chest, furrowed her brows and gave John the eye. “Just what are you boys up to tonight?”
John’s big brother Doug came into the kitchen, took the milk out of the fridge. He looked us over and shook his head. “Everybody who’s tried has been caught.”
“Caught what? John, should I know what you’re up to?”
“Nope. You don’t want to know, Mom.” He gave her a big kiss. Doug chuckled and turned to leave. I thought his eye roll would unbalance him, drop him to the floor. Now it was AC/DC’s Highway to Hell playing.
“I don’t want you boys getting into any trouble. You hear me, John?”
“Yes, Robbie dear. We’ll be fine. We won’t be out too late.”
“You better not be. You have school tomorrow.”
“Sure, Robbie.” He gave her another kiss. Watching her, I could see where Doug got his extravagant eye-roll technique.
Once outside I rounded on him. “Jesus, John! Why didn’t you just tell her we were going to egg our teacher’s house! God, for a minute I thought you were going to take some eggs out of the fridge in front of Robbie,” I huffed.
“Shit!” John darted back into the house, came out withtwo dozen eggs. “Almost forgot.” Jim was pulling his bike out of the garage, fumbling with his backpack. He was mumbling something but all I heard was, “I must be stupid.”
“Where the hell’re you going?” John demanded.
“Your mother knows we’re up to something. I’m not going to get in trouble because you have a big mouth.”
“Robbie doesn’t care as long as we don’t get caught. Now let’s get going.”
John had power. It was easy to see, watching him put on his face paint and ignoring Jim. Jim watched him, then looked at me. I looked at Greg who was getting out his face paint. I shrugged and started rifling through my bag. “It’s his mother,” I said to Jim. “He’s the one who’ll be up shit creek without a paddle if we’re caught.”
We took turns helping each other to cover all skin on our necks and head. It was coming up on eight and a fog was settling in. Indian summer re-emerged Saturday and still clung this evening. The temperature must have been hovering around fifty still, but our breath added to the fog.