So there the three of us sat on the long wooden bench outside Principal Wallenstein's office. Not an Assistant Principal, the usual dispenser of discipline, but the big guy, the one you don't mess around with. This used to be handled by one of the Assistant Principals with a swift use of the "board of education," as it was known. But that practice was halted when two parents sued the school for damaging their "innocent angels' self-image."
It did not matter that the next day, Tom Omik, a feared bully and Caren -- with a "C"-- Pullman, a snide "influencer" both laughed about it in class, Caren saying, in her faux-English accent, that her five-year-old sister could flog with more authority than that. Omik responded by beating up the kid who snitched on his bullying -- right in front of the now less-than dreaded Assistant Principal who could only give this bully a week suspension -- vacation time for Omik.
So there were me and my two best friends. Benny Krusinski was a class clown --"My dad's a Polack and my mom's a wop," he'd say, attributing his sense of humor to that background; Althea "Althy" Gates was the school's track star who loved seeing how much of her slim five-foot, eight-inch frame she could show off in spandex without being called into the office for violating the school's dress code (her black unitard with the shortest of cut-off jeans once went relatively unnoticed all day. She was considering other adventures but it was getting late in the school year -- our senior year all of us with unclear plans for the future).
Me? Ned O'Connell? A fair poet, mediocre guitar player, expert dreamer (oh yes, and a virgin, just for not fitting in, I suppose --"conform or be outcast," as the song goes). Dressed in jeans and the sweatshirt of a college my grades would never get me into. Benny, in bib overalls and a plaid, flannel shirt, on the other hand, would brag about making girls laugh all the way into the bedroom ... the back seat of his Nissan ... or the restroom of a fast food restaurant. Althy, the jock wore a light blue, short sleeve leotard with a black wrap-around skirt. There were rumors about her, common with female athletes, which she would never confirm or deny.
"None of it matters," she'd say and ignore the main issue with, "So what if my dad's a quadroon?" she laughed at that bit of Old South racism. "If I had to depend on my mom's hillbilly genes, I'd be as short as you." she smiled and tousled my hair.
"Me mamma," Benny said, in a thick, facetious Italian accent, "she's a saint. "Except when she cooka de lasagney. Den, I go 'round the neighborhood make sure alla da cats still dere, not her 'secret ingredient."
"It doesn't matter," I said. "Except ..."
"Except?" she asked.
"Except," Benny said, smiling, "when he has a crush on you."
"Really?" she asked, not entirely surprised.
"Yeah," I admitted. "But it's all the rumors," I said, more nervous about questioning her sexuality than even now facing a possible return to corporal punishment. "It's the whole jock thing. It's how short you wear your hair."
"Long hair and weight machines aren't exactly a match made in Heaven," she said. "But, seriously, you've seen me since the eight grade -- long wavy ombre-colored hair, short, jet black goth hair, Long purple hair with bangs -- Future Girl or something. Surprised I haven't tried shaving it all off by now." She looked at me and shrugged her shoulders. "But if you must know ..."
Just then, Principal Wallenstein walked out of his office. "You three," he said, pointing, "inside."
We complied. Althy and Benny sat down. I remained standing, for once being the tallest of the three. The Principal shoved a sheet of paper forward. It was the school dress code. "Read section four."
It was something the three of us found we had in common early in the tenth grade. A common bond between three eccentrics.
"Hey!" Benny exclaimed, "I oversleep and forget sometimes. You wouldn't want me to miss homeroom. Besides, last year, we read a biography of Hemingway and if it was good enough for Papa ..."
"Something a girl would never admit to," Althy said. "Even though a lot of us do on occasion. But a lot of jerks would take it the wrong way. But you had Marilyn Monroe -- who did very often, Talulah Bankhead -- which Hitchcock took with a sense of humor."
"Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin," I said. "Not to mention all those old rockers who seemed proud of their protrusion. Rock began to suck when that bulge disappeared. Besides, this is something the school has no business regulating."
"You'd be amazed," the Principal scoffed, "all we can regulate -- even though we have no business doing so." He leaned back in his antique office chair and smiled. "This might surprise you, but I was something of a hippie, back in the day. But a mortgage and two kids," he drew a sigh -- nostalgia? I had to wonder. "So the three of you do have a choice," he continued. "You can all sign a form saying you agree to stop this behavior under threat of suspension. And remember, I don't make empty threats."
"Or?" we all asked, somewhat out of sync with each other.
"As you know," he said, "Wallbank Junior High is about to be torn down and rebuilt as an elementary school."
"Sad," I said, thinking of all the quirks there in that New Deal-era building. Auditorium with a box office at the door, department head offices, a secondary gym in the basement -- usually called the catacombs, all sorts of doorways leading to the outside. "An architecturally splendid building."
"Three years of hell," Althy said, her face betraying bad memories. "Education and puberty aren't exactly a good match."
"I think I was asleep those three years," Benny added. "I seem to remember hearing about something happening in 1776. Christopher Columbus?"
"Anyway," the Principal said, ending our reminiscing, "There is a storage room on the third floor has files going back to the 1880s,"
That was when the first North High was built (this was the third version. The original resembling a haunted insane asylum and became the original Wallbank Junior High. By the mid-1960s it was condemned even though most was still in use with signs warning that some stairways might collapse. It was torn down in the late 1960s and rebuilt as New North High by that fall. The 1930s North demoted to Wallbank Junior High, and the grade-levels system went from K-8 and 9-12 to K-6, 7-9, and 10-12. Some missed the old 8th grade graduations while others felt such pomp and circumstances were unwarranted, given the triviality of going up one grade.
"The local historical society," Principal Wallenstein continued, "would like some of the files. You three have good, if sometimes inconsistent grades -- suggesting to the Society, for some odd reason, an archivist's sensibilities."
"So we do this," I began, "and we can keep on going..."
"You can trash them, for all I care. Hold a ritual burning. My brother-in-law is a Society trustee and I owe him on a few favors."
"So we'd be looking for maps, photographs," I said, remembering a field trip to the museum run by the Society, "documents like newspaper clippings."
"Hand-written letters," Althy added. "Journals. Maybe some school yearbooks and report cards."
"Skeletons," Benny joked.
The Principal chuckled. "You three weirdos can return to your classes. Be at Wallbank Saturday, around noon, boiler room door. The Custodian will let you in, I think you know the way."
We passed Benny's class and he went inside, leaving me and Althy alone in an empty hallway. "So as I was asking," she stuck her thumbs inside the neck of her leotard and pulled down, exposing her firm. teacup-size breasts,
"Like what you see?" she asked.
"Of course," I replied, not entirely sure what I should be feeling. Admiration?
"Well, I like you liking what you see. And, to be truthful, I have wondered if we could be more than friends. However, I do like the mystery of uncertainty -- 'is she or isn't she'. And experimenting can be fun -- so yeah ... kinda. But in the long run, nah."
She saw the confused look on my face and laughed. "Believe me, I found it as confusing as hell. Still freaks me out a little -- knowing where my head has been." She chuckled.
It took me a few seconds to get the joke, which left me both confused but now more than a bit excited.
But do you have any problems with either the fact that I'll always be a bit of a question mark or my being taller then you?"
"A couple years ago," I said as she removed her thumbs, letting the material snap back, "you beat me at the fifty yard dash. Something about that made me dream about you that night." That was the brief experiment of coed gym classes -- something ended when parents complained about some of the girls being more athletic than most of the boys -- Althy was a prime example.
"That kind of dream?" she asked smiling.
"Definitely that kind."
"Prom's coming up, you know. I wasn't going to go. But Benny's dating the Prom Queen ..."
"And won't shut up about it."
She giggled. "Can you blame him?"
"Didn't they drop the dress code after parents complained that tuxes and gowns show privilege? Opens up a lot of options."
"And I've had this cobalt blue backless spandex mini-dress I'm just aching to wear in public.
'I have the same color leggings I wear ... for jogging -- of course."
"Of course," she laughed. "So we'd match."
"Maybe we can convince Benny's date to join our little club. They'll probably take a nap and oversleep Prom Night and have to rush."
"And then we'd be the 'Four Weirdos'?" she asked, putting her long arm around my shoulder. "Works for me."
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