Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Faces Out of the Rain

"People are strange when you're a stranger..." sang the doors in 1967.

"I am a stranger here," thought The Kid in Autumn 1956

The Kid stood at the last stop of the route. The yellow bus hissed to a stop and he climbed up  three steps to the aisle as the bus jolted ahead. He stumbled slightly against the first seat to the left and got glares from the two girls seated there. Walking the aisle of the moving bus was like walking a deck at sea. It made him unsteady where he had been merely uncertain before. The bus was on its maiden voyage of the new school year. It had been cleaned over the summer. The compartment filled with the odor of diesel fuel; later it would be spiced with the smell of peanut butter, sweat and old fruit.

There were a couple empty spaces on the seats near the back. Someone stuck out a foot and tripped him as he reached the midpoint and a lean boy threw a leg across the open place beside him. The boy looked out the window as if he had never noticed The Kid coming toward the seat. The Kid slipped into the other seat. The single heavy set occupant by the window grunted, but made no effort to move over any. The Kid sat half off the edge. No one spoke.

This was not a promising beginning.

The school was old, fading brick with high wooden framed windows. The early September weather was still warm. Some of the sashes were half raised, the only air conditioning except for a window unit in the office. It had first opened in 1912. The hallways were dimly lit by yellowed globes hanging on chains and further darkened by rows of brown lockers. The desks in classrooms had fold down bench seats on the front. At the first row these were folded up and useless. The back desks had chairs behind them. Blackboards covered most of two walls. There was something Dickensesque about it. Forty-four years seemed ancient history to The Kid at fifteen.

The Kid had not done well in ninth grade, where he had chosen the Academic Course. He had slipped through Algebra with a D and taken the first and only F of his curriculum vitae in Latin. His family had told him repeatedly he wasn't going to college, so he saw no reason to continue in the preparatory program. He had registered for Commercial and now he reported to his first class.

When he entered, all faces turned his way. There were some giggles. He was the only boy in Commercial. This had not been the case in the town school he attended last year, but it was the situation at his new school. Although in later years he kiddingly claimed he lost a golden opportunity, a chance to be the sole king in a hive of queens, the only thought he had that morning was the mocking from the boys; the boys he didn't even know yet. He went to the school office and immediately switched to Academic.

He had choose typing as his elective. At twelve he had said he'd be a writer and he thought learning to type would be an advantage. When he reported for his first typing class it was four typewriters short. He and three others were forced to Art as their elective instead. It would only be for the first semester, they were assured. Next semester the forbidden four would be returned to type away. It never happened. He was kept in Art the full year. The Kid never learned to type properly.

Once settled in he didn't find himself being targeted for ridicule. There was no bullying as long as he stayed clear of a small group of Greasers, who hung together in their leather jackets like a thick black cloud. Still he knew he was an outsider, drifting along the fringe of the crowd between classes, eating alone in the cafeteria and always fighting for a seat on the bus. It did not help that in those town years he had developed a deep shyness and tended not to approach others, but let them come to him. No one was coming to him.

At home, whenever Rich wasn't available, he would retreat to his bedroom and peck at his battered Underwood typewriter, one his grandmother had given him bought from some second hand shop. It was probably as old as his "new" school, its case was frayed on all corners and a couple of the keys stuck, but he treasured it.

On most weekend he was still transported back to the grand folks when his father came home. It seemed nothing had changed, his life had simply looped back in time and he was older. But things had changed. His grandfather had suffered a serious accident where he worked, one that had laid him up for months and left him with pain. Always a drinker, now the man drank to be drunk. He was not a happy drunk. He would fall into a stupor where he lay about and cursed life and any who came near. Once The Kid's surrogate father, the man now became someone The Kid wished to avoid as much as his real dad.

The trips to town gave The Kid the opportunity to be with his two best friends of that era, Ron and Stu. He and Ron could still explore the hills about town, still catch an occasional movie together. They could hang around Stu's large property and play some three-man baseball or go to the farmer's market together to play the silver ball or record little forty-five rpm records in a booth.

So now it seemed his destiny was to have these infrequent touches of humanity outside his general loneliness. Rich and he spend some time together after school. He saw his old friends for periods of the weekend. Most of the time he was ensconced over his typewriter in a fantasy world of characters of his own creation.

At Christmas that year he was given something he asked for, a tape recorder. It was a Belcor, a so-called portable machine, although it weighted much too much to tote about. It was a reel-to-reel, blue and silver in color and was the first crack in the shell.

Some things were about to change.

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