Michael F. Nyiri
Graduation Night 1971 (Part Four)
Excerpted from "Goin' Crazy", an unfinished autobiography in novel form.
by Michael F. Nyiri 1977
Everybody get down.”
”Oh, come on!”
”Normal? We have to hide those rolls of toilet paper in the back seat.”
”Tom,” Mike began, “try to hide those rolls with your legs.” Tom laughed.
”Mike, make a run for it. Now.”
”Yeah, it’s your ticket!”
The patrol car deflty pulled up behind the Dart. By this time Mike knew everything was useless. Tom screamed. “Tell ‘em I have the RUNS!”
”Would everybody quiet down? Please?”
”Oh, Gawd,” Robert said disconsolately, “I knew I should have gone with McLaren!”
”Thanks for the support, guys.” The squad car slid up behind the Dart, which Mike pulled over to the curb, only a rew cursed yards from Del Mondo Road. Tome kept laughing, no matter how hard Saybert tried to calm him. Robert looked at Mike with an angry glint in his eye.
”Oh, ” Mike turned away from Reswick to the window and saw one of two officers approaching. In his two years of driving, he’d never been pulled over before, and didn’t know what to say. He hoped and prayed silently that they would get away but knew realistically that they wouldn’t have a chance. He figured Peters had called the police and here they were. Rosemont’s finest.
The officer, a clean cut young man barely in his twenties, tapped on Mike’s window, which he rolled down obediently.
”Do you know why we pulled you over?” the officer asked with a voice that came somewhere from his throat.
”Pulled us over? Uh, no. Of course not.” Mike sensed Robert’s eyes drilling holes in the back of his head. “We weren’t speeding – or anything.” From the corner of his eye Mike saw the second officer walk over to the other side of the car. The man looked into both windows and then shined his flashlight into the back seat area, cupping his hand over his visor. Tom was trying to hide the rolls of toilet paper on the floor with his massive legs. ”Where have you boys been tonight?”
”Oh, around. You know. Cruising.”
”Tonight was our graduation.” Robert offered feebly.
”Oh, congratulations.” Mike detected a note of sarcasm in the cop’s inflection.
”John, look.” The second officer caught the first’s attention as he shined his flashlight to a space between Tom and Jim’s legs. “Here’s the evidence.” Jim tried to cover the visible roll of toilet paper but was too late. The first officer had opened the driver’s door. ”Would you get of the car, please?”
Mike exited slowly. Evidence? He sounds as if he found the elusive cache of heroin. Evidence.
Jim followed him slowly, and the officer led them a few yards from the car onto a pump island beonging to the gas station by which they parked. The officer spoke, “Would you please show me your license?”
Uh-oh. Mike reasoned they must be in trouble now. But wait. As soon as Peters found out the truth, he wouldn’t be mad. He couldn’t be mad. He watched Bob and Tom move to the partrol car with the other cop, a blondish roughian, with a moustache who also looked as if he’d just recently graduated from the Police Academy.
”Would you mind explaining this, young man?” the first officer commanded Mike’s attention by raising both the roll of toilet paper and his voice. Mike sardonically remembered Tom’s earlier vocal defense. “I got the runs.”
”We – er – well.” Truth will out, Mike reasoned. At least if he and the guys could face Mr. Peters. He wouldn’t let them get in trouble. After all, it was graduation. “uh – we – er – we were toilet papering a – uh – a friend’s house. A good friend. He’s a teacher who – uh - who had us. I had him last year for two classes. Tom had him for – ”
”Do you think having this teacher for classes gives you the right to t-p his house?”
”Well – er – uh – no – but – he wouldn’t mind. Really.”
”He minded enough to call the police, didn’t he?”
Mike waited for Saybert to speak up but noticed he was letting him carry the ball. “Well, he didn’t know it was us.” Mike wanted to say, “heck, we’re all honor students. We’ve never been in trouble in our lives, ” but decided against it. Maybe if they could see Peters, show these policemen he wouldn’t – couldn’t – no he couldn’t press charges! He heard the second cop’s voice boom out from the rear of the car.
”Hell, when we used to do this, we were never so stupid as to get caught. How did you guys manage it?”
Remind me to get his badge number, Mike thought.
”Well,” the first officer said to Mike, “we just recently received a call from an irate citizen. He claims some rowdies toilet papered his lawn. Would you like to come back with us and see if he’s your, uh, friend?”
”You bet. And we’ll clean up every piece of the stuff. Don’t worry.”
Saybert suppressed a grin. “We’ll follow you, sir.”
The policemen climbed into their parked car, Robert Reswick walked up to Mike. “Why’d you say we’d agree to go back and clean it up? This is all your fault.”
”Oh, be quiet, Robert.” Saybert chimed in.
”Well, Gawd. We might go to jail.”
”Oh, don’t be silly.” Mike said, “As soon as Peters sees it’s us, he’ll just make us clean it up. He’s a straight guy. If you want to worry, I’ll make you stay here and you can walk home.” ”Ooohh.”
The small group resumed their seats in the Dart, and Mike followed the black and white Hutchins City Sheriff’s patrol car back to Peter’s ornate home with the beautiful garden. ”This is shameful.” Robert muttered, “You should have sped up when I told you to!”
”Yeah, Mike,” Tom laughed harder than he had all night, sending reverberations through the air,” It’s all YOUR fault.”
The trip back covered six blocks and when the four walked up to the ivy covered gate, escorted by the two policemen, all were silent. They followed each other into the magnificent yard and waited for the cops to open the screen door. From out of the door, a small figure moved to the front step, bedecked in a suave smoking jacket, and silk pajamas, smoking small cigar. As the policemen lined everybody up, he chuckled, looked straight into Mike’s eyes, and smiled wryly. “Well, boys,” he asked, “How was graduation?”
Michael Nichol Franklin silently stepped up the circular concrete steps his father had poured four years ago before finishing the recreation room in back of the house, which now served partly as a “rumpus room” and as Mike’s bedroom. He let himself in the back door, and silently closed both the screendoor and heavy wooden door, careful not to make too much noise. It must be after three o’clock in the morning. He proceeded to the bedroom, narrowly skirting the small family pool table, and drew back the row of beads which partitioned his small bedroom from the rest of the large area. Taking five large steps to his bed, across his rugs, he sat down, reaching over to his combination desk and bookcase to find the fluorescent desk lamp, which he turned on. Starting to pull off his shoes and socks and doff his black vinyl jacket, he reflected for a moment on the night’s events. Again an unspeakable feeling fought itself into his consciousness, but his happiness was once again able to stop it. What a wonderful night. What terrific friends.
Although the toilet-papering episode had ended abruptly with those cops catching Bob, Jim, Tom, and him, the clean-up hadn’t been bad and the only hassles the boys had had to endure were the cops’ inane remarks about how they hoped all the grades were in. Mike had cleaned up the yard smiling, noticing the subtle humor in the episode. Jim and Tom laughed. Robert felt humiliated. They’d all needled him on the way home, and to show he could be a good boy, he vowed to obey the speed limit on the way back to Ev’s. This proved futile as soon as the first car had pulled up behind him and honked. He’d sped up quick enough, causing everyone in the car to laugh.
He sure had spent a rewarding four years in high school, making many friends, and establishing many relationships with people he hoped would last. As he removed his blue jeans and black tee-shirt, he didn’t even notice the cold night air wrap around him, because he was by now lost deep in thought. He absentmindedly turned to the 1971 Rosemont High School Yearbook sitting on his desk and moved it to his lap, where he started turning pages, reliving memories, as he looked at the senior portraits of his classmates.
There was Gabrielle Bonelli, a bubbly volcano of effervescence and personality. Gabriella and Mike had spent many good times together, in CSF meetings, in school plays, at their morning table before school started among others in their morning group. Of the three girls MIke knew he had an interest in, Gabrielle would be the one he’d know the least in the future. He still held dear the time after a dance number which she had participated in for the school Dance Concert, when she had bounded up to him and kissed him on the mouth. He’d composed poems for her. He’d written her Senior Celebrity column for the school newspaper. He knew she would be going to USC in two years. Oh, for their reunion.
Kathryn Anne Brighton held the distinction of being the true love of Michael Nichol Franklin’s life. Tall, graceful. When she smiled at him his heart sank. He’d noticed her first in Freshman English class and finally had a chance to sit next to her. She’d hardly noticed him. By the time they became friends, and they were “special friends” now; his buddy Steve Kaup had asked her to be his girlfriend. Now Steve didn’t know Mike loved her, and Mike wished them future happiness, although he kept composing poem after poem proclaiming his love for her. Would he ever kiss those beautiful lips or hold those delicate, soft hands?
Jonathon Donohugh’s photo smiled up at him from the yearbook page. Could Jon be considered a friend? Or merely an acquaintance? Although he’d spent his time putting Mike down, he’d written in the yearbook that he truly was sorry, and hoped there were no hard feelings. Mike figured he might see him again, after all, he was going to USC too, but knew he’d never strike up a real friendship. Jon was much too shallow.
Michael C. Harding. If John were shallow, Mike Harding was as deep as one could get. A fellow poet, Mike had struck up a lasting friendship with Mike Franklin. The medium sized, strong expressioned youth, with blonde hair cut much like country singer John Denver, thought deeply and carefully about life and, although Mike had only known him the past year in Drama Class, and though he didn’t hang out with the Rosemont Rebels or any other friends of Franklin’s, he still savored the friendship of this interesting character.
Donna Johnson had a sweet, naive smile. When a freshman and sophomore, people made fun of Donna, a withdrawn, shy, homely girl who never made any attempt at fighting back or asserting her personality. This past year, she’d become involved with Michael Harding, developed a true trust in him, and started to emerge from her shell, and he’d dropped her cold after saying he loved her. Because Mike found himself in the middle, being Harding’s friend, he calmed the girl, and had succeeded in soothing her hurt feelings. Much to his chagrin, however, especially in the last few weeks before graduation, she had leaned more heavily on his shoulder than he had expected, and he certainly didn’t want her affection to turn toward him.
Steve Kaup. Of every guy in high school, Mike considered Steve his “best friend”. Steve now made Mike’s love urgings uncomfortable by dating Kathy Brighton, but although MIke didn’t tell the boy he loved the girl, Stever had confessed he really did. Mike decided to do nothing. He didn’t want to lose both friends by announcing his feelings. Steve was shy, and somewhat naive, but possessed a marvelous sense of humor, and Mike spent a lot of time at his house. Of everyone he knew now, he supposed he would see Kaup the most in the near future.
Sherry Kendall. Mike met Sherry two years ago, when she’d written a feature story about his “career” as an unpublished writer for her Journalism Class. Mike at first felt pleased with her adoration, but later grew tired of her and once asked his friend Jim Saybert to take her out. Saybert confessed he’d always liked her, and now the two were inseparable.
Judy Lamont. Mike liked Judy as a friend, but didn’t care for her much as a love interest because, although she had a wonderful personality, she was not particularly good looking. Mike had upset her, he knew, when he passed her by to ask Shelly Penrod to be his partner for Commencement. Although he was glad he chose Shel, he now felt somewhat irked by his actions toward this sweet girl.
Michael pushed the book away, his mind crowding wiht memories from four packed years of high school. All the names, all the events. The football games, the Commission meetings, the school newspaper. Problems had been hard, but after all, they were only high school problems. What of the future? What could he look forward to tomorrow? Would he completely forget these people staring up at him from his yearbook? Or would they all live together in dreams for years to come? Again, the un-namable feeling which haunted him at the Commencement ceremonies came rushing back, flooding his being. He couldn’t breathe. He felt stifled. Here he was, sitting in his own room, very late at night, having completed a rabblerousing tour-de-force of a night, yet he felt extremely uncomfortable. He stood up, expecting to sway , but didn’t. Often, at times like this, alone, in the dark, thinking deeply, the unexpected crowding him, he felt compelled to write poetry. Right now, as he looked down at the yearbook faces, never blinking , in continuous solitude with smiles on their unblemished faces, he felt inspired. Quickly pulling his wooden chair from the desk, he sad down, pulled a fresh sheet of lined notebook paper from his PeeChee folder, placed it in front of him, grabbed his black pen he’d received as a graduation present, and began to write. He numbered “Poem 139″ in the top right hand section of the paper, then signed his name. He leaned back as far as the chair could go, his thighs pressing flat between the seat and the desk, legs dangling, arms clasped behind him. He slowly imagined the graduation ceremonies, the hundreds of people, the tear stained faces, the robes, mortarboards, that old wooden podium. Mr. Dunbar’s smile. He brought into focus the rows of folding metal chairs, the slow moving rows of bodies, the maroon robes.
Serenity at the outset. One voice calling hundreds of names. Then the last name. The cheers. The Alma Mater. His parents’ smiles.
Something very warm replaced his funny feeling. It travelled from the pit of his stomach up into his heart. He felt high. High with life and with living. The warm feeling chartered a slow but steady course into his brain. He pictured Shelly Penrod. The kiss. The momentary silence in the midst of a thousand screaming voices as that kiss faded into eternity. Shelly. Gabrielle. Steve. Chris. Jim. Bob. Michael. Donna. Everybody. Especially Kathy.
Michael slowly tilted forward, savoring his rich emotional catharsis, carefully lifting the pen in his left hand, cradling it, twirling it as if it were a baton. He could hear a distant band in the dark playing “Hail to the Varsity” magnificently . Now the chair came to a halt. He opened his eyes, ever so slowly. At the first glimpse of light, he made out the paper in front of him, but it didn’t look like a piece of paper, it looked like a diploma, welcoming him to life.
Now he opened his eyes fully, ready to concentrate. The last images of robed figures faded from his brain. He steadied the pen, poised it above the paper, placed his right hand flush against his forehead. The tip of the pen touched the paper. He watched as he spelled the first words. His inspiration had transformed itself from a feeling to a tangible thing. He continued writing, oblivious to all else save the inspiration, which urged him on, anxious to escape into the printed words on the white paper. He did not stop until he had finished the last word of the poem.
“Class of ’71″
Graduation lights upon us We waited, never ever caring for it’s face Telling time upon the walls of the classroom Minutes ticking slowly till the Very last day Caps and gowns are rented out Do their duty once then service Next year’s class The minister prays for us “We’re going away never to return” One time the entire group is together Standing in one mass Conglomeration of robed figures Names in cluttered annuals Tomorrow dispersion Parties are ending Tears are finding their way down the faces Champagne glasses in the sink Waiting past the summer Live is coming up and hitting us in the face A phone number of a friend you said you’d call A tassel hanging on a lamp A faded program with an underlined name And away to meet the world With everything behind you And nothing ahead but dreams.
Michael placed the pen neatly beside the piece of paper and sighed. He scooted the chair back and stood up. Before he turned off the light in order to go to bed, his eyes glanced to his open yearbook. He read the entry slowly on the page before him.
"Dear Mike, It’s been a blast, hasn’t it? I really enjoyed myself this year and I know you did too. Mike, with your intelligence and sense of humor I know you’ll go far. Both in college and in life. Have fun this summer, Stay Cool, and Don’t Ever Change. Love, Charlene"
Michael closed the book, turned off the light, drew back the covers and climbed into bed. Friendship. Highschool. Fun. Everything behind him, and nothing ahead, he pondered, except life.