Graduation Night 1971 (Part Three)
Excerpted from "Goin' Crazy", an unfinished autobiography in novel form.
by Michael F. Nyiri 1977
The “Cast of Characters”. Each of the ten members of the “Rosemont Rebels” is based on a real life person, although the “names have all been changed”. This photo shows the gang reunited about four years after high school graduation at Evan’s wedding. (I got there from doing something else that day and wasn’t part of the wedding party, so I am not wearing a tie. (Neither is John). It was the early 70s, anyway, when no rules applied to anything. (Jim Saybert wasn't at the wedding, and I applied his fake name to another Jim who was there.)
McLaren took charge of the operation, directing Potter, Saybert and Starkey to one side of the vast expanse of ivy, and himself and Reswick on the other, so they could throw rolls across the area, which had begun to dew, crisscrossing the area entirely with the thin tissue paper.
Since Tom was the tallest member of the group, he tp’d the trees, and Mike, Hugh, and John Ramone wound toilet paper around the gateposts and porch. Tom tried to unlatch the back gate to get the side of the house, but it was locked. Working silently for eight to ten minutes, without even hearing as much as a dog bark, the ten boys had managed to nearly completely blanket the front lawn area and facade of the house, including ornate posts and window boxes with toilet paper, using some ten rolls. As soon as McLaren was satisfied they couldn’t do more, he signaled for the group to disperse.
Mike returned to the Malibu with Saybert and Reswick. “Bob, where in the devil did McLaren get all that toilet paper?”
Bob answered as he opened the doors for his friends. “At the Diamond Market. Old man Pepper gives Chris a discount for quantity purchases.”
“Uh-huh.” Saybert joined in as he seated himself. “During football season that store gets a lot of repeat business from high school students.”
“Oh, I see,” Mike said, laughing, as he tumbled into the rear seat and Bob Reswick gunned the engine.
Minutes later, after the three cars had circled the block three times, horns a-blaring, occupants cheering, yelling, and screaming, in an attempt to rouse the neighborhood, the white Chevy followed Hugh Rogers’ battered white Plymouth station wagon through the streets towards Mr. Lawson’s house in San Gabriel. The first leg of Operation Teacher TP had been rousingly successful.
As the clock ticked close to one a.m., the three cars pulled to a halt down the road from Mr. Lawson’s cul-de-sac. The group worked fast, and had to hide twice as neighbors woke up and peeked out their windows, but in five minutes they were on their way again, only after retreating making as much noise as possible. At the nearest red light, Reswick pulled up alongside the Plymouth.
“Hey, Ev, Chris,”
“Yeah, Bob, what’ve you got?”
“I’m running a little low on gas.”
Mike leaned over the seat to get within earshot of the other car – “If we get back to Rosemont, I’ll get my car.”
“Okay,” Evan agreed as the light turned green, causing Bob to pace with the Plymouth. “We’ll regroup back at my house and ready the second run. Tell John.” The Plymouth roared away. Mike caught John’s attention by yelling with Saybert out the other window, and the two cars raced towards Rosemont.
Back at Evan’s, the group gobbled egg salad, ham and baloney sandwiches, sloshed root beer, crunched tortilla chips, and reviewed their first two successful attacks. Everybody agreed that this would be the talk of Rosemont for weeks to come. By two a.m., they were ready to set out again, this time Tiny Tom Hunter joined Mike, Bob, and Saybert in the Fantastic, which was loaded down with rolls of toilet paper. The next name on the list was Fred Peters, who taught Economics, Psychology, and U.S. Government. Chris, Mike, and Tom had taken classes with him this past year, and Mike had adored the short manic personality who psychoanalyzed his students and let vocal individuals determine the course of study. As Mike drove the short distance up Rosemont Blvd. to Peter’s house, he reflected for a moment on his Government and Senior Problems class, which Peters had not so much taught as acted an overseer.
Mike saluted this tiny, easily agitated but overly friendly man, who had introduced a great many unorthodox but interesting and fulfilling educational concepts to his classes. Althought the second semester Gov’t class usually dealt with various facets of the study of communism and third world politics, Peters announced this was passe and he would try something different. At the end of the year, no one really knew quite what to think of the make-up of the class. It had differed widely and wildly from conventional classes, yet everyone agreed, they learned a lot. Peters began the semester by arranging the students’ desks into a large circle, and instead of sitting at the front of the class, Peters sat with the students in the circle, acting as moderator and participant.
What he did was stage a semester long group-encounter session, and it succeeded dramatically. Mike had always been vocal, and he emerged, along with a few others, as the focal points of the group. Each focal point adopted a dissident opinion, and the group reacted to those opinions. Mike had emerged as a ground roots communist, which he termed “communalist” to set his theories apart from Russian ideas. Another student became a John Bircher, embracing the extreme right. Another a pacifist, etc. Peters urged competition, and spurred the discussions with pertinent questions. As a result, the participants had to think, and even students who had hitherto been quiet, spoke out with courage to defend their points of view.
Mike witnessed struggles, quarrelling, the taking of sides, and norm making and breaking. Quiet people emerged from their shells. Some students actually developed new or expanded points of view owing to the quarrels which were as much philosophical as political. At the end of the term, even the most heated arguments had been resolved, and everyone in the class respected the other more. Mike had learned a lot from Peter’s analogy to life, and now he drove towards the Peters house with a renewed respect. He would toilet paper his former teacher’s house not out of revenge, but out of respect. Besides, the man lived on a secluded street in an old house nearly hidden by hedges, tall plants and trees. The place had great possibilities.
The caravan stopped for a moment at the all night Diamond Market, to rearm with discounted toilet paper, then headed up the remote street on which Peters lived, over hung with giant oak trees. The three cars, driven by Mike Franklin, John Ramone, and Hugh Rogers, wound around the few blocks surrounding the Psych professor’s house, in order to familiarize themselves with possible escape routes in the event of a blunder. Mike followed the battered whith Plymouth station wagon to a halt, and could clearly hear Chris McLaren’s distinctive laughter flowing out the windows.
“I hope no one hears us.” Reswick said with disdain, also hearing the laughter.
“Oh, I’m sure,” Saybert retorted. “anyway we haven’t done anything yet.”
McLaren bounced over to the yellow Dart, armed with several rolls of toilet paper. “He’ll love this.” he said motioning down the street to the enclosed dwelling of Fred Peters.
“I wonder if he’ll know it’s us,” Hugh Rogers quipped, following Chris. Tom removed his bulk from the back seat of Mike’s car and began a high pitched laugh, which both Mike and Jim tried in vain to stifle.
By now Chris Potter, Curt Starkey, and John Ramone joined the group. “Everybody know the easiest route around the block?” John asked.
“Yeah. Let’s get going.”
As the band of ten slowly moved down the dark street, not a sound could be heard. The clock said nearly two-thirty a.m. when all the boys approached the ivy-covered fence circling the Peters house.
“Hey, don’t raise your voice. Somebody’ll hear.”
“Talk about raising your voice!”
“So, this is where Fred Peters lives.”
“Yeah, big, isn’t it?”
“Hey, if you gotta talk, whisper, for God’s sake!”
“Get a load of this fence.” The ivy was slightly overgrown and intertwined with various other vines. The group moved up to the gate which was nearly invisible in all the foliage.
Mike glanced into the yard of the large house, decorated with all sorts of ornamental wooden statues and carved animals. The yard overflowed with all manner of vegetation. “He has certainly got one heckuva front yard!”
“Yeah, Peters is an amateur gardener.”
“Pipe down.” Hugh Rogers implored as they pressed themselves up against the fence. “Boy, this is almost spooky.”
“Hooohooohoooo.” Tom howled lowly.
“He thinks he’s funny.”
“Shut up all of you. What now?”
“Look,” Reswick instinctively crouched lower in front of the closed gate, “a light’s on!”
“Think he might have heard something?”
“Yeah, Tom, your big mouth.”
“Be quiet, guys,” Chris said “somebody should volunteer to go up there alone and take a look.”
“Hey, guys, don’t look at me!”
“Not me, either.”
“Evan, you do it. You’re skinny and light on your feet. Nobody’ll hear you.”
“What if somebody does hear him?”
Evan turned eerily to Potter. “Then I’ll yell, Potter did it. Potter did it.!”
“How bout it, Ev?”
“Sure, we’ve got to go through with this in order for Operation Teacher TP to be a success.”
Tom resounded with a low howling sound.
“I can hear dogs.” Reswick quickly said.
“Shut up, that was Tom.”
“Shut up, Tom, I mean it.”
Evan easily opened the massive gate, careful not to make a sound. Once inside the wonderland of a front yard, he crept stealthily up to the lighted window, paused for a moment, and looked in, sighting the laundry room bathed in a yellow glow. He surveyed the area, taking in every detail.
“I can’t see Evan.” Mike whispered.
“It’s dark, numnum.”
“Look over there, somebody’s watching.”
“That’s just your imagination. It’s nothing. Just a shadow.”
“There he is,” Mike said triumphantly, “Evan’s nodding it’s okay.”
“Okay, gang, ” Chris McLaren spoke, “let’s go!”
“Nobody make any noise.”
“You’re not kidding.”
The ten youths slipped inside the gate, tossing toilet paper rolls to each other in order to even up the ammunition. To Mike, the quiet seemed unbearable. He thought every breath could be heard by someone. However, once everybody got to work, the uneasy feeling subsided. The front yard looked much like the Japanese Gardens at the Huntington Library and Grounds in San Marino minus the bridge. Bathed in moonlight, the picturesque lawn sported dozens of different types of plants and shrubs, all enclosed by the ivy and vine covered fence. Each Rosemont Rebel bravely set to work, unrolling rolls of toilet paper everywhere. This would be their crowning achievement tonight, McLaren whispered, winding some blue tissue paper around a bonsai cherry tree. Curt decorated the front porch, passing paper around the porch swing and up around the posts so they looked like barber poles. Potter climbed a twisted tree and decorated the scattered branches. Evan ran to the south side of the lawn and began on the fence. Saybert and Franklin tp’d the other side of the fence.
About four minutes passed, and much had been done, but the yard was large.
“Come on, guys,” McLaren whispered a scream. “we have to get going soon!”
Mike quickly but idly strung his toilet paper through the branches of low hanging trees, now helping John Ramone, but listening instead to the rustling of the leaves. Suddenly he heard Curt let out a low scream, “The light went out!”
“Uh-oh, what now!”
Chris immediately gathered together a few loose rolls, but the rest of the gang froze momentarily in their places. Somebody said, “You think he saw us?”
“Well, I’ll be darned if I’m gonna find out.” Chris Potter started to dash for the gate.
“Everybody calm down.”
“Shut up. He’ll hear.”
“He’s already heard.” Saybert joined Potter at the gate, rushing to open it. McLaren joined them.
“Shit, the porch light just went on.”
Immediately the group shuffled into action, hopping over to the gate in order to get out. Everybody tore out the gate, bounding up the street to their cars, while Tom slammed the gate closed. No one listened to it latch, as loose rolls of tissue bounced on the asphalt.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“Golly, I hope we get out all right.”
Chris warned, “Get out quick.”
“Let’s go round once with the horns.”
“I’m going to chance it.”
“No, you’re not,” countered John. “I’m driving!”
“He probably saw us.”
“Then he knows it’s a joke.”
“He probably called the police!”
“You’re right. Let’s move!”
Michael Franklin hurried up the street, puffing breathlessly, cutting across lawns with Hugh and Jim Saybert following, Tom’s hulking form bringing up the rear.
“Hurry, Tom, Hurry!” he heard Jim exclaim. As he got to the car, he gunned the engine, impatiently waiting for Jim and Tom to climb in the back seat behind Reswick and himself. Once they were on their way, everything quieted down. He started to drive out to Rosemont Blvd, but was stopped by Tom’s imploring voice.
“What, Tom. We should get out of here.”
“What, for heaven’s sake?”
“Yeah, Tubs.” Saybert joined, “whaddya want?”
“Don’t you think it would be great if we went back there and yelled McLaren’s name out the window?”
“Why do that?” Reswick countered.
“Don’t you see? He’s gone, but it was his plan. Then the cops’ll ask Peters if he heard any names. He’ll say, yeah, McLaren’s.”
“That isn’t funny, Tom.”
“No, Reswick. It is funny. It’s a joke on Chris. After all, he has been insufferable to some of us this past year.”
Mike leaned over the seat to listen more intently. “You know, Tom and Jim are right. We’ll be giving McLaren a sort of a – a comeuppance. He deserves it.”
“Anyway, it’s only a joke.”
“Well, I don’t think it’s funny.”
“Three against one, Bob,” Tom laughed.
Mike wheeled around the block, “How’ll we do this?”
“Wait a few moments outside of Peters with the lights off, then start yelling McLaren’s name out the window.”
“We’ll be caught for sure.”
“No we won’t Reswick, we’ll wait until we’re sure no cops’re coming. What do you say?”
“I’m for it,” said Mike, executing a three point turn down the block, then driving up alongside the toilet papered yard, obscured by the hedge, with his lights off. He shut off the engine and cautioned every one to duck out of sight. After a few minutes without seeing any police cars, Mike reached across Reswick and rolled down the window.
“Do I have to do this?” asked Bob.
“Shush. Okay guys, throw in a little psychology and economics terms. Peters’ll love that. Now.”
Tom rolled down his window and inhaled deeply, then let out a low wail.
“Skinner Box….Caw Caw.”
Jim motioned to Mike, “I don’t hear any sirens.”
“Yeah, but we’d better get out of here.”
“He probably didn’t even call the police.”
“Yeah, he’s on the other side of that hedge.”
“With a shotgun.”
“I am getting a trifle scared. I’ll count to three. We’ll all yell “McLaren” as loud as we can and I’ll high tail it out of here.”
“One — Two — Three.”
“MC– LAR– EN”
Screeeech. Mike burnt rubber as he tooled up the obscure street, maneuvering a quick right at the corner. “Cops’ll be here any second. I’ll find a back way out.”
“Sure you know what you’re doing?”
“I hope so.”
He kept the lights off and looked for a roundabout way out.
“Where the hell are you going?” Saybert asked as Mike hung a left at the next corner, nearly clipping the street sign.
“I don’t know. How do we get back on Rosemont Blvd.?”
“You’ve only lived here for seventeen years!!”
“Yeah, so have you.” He made another left. “I think this is the way.”
“Oh, no. They’re going to get us. I just know it.” Bob Reswick wailed.
“No they won’t. Jesus, these streets don’t go anywhere.”
“Don’t look now, Mike. This is Peter’s street.”
“Shit.” He zipped by the house, cursing himself for somehow executing a circle, and he charged ahead, oblivious to the quarreling voices behind him. “This looks familiar.”
“This is where you got us lost before!”
“You want the wheel? Saybert, where the hell are we?”
“Don’t look at me. I live in El Rojo.”
“Well,” Mike swung the car in a left arc at forty miles per hour. “I’ll turn here. Look, it leads out over there!”
“I think this street dead ends!”
“Do you think he called the police?” Robert asked worriedly.
“No, ” Mike reassured, “They’d be here by now.” He made the right turn onto Rosemont Blvd., familiar territory. The blank storefronts smiled success at him. There were no cars on the street.
That is, except one.
A black and white patrol car.
“God, that’s them!”
“Don’t worry, Bob”, said Jim Saybert, “they probably aren’t on all, and if they are, they don’t know what kind of car to look for.”
The car passed. All four boys tried not to glance at it. Mike began to speed up, hoping to get to Del Mondo Road, four blocks away, a street whith which he was particularly familiar.
“Slow down. They’ll think something’s suspicious.”
“Just let me do the driving.”
“Mike, there’s four of us in here.”
“Yeah, slow down.”
Mike slowed down.
“Too slow. Speed up.”
“Those cops’ll know it’s us. Speed up.”
“Don’t go too fast.”
“Make up your minds, will ya?”
Tom laughed heartily.
“I’m going to make a right here at Del Mondo.” Mike looked into the rear view mirror to see the only other automobile on the road, the patrol car, execute a U-turn about fifty yards behind them. “Don’t look behind us.”
“Oh, no, Mike. You mean-”
“Get out of here, quick.”
“If only I can get to Del Mondo.” The red lights on the patrol car began to revolve slowly, then speed up a little faster.
(To be continued)