"Graduation Night 1971" (Part Two)
Excerpted from "Goin' Crazy", an unfinished autobiography in novel form.
by Michael F. Nyiri 1977
"Guess who-o" someone behind him knocked his mortarboard on the ground and dropped him to his knees by pushing him from behind.
"Stop it," Mike rolled around and looked up, "You'll dirty my robe and I won't get my diploma. Oh, it's you, you little bugger.
"The Corona Kid, at your service," the tall youth, wearing a striped tee-shirt and dark jeans put his right hand up to his forehead in an army salute."
Mike struggled to his feet and playfully tugged at the boy's curly longish hair. "I see they let you grow your hair a lot longer in the sticks."
"Uh-huh. That's how we get our kicks. Watching our hair and the grass grow. "
"Are you coming with us tonight, Curt?"
"Of course. Do you think I'd miss a chance to-" he lowered his voice to a whisper - "toilet paper teacher's houses. I want to get Mr. Rainer for giving me a C in Sophomore English." Mike hadn't seen Curt Starkey for over a year. In 1969 he'd moved from Rosemont, but still sent letters to his fellow lunch gang cronies, and occasionally came back to visit in his old VW bus nicknamed, "the Lump". He'd heard about tonight's rabblerousing plans in a letter sent to him a week earlier by Chris McLaren, who, along with Evan Birdman had originally hatched the idea. He certainly didn't want to miss the fun although he'd been only an ex-officio member of the Rosemont Rebels for two years.
"Do you happen to know where the guys are?"
"Yup," said Curt, "they sent me to get you. "Tom said you were spending too much time with your parents. Thought they might get suspicious."
"Okay, well, lead on."
Curt indicated the gang which had assembled in the back row of the folding chairs set up for the band. Robert Reswick, a chubby young man with short curly hair and glasses, waved his hand. "Mike, over here." Mike and Curt marched over to the gang. Curt wildly swinging his arms to an unheard rhythm. As they approached the back row of chairs, Mike noticed which gang members were sitting there, listening intently to Christopher McLaren. The group of boys had originally banded together at lunch time during their Freshman year, quite a few previous friends from their Junior High. Mike had attended Junior High in El Rojo, so he knew none of the gang at first and had met them through Chris and Bob Reswick, with whom he had classes. Throughout the next three years, they formed a bond and did many things together in group activity. None of these boys were subtle and all possessed crazy senses of humor. In their Sophomore year, the lunch gang called attention to themselves by immortalizing "the bush", a California Juniper in which they threw unsuspecting students and themselves.
By the time they all were Juniors, each had accomplished quite a bit in the social and political structure of the school. All joined various clubs, and both Michael and Chris had served as editor of the campus newspaper. Still they kept their zany sense of humor, and now Chris had launched the zaniest campaign of their school years to cap off the Commencement Ceremonies. He called it "Operation Teacher T-P" They planned to wait until late tonight, then drape toilet paper around and across the dew-wet lawns of certain selected teachers. Everybody huddled excitedly as Mike and Curt took their places.
Chris was speaking. "Have we got everybody here?"
Evan took a small black book from a coat pocket under his robe, and read, "Chris McLaren, Captain"
"And I , Lt. Evan Birdman, am present also. Adjutant Robert Reswick"
"He's in the gym with his brother," said Chris. "I've already filled him in."
"Tiny Tom Hunter."
Tom made a screeching sound to indicate he was present. Tom almost took up two of the folding chairs. At 6'3" and 270 pounds, he was an impressive figure, and had the reputation of being the least sane of anybody in the group.
"I think that means he's present, sir" Mike offered, at which Tom tried to tickle him.
"You talkin' to Geraldine, honey." John intoned in his never ending impersonation of his idol, Flip Wilson.
"Captain Chris, the other two names aren't here. Chris Potter and Fred Passman."
"Fred didn't want to go, and I couldn't give him details wiht my parents there. Besides, he had tickets to the party."
"Okay, and Potter's already home. He already received his instructions."
Mike looked at McLaren, who faced the group. He was of medium height with brown hair that had been carefully sprayed. He wore glasses and loose clothing over his thin frame. He was voted in the class yearbook as "Most Likely to Succeed" and neither Mike nor anyone else in school had doubted for a moment his claim to the title.
McLaren was the avowed leader of the group, and was also the most schizophrenic. As Associated Student Body President, or class speaker addressing a Rotary Club meeting, Christopher McLaren could be called the model Rosemont student and citizen. But he was also a rowdy individual with a satiric wit and boundless energy, who sometimes even infuriated people by seeming inconsiderate and stand offish. Mike saw Tom Hunter as the opposite of Chris. Tom was a likable "jolly" fat man who put up no pretenses to hide his craziness. Whereas nobody hated Tom, Chris had made some enemies. Edna Franklin once told Mike that his handshake and speech pattern when greeting people reminded her of a shifty politician. Indeed, his idol had always been Richard M. Nixon.
"Okay, guys." Chris assumed a mock serious attitude, "Here's our plan. While all the sissies do their thing over at the country club, we will prepare for "Operation Teacher T-P". Step one: we all retire to our respective abodes, and dress in dark clothing. Got that?"
"Dark clothing, Captain," Lt. "Birdie" Birdman piped.
"Step Two: we will drive over to Operation Headquarters for preliminary planning. Headquarters is Evan's house. Everybody know where he lives?"
Everybody nodded agreement. Just then a girl walked over. "Sssshhh," yelled Curt.
"Hi, Chris, guys." Marge Robinson greeted them.
"Oooooohhooooohoooo. My Little Margie." screeched Tiny Tom.
"Hubba Hubba," yelled Robert Reswick, an otherwise articulate and quiet scholar who occasionally got the urge to yell at people unabashedly.
"Hello Marge," Chris immediately donned his Mr. Personality image, and recited a tone which almost sounded as if someone pulled a string on his back, causing a recording to start. "Are you looking forward to this summer?"
"Oh, am I. My mom just said that as a graduation present I can go to Hawaii with Laurie."
"That is magnificent, Marge. I'm sure you will have a wonderful time."
"Oh, thank you. There's Laurie. I've got to go tell her the news." She waved good bye and ran off in the direction of her friend. Chris immediately snapped back to his "Captain Chris" guise.
"Now, where was I, Lieutenant?"
"Just finished Step Two, Captain."
"All right. Step Three: we will wait over at Ev's until about midnight, when all our teachers are safe in their beds. We will then attack. Everyone hear that?"
"Okay, I think we should disperse now, turn in our caps and gowns, and I'll see you when we regroup."
"Aye-aye." The eight individuals quickly moved to their feet. For the moment at least, the strange feeling which had troubled Michael Franklin earlier had fled, leaving him free to contemplate the future plans for the evening. He pitied Fred Passman for having to miss what would surely be a hilarious evening at best, and even though Steve Kaup was a best friend in other circles and didn't like to hang out with McLaren and the gang socially, Mike pitied him, too, although he knew Steve and Kathy would probably have a good time. He said his goodbyes and headed for the lighted doorway of the gym. As he exited through the large chain-link gates by the ticket booth, he barely noticed that the huge arc lamps had started to fade in their brilliance, symbolically ending his High School career.
Blithely swinging his yellow 1965 Dodge Dart GT into the Birdman driveway, Mike noticed that the night had, if possible, warmed up a bit, even though it had been cool at the ceremonies. He climbed out of his car, nicknamed "the Fantastic", and slammed the door. He wore his "black cat stalking" outfit, used whenever he went toilet-papering or engaging in similar pursuits; consisting of a black turtleneck tee shirt with long sleeves, a pair of unflared dark blue jeans, black tennis shoes, and a black vinyl zippered jacket. He also held a large policeman's flashlight.
From the back of the house he could hear excited voices and giggling. Evan Birdman lived in a modest California Cottage situated on Lamont Street, a tree lined residential avenue running parallel to but one block behind Valley Blvd., one of Rosemont's two busy main streets, and perpendicular to Rosemont Blvd., the other. Because of it's relative proximity to the busiest corner in Rosemont, the back yard of Evan's house, as of all those on Lamont Street, faced an alley which divided the residential area from the back parking lots of the Valley Blvd. businesses. The street had once been a quiet one, but as the town of Rosemont boomed, the businesses tripled, both Valley and Rosemont Blvds. got busier, and Lamont Street got noisier. Now the traffic on Valley and Rosemont had died down a bit for the night, and the main thing Mike heard were the voices from the back yard. Ignoring the front door, Mike walked directly back to the backyard gate, through the driveway, and opened it to reveal the assembled Rosemont Rebels, gathered around a redwood picnic table drinking root beer, eating sandwiches, talking, and studying maps and papers set out before them.
"Okay, " McLaren noted when he saw Mike come in the gate. "We're all here." He stood in the center of one side of the table, flanked by Curt Starkey and John Ramone on his right and Hugh Rogers, an alumni member of the group who'd graduated a year earlier and now attended USC on his left. Chris had a map of the San Gabriel Valley in front of him and had been lining up shortest routes to the houses of selected teachers.
Across from him, curly headed Robert Reswick crossed out teacher's names who lived too far away, with a red pen on a preprinted address sheet, which Chris had easily mimeographed from the original in the Attendance office on one of his "official" visits as ASB President before graduation. To Bob's right sat Tom Hunter and Chris Potter, also an alumni, who lived across the street from Evan. Mike edged himself in between Bob and Jim Saybert, who'd been a "better friend" of Mike's along with Steve Kaup in school. "You really look astounding in that jacket, Mike," he said, "Are you going to beat somebody up and can I watch?"
"It's the darkest jacket I have," Mike said, adding Saybert's to a long line of remarks leveled against the jacket. Mike didn't care for these remarks but took them with a grain of salt. He liked the jacket. Mike had always prided himself in his outlandish wardrobe which was, in a word, different. When Ron Fujiwara, then Student Body President, had worn elaborately styled flared pants to school, Mike had his mother sew new linings in an old pair of pants, causing Fujiwara's pair to fade in comparison. Since nobody in school had a motorcycle jacket, and because it so antagonized his "scholarly" image, Mike had bought one. He also wore a Mexican cowboy hat, complete with a tassel, to keep his hair out of his eyes when he drove, instead of a headband. He'd read that the hippies in San Francisco wore their bizarre styles of clothing in opposition to the gray flannel suit style of the establishment, and Mike often felt as if his own "eye-popping" outfits, as they had been called, were a sort of protest against Rosemont High School's furor over a revised dress code, and a block against the seeming conservatism of style so often relegated to the "intelligent minority". So what if he got A's in school, and was liked by the authoritarian teaching element. He could be as outrageous as anybody, and even more so at times.
"Oh, Mike, good to see you made it," Evan Birdman came out of the house carrying a small tape recorder, a couple of flashlights, and an armload of Black Cat firecrackers.
Mike grabbed a Doctor Pepper and an egg salad sandwich formt he serving board on the table. "Yeah, looks as if I'm the last one here."
"As usual, " Saybert offered, receiving a jab in the shoulder from Mike.
Bob Reswick looked up from his list of names at Chris McLaren. "Chris, we've got to go after Mrs. Narramore!" he sneered.
"Yeah, " said Mike, "that's a great idea."
"Ooooohooooohoooooohooooo," yodeled Tom in obvious agreement.
"That'll take too long," Hugh Rogers sighed, "Doesn't she live up in Pasadena?"
"Yeah, North Pas. But we gotta get her."
"We gotta get her FIRST!" exclaimed Mike. "Everybody in Rosemont hates Mrs. Narramore. She's the obvious choice."
"Okay, okay. Let's vote for Mrs. Narramore."
Everybody except Chris Potter and Hugh Rogers agreed to "get Mrs. Narramore" first. And elderly insufferable antiquated instructor, Mrs. Esther Narramore had been the Senior English teacher and also the most narrow-minded. Her English 4XR class, which had been attended by Mike, Bob, Jim, and briefly Tom Hunter, before second semester, had been a hellish experience. She ran the class like a dictator, and abhorred anyone's opinions but her own. Although Jim, Bob, and Mike eventually received A's in her class, all three had been found hard put to suffer through to the end, and of the three, Bob Reswick hated her the most. The group decided that no matter where Esther Narramore lived, she was the logical choice for the first run.
Chris remarked that Bob looked like a rabid dog and that if they didn't storm her house first, he'd surely kill her later on. "How about Mr. Lawson?"
"Naw, too straight. I got a good grade from him."
"It doesn't really matter about grades anyway," Mike said, "I got a great report card. We should just pick people we hate like Mrs. Caine."
"I like Mrs. Caine."
"I don't even know Mrs. Caine!"
"Hey," said Curt Starkey, "Mr. Rainer. I came all the way down here to destroy Mr. Rainer's house."
Chris Potter laughed, "Sorry, Curt, Mr. Rainer retired last year."
"We should get him anyway."
"Okay, " said John Ramone in Flip Wilson's voice, "Let's all go to Minnesota and T-P his house."
"I got an idea," said Evan.
"Why don't we go over to Narramore's first, since it's so far, and execute her, then come back and decide. Heck, we've got all night."
"I don't agree, Ev. We should pick out five or six names, organize our runs now, and then decide who to get first." said Chris.
"That's a good idea," said Hugh, whose '62 Valiant used up a lot of gas. "We should figure out everything now, like who's going to drive and everything."
"Well, then," Chris resumed, "let's get organized here."
"Do you have any ideas, Chris?"
"Yes, I do, in fact."
"Wait a minute," Tiny Tom Hunter interrupted, "How about Fred Peters?"
"- in fact - hey, that's a great one. Most of us had him."
"I don't hate him, though," Hugh stated.
"Geez, neither do I. That's what'll be great about it. We'll T-P him for - "
"Okay, I'm agreed."
When it was decided everybody agreed about Peters who lived only ten minutes away, Chris remarked again about Mr. Lawson, and because by now everybody was impatient to begin, the History teacher's name was added too. They picked tow more names and set out to organize the runs.
Evan turned on his portable tape recorder and tested it for sound, then began, "Thursday, June 17th, 1971. Eleven-twenty-five P.M. We have decided on these subjects for the Operation Teacher T-P attacks. Mrs. Esther Narramore, Mr. Osgood Lawson, Mr. Fred Peters, Mrs. Catherine Jennings, and Mr. Joseph Worthing, Assistant Principal of Student Services, because he's such a good sport. We'll establish two runs, the first consisting of Narramore, Lawson, and Peters, then we'll come back here and prepare for Jennings and Worthing. Agreed? Now we have ten people. Who wants to drive? I think we should take two cars."
"No, three. Tom takes up space for three people," John intoned.
"Agreed on three."
"I'll drive for the run to Narramore's," Bob Reswick excitedly remarked.
"So will I," said John.
"Bob, I'll go with you." Mike added.
"I'll take Jim too."
"I'll drive the station wagon with Chris." Hugh said.
"All right, I'll go with you guys." Tom piped, "Shotgun!"
"Well, that's it for the station wagon. The whole back end of the car won't hold Tom and everybody else."
"Oh, shut up Jim."
"I called shotgun," Tom remarked, unheard.
"I'll take Potter and Starkey, Okay?"
"That's great, John."
"Did we leave anybody out?" Evan said, "Bob, Jim, and Mike in Bob's Chevy. I'll go with Tom and Chris in Hugh's Plymouth. And John will drive Chris Potter and Curt in his Chevrolet. Everybody got that?"
"What are the pre-lim ceremonies?" Chris asked his lieutenant.
Evan held up the firecrackers in one hand and a pair of binoculars in the other. "As is usual the end-of-school-year ceremonies entail the annual "Bang" ceremony, in which we all take potshots at the bank and the toy store. Because this is a special night, our very own graduation, no cheers please, the Bang ceremony will be brief in order to limber up for Operation Teacher T-P. Mike? You and John take these binocs and proceed to the top of my garage over there. Act as lookouts and tell us by whistling signal if there are any cars in the vicinity. Curt? You are the bomb-lighter. Chris and Tom, take care of these." He threw Tom the bundle of firecrackers. "I'll man the tape recorder to describe the play by play."
Mike took the binoculars and proceeded to the top angling roof of the garage. He scanned the alley and found no one in sight. "All clear," he whispered to John, who in turn whispered down to the rest of the group, spread along the fence in single file.
Evan patted Chris Potter and Tom on ther shoulders and spoke into the microphone. "Bang ceremony is underway at 11:50 p.m. The all clear has been given. Tiny Tom and Ruthless are out on the first attack."
Tom reached the back door of the bank, looked around, and noticing no one in sight, lit his firecrackers and motioned to Chris to do the same. When they had finished and saw that the fuses were well lit, they threw them at the back doors to the establishments, then puffed back to the group.
As the initial bursts and pops of the firecrackers exploded, Mike again surveyed the alley. A few lights came on in house windows. "Hold it." Mike said until he was certain nobody was looking. "Okay, all clear."
"Ready for second attack, " Evan spoke clearly into his mouthpiece, "McLaren and Starkey to go this time. Okay. Now." McLaren bounded over to the door of the bank and waited for the signal, then lit his firecrackers. Curt did the same at the door to the toy shop. Up on the garage roof, John noticed headlights coming up the alley. He whistled shrilly. McLaren turned to his right, spotted the car bearing down on him, and sprinted lithely back to the others, having thrown his firecrackers. Curt couldn't move by now, so he tossed his over to the bank door also and hid in the shadow of the toy shop door. The car stopped three houses away, shut off it's lights, and Mike could see a dark form emerging from the car. He kept his binoculars glued to the figure, and when the explosions started, he noticed the man stop and stare, but seeing nothing, walk through the gate into his yard.
"The guy in the car lives there." Mike whispered to Evan, "tell Curt it's all clear. " Evan did so and Curt came up alongside the group breathlessly laughing. The others joined him. Evan wrapped up the attack by interviewing Curt, asking him if he'd been scared. Far from being a child's game, this action was nearly serious for Evan. He had grown up accosting the neighborhood businesses, his own personal form of protest leveled against the Rosemont business elite. Besides being a prelude to Operation Teacher T-P - this was a last farewell to his youth.
"Twelve midnight. Operation Teacher T-P has begun. Bob."
"You drive first. You're familiar with the route?"
"Oh, sure. We were up there two weeks ago before the theater party. Come on Mike, Jim."
Mike and John climbed down from the garage, Mike gave Evan the binoculars and trotted out to the front of the house to where Bob Reswick's white '69 Chevy Malibu sat at the curb.
"Wait a second, Mike," called Hugh, "get your heap out of the driveway, so I can get my heap out on the road."
"Oh, sorry." Mike returned to his car, revved it up, and backed into the street. By the time he'd found a parking place the others were already packed in their respective autos. He put his keys in his left pants pocket and climbed in the rear seat of Bob's Chevy. Bob tooted the horn to signal he was ready, and the caravan started on it's way.
"Oh, boy. Here we go." Mike rolled down the back window to even the warm air in the car as Bob pulled out onto Rosemont Blvd. in order to make a left. "Bob, look out." Mike pointed to a car to the right which Bob hadn't seen and which had nearly clipped the right side of the Chevy in it's haste to move out into traffic., "Reswick, I know you're excited, but PLEASE don't get us all killed." Saybert laughed as Bob regained control of the car, looking back at Hugh and Chris in the front seat of the Plymouth behind them, shrugging his shoulders.
Rosemont Blvd. extended north into he foothills rimming the San Gabriel Valley and served as the fastest street to North Pasadena. Mike urged Jim to shove a Big Brother 8-track cartridge into the tape player, and then leaned back in the seat, closing his eyes, blotting out the passing scenery.
Robert Reswick was smiling. "Wait till that yahoo bitch wakes up tomorrow morning and sees toilet paper all over her front lawn."
"Yeah," Saybert agreed, "All that ivy in front of the house. Jesus is she going to get mad!"
"Listen," Mike stated sardonically from the back seat, "she'll probably just order her 'servants' to clean up."
"Even if she does, " Bob retorted, sure that even Mike's sarcasm couldn't get him down now, "Everybody around is going to see that house."
"And that ivy."
Bob laughed, proud to be doing this to the only person in the world he really hated. The car maneuvered easily into the hilly environs of North Pas as Janis Joplin wailed "Ball and Chain" from the rear speakers. Mike rested quietly , neglecting conversation for the duration of the trip, half listening to Saybert and Reswick in animated conversation as he thought of Steve Kaup, Kathy Brighton, and the all night party. He conjured up a picture of Kathy as she had been tonight, radiant in her full skirt, but he secretly wished she hadn't cut her hair so short. He'd always loved that long brown hair. He cursed the fact that Kaup and she were so close, but then he reflected on one of Kaup's many musings about his love for her. He seemed to really love the girl. As long as he professed this, Mike would never make a move on her. He never told Kaup his own feelings for the girl. In a drawer at home were two poems for Kathryn Anne Brighton, plus a six page letter expounding his never-ending love for her. He never could summon the wherewithal to send it.
"Oh - " brooded Reswick from the front seat, catapulting Mike into present reality.
"What's the matter?" he asked, popping his eyes open - "we nearly get in another wreck?"
"No -" Bob said with obvious disgust, "The Mercedes is gone."
"We're here ?"
"Yeah, and look. The Mercedes is gone. That means she isn't here."
"Well, " Mike said, "We'll just have to work fast. We have ten people." He stared out at the large dark houses lining the street, each a good ten feet from the next, the open spaces suggesting the wealth of the tenants. He'd been inside Mrs. Narramore's house two weeks ago, and had seen her possessions. Truly she was ostentatiously wealthy.
"Oh, come on, Reswick, " Saybert smiled. "We know how you hate her, but it'll be all right."
"Why can't we come back later, when she's home?"
"Cause we have work to do. Look, Hugh doesn't know which house is hers. Park so we can show him."
"I have a better idea, " Saybert interjected, "let me out here and park around the corner." They did so and he walked over to John's and Hugh's cars, which sat side by side facing the same way. He pointed to the house, and accepted rolls of toilet paper from McLaren and Potter, cradling his arms to accommodate more.
"John," Chris McLaren called in a loud whisper, "Make a sample run around the block before you park, okay."
"Right on." He eased the car into gear, and was off. The others silently moved to the site of Mrs. Narramore's ornate Spanish style ranch house, fronted by a large mass of large leaved algerian ivy. Hugh parked the station wagon down the block a little and when John rejoined them, everyone was busy separating rolls of toilet paper.
"Oh, this is going to be good," Potter exclaimed, seeing the ivy."