Twenty Three.

High School

When Mary Beth broke up with me nothing really changed. We still fooled around, but we also dated other people. She wanted it that way. It was the fall of 1980 and I just started ninth at Loch Raven. Mary Beth was in tenth at Towson Catholic. For her that was too distant a relationship. It didn’t matter that she lived behind me. I think she knew what would happen when I saw high school girls and she was right.

The first day was the only day I got to class early. I sat in the far back corner so I could scan each chick entering. How well I liked the class was based entirely on how many hotties were in it. Maybe that’s why I failed Social Studies. Not enough cute chicks, and only one who sat near me. And she wore so many layers that I didn’t know what her body looked like until she showed me telescope pictures from Ocean City. But by then I had missed half the classes and it was too late to pass.

That first week of school I walked around in a drooling daze. The seniors, oh the seniors. The juniors, oh the juniors. Chicks everywhere. Shuffling their feet and flipping their hair. Smiling and giggling and wanting attention. Or aloof and frowning and pretending not to want it. They, of course, wanted it more than the others. All wanting attention. All wanting. The pressure was more than I could bear. Chicks. Chicks. Chicks. Thank God for drugs. Particularly Quaaludes. Thank you Gina for introducing me to ludes. Actually, maybe that was why I failed Social Studies.

Anyway, two things I learned that first semester of high school: (1) nothing can get you laid faster than ludes. And, (2) chicks love ludes. By Halloween, I was dealing. By Thanksgiving, I was addicted. By Christmas, everyone was. I would have made a lot of money too if I hadn’t eaten all the profits. And once I started eating more than the profits I knew it was time to quit. Thank God my supplier cut me off. I spent a couple of sleepless nights in a cold sweat with train whistles screaming in my head.

A week later I started dealing coke. I thought it best to leave the downers alone. So I went in the opposite direction and soon realized that coke will get you laid too. Chicks not only love ludes, but they love coke too. Even more. But a different clique of chicks. When I sold ludes it was usually to rock and roll chicks, chicks who wore long denim coats and dated dudes with long hair, who of course bought from me too.

But coke knew no clique. All chicks love coke: cheerleaders, wallflowers, honor students, dropouts, jocks. Coke offered delusions of grandeur. It made chicks beautiful and popular, the only things important to teenage chicks. And it made them horny, the only thing important to teenage dudes.

One morning in the hall, about a month before summer break, I saw some friends talking. There was a black chick with them who was damn cute, so I joined them. I turned to the chick. “What’s your name?”

She looked at me and raised an eyebrow. “You don’t remember?”

I looked at her for a moment. “We’ve met?”

“Wow,” she said shaking her head and laughing, then raised both eyebrows, “Are you serious?”

I kept looking at her, waiting for memory to speak. “Are you sure we know each other?” I was certain I wouldn’t forget a cute chick like this.

“Mann, I knew you were high, but not that high.” (Ok, for a while, I was mixing coke and ludes. Great high, but sometimes it caused blackouts and memory loss.)I just looked at her, thinking, ‘This is like a bad movie.’

“Friday night…,” she said, “The party…We talked for like four hours.” She found this pretty amusing. Evidently, I was living up to my reputation as a stoner. “I gave you a ride home.”

“Oh,” I said nodding my head, “that’s how I got home.” She was still smiling. “Sorry.”

Loni was a cheerleader, the cutest, coolest cheerleader I ever knew. And she liked to party. She did alright in school, but she loved to smoke weed. She was the first black chick I ever kissed. And the first that Joe slept with.

The party that Loni was referring to was really band rehearsal. Some dudes had a band and people from school hung out in their garage during practice. That meant I could sell a lot of weed. High schoolers in a garage listening to live music was an easy weed sale. Me, I never touched the stuff, anymore, stopped when they put Joe away. It burnt me out too much. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep.

“So anyway,” Loni said, handing out slips of paper, “the party is at my house this Friday. Directions are here.” I was the last to get one before everyone walked away. Loni stopped and looked back. She knew I was watching her ass. “Oh, by the way, don’t bring a date.” She turned and walked away. I saw “Brown Sugar” embroidered on the pocket of her tight jeans.

On Friday night I rode my motorcycle to the party. I had trouble finding the address. It was on Cub Hill Road, which dead ended at the juvy. It was a long road that meandered from Joppa through suburbs and apartments, open fields and farms.  I followed the addresses as the numbers ran higher. But they didn’t run high enough to match the address Loni gave. I circled back again, thinking maybe the numbers changed somewhere, or maybe I would see the party or maybe someone I knew would pass. But there was no one out this far. I was out by the corn fields next to the juvy. There were a few farm houses, but when I followed the addresses I ended up at the entrance to the juvy. Frustrated, I pulled up to the guardhouse and asked.

“Do you know where this is?” I yelled through my helmet over the sound of the motorcycle and through the guard’s window. He was inside with the A/C on, watching a portable TV. He slid the window open and stuck his hand out without looking up.

He glanced at the address, then back at the TV. He handed the paper back and raised the gate. Still without looking up, “Follow this around, second building on the right.”

I looked down the road at the group of buildings. I hesitated driving in there. “Are you sure?” I called to the guard, holding up the slip and pointing to the address. But it was too late. He had already closed the window. I drove down the road cautiously. It felt like a sting, like any minute cops would jump from the bushes. This is stupid. I spent my life trying to stay out of this place. Now I go in voluntarily. And for what, a chick. And not even a sure thing. Just a cute chick who told me to come to her party. This is stupid. This ain’t smart. I was about to turn around and get the fuck out of there when I saw Loni’s car parked in the lot where the guard told me to go. There was no mistaking her rusty B210. I pulled in next to it, parked in front of a small house with a long narrow building sticking out the back. When I took my helmet off and looked up, Loni was at the door.

“Originally, this was a one bedroom house. Each detention hall has a small guard house attached to it. Some guards live here, and some counselors. My mom is head of security. She told them she needed two bedrooms for her daughters.” Loni led me down the hall to her room. Then she pointed across the hall, “That’s my sister’s room. Check this out.” She turned to face the wall at the end of the hall. She opened a curtain to reveal a steel door with a small window. I looked inside. There was a long hall with half a dozen doors on each side. It was obvious they were the rooms for some of the inmates. At the far end was another door with a small window. I followed the path of the hall with my eyes, back to where it disappeared into my door. I stepped back and looked at the door. I looked down at the tile floor that continued into Loni’s hallway. The entrance to her hall had an empty doorjamb. I looked at Loni’s bedroom door, then at her sister’s. Then I looked again down the hall full of doors.

“You mean…”

“Yup. Our bedrooms are cells. Mom said we needed two more bedrooms and they chopped off the last two cells.”

“Cool,” I said, looking through the window as a guy crossed the hall inside.

“Yeah? You think that’s cool? Check this out.” Loni turned the deadbolt and opened the door.

“Whoa. Have you let anyone out?”

“Nah,” she said closing the door and bolting it. My mom would get fired.” She looked at me and smiled, “But, I did let someone in once. For about an hour.” She waited until I understood.

“Ah huh.”

We rejoined the party in the living room. Loni’s date was there. She didn’t think he was coming but his plans changed. I saw him around school some times, but I never talked to him.

“You know Harry, right?” Loni waved her hand toward him.

“No.”

“Oh. This is Harry Whiteman.”

He stood up, shook my hand. “How are you doing?” I didn’t like him.

“Hey.” I said, and walked away. I was suspicious of any black dude named Harry Whiteman.

He left soon after that. Loni and I went to her room to catch a buzz. She said it wasn’t serious with Harry and that she only dated him because she felt sorry for him. He was new at school, no friends. She thought he was kind of cute, so she asked him to a party. Then she couldn’t get rid of him. She said he was alright but asked too many questions. And she wasn’t sure he was all that cute anyway.

“What about you?” She waited for me to answer.

“I was with someone over the summer. But, she didn’t want to be tied down and neither did I.” I took this opportunity to lean forward and kiss Loni. We made out for a while, then Loni decided she should deal with Harry Whiteman before starting anything else.

When we went back to the living room there were more people. Someone asked about Joe and I said he was fine. But really I didn’t know. I hadn’t seen him for six months. Either he stopped coming to see me when he ran away, or he stopped running away altogether. I’m not sure. But I hadn’t heard from him. I hadn’t even really thought about him, until I looked at Loni’s address on that piece of paper.

“Actually, he’s right here somewhere, at Cub Hill.”

“Really?” Loni jumped up from her chair. “You have a friend here? What’s his name? Is he on this hall?”

“I don’t know.” I told her his name.

“Hang on a sec.” She went over to her mom’s desk and looked through a book. “Come here.” She walked down the hall to the steel door. “Watch this. About halfway down on the right.” She pushed a button on the wall next to the door. A moment later, Joe looked out into the hall from one of the rooms. He looked confused. He looked up and down the hall then disappeared. Loni rang the bell again. Joe looked out again. He looked one way then the other, then back again. He walked out into the hall and turned and looked at his door and the doorjamb. Then he looked along the ceiling, shrugged his shoulders and went back inside. I rang the bell this time. He didn’t come out. I rang it again. He didn’t come out. I held the button down until he came out. He looked up and down the hallway, then up and down the hallway again. Then he saw us looking through the window at him. I guess he couldn’t tell who it was because he gave us the finger and went back inside. I rang the bell again. He immediately came out and walked toward us, looking more confused than pissed.

Loni said, “They don’t use these buzzers anymore. He probably doesn’t know what’s up.”

When Joe neared the window, he recognized me and smiled. Loni opened the door slightly so we could talk.

“Hey, How’d you get in here?”

“Loni lives here.” I introduced Loni, standing next to me.

“Hey.”

“So, how’s it going?”

Joe realized we hadn’t talked in a while. “Oh, they got me on a demerit system, on account of how much I ran away. If I fuck up they take my free time, and they make me talk to the counselor and all kinds of grief ensues.” He said they even have a solitary confinement like real prison. But that’s mostly for really crazy fucks. Then he smiled. He said he would come and see me when he could, and he said goodbye and closed the door. Loni and I watched him walk back down the hall and disappear into his room.

 

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