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| Coach

                      Who Killed Coach?

By: W. Sautter

Copyright Sautter 2017
The Story

“Coach” takes place in a small, rural town in the mid nineteen fifties. It is the story of the town, the high school football coach and his players.
As was with most small towns of that time, Highburg was its own little world. Everyone knew everyone else and they all knew Coach.
Coach Carter has been at Highburg High for many years and had built a legendary program. His teams never failed to reach the heights of success, year after year. He has molded star players out of farm boys and has sent many on to notable colleges and some to professional careers.
The town’s people and his players idolize Coach. The opportunity to have played for Highburg and Coach Carter is savored by all who have done so.  To be a football player for Coach is the ambition of every Highburg boy.  It is worn as a lifetime badge of honor and demands the respect of all.
But things are about to happen in Highburg! And not good things!

Where and When

The story begins in nineteen fifty-six. It was a time when World War II was a recent memory for most and the Korean War had just ended. Civil rights were yet to be claimed by American minorities and communications were primitive by today’s standards. Authority figures at all levels stood tall and endured little, if any, questioning, criticism or confrontation.
Television was in its infancy and entered each home as a small, fuzzy black and white picture on a huge, unreliable machine. Touch-tone dialing was the latest telephone innovation and mobile phones were nonexistent. Radios were often plagued by static and poor reception. Portable radios were large, heavy and not easily carried in spite of their being sold as “portable” and recording devices were rare. Local communication relied primarily on newspapers and word of mouth. Rumors were relentlessly conveyed, either correctly or incorrectly, over backyard fences or at the town watering holes.
This is the setting of Highburg, its inhabitants and the story of “Coach”.


As is the case with most writers, “Coach” incorporates many personal experiences of the author. The characters are all fictional, however many are based on real people. Actions and incidents contained in “Coach” are also fictional but again frequently based on actual occurrences.
As you read, please remember that the language and biases in the book reflect those of rural, small town America in the nineteen fifties. In no way do they portray the views of the author himself.
Thanks for reading “Coach” and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1
“Holy shit!” I thought to myself over and over through my deep, labored gulps of air. My lungs and throat were burning as I felt my chest rise and collapse in rapid cadence. My legs ached and I could feel the stream of sweat pouring down the small of my back as I ran.
“God damn! It sure wasn’t my fault. I’m only a freshman!
Shit! I sat the bench for the whole fucking game!” I thought to myself through my gasping.
Coach always said ‘ We are a team and we must accept the good with the bad together as a team’ and this was plenty bad that was for sure.
It made no difference. Up and down the field we raced, full speed, in response to the shrieks of Coach’s whistle.
In the background chanted the hometown spectators who remained, flailing their arms and posing gestures of ridicule as they shouted.
“You losers!”
“You’re a disgrace to everyone in Highburg.”
“My grandmother could have played better!”
Coach stood stoically by the sideline, chewing incessantly on his half lit cigar and all the while barking commands at us, his defeated players.
We ran and ran. An hour of wind sprints on the victor’s field while our hometown fans continued booing and catcalling from the stands.
How did it all happen?
Well, here’s the story.
Our team had remained unbeaten for years. The streak was legendary in Highburg. It had lasted seventy-two straight games.
Today was our first loss in five seasons and through no fault of my own, I had become part of it.
The date was October tenth, a Saturday. It was the day of our third game of the season and the first day of deer season. Hunting was a big deal in the rural town of Highburg; almost as big as football. During the season, kids regularly brought their shotguns to school and kept them in their lockers so they could go hunting immediately after school however football players couldn’t.  They were required to go directly to practice even before the school day officially ended.  I’ll explain this later.
Anyway, this left little time for the players to hunt. Even weekends were unavailable. Saturday was game day and state law banned hunting on Sundays. As a result, players took every possible opportunity to don their hunting gear and tramp through the local forests in search of their quarry.
Today’s game against Burton High was predicted to be a usual pushover. The only players eager to participate in the game were those on the second team. They thought themselves to be assured of ample playing time. The score would likely be at least thirty to nothing before the second half and then the JVs would get their turn through the rest of the game.
Well, things didn’t work that way. That morning our best players arrived at the field house exhausted from their morning hunt. They had been out at sunrise and had plodded through brush and bramble for hours. They struggled to even pack their equipment before the ride to the field of the opposing team. Would their exhaustion pose and obstacle to the defeat of a grade D opponent such as Burton? Of course not?
Well, at the conclusion of the game we had endured a stunning thirteen to seven loss! To Burton High! The doormat of the league!
We had disgraced Highburg and all who lived there!
The anger of the town seemed unending.
For weeks, the town’s people shunned us. Adults would routinely turn their backs as they passed us on the street. Several of the players received beating from their parents. We had sullied the town and all of its inhabitants! We had stabbed a knife into the heart and spirit of the community. We were the losers!!

Chapter 2
Let me introduce myself and my friends, all of whom are part of this story. My name is John Crane. They call me Whody.
In my day every kid had a nickname and Whody was mine and I was thankful for it. Some of the names were far from kind and Whody was certainly not even close to the worst. The source of many were easily discernable, others not so obvious.
It was the fifties and the War was a very recent memory. One day, someone decided that Bart Craig, a friend of mine, who wore heavy black-rimmed glasses and squinted frequently, looked Japanese. His chronic squinting was probably the result of the lens prescription becoming too weak and his parents couldn’t afford to buy him new ones. As a result of his supposed oriental look, Bart was dubbed Tojo.
My friend Larry’s overweight brother, Ronnie was named “Lard”, short for “Lard Ass” and Larry himself didn’t escape the nickname curse. He was “Stinky”.
Stinky was constantly pulling at the seat of his pants, why I’m not sure but it earned him the title Stinky. In retrospect, Stinky’s family like most in Highburg was poor and it was likely he had out grown his underwear thereby giving him constant wedgies. That’s my best guess anyway but in any case he was burdened with the moniker of “Stinky” throughout his boyhood years.
Then too, there was Frankie Albo, a.k.a., “Banana Nose”. I don’t think I need to explain this one.
“Johnny Cromag” was one of the best nicknames. Crows can be tamed and Johnny
Freed had one. It was huge, about the size of a full grown chicken. Everywhere Johnny went he took the crow with him. The crow had a name but I can’t really remember it.
Well, anyway, Johnny always wore a black leather jacket and carried the crow on his shoulder. He looked great coming at you, tall, slim, shoulders back, the black leather glistening in the sun and the crow perched regally on his left shoulder. As he passed, a less august sight came into view. The back of Johnny’s shiny, black leather jacket was streaked with streams of white crow shit from the shoulder to the waist.
One of the guys was in Latin I. He was the only one of us with the kind of grades that qualified him to take Latin. Of course, he thereby became a Latin scholar in our eyes and who were we to question his authority in the arcane intricacies of that ancient language. So when he told us that “Cromagma” was Latin for “big crow shit”, who amongst us could challenge him.  No one that was for sure and thus “Johnny Cromag” was born.
Why was I Whody?
It arose from the time that I walked across the rotted rafters of the old mill down by the river. The mill had long since been abandoned and it was a favorite playground for many of the town’s kids. The outer shell of the building was barely standing and inside; many of the floorboards of the three levels were missing or weakened by age.  Below, through the wide gaps, could be seen the racing waters which once powered the mill wheel.
Tag was the game of choice at the mill. We spent many hours climbing from one precarious landing to the next. During one such adventure, while my being “it”; I spied Jackie “The Straw Man“ Strawbridge.  He was on the same floor as me but separated from me by a wide gap of several missing boards.
Impulsively, I ran towards Straw Man across the narrow rotted rafter, which separated us. As I reached the other side I heard the sound of the falling timber splashing into the raceway waters thirty feet below. It was the rafter I had just run across.
Every kid in the mill that day froze, looking downward, as the wooden fragments were swept away by the turbulent rush.  All of us were simultaneously struck with the reality of the dangers of playing in the old mill.
“How did you do that?
You‘re like fuckin’ Houdini!” Straw Man exclaimed in a loud startled voice.
As the days went on and the story spread I became known as “Houdini”. It wasn’t long before my title degenerated into “Whody”.
That was the last day we ever played at the mill and the day I became Whody.
Well, anyway, I’ve got more of a story to tell. Let me go back to the very beginning.
I was born in the forties, the exact year, forty-three. My father was elderly, sixty-four, when I arrived. I guess I was his last chance to carry on his DNA although I don’t think he actually realized that was what was happening. DNA hadn’t even been discovered yet! I’m sure it was just primitive biological urges that prevailed and lead to my existence.
My mother was over twenty years his junior but certainly not young. She was in her early forties.
The reason that I’m telling you this is to help explain what happened next.
When I was four, my father, much to the dismay of my mother, decided that we would move to our country home to live full time. Let me define “country home”. A two room shack set off the nearest dirt road by mile or so, with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. Our water source was a spring about fifty yards from the house. I can still see my mother carrying pails of water to the house.
As I think back, I remember my mother mentioning that my father had worked as a hatter in his younger days. Mercury poisoning of hatters by the chemicals used in felt making was well known. The symptoms were commonly dementia and delirium. This led to the expression “mad as a hatter”.  I often think that this helped to precipitate my father’s confusion.
Why this decision was made, I’ll never truly know. I do believe however in any case, it was the onset of dementia. Why my mother went along with this scheme, again, I’ll never know. I never asked and she never offered a reason for her cooperation with this absurd plan. I guess, I can only surmise, that in those days women generally did what they were told by their husbands and she acted accordingly.
Well, we moved, lock stock and barrel to our “country home” and lived as if we were existing in the nineteenth century. We did so for the next seven years. During this time, we went to a small, nearby town, Highburg, for our weekly shopping. It was always on a Saturday. My mother would go to the food store for the groceries, I would be given twenty cents for the movie matinee and my father would park himself on a bar stool at Tiny’s.
Once the shopping was completed and the movie ended we would all meet at Tiny’s and spend the remaining two hours of the afternoon with my father getting loaded while watching professional wrestling on the bar’s small, snowy TV. Then we would pile into the car, a fifty Ford with a shimmy in the front end and zigzag the ten miles back to the “Lilac Inn”. There was a lilac bush down by the outhouse and so that was my father’s name for our hovel.
I attended the local public school, beginning in first grade.  When I say local school I may be exaggerating. It was seven miles away. Each morning, three other children from the nearby farm and I would walk out to the dirt road and board a school bus for the hour journey to the school.
The school itself was as tough as the hick town in which it was located. The town’s tiny population included two local, notorious families, their legitimate children and their more prevalent illegitimate offspring. It was hard to tell which group was dumber or more pugnacious than the other.
Needless to say, school life was a survival experience. Recess was like the yard at Attica. I began to think fighting was just one more school subject like reading and arithmetic because it occurred as part of the daily routine.
Well, after three years of torn shirts, scrapes and bloody noses it was decided that I was to give up hand to hand combat and attend parochial school. So, after about three years into my father’s country living experiment, I was transferred from my local school and enrolled in the parochial school at Highburg.
It was here that I first learned about football. Most of the kids in my class were crazy for the game. The lore of Highburg football was a constant topic of conversation at the school. Players both past and present were revered as demigods and the coach was held as the supreme authority who guided them brilliantly year after successful year.   Most all of the boys played what they inappropriately called “Midget Football”. To be honest, I never really met any midgets. I guess the true midgets or ‘little people’ as we now call them began to protest the term, so today it’s called Little League Football.
After two years of the daily ten mile commute to my new school, I think my father became weary of the back and forth shuttle to town and decided that we would give up our ‘back to nature’ existence and move to town.
My parents bought a lot on the edge of town and my father began to build our permanent home there while we lived on Main Street.
We moved into a small, two-room apartment, which was really a converted office space, above a cleaner’s shop. It was cramped quarters to say the least, even tighter than our country house but it had electricity, indoor plumbing and maybe, maybe TV!
For me it was a dream come true. Electricity, indoor plumbing and even television! I could hardly wait.
Then, it finally happened. I can still remember seeing my first show on “my TV” - Rocky Mariano in a fifteen rounder. I was transfixed in front of the set, staring intently at every black and white pixel. Even the Gillette commercials held me awestruck.
It was during that first few weeks of living in town that I began to really understand my classmate’s fascination with football. I discovered their enthusiasm for the sport to be well justified.
The town itself was football insane. The high school team was revered, as was its coach. Good players, of which there were many, were cast as local deities. The team had earned a litany of successful campaigns, undefeated seasons and state titles.
Several of the boys who had graduated, played for big name colleges and a couple had even made it to the pros.
“Coach” as he was called had been at the school for twenty-five years and never experienced a losing season, not even close. The loss of even one game was viewed as a catastrophic event by the town folk and rarely did such a catastrophe occur.
Coach ran a tight ship. Both practice sessions and punishments for poor play were the stuff of local lore.
The incident of a star halfback who was disciplined for finding the wrong hole in two successive carries during a practice session was repeated many times over the years. The punishment - “take a lap” - Coach commanded.  After forty laps and ten miles, with full equipment in the September heat, the punishment ended. That story was often told and served as a strong deterrent to poor performance.
Coach was the only Physical Education Teacher in the school. During football season and sometimes even after the season, PE, physical education that is, was comprised of watching flickering, black and white game movies in Coach’s office. He would incessantly run the film back and forth, over and over pointing out the most minuscule detail in every play from kickoff to the final whistle.
Coach’s grading system for PE was simple and unique. Played football, A, played any other sport B, came to class and caused no trouble C, caused any disruption, F. There it was, simple and efficient.
It was just like his coaching philosophy, no frills. The game was blocking, tackling and hardnosed play. Those were the only things that mattered in achieving success.
In 1953 the town took up a collection and bought Coach a brand new Cadillac. I can still see it in my mind’s eye. Grey with a grey interior, rear fins, the large, tooth-like chrome grille and Coach behind the wheel, cigar clinched tightly between his teeth, driving up to the field house to begin the day’s practice session.
Well, in any event, this is the environment into which I was cast when I arrived at my first day of football practice as a freshman in September of 1956. I was being given the opportunity to play on the same team as the town’s heroes and I was thrilled to say the least.
It was here that I met a kid with whom I would remain friendly throughout my high school days, Ricky White. Ricky and I and another boy, Bart Craig, a.k.a Tojo, whom I knew from grade school became friends as we toiled our way through the grueling, two sessions practices of the first September days.
The torment was both physical and psychological. After a two-hour period, just when the end was anticipated, Coach always seemed to identify a player who performed poorly or a play that was run incorrectly.
“A team is only as good as its weakest link,” he would announce through the bullhorn, which he carried at each practice. Everyone knew what that meant; practice would be extended for another half hour, at the least.
Stress was even greater for the freshman. The team trainer frequently used a menthol-laden liniment, which smelled and felt like Ben-Gay. It was customary for upper classmen at the beginning of the season, to get to practice early. They would then scoop fingers full of the irritating salve into the jocks of the unsuspecting freshmen before they arrived. The first day of football was made unforgettable for most Highburg freshman! Needless to say, everyday thereafter, each of us was sure to check all our equipment with the utmost of care before donning our uniform.
Five punishing days passed, classes began and football practice was mercifully reduced to only single after school tortures. Practice began at two thirty every afternoon, long before school was officially dismissed and it continue until sunset.
Period eight at Highburg was designated as club period for the entire school and of course we were in the football club thereby allowing for our early release. Eighth period began at two o’clock, providing a half hour to get to the field house, dress and be on the practice field by two thirty. Failure to be there at that precise hour was met with series consequences, those being multiple laps or the ‘pit’.
The ‘pit’ as it was notoriously called, was the sawdust filled depression at the far end of the field. It actually was the high jump site for the track team in the spring.
When one was ordered to the ‘pit’ it meant at least an hour of blocking and tackling, generally two on one. The sawdust was invasive. It crept into every nook; cranny and crack bringing its rasping irritation to every part of the body, both public and private.
After a drill in the ‘pit’ it felt as if a hair shirt had been covering the body. It must have been how medieval, penitent monks had suffered.
The high school itself was small. It enrolled less than four hundred kids total. Out of the about two hundred boys in the school, seventy-five of them played football. It was more or less a required activity at Highburg High.
The school building was a one hundred year old structure, which housed the town’s grade school on the first floor and the high school on the second. The basement contained the gym, cafeteria and boiler room.
Upper level classmates explained the location of the boiler room to us on the very first day. It was right next to the detention room. Detention required those who were incarcerated, be assigned to that room during lunch hour or after school. If one was an athlete, it would be during lunch so as not to miss practice.
Unfortunately, the warnings of the upper classmen failed to sink in and that location became well known to me and most all of my friends throughout our years at H.H.S.
During detention time, complete silence was to be maintained and only the rhythmic sound of the janitor’s coal shovel was heard as he fed the school’s boiler. There we sat, the heat pouring through the walls from the adjacent room, with sweat dripping while listening to the cadence of the shovel ticking off the hour of our stay.
Well, anyway, as for football, the days crept forward towards our first game. Then it arrived. To me, it was spectacular. The stands were packed, the band played loudly and the cheerleaders pranced provocatively about the sidelines as we entered the field. It was the thrill of a lifetime. It was even better than the day in eighth grade, when Nora Simpson let me feel her up in the coat closet. It was grand!
We romped as usual. The score was thirty-five to seven at the half. At the start of the second half the field was a sea of mud. The night before the game the temperature had dropped into the mid-twenties and the turf had frozen into a concrete hard surface. Every tackle and every block resulted in bruises and abrasions.
As the day warmed so did the field turning it into a gooey, slimy quagmire. Bruising and scraping was replaced by twisted ankles and wrenched knees. At the start of the third quarter he had sent in all of the second team and the score still continued to mount.
Coach was not one to run up the score if he could help it. He always said that he didn’t want to discourage kids on the other teams. He had the ultimate respect for any boy who was willing to play the game on any team. I had even seen one game when he purposely sent in the third team on a series of downs so as to let a boy from an opposing team break his school’s scoring record. This was of course, after we were so far ahead, that it was impossible for us to lose.
As the clock ticked down to the final four-minute mark, I saw Granger go down.  My name was called.
“Crane, in for Granger, forty-eight right” Coach barked and waved me onto the field.
I scurried towards the huddle at top speed.
“Okay guys, Granger out. Coach said forty-eight right” I stammered.
“Jesus Christ, I think he said right” I thought to myself.
In all the excitement I was unsure. All I could do is hope as I ran to the line of scrimmage.
 “Red eighteen, red eighteen!
Signals, down, ready, set, hut one, hut two” and the play began.
I roared from my starting position straight towards the other skinny fifteen year old on the opposing team. My block was precise, executed just as I had been trained during the four preceding weeks of hell. My man fell to the ground and Benny Dragos picked up ten yards.
I walked back to the huddle, relieved that my instructions from Coach had been correct. I was imagining myself like Roosevelt Grier at the Polo Grounds on a Sunday afternoon.
As the game concluded we left the field amidst a flurry of cheers and congratulations. I can still clearly hear the clacking of the metal cleats on the cement floor as we entered the field house and sat down awaiting Coach’s words.
“Well boys, today was a good day. I liked what I saw but don’t get too cocky. We got a bunch of games left and a lot of work to do.
Go home and get some rest and I don’t want to see anybody uptown, hanging around the bowling alley or Snookie’s after ten o’clock.
Now, take a shower and get out of here” and with that he walked into his cubbyhole office and slammed the door behind him.
I, as well as all the others, dutifully obeyed Coach’s command and immediately began to undress and head to the shower room. Once cleaned, I went back to the freshmen dressing area and finished drying myself.
Then, as I began to dress, I suddenly realized, “Where was my other shoe?”
I scurried around the locker room looking for it without success. After ten full minutes of searching a voice called out.
“Is this what you’re looking for Sonny?”
It was Howie Green waving my shoe over his head. Howie was a junior, starting halfback and last year’s leading scorer.
“Come and get it” he shouted as he continued to wave it.
I moved towards him and as I did, he threw it.
“Blue forty-two” he yelled. That was one of our favorite pass plays.
Jake, another junior player, caught it and continued the taunting.
After several minutes of back and forth, Howie took the shoe and threw it into a crevice near the ceiling. With that, they both walked down the hall towards the exit, laughing as they left.
I went to the other dressing room, got a chair to stand on so as to retrieve my shoe. It was a struggle but after a few minutes of reaching and stretching I reclaimed it from its hiding place.
I walked down the hall, passed Coach’s office as I left the field house. The door was slightly ajar and I remember hearing Howie’s voice in a low whisper and then Coach’s reply, also in a low whisper. I couldn’t really make out what was being said but I could tell it wasn’t football talk.
Coach’s warning about the bowling alley and Snookie’s, the two favorite hang outs for all of the town’s teenagers was unnecessary. None of us would be there tonight.
Our right tackle was Harry Barnes. Everyone called him Zip. Zip was the slowest of the slow. He never placed any better than last in every wind sprint or running drill thus the paradoxical nickname, Zippy. Although slow, he was big, tough and agile, an All-Stater.
After every win, there were never any losses; Zip’s father always would hold a football party at his house. There was a full keg of beer and the entire team and cheerleaders were invited. Most often, it turned into a drunkfest with guys throwing up in the backyard or lying semi-comatose in a corner.
At one such event, Willie, our star fullback, vomited in the toilet. It was not until the next morning that he realized that his dental plate with his two front teeth had been subsequently flushed into Zip’s septic tank.
Zip lived near the outskirts of town and rarely was there any complaint. The police were called only a few times. Most all of the town cops had played for Coach and when they arrived, they generally had a beer or two with the rest of us and talked over the day’s game. Much of the conversation however usually centered around their playing days at Highburg, the championships they had won, their great respect for Coach and what he had done for the town.
After they exalted their tales of bygone football prowess, they would call back to the station.
“Everything’s okay here Chief. Just a little noise problem!  We just had to quiet ‘em down a little.”
Then, they would jump back into the police car and drive off leaving us to continue our drunken escapade.
Monday morning found a dozen players hobbling about the school with injuries sustained on Saturday’s inhospitable playing field.
The pungent odor of “pink stuff” filled the air throughout the school on Monday morning. “Pink stuff” was the concoction of Doctor Haller, the team doctor. Every injury and aliment imaginable was treated with this magical goo.  It was spread on the afflicted area with a tongue depressor in copious amounts and then bandaged with wrappings of white gauze, topped with layers of adhesive tape.
Most often, its vivid color oozed through; staining the bandages and everything they touched.  Its smell was unmistakable and everyone so medicated was immediately identified by its stringent vapors. Everything from mild scrapes to torn ligaments got a slather of the potion. The odd thing about it was that it actually seemed to work. Most of Docs patients returned to practice within days of the application. Was it a true medical miracle or merely psychosomatic? Who knows but it worked.
Doctor Haller was known to go on an extended vacation in the spring of every year. He had severe allergies to plant pollen and to escape the torment of the symptoms; he left the area during the days of high pollen count.
The story, which circulated however, was that he actually went to Africa to visit a witchdoctor friend and obtain his yearly supply of “pink stuff”.
Weeks passed and Highburg remained unbeaten as usual. Thanksgiving Day was the culmination. It was a cold, sunny day and the entire town turned out. Every seat in the stands was filled and every inch of the fence surrounding the field was packed five deep. As usual, Coach and his team gave the fans what they were accustomed to, a serious beating of the opposition, forty-two to fourteen.
At the conclusion of the game, we all herded into the field house amongst the cheers of the wildly enthusiastic crowd.  Once seated, Coach stood before us, granting us almost begrudging praise for another stellar season. At the conclusion of his brief accolades, Howie rose and delivered a short but emotional statement as to how Coach had been the one responsible for our success and without his wisdom and skill we would have been lucky to win but one game. As he finished his exultation, the team stood and applauded excitedly for several minutes. There, for a moment, I felt as if I was one of the Russian Commissars, applauding Stalin and being afraid to be the first one to stop.
Well, that was it. Football was over for another season. We all left the field house that day feeling both relieved and nostalgic. Relieved that the days of daily grinding practice sessions were over but missing the excited anticipation of the weekly games.
Fall turned to winter and the thoughts of football faded, except for the daily hour of films in Coach’s office during PE. Snow was on the ground and the air was cold. It was hard hanging around Lefty’s Hot Dog Stand as we did during the warm weather since the only seating at Lefty’s consisted of outdoor tables and benches.
In this kind of weather, everybody was forced into Jack’s Bowling Alley or Snookie’s Luncheonette. Several of the guys were pin boys at Jack’s and were always found sitting their nightly vigil at the back of the alleys waiting to be called to set a game. The going rate was fifteen cents a game. When one got to set two alleys with four bowlers on each, big money was to be made. It could add up rapidly, with tips, sometimes three or four dollars for a nights’ work.
If you were on Jack’s good side you could even work the Leagues. Now we were talking five dollars or more.
The guys who were the hang-arounds, were usually found crowded around the town’s sole pinball machine at the corner of Jack’s lobby. They all gazed incessantly at the silver ball under the glass as the player attempted to “rack up” games on the machine. The machine awarded free replays for exceptional scores and every player sought to register as many replays as possible.
Replays allowed the current player domination of the machine while the others were forced to continue watching. Even better, those with high scoring ability could sell the remaining free plays to the highest bidder when they became tired of the game. There were always willing customers. The going rate for pinball was a nickel a game however replays could often be had for a two or three cent bid.
Players would push and shove the machine, left and right, back and forth to put “english” on the ball without invoking the fateful “tilt” sign. Whenever the “tilt” appeared a roar would arise from fans and a plethora of curses from the player.
Many players went to extremes in their attempts to obtain free pinball, often carefully placing the legs of the machine on the tops of their shoes so as to level the machine without “tilting”. Others simply, day after day, used a penknife to surreptitiously, bore a small hole in the side of the machine so as to insert a wire against one of the bumpers and rack up the score. Still other resorted using a wire through the coin return to trigger instant replays.
Jack himself was an old man and paid little attention to the machine or its eager crowd so he rarely noticed the holes gnawed into its walls. That discovery was left to the repairman who came once every other month or so. As soon as he alerted Jack to the tactics used by the assault of pinballers, Jack would screw a small metal plate over the hole. He would then unplug the machine for a week as punishment for the violator and non-violators alike. After years of repair the machine bore dozens of these plates along its sides, each one covering a tiny entry into the machine’s internals. I never understood why he didn’t just cover the entire side with a large piece of metal but I certainly wasn’t about to suggest it either.
During these periods of withdrawal, when the machine was unplugged, Snookie’s Luncheonette became unusually crowded, not with paying customers but with teenage hang-arounds exiled from Jack’s.  Most sat around playing matchbook football on the tables near the front window waiting for the day when the machine at Jack’s would be reenergized.
Snookie was an older woman who ran her business right next to Jack’s Bowling Alley. Her trade was generally takeout. The bowlers would order hamburgers, sandwiches and the like during their play and carry them into the alleys. Aside from this, business was thin. I often wondered how she paid the light bill.
Well anyway, there we sat hour after hour engaged in our mindless pass time while volumes of unattended to schoolwork accumulated.
Needless to say, all these activities fell out of the purview of my mother. As I have always said, “If I would have gone to the library even half the times that I claimed, I would surely have become president of Yale University”.
The town library itself was a one-story building, the size of a small gymnasium. It housed on the order of five hundred to a thousand books at most. I am quite sure that my mother must have believed that I had read all them, at least twice, based on the number of my supposed visits.
The only thing that possibly could have given my deception away was the reek of cigarette smoke that followed me everywhere after my trips to the “library”. The foul stench completely enveloped me. It arose from my own use of the “devil’s weed” and from the heavily laden air that constantly surrounded me.
In those days, tobacco smoke was an acrid perfume found in every nook and cranny.
If you went for a haircut at Dee’s Barber Shop – Dee was smoking as he cut your hair.
If you went to Dan’s Diner – the cook was smoking as he worked the grill.
If you went to Manley’s Army Navy Store – Mr. Manley was smoking while he fitted your new Keds.
I was surprised that Father O’Brien wasn’t smoking as he said Sunday Mass, although I did see him puffing outside the door of the sacristy just before and after service on many occasions.
Smoking was everywhere. So, knowing that my mother had never been to the town library when I was questioned about the odors which I was emitting, I promptly replied that the librarian was a smoker too!
Often, the boredom of Snookie’s and Jack’s became unbearable. This was especially true when another pinballer was having an extremely successful run and your chances of claiming the machine were slim or when the bowling leagues were on their summer break. During those times, pinsetters were only needed by a few transient bowlers and Abe, the head pin boy and his brother got the jobs.
The tedium most often led to a vigil where Main Street was continually surveyed for the sight of Moose and his forty-nine Merc or even Flash in his brand new, light green, two toned, fifty-five Chevy. Sighting either might ensure the opportunity to “cruise” for the rest of the evening.
Cruising held numerous advantages. Firstly, it was a search for adventure. One could travel far and wide, well at least two or three miles anyway, looking for action. Action usually meant repeatedly riding up and down the half mile long Main Street for the entire night or until Moose noticed the gas gauge approaching zero.
 Another great part of cruising was the car radio playing. You got to hear the “top ten” over and over and over. On a hot summer night, the breeze from the cranked out vent window was the closest thing to air conditioning that one could get unless you had the thirty-five cents for the Strand.  The Strand Movie Theater was the only movie in town and it always played the same feature for at least two consecutive weeks. So, even if you had the money, and we didn’t, it wasn’t a good air conditioning option until the new feature came to town.
Cruising during the week was cool but the weekends were the best. It frequently involved the search for a twenty-one year old or someone with a good fake ID. It meant the action could include booze. If the quest for a buyer proved fruitless we could always fall back on Floyd.
Floyd was one of the town “queers”, as we called them then. The more appropriate term of course is homosexual or in Floyd’s case probably child molester. It was well known that he had had encounters with several of the kids in town. Everyone knew Floyd’s reputation and avoided him at all cost, except of course when another of age person couldn’t be found.
Floyd was easily cajoled by the promise of a future encounter with one of us. To my knowledge the promises were never kept but that never seemed to stop Floyd from continuing to serve our requests. I suppose, “Hope springs eternal” must have been Floyd’s motto.
“Hey, here comes Moose!” Stinky yelled as he peered out through Snookie’s grease laden front window.
  Upon hearing that, Stinky, Bogie, C-Man and I raced out to the sidewalk to flag him down. 
As I said before, in those days everyone had a nickname. John Byer’s was Bogie. How it came to be, who knows? I never asked him and he never mentioned its origin. He had already been christened “Bogie” when I first met him. As a matter of fact it was months after that before I found out his real name.
The only thing I can possibly conclude in retrospect is perhaps some one thought that he looked like Humphrey Bogart who was a legendary movie star of the day. If that was the case I certainly didn’t see it.
He was short, stocky and well built. His facial features in no way resembled those of Humphrey Bogart but then again his persona certainly did. Bogie was one tough kid and almost everybody knew it. Those who didn’t know found out real fast if they got into any kind of confrontation with him.
As for C-Man his actual name was Barry Newhouse. He always considered himself to be a big deal with the girls and continually bragged of his exploits and conquests. Whether they were real or merely his flights of fantasy, once again, who knows? In either case, I don’t think any further explanation of his nickname is required.
Moose pulled up to the curb, rolled down the window, poked his head out and shouted “Hop in Jerkoffs!”
Many nights he would ride passed all of us pretending to be oblivious to our shouts but tonight was not one of them. He must have been low on gas!
“Front shotgun” yelled Stinky.
“Rear left!” I yelled.
“Rear right!” came immediately from Tojo.
Everyone piled into the car.
“Looks like you two got the squeeze play” Moose said addressing C-Man and Bogie, the other two guys who failed to call their spots quickly enough.
The car doors slammed. Moose sat silently and the car stood still. Ten seconds passed and not a word or a motion occurred.
“What the fucks with you guys?” Moose announced.
No one said a word but everyone knew.
“Gas money! Let’s go. Shotguns, it’s a quarter each. Squeezers twenty cents. Do I have ta ask ya every fuckin’ time?
You should know by now. I can’t run this thing on piss” Moose said in an irritated tone.
“Why can’t we just go up to Littleton and gas up there?” I suggested hoping to avoid paying.
Littleton was the next small town to the north of Highburg. It housed about five hundred citizens and the township’s gas pump with a broken lock. It was common knowledge with most of Highburg’s teenage drivers, that for the past three months, a nighttime visit to Littleton meant free gas.
“Ain’t working no more” piped C-Man.
“Didn’t ya hear about what happened to Hooky the other night?”
“No! What?” I replied.
“Well, he went up and gassed up like usual and then all of a sudden his car started runnin’ real shitty and all kinds of black smoke came out of the exhaust. About three miles down the road the cops got him. They saw all the smoke.
What had happened was that they put some kerosene in the tank with the gas and then waited for somebody to fill up. Then all they had to do was look for the smoker. His father had to go and get him outta jail. Cost him seventy-five dollars and his old man beat the shit outta him” answered C-Man.
With that, we all reached into our pockets and extracted the requested tolls.
Moose was stupid but not that stupid, not when it came to gas money. Moose was also big, very big and not the kind of guy anyone would want to give any shit. His two favorite pass times were football and fighting. It was hard to tell which he enjoyed the most.
Wednesday nights during the summer were sometimes better than weekend nights. That was the night that the C.Y.O. dances were held in the neighboring town of Crockton.
Moose would pick everyone up at Snookie’s, seven o’clock sharp, collect the gas money of course, and drive the ten miles to Crockton.
The dance itself was usually uneventful. The boys stood on one side, girls on the other and few brave souls attempting to show off their jitter bugging skills in the center. Only the slow dances yielded a crowded floor with most of the guys trying to chat up the girls hoping for a quick feel in the parking lot after the dance.
Actually, the highlight of the evening happened at about ten thirty when the dance was officially over. It was then that Moose and Frankie Hadler met outside behind the building. It happened like clockwork, every Wednesday, without fail.
Frankie was about five feet nine, one sixty at best. Moose, he was six two, maybe two twenty. In spite of the size differential, Frankie had one big advantage, he was nuts!
That was what allowed him to hang in the fights week after week without actually being killed.
It generally lasted fifteen or twenty action filled minutes with Frankie being pummeled by Moose over and over. Every once in a while Frankie got in a good shot or two but it was only statistics that allowed it to happen. He kept coming and coming until either Moose became bored and walked away or the cops arrived and sent everyone home.
As I said before, Moose had two favorite pass times and they were football and fighting. His older brother, Big Moose had played for Coach at Highburg five years earlier and was recruited by South Carolina. While there, he achieved All-American status but never graduated. In the very last game of his senior year he sustained a permanently crippling injury to his left ankle. He would carry a limp for the rest of his life and never play again. He was given a ‘Certificate of Attendance’. Despite his failure to graduate and play in the Pros, Big Moose remained a hero to the town’s people of Highburg and a credit to Coach who had bestowed his playing skills upon him.
Moose had two other siblings, Little Moose and Minnie Moose. Little Moose gained his nickname not only for being younger than the others but also for being quite a bit smaller. He never took up the game of football and generally spent most of his time smoking, drinking and being a roustabout.
His failure to play football was an embarrassment to both Big Moose and Moose and they openly mocked him for it. Apparently their mockery had little effect because Little Moose never did don the Red and Black of Highburg High.
Minnie Moose was the big sister of the Moose family. She bore the tough, dykish appearance of a man complete with broad shoulder, large stature and sporadic facial hair. In spite of her guise she was actually quite amiable and far more intelligent than the rest of the Moose clan.
Out of the four, Albert, that was Moose’s real name, was probably the dumbest although in retrospect he might have been a trendsetter.
During every huddle, he could be seen removing his helmet. The reason being that inside was taped a list of his assignment for each play. Actually, we only ran about a dozen plays or so, but Moose was unable to recall them without constant referral to the list. Today players wear wristbands citing their assignments. I still wonder to this day if Moose might have been its inspiration.



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