Copyright 2016 JB Booker
Published by JB Booker at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 – The Tryouts.
Chapter 2 – Varsity versus Band.
Chapter 3 – The Speed Class.
Chapter 4 – What are the Lutherans doing?
Chapter 5 – Winter Carnival.
Chapter 6 – Sweet 16.
Chapter 7 – The Bivouac.
Chapter 8 – The Big Empty.
Chapter 9 – The Kaydet.
Chapter 10 – THE canoe trip.
Chapter 11 – Light Loads.
Chapter 12 – The Last Mixer.
Chapter 13 – The First Kennedy Assassination.
Chapter 16 – MaryNotes.
Chapter 17 – the Groundlings
Chapter 18 – The Ecumenical Council.
Chapter 19 – Monsignor Jimmy.
Chapter 20 – The Senior Review.
Chapter 21 – Matriculation.
Chapter 22 – Dematriculation.
About the Author
Other books by this author
The Lake Street Bridge stood, a giant wrought-iron Erector set spanning the Mississippi. The river roiled sluggishly under the bridge with the pressure of a vast weight pushing south from Saint Paul. The river hissed in the dark, foam reflecting white as it split around the center bridge pier. Tonight there was no car traffic on the bridge, no one wanting desperately to get from Saint Paul to Minneapolis, just one lone stick-figure sitting on the railing with his legs dangling towards the flowing water, staring intently at the swish of foam below, framed by his bare feet.
It was 2 am on a warm muggy night in late August. The cloudy sky reflected the city glow from Minneapolis, casting a false sunset in the west.
He was thinking so furiously, you could almost smell bacon frying. Supposedly, anything dropped in the river in St Paul would end up in New Orleans ninety days later. He always thought of his Irish grandfather, “Grumpy”, when he watched the Mississippi. Grumpy claimed that as a boy he would swim across the river right at downtown Saint Paul. Now there was enough pollution that you could probably walk right across it instead.
He thought: “Damn, I’m sick of getting beat up. I hurt all the time. Maybe Dostoevsky is right, ‘It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s Raskolnakov!’ Well I think some laws don’t apply to me anymore, that’s for sure. The damn Catholic Church telling me all these years that sex was wrong, a ‘mortal sin’ – the most beautiful thing God gave us. I just don’t believe it is wrong. And who are these celibate, drunken, old priests and dried up old nuns telling us it’s wrong? What do they know? What else are they lying about? Well, the good old ‘wine, women and song’. Guess I’ll have to try more of that instead of less. Try doing less of the damned Catholic Church instead. Less Dostoevsky and more Chaucer. And yes, if there is a god, then there must be a devil - Mailer’s Manichaeism- give the devil his due.”
He watched a car drive past, slowing down when the driver saw the figure on the railing. He thought, “Darn, why’d I take my shoes off? Afraid of getting them wet?” He waved at the car as it crawled by and the driver must have thought all was ok since he sped up. Just someone out looking for cooler air in the hot night.
“Hell, I’m cracking up. Every time now I think I can’t take another beating. But as long as he’s beating on me, he’s leaving the younger ones alone. What’s the rule? ‘Take a last long look at everything around you and if there is nothing there to live for, check out’. Maybe things will straighten out now that I’m starting high school, damn military school, though the sarge is being a real prick about it. ‘Don’t hang around me on campus. You’re just another Freshman.’ Some older brother. Fuck. Well, I can do it on my own. Wine Women and Song. Damn I hate being thirteen“.
The figure sat on the rail another half hour, contemplating the steady flow of the Mississippi on its way to New Orleans. Finally, he lost feeling in his skinny butt cheeks from the steady pressure of the steel rail. He slid both legs over the rail and back on to the wooden sidewalk, picked up his shoes and walked barefoot back to the Saint Paul side of the bridge. “Well, I am glad I didn’t read Crime and Punishment until after I’d been well and truly laid. Should be a warning on the book cover about that. DO NOT READ IF STILL A VIRGIN!”
Chapter 1 – The Tryouts.
At last, the notice went up on the bulletin boards for freshman basketball tryouts. The Academy was not known as a basketball powerhouse, so Flip was kind of curious as to how tough the tryouts would be.
Flip had played center for Joe Mayors for the previous two seasons at Saint Mikes –both seasons, the team was undefeated, even playing against the Central High freshman squad. So he knew a good number of the players who would be showing up for tryouts, but none of them would be from Saint Mikes. Almost 100% of that team would be over at Cretin, probably fighting for benchwarmer spots. Flip had heard that there was one player to watch for who had actually come to the Academy on a basketball scholarship – yep, everyone was surprised to hear that there was such a thing as an athletic scholarship at the Academy.
So, on Wednesday after the last class, Flip took a day off from band practice and headed next door instead to the armory.
The armory was one of only three or four buildings shared between the St. Francis of Assisi College and St Francis of Assisi Military Academy who were on the same campus. The chapel (the size of a full-sized church complete with spire and organ loft), the Hennessy Pool (Olympic sized, of couse) and the Hennessy Library, a five story behemoth that screamed “bigger IS better”. Of course, the Hennessy stadium was also shared for football games, military reviews and ceremonies like graduations.
The armory though was a large open building, large enough to hold the whole student body in military formations with sufficient room to manipulate companies through a parade and full inspection. At one end was the closed and usually locked arms area where the ancient M-1 rifles, WWII relics, were racked and stored along with ammo and ceremonial sabers. But for athletic purposes, the length of the armory was sufficient to hold six full sized basketball courts each running the width of the building. This was the scene of the basketball tryouts.
Flip suited up in the locker room with his too-tight workout clothes from last year. Damn, he must have put on five pounds since last season. The locker rooms were part of the Hennessy Gym area and connected by a walkway to the armory. Flip found the groups of coaches and students milling about and tossing practice shots at some of the hoops. The coaches finally blew whistles and split up students into arbitrary groups of ten. Clipboards were waved and names were taken and the only questions asked were “what school did you play for?” and “what position?”
After some abbreviated calisthenics, new groups of five were formed and a skins vs. shirts scrimmage started. Flip ended up as the tallest guy on his team of “shirts” – at a lowly 6 feet 2 inches, and figured “Here we go again” – the skins had one tall guy, about 6’6” and 180-190 pounds. Flip was pretty sure this must be the “scholarship” player. Strange that Flip had never seen the guy before, must be from out of town.
Sure enough, they had a jump ball to start off - not really necessary for a scrimmage - but Flip figured they just wanted to see who could jump and who couldn’t. Flip naturally got to do the honors against the over-sized kid and didn’t stand a chance of tipping the ball, he was about two inches short of the ball. But this being a pick-up game, the tip went to the shirts team anyway. What immediately steamed Flip was the wild elbow thrown by Mr. Scholarship as they came down from the tip- catching Flip across the cheekbone. For a brief instant, Flip saw red and then took a deep breath and headed for the top of the key to play high post, like Joe had taught him.
The tip had gone to a little guy with quick hands that Flip remembered as playing guard for Saint Luke’s or one of those non-threatening Catholic teams. The guard brought the ball up slowly stalling as one of the skins pressed him with arms up. The ball sailed to Flip and the guard broke for the key at the same time. Flip took the ball and he was immediately fouled from behind – sure enough by Mr. Scholarship again. No whistle blew for the foul. So Flip faked to the right and came back left with a bounce pass behind him to the guard who was in the lane and ready to go up with the bounce of the ball. The little guy went up with a layup and shirts scored. One of the coaches said “Nice shot”. Another said “Yeah, but who threw that pass?” Flip raised his arm like acknowledging a foul. And the game was on.
After 20 minutes, Shirts were up by four baskets. Flip had worked the high post for the whole time and had scored twice with jump shots from the top of the key (both over the head of Mr. Scholarship), one layup down the lane, five assists, two shot blocks (both against Mr. Scholarship), four rebounds and one stolen ball. And hopefully no one had seen the elbow to the ribs Flip had slipped to Mr. Scholarship as payback for that jump ball. He was panting and dripping sweat – and grinning. The best workout he’d had since last basketball season. As the whistle blew and the coaches waved everyone in, the little guard came up and slapped Flip’s shoulder – “Nice going. Glad you were on our side.” Flip said “Yeah, good to have you on my side for a change. You were always a pain in the ass to defend against.”
The coaches did their “same time tomorrow” routine and most of the kids headed for the locker room. Flip stayed behind and practiced jump shots, moving out from the key to either side. Somehow, if Mr. Scholarship was going to play center, Flip might have to move to forward to get any playing time. So zeroing in on the basket from different sides would be a good idea. After 20 minutes of shooting, Flip headed for the locker room, figuring that there would be a lot more practice needed to move his game off the high post.
As Flip hit the locker room, he was aware of a lot of crowd noise from farther down the room. The lockers were arranged in U shaped clusters and Flip was in the first U as you entered from the armory. In the next U down, noises like from a fight, urging on, were coming down. Flip stripped off his sweated-through clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist to go take a shower. As he walked towards the shower, the second U of lockers became visible – and Flip saw a circle of upperclassmen surrounding a freshman who was being sodomized with a broom handle. Flip stepped backward and backwards again until he got to his locker. He threw his uniform clothes over his arm and headed for the door to the armory walkway. As he reached the door he shouted over his shoulder “Hi Coach” and yanked down on the fire alarm lever next to the door. He escaped into the fresh fall air, wearing just a towel and taking a deep breath as the fire alarm clanged behind him.. He was shivering slightly and the sweat from his workout was forming a crust on his face as it dried. He made it to the band hall without being stopped and changed into his uniform in an empty practice room.
The next day, Flip looked around for the freshman who had been raped but didn’t find him in any of the usual places. Flip was going to offer to be a witness, should the kid want to bring charges or launch a complaint of some sort. Nothing was said around campus about the incident, no word of why the kid wasn’t there, no questions asked. Not a ripple on the smooth surface of the Academy. Just a reminder in chapel that the Code of Honor required whoever set a false fire alarm to turn themselves in to the Dean of Students. Flip felt that he could ignore the Code of Honor just this once.
Chapter 2 – Varsity versus Band.
Flip looked up from the bottom of a pileup about 20 yards from the line of scrimmage. “The Donk” was lifting MacDonald by the back of his belt about three feet off the ground with just his left hand. Very delicately, with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand, the Donk daintily removed the flag from MacDonald’s rear pocket, frowning in concentration. Sure enough, MacDonald still held the football. Waving the flag, the Donk dropped MacDonald on his face and smiled proudly at Flip. Flip figured that was the last down and the Band freshmen would take over the ball.
The First Annual Band Freshmen versus Varsity seniors flag football game was well underway. The venue was a plot of grass on the corner of Cretin and Summit avenues, usually used by the College intramural teams as a football field. The field was next to the stadium parking lot – and just 20 yards from the locker room entrance. The rules of the game were: no kick offs or punting, no helmets or shoulder pads. There were no officials except the linesman (a sophomore) marking the first downs with a broom handle and holding the bets.
Since Flip was the only freshman band member with any football experience, the remaining starting players on the Band team were not in the Band. In fact, most were not even from the Academy. But they were all freshmen. Flip had gotten on the phone to the best people he had played with or against on the St. Mike’s 8th grade team. “The Donk” was the biggest kid Flip had ever come across – and had faced off with him playing center in a couple of games. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and somewhere over 250 pounds, Donk was in a league of his own – Flip suspected Donk could be 15 or 16 years old and had graduated to high school only because he no longer fit into the small desks at whatever elementary school he had been in.
From his old 8th grade team, Flip had recruited Tommy P., an outstanding quarterback and Joey B. a tiny, speedy running back (both now at Cretin) and of course the bulkiest linemen they could find as freshmen anywhere in the Twin Cities.
The Varsity seniors’ team had two key players, the starting quarterback, MacDonald, and his favorite pass receiver, “Winger”. These were the only two players the freshmen cared about, since Flip had identified them as the broom-stick rapists of the Hennessey locker rooms.
Buy-in to play in the game was $20 per player with the winning team taking the pot. In addition, the losing team captain had to carry the first-down marker with him everywhere he went for the next week. The first-down marker was an ornately decorated broom stick, with the handle sharpened at one end to spike the ground. From a distance, it was not possible to read the decorated text on the broom handle.
Flip hadn’t had to organize the game. It was simple enough for one of the Speed Class nerds to taunt the perpetually losing Varsity players with a comment like “Even the Band freshmen could beat you pussies.” Very quickly the challenge was accepted and rules drawn. The game was scheduled two days before the Varsity’s last game of the regular season – a meaningless league game. So the battle against the “froshes” was a mild workout for them, a game of catch while earning $20 for a half hour’s play.
Flip’s game strategy came from watching MacDonald and Winger in a few varsity games from the band’s seat in the stands. MacDonald was a fairly slow quarterback with a pretty good throwing arm. Winger was his favorite pass receiver. Winger was easily frustrated by good pass defense and would foul the defenders every chance he got if he thought the officials weren’t looking. So the game strategy was simple, the Donk would rush MacDonald on every play – forcing quick passes from MacDonald for fear of his life. Flip and Joey B. would double team Winger on every play, Flip playing inside and forcing a jump ball on every pass while Joey played ahead of Winger forcing a trip or stumble on every pass.
Now, about half time into the game, the score was 12 to 12 and both MacDonald and Winger were red in the face, blowing hard and showing signs of huge frustration. Winger was throwing elbows on every play and spending an unusual amount of time on the ground. MacDonald was back-pedaling on each play trying to avoid Donk. Donk was persistent and having a great time grabbing flags. This time, as Flip got up from the pile-up, Winger threw a vicious punch with his right fist towards Flips kidneys. There was a loud “crunch” as his fist made contact and Flip flew forward about five feet falling to his hands and knees. Flip let out a “woooof” and started getting to his feet immediately. As Flip turned back to face Winger, Winger let loose with a left upper cut to Flip’s ribs. Again, there was a resounding “crunch” as Winger made contact. This time, Flip flew backwards about 5 feet and all the breath was knocked out of his body. He lay there for a minute looking up at Winger before he could finally suck in some air. Winger was standing looking disbelievingly at both of his hands, cupped in front of him. They both were turning red quickly and Flip could see what looked like broken bone sticking out of Winger’s left hand.
As Winger started to walk to the sideline, waving in a substitute, Flip noticed a squishing sound every time Winger’s left foot hit the ground. So Joey had managed to spike Winger’s foot sometime in the last three plays.
Flip was hurting in the ribs from the punches Winger had thrown but stayed in for the offensive series. The first play from scrimmage was a well-practiced joke – Tommy P. faked a handoff to Joey as he flew past. Then Tommy tucked the ball under his arm, put his head down and headed more slowly right behind Joey and through a hole in the defensive line opened up by the Donk, who was now sitting on top of the Varsity starting center. Joey slowed down enough to bait two defensive players running side by side – and then launched himself into a dive, just waist-high on the defenders and took them both out of the play. Tommy just kept motoring along until he reached the goal line. Freshmen 18 Varsity 12.
As the varsity lined up on the 20 yard line to start their next drive, Joey and Flip sized up Winger’s substitute – about 6’2” and mean looking – but fresh, while Joey and Flip were running on their second wind. They double teamed the substitute and sure enough, MacDonald passed to him. Flip managed to out-jump the intended receiver and spiked the ball to the ground. As Flip hit the ground, he felt a hand on his shoulder and was spun around – to be greeted by an elbow to his nose. The pain caused Flip to black out for a moment while still standing and Flip knew instantly that his nose was broken – again. Blood started gushing and Flip headed for the sidelines, using the arm of his sweatshirt to absorb the flow of blood and passing his flag to a substitute joining the game.
On the sideline, Flip stuffed a handkerchief into his nostrils to staunch the flow. Then he walked over to Winger who was sitting cross-legged on the ground with his hands resting on his knees and a bewildered look on his face. His hands were swelling so the fingers looked like sausages. Flip got down on one knee next to him and said “Sir? Do you need a hand getting your cleats off?” Winger nodded once and Flip started untying the laces of his cleats. As he pulled off the left boot, he could see the blood-saturated sock, complete with spike marks. Flip turned and asked one of the band freshmen in the cheering section to run into the locker room and call an ambulance. Winger would need x-rays.
As Flip turned back to watching the game, he saw a sight that he had always dreaded. The Donk, on the varsity snap, planted the varsity center’s face into the turf. Then the Donk attempted to hurdle the body to get at MacDonald who was trying to pick a target down field. The Donk, never known for his ballet-like grace, tripped over the center and was thrown way off-balance, with just enough momentum to land on MacDonald with his full weight. The resulting “CRACK” was heard by everyone on the field.
[ * ]
The ambulance arrived as the game finished. As the attendants looked after MacDonald and Winger, Flip peered into the side mirror of the ambulance, assessing the damage to his nose – a pronounced hook to the right. It looked like MacDonald had gotten off with just a broken arm – his throwing arm. Winger was helped limping to the ambulance. One of the attendants asked Flip “Do you want me to straighten that for you?” Flip said “Sure”. It was one painful twist to get the nose straight again but Flip saw black for what would have been three Mississippis if he could count, hanging onto the door of the ambulance, passing out on his feet again and seeing stars as his nose was packed with cotton. This was so much better than having to straighten it himself, something Flip had done just once before after a particularly vicious beating by his father.
As MacDonald was being helped into the ambulance, Flip asked Joey “Who won?” Joey said: “The band by a touchdown.” Flip told the ambulance driver to wait one minute and walked to the sideline, grabbing the first down marker. Flip presented it with a flourish to MacDonald: “Your prize, sir. Don’t forget to carry it everywhere you go.”
Sergeant S was locking up the armory when Flip arrived. As the sergeant watched, Flip stripped off his blood-soaked sweatshirt and began unlacing the body armor underneath. Sarge said: ”Looks like you could have used some armor that covers your nose.” “Thanks a lot, Sarge. This was just fine, saved my life.”
[ * ]
It was Thursday afternoon and Flip, who couldn’t play saxophone for at least a week, was in the library instead of band practice, speed reading the school’s only copy of Darwin’s Voyage of the Beagle. So it was a surprise when Skip McMahon, the varsity football coach came in and sat at the table across from Flip. Skip was studying Flip’s two black eyes and now purple and swollen nose. “You know, I saw the other guy and you look a lot worse than he does.” Flip said “Yeah, a guy named Turk took a cheap shot with his elbow. He must have been playing hooky with Winger the day you taught sportsmanship.” Skip said: “I have a couple of questions for you.” Flip just nodded. Skip took that as permission “You know, I’ve never lost a $60 football bet to the band master before. This is a first. How the hell did you beat the varsity team?”
Flip just considered for a little bit and then said: “I hope you gave Mr.K the three-to-one odds. We didn’t plan on winning. I put up the money for the freshmen so they had nothing to lose. If we lost, I would carry the broomstick around for a week. No problem. Your guys just beat themselves. It didn’t turn out the way I expected at all. I’m really surprised Mr. K. bet on us. He should have asked me first.”
Skip: ”Is it true that you didn’t let Winger catch a single pass?”
Flip: “Yeah, he wasn’t too happy about that” with a small smile.
Skip: “What was written on that broomstick?”
Flip: “You’ll have to ask MacDonald.”
Skip said: “Your old coach, Joe Mayors told me you would probably come out for freshman ball.”
Flip considered a few answers, then just shrugged.
Skip: “So you know we’re playing without our starting quarterback and best receiver tomorrow?”
Flip: “Oh yeah, I’ve already placed my bets. Now, can I ask you just one question, sir?”
Flip: “Sir, with all due respect, were you ever going to discipline MacDonald and Winger for sodomizing a freshman with a broom stick in your locker room?”
Flip watched the coach’s face turn increasingly red, like mercury rising in a thermometer. He was pretty sure Skip would not react like Flip’s father did, by beating the shit out of Flip. At least not here in the library. But still, Flip knew he was taking a huge risk…
Skip stood, turned his back on Flip and walked to the library door. As he reached the door he turned and looked at Flip one more time, as if he was going to say something more. Then he left.
Flip breathed a sigh of relief and returned to wondering where the fuck the Galapagos Islands were.
As he left the library, Skip was thinking “That punk kid is 13 years old, has been here two months. He doesn’t have a damn clue what he’s doing…he admits that… but he’s betting on the fucking results? Well, I guess I know who pulled the fire alarm that day. And how does he know what sodomy is? And did he just try to blackmail me?”
[ * ]
Since hazing officially did not exist at SFAMA, there was no one to notice that hazing of freshmen by upper classmen stopped suddenly and completely from the fall of 1960 through 1964, by which time, it was a forgotten practice.
And the broomstick? In gold paint it read: “MacDonald’s sex organ.”
But really, it had not turned out at all how Flip expected.
Chapter 3 – The Speed Class.
“The Academy” was the nickname for “Saint Francis of Assisi Military Academy” or “SFAMA” which was the abbreviation on the letter jackets (worn only off campus or at non-uniform events). Of course, SFAMA was a lousy acronym so everyone usually just said “the Academy”. The sports teams all became known as “The Cadets” which was a lot better than “the Sissies”. The cadets joked that the symbol for the school was a statue of Saint Francis of Assisi holding an M-1 rifle with a dove landing on the barrel instead of on an outstretched finger as in most iconic renderings.
For the first time in its 75 year history, the SFAMA directors decided that they would try something new with the freshman class of 1960. So instead of matriculating on the first day of class, the new students all assembled in the armory where card tables had been setup as temporary desks. The 180 new students sat through a long battery of tests including Stanford-Benet IQ, language aptitude, Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory and others.
Three days later, the results of the tests having been consolidated and evaluated, 18 students from the upper percentiles of the IQ test, were designated as the “Speed Class”, This group, by decree of the directors, was to sit together in alphabetic order by surname for every class for the next four years. While the details of the scores on this battery of tests were never made public, it took the class members all of about ten minutes to determine who was the smartest, who was most vocal and who was in the class because of a rich father.
Flip overheard parts of a conversation between faculty members that he was not the highest IQ in the class (Flip figured he was third or fourth) but had scored higher on the language aptitude test than had ever been scored before. Flip attributed this to four years as an altar boy and the need to memorize the entire Catholic liturgy in Latin. The language aptitude test seemed to be Latinate language biased – Flip would have done lousy with anything with a different alphabet.
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Flip is an "of age" teenager faced with abusive parents, a Catholic Military prep school and all of the events of the early 1960s from the Bay of Pigs to the first Kennedy assassination and 'Atomic Annie', the first atomic cannon. Having lost his virginity at the age of 12, Flip is passed from "Betty" to "Betty", band followers with conveniently incarcerated husbands. His musical talents let him play with Stan Kenton, Count Basie and some of the great traveling road bands of the '60s, to the dismay of members of the local musician's union. His love of Shakespeare results in unexpected income, and his future education may depend on Pope John's Ecumenical Council, the hangover of a Catholic priest who just wants to get married and a fledgling Physics teacher who never quite learned to swim.