Teenage Toughs

There was a time, when I was ten or eleven, that I decided I never wanted to become a teenager. Teenagers were wild. I watched TV. I saw James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause”. I saw the hoodlums on “Blackboard Jungle”. Teenagers could be seen with their extreme hairstyles at Kennywood Park squiring around young girls as if they were private property. They could be seen driving hot rods, ‘51 Mercurys with all the trim stripped away and glass packed mufflers. When they drove off they always “laid a patch” – a spinning of tires that left a bit of the rubber from the tires on the street. And worse, they could be seen riding on motorcycles with little regard for life theirs or others. Rumbles and fights were mentioned on TV shows. There were knives and gangs kicking over garbage cans and terrorizing older folk. I was a nice kid, I didn’t want these things and I was concerned that high school (or even junior high school) would be filled with such toughs. Could I survive?

Near the end of sixth grade, we had a visit by Mr. Johns, a guidance counselor at the high school. He wore a flat top haircut like me. He came with a box filled with handbooks that were intended to help us understand the rules we would be facing next year. I was comforted when I heard that blue jeans and “extreme hairstyles” were not permitted. The handbook also talked about a lot of clubs that ranged from astronomy to Latin – perhaps this experience was not going to be all that uncivilized. And the Alma Mater written by Lucinda Krumpe of the first graduating class sounded perfectly classical. Perhaps, just perhaps, it might not be all that bad.

Well, upon showing up for the first day at a junior-senior high school, I learned quickly that the forces of change from the outside world were apparently powerful and compelling. Mr. Johns and Lucinda Krumpe could only do so much. Like sand at a beach house, rebel rousing had a way of getting past even a well-sealed door. I felt so alone the first few days and was even goaded into a fistfight in the boys room after a guy named “Choo Choo” claimed I had insulted him at lunch and he called me out. I was a head taller than “Choo Choo” but I was scared to death. He knew how to intimidate and how to move around while rolling his fists for action. We tossed a few blows. I got in a good lick but also took one from “Choo Choo’s” left hand which featured an oversize ring. A small bit of blood dripped from my chin. No real damage. I was then saved by the bell and that was that. Mr. Bowers looked at me as I entered class a minute later. He discreetly gave me a few Kleenex and told me to apply pressure. Nothing more was said or done.

Sometimes you just have to suffer a few lumps. That was my last fight in high school.