The story will come to a conclusion before summer does. Then, after some patching, fixing and polishing, it will go between soft covers on Amazon and into the ebook marketplace.
If you are new here or may have missed something, you jump back in time to the first chapter by clicking here and following the links to all the ones that follow. If you like to just grab hold of something already done and waiting for you to dig in, you can find my baker's dozen of finished books on my Amazon Author Page.
ends of things
“Fill in the circle with the correct answer,” Mrs. Pruitt instructed. “Clearly,” she added.
She walked up and down the rows of desks, passing out corresponding question and answer sheets, dangerous tools that, nowadays, send legions of parents into spasms of outrage as if they were poison arrows and jagged edges. She asked one of the girls to distribute sharpened pencils. Risky shit, but how could be know in the dark ages of 1960?
In the Sixties, we took tests that told us where we ranked, and if good enough, we moved up a level. Sometimes, we get held back. I did. The turbid landslide of anti-intellectualism that would discredit education wasn’t on anyone’s radar yet. We needed more TV to get it lumping in a downhill direction. For now, smart was still good.
In an adolescent world built on uncanny paradoxes, I was a great test taker, although my report cards, except in the months spent repeating 6A, were a mess of Fs, Ds and the occasional beam of sunlight C. F3s were the worst, the 3 being an assessment of the kind of effort you put into earning your grade. F3s stamped you with not knowing anything and, at the same time, not giving a shit about it. F1, meaning nitwit, was worse, but only one teacher was disgusted enough to slap one of those on me. My internal argument was that I deserved A3s all around. I knew the stuff. I passed the tests, but a high grade without misery and coerced commitment, that is, paying rapt attention in class and spending time at home doing useless homework, isn’t conceivable where careers are based on the idea that, “I know everything, and you’re an empty can I’m assigned to fill up.”
Then, the aces out at the University of Iowa cut me loose, even though nobody but me seemed to notice, but not yet.
We knocked off our two days of tests. I was thirteen, an eighth grader, when I took the Iowa tests the first time, a loner with lousy hygiene, few friends, barely passing grades and a family irritated by the loser bumbling around their home. I didn’t take the tests seriously, only enough to fill in the right answers, rushing at the end if time was running out, relying heavily on intuition. Fill in the circle with the first answer making its way into your head, that was my successful technique. If you knew it, you knew it. If you didn’t, why fart around? Move on.
Finished, we all returned to the routines of public school, guys like me doing as little as we could get away with, bored most of the time, without an alternative, keenly aware of the age, sixteen, when quitting school was legal. My oldest brother had sailed off with the Navy on the first day he was old enough. I could see myself trickling off in that direction, if I could just stand a few more years of public school.
When the test scores came back from Iowa and were handed out in homeroom, I looked and blinked twice. Not one section grade was lower than 94. My composite, all skills taken into account, was 99. That meant, we were told, that 99% of all the kids in America scored lower than I did. Looking back, the surprise is that nobody stepped up to congratulate me. I was the only 99 in the school. In retrospect, the shock is that nobody took me aside to try trying to turn my future in another direction, leaving me to be a genius all by myself, brains growing like weeds in an uncut field. But I was used to being ignored whenever possible, so it didn’t strike me as odd at the time.
My family? My brothers seemed discouraged by it. Either I didn’t deserve to be a 99 or, more likely, it was a mistake. As far as I knew, Dad never noticed at all. Family set points remained stable.
“Well,” as my now ex-friend Roger would say, “fuck ‘em.”
Or on the sunny side, as Ira Gershwin wrote, “They can’t take that away from me.”
But this was knowledge that changed the character I observed every day from one born to lose at everything but baseball to a rebel unwilling to accept what everyone else said was the truth.
Steve Jobs liked to remind everyone that we connect the dots of explanation in reverse. You get clarity from looking back after excitement, confusion, wonder and frustration cut the trail forward — if you chose to cut your own, that is, and not step lightly along the well-worn path everyone around you discards their souls in.
Within months of being shown that I was a genius waiting to happen, I started writing my first novel, freehand on the lined sheets Dad paid for at the start of the school, sheets that otherwise languished unused. That was the next dot, a big one, my theme being a boy my age’s romance with a black girl, a topic that sprung out of my head without warning or visible antecedent, like a twenty year cicada. I didn’t even have a black friend yet in nearly all white East Junior, let alone a girlfriend.
Fourteen years old, an intuitive radical in the works.
But I do.
It’s like looking behind you and seeing a building has fallen, a part of the city lost. Others stand, but this one is gone. You can’t go back and fix the plumbing. If the skeleton sagged, nothing now can prop it up. It’s gone, one more vacant lot in the city behind you.
It’s not the first or, maybe, even the most significant or interesting, but it held its place, it played its role.
One day, I glanced back, curious, looking for something else, the look of a building I used to visit and how it sat on the skyline, how it was being kept up, and saw that the building called “Val” was now a pile of rubble, bleached by sun, rinsed over by fifteen years of wind and rain.
Find all my books on my Amazon Author Page
<---Previous Juvenile Delinquent