Saturday, September 12, 2009

Leif's "Cross Burning" Story - Written in January 1993 just before his 18th birthday

Leif took a creative writing class in the spring semester of 1993, and one of the first assignments he had inspired him to recount an adventure he had the year before in Puerto Rico. Leif had a great group of friends, but they were teenage boys and sometimes their adventures wouldn't have been approved of by their parents. I think many parents never find out things like this ever happened and I'm rather surprised that I did. However, my sons had me help them polish their writing through the time they were in high school (no, I never did any of it for them, or even just corrected it for them, just gave them pointers and suggestions) and Leif showed this one to me at the time.

I remember the first draft he wrote, which to me didn't sound "creative" enough, just like a straight retelling of the evening he experienced. This is actually his third draft and since it was a creative writing assignment, I think there was some exaggeration going on. However, the incident really did happen. In his version, he used his friends' real names, but since I don't have contact with them and can't get their permission to use them, I have changed all the names.

The teacher mentioned in the story was popular with the boys. The prank wasn't intended to be hurtful. They liked and respected him, and it was supposed to be funny. I think the fact that they owned up to it shows that, too. I have changed his name as well.

The story is a window into the mind of teen boys and their behavior. I'm grateful that Leif made it through those years without getting into real trouble. The potential was there. He was not an instigator, but he did go along with things, like the adventure in this story. It was one he really enjoyed, because I heard him tell about it several times in addition to writing it like this. Basically, he was a good kid who longed to do risky things, so flirting with danger was exciting and fun . . . as long as it didn't go bad.

I picked a couple of silly photos of Leif to go along with this, taken close to the time the story happened. The top one was taken in Old San Juan on a really hot day when we had been walking around for hours and were roasting and exhausted. He stuck his head of long hair into a fountain to cool off. That was in 1991 when he was 16. The second one was taken on our first cruise, out of San Juan on the Carnival Cruise Lines Tropicale. Much of the time on that cruise he looked absolutely smashing and debonaire, but that evening he was being silly and put those little white cups that hold coffee creamer in front of his eyes and on his head and stuck out his tongue for the camera. This was in April 1992. He was 17.

And now, for the story:

"Cross-Burning" by Alex Garretson - January 1993

It was a dark but actually very pleasant night on the cosy little Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. The six of us met in the parking lot at the mall to go see "Wayne's World." Charlie had a flat on the way and pulled up with a shredded tire. Having plenty of time before the movie began, we tried to replace the tire. After floundering around for several minutes trying to get the jack to work I figured it out and changed it myself. Five minutes later we were in the theater flirting with the girls and throwing popcorn at the guys. After an hour-and-a-half of obnoxious misbehavior the movie ended and we could pursue new mischief. As the credits rolled at the end of "Wayne's World," Shawn, Dave, Gene, Bob, Charlie, and I filed out of the theater and headed down toward the parking lot.

Shawn's Mitsubishi could seat seven so we climbed in and were off. As we cruised down Roosevelt Ave. looking for entertainment Charlie spotted three girls in a Volvo coming up our right side. Having been inspired by Wayne and Garth we all saluted our approval with a simultaneous "schwing." Charlie climbed out the window and sat on the door waving his hat and whistling. Dave blew kisses on the window while the rest of us laughed and told Shawn to watch his driving. The girls pulled into the parking lot near the Carnival and we followed. As we parked and headed toward the entrance we circled and thought what to do next.

"One of us has to go and talk to them," Charlie said.
"Why don't you, Charlie? This was your idea in the first place," I replied.
"I can't, man, not tonight. Besides I have a girlfriend."
"That never stopped you before."
"Okay, okay, you've got a point there. But, still I can't. Why don't you?"
"I don't speak Spanish, man. If they don't speak English then it's all over and I'll look like an idiot," I said.
"Why's it gotta be me every time? One of you could get yourselves a date someday."
"Come on Charlie." I said, "Shawn and Dave are the only other ones that speak Spanish. Shawn's drivin' and you know Dave won't do it."
"All right, all right I'll do it. Just don't leave without me."

Charlie walked over to the girls and the rest of us got the car out of the way and watched his progress.

"All right, we're all getting laid tonight," Bob declared tactlessly. After about five minutes Dave and Bob started placing bets on how Charlie would do. Things seemed to be going well but after fifteen minutes we were getting bored.

Shawn rolled down the window and yelled, "Hey Charlie, we gettin' any tonight?" Since there was no response we assumed that either we weren't heard or the girls didn't speak English. Shawn repeated the remark. This time Charlie shot a cold glance at Shawn. Determined to get Charlie to return, he shouted, "Charlie, we're gonna tell Mariela." This time Charlie's stare was almost murderous. A few seconds later Charlie said good bye to the girls and returned.

"I ought to kill you for that," Charlie warned.
"Did they speak English?" asked Bob.
"Yeah, the first thing I said was in English."
"So what happened?" Dave asked.
"Well, first I asked if they wanted to go to the Condado. Then I asked them to Old San Juan, Shannon's, Peggy Sue's, the Beach, and finally I even asked them back to your house, Shawn."
"So, what happened?" Dave asked again.
"They had to wait for some friends who wanted to go to the Carnival and couldn't leave without them."
"Oh, well," Gene said, "Now what?"

We left and continued driving while discussing what to do next. As we approached San Patricio Charlie had an idea. "Lets get Mr. Bradley." It seemed perfect. Every one of us was taking, or had at one time taken, classes with Mr. Bradley. Mr. Bradley was a chemistry and physics teacher at the high school, an atheist with a great sense of humor.

"It's our last year. We've got to do something to Mr. Bradley." Charlie said.
"What did you have in mind?" I asked.
"I don't know but its got to be hilarious and it should be something about religion."
"What do you want to do, burn a cross in his yard?" I replied
"That's not a bad idea but we could never pull it off."
"We could paint one on his driveway or on his house." Dovovan added.
"No, that's not funny; it's vandalism. Nothing illegal." I said.
"We could pull it off."
"No fucking way, Charlie. We've come too close too many times. You almost got us arrested once."
"Yeah, almost, but only once."
"How about some candles?" Dave suggested.
"Yeah, you know how he's always saying that religion is silly and the only way to explain anything is through science. Well, lets burn a cross of candles in his yard." Charlie said.
"Yeah, now that would be funny."
"Here, pull in to San Pat' and we'll get some candles." said Charlie

As we entered the drug store at the San Patricio shopping mall, I began to remember all the times that Charlie had done something stupid that almost got me in trouble. There was the time that Charlie and Art pulled a fire hose out of the wall at the Stryper concert and proceeded to spray it over the giant inflatable Winston cigarette box down onto the stage, drenching the drummer, bassist, lead singer, and half of the first seven rows of of the arena. There was the time that Charlie recruited Warren, Scott, and I to help him break into the school during homecoming to tar and feather "Seniors Rule" across the freshman lockers. That one almost ended in our arrest as we were discovered by a pair of MP's behind the school with the stucco gun. And finally, here on this very spot, was the place where Charlie decided he was going to steal a cop's helmet off his motorcycle while he was standing in the checkout line of the very drug store we were about to enter. Fortunately, the cop turned around before Charlie got around to trying it.

It must have looked a bit strange to see six guys, mostly gringos, enter a drug store at eleven o'clock on a Saturday night, then leave a few minutes later after buying nothing but a box of candles and one Snickers bar. We returned to the car and left. Bob was feeling very proud of himself, having successfully lifted a Butterfinger from the counter on his way out, and the rest were planning our tactics for the cross burning.

"You sure you know were his house is?" someone asked.
"Yeah, it's right around here; make a left up there." Charlie said.
"Now how exactly do you idiots think you are going to do this?" I asked.

Charlie took charge as expected. "All right, Shawn, when we get there, park across the street and turn off your lights, but leave the engine running. We'll go out and set the candles up and after we light them we'll come back and stick my ghetto-blaster out the window. Then we'll blast "Smells Like Teen Spirit" out the window to get his attention and drive off. All right? Cool, there's his house. Pull over."

Dave, Bob, and Charlie stalked across the street and disappeared behind a fence. Shawn waited with his hand on the shifter while Gene and I watched for their return. A few minutes passed until suddenly the three of them came running back as if the creature from "Aliens" was chasing them. They jumped into the car and slammed the doors.

"Shit. We're busted man. Hit it!"

Shawn hit the gas and the little Mitsubishi wagon sped away as fast as it's four cylinders could take it. I was suprised to hear the squeal of tires from such a small engine. As we passed the fence we could see the little cross of candles burning in all its glory. As we rounded the corner we almost hit another car because Shawn forgot to turn his lights on again. We raced through the neighborhood trying to lose the neighbor's car that had begun to pursue us. The lights were still behind us as Shawn swung onto the highway. The speedometer was pushing ninety as we desperately tried to out run the other car.

Each of us responded differently to the situation: Shawn kept his attention on his driving, breaking his concentration only to ask if he had lost them yet. Dave maintained his usual curious indifference and sat calmly but attentively in the front seat. Gene sunk down in the back and shook his head, muttering, "I can't believe we're actually doing this."

I appeared calm as usual, but being an adrenaline junkie, I was having the time of my life watching as the other car matched our every move. I answered Shawn's inquisitions with a calm, "Yup, he's still back there." Bob was scared shitless. Having never done anything crazy in his life before stealing that Butterfinger he did not have the stomach for car chases. He made this quite evident when he kept asking, "Are you scared? You're scared, aren't you?" And Charlie naturally was loving every second. The only words out of his mouth were, "Fuck, yeah. This is awesome."

Shawn took the exit back onto Roosevelt Ave. and we flew down the off ramp and smoothly merged with the traffic. I looked back to see if the head lights were still behind us. Nothing. We had lost them.

We drove back to Plaza and dropped Charlie off at his car and then we began to head back home ourselves. Monday morning Dave placed the last remaining candle on Mr. Bradley's desk to confirm that someone from his classes was responsible for the display in his yard. The others entered his class to find the license number of Shawn's car on the board labelled "white Mitsubishi." Close, it was red. This was especially ironic because the car in question, which was parked outside, belonged to Shawn's mother, who, like Charlie's mother, is a teacher at the same high school. Charlie took credit for the joke immediately, as expected. Dave followed soon after and Shawn confessed that it was his car.

I talked to Mr. Bradley later in the year when I was sure everything had calmed down and admitted my "guilt." Bob never had the guts to admit it and Gene never spoke of it again. But, sooner or later we all heard how the neighbors had called Mr. Bradley thinking that we were doing something criminal to his house and he ran outside before they could give him the details and saw it glowing in the driveway. He immediately burst out laughing and went in to soothe his paranoid neighbors and appease his wife who thought it was an insulting prank by one of her students at the Catholic school at which she taught.

Eventually everyone was satisfied and the events of that Saturday night will live happily in our memories.

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