“Hitler did nothing wrong!”
Tom Stritch heard the voice bellow from somewhere in the back bleachers. Dozens of eyes, including his own, sought the source of the disturbance. People’s reactions were different. Some laughed, others gasped, but many private conversations continued as if nothing had happened.
The declaration had been directed at the woman who had come to speak to Riverview High School about tolerance. She was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and had been impassioned with her message. Her wrinkled, overly made-up face was locked in a grimace. Eyes wide in disbelief, the elderly woman teetered at the podium and her mouth opened and closed without uttering a word. Tom waited for her to either faint or curse.
Tom turned his head in time to witness Vice-Principal in Charge of Discipline, Walter P. Driscoll, spring into action. Each heavy footfall of his echoed like a hammer blow throughout the gymnasium, until he towered over the perpetrator wheezing breathlessly, sweat waddling from his double chins. Senior Nick Teelsmith grinned up at him unafraid.
“Old Dris knew right where to go, didn’t he? This is it for Nick,” Tom said to Madison Carmichael. The two friends sat side by side in the Senior section of the bleachers, near enough to see Nick smiling that famous ‘I’m a fuck-up and proud of it’ smile up at the Vice-Principal’s purple face. Tom wondered if this was the final straw in the long saga of Teelsmith vs. Driscoll, one that would finally see the Vice-Principal murder his frequent office visitor and the school’s most unapologetic delinquent.
“You think Driscoll’s gonna lose his job over someone like Nick? He wants to be in the superintendent’s office one day pissing away the hours doing nothing and collecting huge benefits,” Madison answered.
Both boys were disappointed when they saw the diminutive figure of Principal Gail Wulbersham step up in front of the microphone after saying something to Mary Nusbaum, the guest speaker. The chaos was coming to an end.
“I am extremely shocked and disappointed that so many students of this wonderful school would choose to laugh at so heinous a statement.” Instantly the gym quieted down. This was the power of Principal Wulbersham. It was awe inspiring that so small a woman could crack her voice like a whip and take control of the room faster than the hulking Vice-Principal could ever hope to replicate.
“We are extremely privileged to hear the deeply moving and personal story of a…,” While the Principal droned on, Madison leaned over to Tom and continued his conversation. Tom listened while watching Vice-Principal Driscoll drag a still smiling Nick by his arm down the bleachers and out to his office.
“You know it’s probably bullshit, right? Do they really expect us to believe that around ten million Jews were gassed and put into ovens?”
“I think Mr. Banion said it was more like six million,” Tom yawned. It was 2:15 PM and the clock still had ten minutes to go before the bell rang dismissal. It had been another day that refused to end.
“Six million! Banion’s a liar as well as a shit teacher. Can you honestly tell me that the Nazis could have pulled that off? I mean, where was the technology in the 1940s to do something like that? It didn’t exist! I’m not saying Jews weren’t killed, but I’ll bet you it was more like six hundred thousand or so. The Jews just inflated the number for sympathy and so that bitches like this…,” Madison indicated the still white-faced Mary Nusbaum who was massaging her temples, “can collect their reparations. Did you know Holocaust survivors get checks sent to them each month? Even if they never even set foot in a concentration camp?”
“Where the fuck do you get this from?” Tom demanded. He was watching the clock across the gymnasium, willing it to move faster.
“Independent online news dude. Not that special interest garbage they put on TV. There’s this forum that red pills you on all the truth man. That’s how I educated myself on what’s really going on in this world!” Eyes wide, Madison made a fist and pumped it in Tom’s face. Tom snorted and shook his head.
Principal Wulbersham finished her chastisement and followed it up with one of her famous life lessons. “After all, how can any of us as members of a democratic and free society hope to make a better future if we do not do so together?” Cheers and applause followed: teachers clapped, the student government members stood up and chanted Mrs. Nusbaum’s name. Mrs. Nusbaum let out a breath and smiled gratefully. Tom snickered at the best, brightest and most popular students that Riverview High School had to offer, all of whom happened to sit together down in front, leading the chant.
“Give me a fucking break,” Madison sighed and he leaned back against the bleacher. Nobody ever sat behind Madison so it was a clear area. Tom nodded in agreement. He noticed that Amy Babinski, another senior and one of the student council members, chanted the loudest. Tom had known her since grade school and she was a grade-A ass-kiss. Undoubtedly that clockwork mind of hers was thinking up ways to capitalize on her show of support of Mrs. Nusbaum. Christ he hated chicks like her!
The bell rang and Tom, Madison and the rest of Riverview High School leapt out of their seats and tore down the bleachers. The Seniors headed towards the parking lot and their respective cars or rides while the Juniors, Sophomores and Freshmen headed towards the school buses.
People parted for Madison as if he were Moses standing before the Red Sea. Madison’s face was red and blotchy with rosacea. He had forty pounds of extra weight around his gut, shoulder length hair that was as limp as ramen and greasy as Crisco and a scent that was a blend of natural musk, too much cheap cologne and cafeteria fries- the ‘anti-popular odor’- as Van Patton would have called it.
Tom followed in his wake, a pale faced image with dark freckles near the eyes, a lanky body that illustrated a lack of muscle or fat, and short dark hair. His eyes took in the world around him with an ambivalent, spaced-out look. His mouth had only two settings: set into a sardonic smirk or pulled back in an annoyed grimace.
Madison didn’t bother stopping by his locker, thus sparing them from further smells. Tom could never figure out how it took his friend not even a month of school to completely stuff a locker so full of junk.
Tom opened his locker and placed his books neatly on the top shelf. He shut the locker door and twisted the combination dial a full circle out of habit. Three lockers away the boys took one last longing gaze at Cecily McConnell’s perfect tits and bid them farewell until Monday.
“I give you an ‘Ode to a Perfect Pair,’ by Thomas Stritch.” Thomas cleared his throat.
“Proceed forthwith,” Madison said. He had adopted an awful British accent.
“Cecily’s tits, her pinkish bits, her cheerleader’s giggle, makes them wiggle.” They laughed and walked to the school parking lot.
Riverview High was a school of about a thousand students. It was made up predominantly of whites, but with a good mix of African American, Asian American and Hispanic kids as well. Since Freshman year it had been Madison’s chief complaint that most of the black students were bussed in from other school districts. Tom had heard it from his Dad during one of his old man’s more tolerable moods. School administration had felt Riverview needed more diversity in its student population. Madison complained that it had resulted in an asshole like Walter Driscoll become necessary.
“I’m surprised more of those rich kids’ parents didn’t complain, but I guess none of them want to be labeled with the career ending “R” word.” Tom knew Madison meant racist. Madison was an unapologetic racist, but only in private. His argument was that everyone in the world pretty much was, but nobody wanted to be singled out as someone who didn’t ‘go with the liberal flow.’
Tom stuck his index finger in a wide crack in the school wall as they exited the building. Riverview High had been built sometime during the late 60s and it was showing its age. Its walls and carpets were the brown and orange of the school colors, but the orange on the walls gave Tom a headache and the brown carpets were constantly dirty and scuffed over with filth.
Tom followed Madison out into the parking lot where other groups of Seniors were making plans for the weekend. Boyfriends and girlfriends had their hands in each others back pockets (Madison and Tom both despised that). Affluent kids showing off the nice cars mommy and daddy and given them for doing absolutely nothing.
The car door of Madison’s early 90’s Ford Contour opened with a creak and Madison climbed inside. The automobile was diarrhea brown with a poor muffler and two out of four hubcaps missing. Tom prepared himself to be overwhelmed as always by the smell of cigarettes and fast food. It was as much a trash heap as Madison’s locker. There were CDs on the back seat and on the floor, porn magazines with sticky pages (Madison had turned eighteen September 30th and the first thing he had done was buy porn) on the passenger seat and a half smoked cigar on the dashboard. Tom hated the car, but as he didn’t have one of his own, he was grateful for it too. Death was preferable to riding the bus as a Senior.
Tom jerked open the passenger door and moved aside some Hustler mags to seat himself with a sigh. Just 8 more months. Just 8 more months of this shit and I’m gone.
“Hey, you want to hit the mall?” Madison turned the ignition and after the third try, the piece of shit started.
“Sure, why not? You know I’m never in a hurry to go home, just to get the fuck out of this school.” Madison made the wheels spin and even Tom had to grin. Madison was a god awful driver, but his enthusiasm for putting Riverview in the rearview mirror was second only to Tom’s own.
The high school was just a ten minute drive from the mall if one was lucky with the street lights, double that if not so lucky. Fortunately Madison always viewed yellow lights as a sort of challenge and was consistent in speeding through them whenever necessary.
“Have you heard anything yet?” Madison and Tom had Big Gulp cups in front of them at the food court and were doing their usual lounging while looking around for attractive women. ‘Scoping out the scene’ was the current popular phrase.
“No, but I turned in all the paperwork. Essay, recommendations and my dad’s tax returns, which were a bitch to get, let me tell you. If my old man ever finds out I went through his desk and copied those I may be finding out how my own balls taste.”
“I don’t see why he wouldn’t just fucking give them to you.” Madison snorted and took a big gulp of the Big Gulp soda.
“Man, you’ve met my Dad. He wants everyone and everything under his thumb. Plus everything is a big fucking secret, especially how much money he makes. The reality is he just wants me around after High School to keep being his favorite slave, mowing his lawn, picking up his shit and working at that God damn store for the rest of my natural life.” Tom’s voice rose slightly.
“You’re very passionate about this, aren’t you? The bitches of Southern California will be just like the ones here, just tanner.” Madison said. Tom’s answering smirk was good natured, but his nervousness regarding his scholarship application was real.
“White Valley University costs $15,678 including dorm room, books, meal plan and health care deductible. I need the money.” Tom said. He had managed to save half of that. The other half would come from a scholarship that the school awarded to students who came from lower income homes and maintained a good GPA.
“If I keep my grades up until the end, it shouldn’t be a problem. Got all but one of my required classes done so I’ve got pretty easy stuff lined up for the rest.”
“Shit, you know I never quite understood that whole required classes bullshit?” Madison leaned back in his plastic food court chair. The table wobbled—one of the metal legs was bent—and Tom put a hand out to steady it. “People know at this point what they’re good at, right? Why can’t we just be allowed to focus on that? The only math I’m ever going to use is balancing my shit-poor bank account and the only science I’m ever going to use is when my sperm fertilizes an egg.” Madison thought for a moment. “Actually fuck that. I’m never having kids.” He drained the last of his soda while Tom shook his head and looked around the food court.
I won’t miss any of this, this food that makes you shit blood, clothing stores only rich whores and beta males ever shop at, and the ass-backwards people.
“Holy shit.” Madison suddenly stood up, a wide grin splitting open his rosy face. “They’re here again.”
“Who?” Tom swiveled in his seat and looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
“That Hasidic Jew family is back. Watch this!” Madison was giggling like a child and pulled a handful of change from his pocket. He stood up and started walking towards the fountain near the center of the food court. It was a wide rectangular monstrosity with statues of naked children playing with fish.
Madison stood before the fountain then did an about face, his back to the pool. Behind him on the other side of the fountain a Hasidic father, dressed in dark suit and hat, watched his three boys play and dip their hands into the water. Madison wriggled his eyebrows and Tom rolled his eyes mouthing the words The fuck? Then Madison tossed the handful of coins over his shoulder into the fountain.
“Making a wish!” Madison said loudly enough that Tom and most of the near empty food court heard him. Then, trying to keep a straight face, Madison walked back to the table. Tom sighed. Madison had done this before and it was stupid. The Hasidic children watched Madison walk back to the table and when he sat down across from Tom, they made their way to the other side of the fountain to where Madison had tossed the coins.
“Are they doing it? Tell me they’re doing it!” Madison whispered until finally his laughter got the better of him.
“Yeah, they are,” Tom sighed. The children had dipped their hands into the fountain and were picking out the coins Madison had tossed one by one while their father watched them impassively. Madison exploded with laughter.
“Muh shekels, muh shekels!” he laughed.
“The fuck does that even mean?” Tom said grinning in spite of himself.
“Oh come on dude. Jews see money and they can’t help themselves.” Madison wiped tears from his eyes. “I wonder what that Jewish lady from the assembly today would say if she saw this?”
“Probably blame it on the Nazis?” Tom offered. Madison laughed even harder.
Whatever. It doesn’t matter. None of his bullshit or anyone else’s does either for that matter. Tom’s greatest strength, in his own mind, was his apathy towards everyone and everything to do with Riverview. It was why he was able to put up with Madison, who didn’t seem to understand that Tom would never be coming back. Ever. It also helped that Madison had a car.
They finished their drinks and decided to do a lap around the mall. Girls they knew sometimes shopped or pretended to shop at the Macy’s. Madison kept up his anti-Semitism as they walked.
“Muh Holocaust, muh Holocaust!”
“Shut the fuck up,” Tom groaned disgusted.