DiscoverComing of Age

Blackhawk Blues - The Not so Fast Times at Grafton High

By Robert Brumm

Synopsis

1990 called. They want their book back.

Spring break is over. Richard Bowman has resigned to keep his head down and finish his sophomore year at Grafton High School the way he started it - academically fair to middling, socially mediocre, and romantically well below average.

When the opportunity to befriend a group of senior guys lands in Rich’s lap practically overnight, he steps out of his comfort zone of weekends in front of his Commodore 64 to a world of cigarette smoke, basement beer kegs, and promiscuous members of the opposite sex.

In the meantime, the admin for a local online bulletin board asks Rich to hold onto a mysterious encrypted computer file. Rich reluctantly agrees, only to find it may put him and his entire family in danger.

Blackhawk Blues is a trip down memory lane lined with mullets, pegged pants, hair bands, and cell phones the size of toaster ovens. A simple and better time. Or was it?

The Lost Summer of Heavy Petting

In some parts of the country, the sixteenth of April meant a decent chance for nice weather. As Richard Bowman unlocked the padlock to his bike, he pictured kids in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas leaving their schools at the same time he left his, only they’d be in shorts and tank tops. Sunglasses and tanned skin. Homes in southern California probably had the air conditioning running. Backyard pools would be filled and filtered instead of collecting rain water and leaves leftover from last fall.

Rich slipped the chain from his bike into his backpack and glanced at the overcast sky. A steady drizzle threatened to start at any second and last the rest of the day. Mid-April in Miami may have meant an early summer, but in Wisconsin it was probably around fifty degrees if you were lucky. A sudden gust of wind blasted Rich as he stood and slung his backpack on, the wind-chill dipping into the forties without mercy.

Like most people his age in the village of Grafton, Rich was dressed completely wrong for the weather. Had he given it any thought, he would have come to the conclusion that looking cool instead of being warm was a common characteristic of young adults whose age ended in the word teen. All he knew was anybody foolish enough to be caught wearing a winter jacket after spring break risked being a social pariah for the rest of the school year. Rich himself had braved another Midwestern winter without zipping up his coat once, thank you very much.

So as he mounted his ten speed that Monday afternoon, Rich wasn’t exactly looking forward to another nipple-hardening ride home in his t-shirt and jeans. Still, it was a step up from the winter carpool. He had taken turns with his friends Paul and Matt every morning during the winter, each of their parents switching off behind the wheel. Paul’s dad chain-smoked Winstons with the windows rolled up and Matt’s mom spent the entire trip nagging him. Rich’s mother talked their ears off the whole way about nothing, much too loud and upbeat for that ungodly hour.

Rich had gotten his license in January after turning sixteen in December, but with both parents using the cars for work, that left him with his aging and definitely uncool bike for getting to school. He lived just far enough that walking was out of the question, yet close enough to be ineligible for the bus. Which was fine by him. Riding around with a bunch of freshmen in a bright yellow tin can was even worse than getting picked up by your parents. Another gust of wind blasted through the thin layer of cotton between him and the elements as one of the buses groaned out of the parking lot next to him. Yellow tin can or not, at least the losers in there weren’t freezing their nads off.

Adding to the dreary afternoon was the unpleasant task Rich had been dreading all day — an appointment to get his hair cut. His mom, who for some reason never seemed to go to the same salon more than a few times, had set up an appointment for him with her new girl, Judy or Janice or something. For Rich, getting a haircut was right up there with getting a cavity filled or turning his head and being told to cough. At least with a drill in your mouth you didn’t have to answer a battery of questions about what grade you were in or if you played any sports. Any brothers and sisters? What’s your favorite class? Big plans for the weekend? Then again, Rich had never met Judy or Janice. Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d turn out to be a mute, or no habla Inglés.

Rich turned onto Washington Street and headed for downtown, coasting downhill most of the way so he didn’t get the opportunity to warm up. A few minutes later, he parked his bike in front of Shear Instinct and went for the door. He had enough cash in his pocket to cover the trim and a tip for Janet, the Hispanic deaf-mute stylist.

He opened the door, greeted by the jangle of bells above his head and a sea of female faces turning to see who had entered their den of femininity. The air was thick with a combination of hair colorant and White Diamonds, but at least it was warm. A rotund gray-haired woman behind the counter set down her can of Tab and eyed him over the rim of her glasses. “Hi Hon. Can I help you?”

“I’ve got a three o’clock appointment. Rich Bowman?”

The lady’s eyes lit up and two of her three chins bounced with excitement. She slapped her hand on the counter top. “You must be Helen’s boy!”

“Yep, I guess that’s me.”

“Just give me a minute to run to the little girl’s room, then we’ll get right to it, okay?” The phone rang and she picked it up, motioning to the row of chairs lining the front window. “Shear Instinct, Vicky speaking.”

The yentas went back to their gossiping now that the excitement of somebody under sixty entering the establishment had worn off. Rich took a seat on one of the hard plastic chairs. He sifted through the stack of tattered magazines on the table next to him. He picked up the only title not specifically aimed at women, a Time magazine from March, and paged through it. Each story was more boring than the rest and when he got to an article featuring Milli Vanilli (titled “Two Scoops of Vanilli”), he put it down. But not before he caught a quote from Rob Pilatus boasting, “I’m the new modern rock ‘n roll. I’m the new Elvis.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was why one Richard Bowman listened mostly to classic rock. If Milli Vanilli and New Kids on the Block weren’t bad enough, so-called rock bands were turning out utter shit from the likes of Great White to Bon Jovi. Rich had recently agreed wholeheartedly with his dad when Technotronic was on Saturday Night Live and he described their song as “Jungle Music Horse Shit.” Pump up the Jam, indeed.

“Richard? I’m ready for you.” Vicky the stylist stood next to her chair, holding up the cape thing they drape over to you like she was getting ready for a bullfight. It was pink. Rich plopped down in the chair and Vicky ran her hands through his hair. “I would just kill for a thick head of hair like this!”

Rich wanted to say Lady, for the love of God, stop fondling my head and pop a breath mint. What actually came out of his mouth was far less dramatic. “Thanks.”

“So, what are we thinking we want to do with this?”

“Just a trim, I guess.”

“Alrighty.” Vicky picked up her spray bottle and started dousing his head. Rich closed his eyes, praying that would be the extent of their conversation. Unfortunately, Vicky was just getting warmed up. “So what grade are you in?”

“I’m a sophomore.”

“So that makes you class of…’93?”

“Class of ’92, actually.”

“I graduated from GHS in 1951. Go Blackhawks!”

Vicky snipped away in silence for a moment, lost in thoughts of yesterday gone. The woman in the chair to Rich’s left laid out a detailed reenactment of her weekend with the grandkids. The woman to his right was sharing the secret ingredients responsible for her pound cake, the best in Ozaukee County. “Blame it on the Rain” started up on radio in the corner. Rich glanced at the wall clock and sighed.

“What are your plans for after graduation?” Vicky asked.

“Uh, I don’t know. Go to college, I guess.”

Snip. Snip. “And what would you like to study?”

Rich wanted to sigh again, but bit his lip instead. It was a question everybody from his grandma to his guidance counselor asked him all the time and he never had a good answer. He was sixteen for chrissake. How was he supposed to know what he wanted to do for a living? The only kid his age who did was the Jewish guy in his sociology class who’d talked about being a doctor since he was in third grade.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Probably computer science. Or maybe I’ll go into the military.”

That was the first time he expressed an interest in military service and he had no idea where it came from. Honestly, the thought of standing at attention with a bald head while a drill sergeant yelled at him scared the shit out of him.

“My husband served in the Coast Guard after high school. Maybe in the army they could teach you all about that computer business. I can’t even program our VCR.” Vicky laughed at her own joke and Rich forced a smile.

“Do you play any sports at school?” Vicky wanted to know.

“Not really.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Not really.”

Rich was single with a capital S, strictly on an involuntary basis. His last real girlfriend had been Kelly Rumple in seventh grade, a time so long ago it embarrassed him to bring it up in public. He actually felt a little pervy to think about it since she was only thirteen years old at the time. Rich was the same age, but still.

He’d been with Kelly for three glorious months. Month one was spent making out on her living room couch after school before her mom got home. Eventually Rich worked up the nerve to slip her the tongue in month two, which was spent French kissing on her living room couch after school before her mom got home.

Kelly made the next move one afternoon, apparently frustrated at Rich’s lack of confidence in the Making a Move department. She guided his hand to some over-the-shirt-seventh-grade-boob action. Things progressed quickly from there and a week later each of the young lovers had ventured down the front of each other’s pants.

Vicky asked him a follow up question and Rich snapped out of second base memory lane. He was suddenly very grateful for the pink cape covering his crotch.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Rich asked.

“Just that I think young people are getting too serious too soon these days. Good for you, hon.” Snip. Snip. “Concentrate on your studies, because there will be plenty of time for girls later.”

“Okay.”

Just as things were starting to get very interesting with Kelly in month three, she dropped the bomb and dumped him out of the blue. Actually, her friend Erin dumped him on Kelly’s behalf over the phone. He’d been looking forward to a summer full of hickeys and heavy petting, but just like that, it was over. Erin wouldn’t give a reason why, and Kelly didn’t even come to the phone to explain herself. A week later he saw her at the public pool with Kevin Steiger and suddenly everything snapped into focus.

His final year at John Long Middle School came and went girlfriendless, although he did make out with Heather Stewart at Jenny Wheatland’s birthday party in the spring of eighth grade. Heather and her friends had shared half a bottle of peach schnapps before the party and apparently Rich Bowman took on a whole new level of hunkiness if viewed through a pair of beer goggles. Or schnapps goggles, as it were. The next time Rich saw Heather, sober and embarrassed, she acted like it never happened and Rich’s hopes of another steady girl vanished.

The female situation had gotten even worse after Rich had stepped through the doors of Grafton High School as a wide-eyed freshman. His fellow freshmen co-eds suddenly found themselves surrounded by upperclassmen guys. A world of licensed drivers, facial hair, and muscles. What chance did Rich have against a bearded senior with his own car who could legally buy cigarettes and cast his vote for Michael Dukakis in the presidential election? The only exception was that asshole Kevin Steiger. He somehow landed Becky Ajax, a sophomore with a so-so face, but D cups that could stop traffic. Lucky bastard.

“So what do you think?” Vicky asked.

Rich looked back at himself in the mirror, his hair slightly shorter than it was when he’d walked in, and nodded. “That’s fine.” As Vicky brushed off his neck, the depressing realization that another school year inched closer to an end with no girlfriend in sight sunk in. Summer vacation was less than two months away and the odds of meeting someone after school ended were slim to none. School sucked the big one, but at least it put him under the same roof as the opposite sex for seven hours a day.

Rich handed Vicky the ten-dollar bill from his pocket. He promised he’d pass on her best to his mother, and walked out of Shear Instinct with an itchy neck and a dark cloud over his head. An icy gust of wind picked up as he mounted his bike and actual clouds decided it would be a fine time to start drizzling.

In some parts of the country, the sixteenth of April meant a decent chance for nice weather. As Richard Bowman unlocked the padlock to his bike, he pictured kids in Florida, Mississippi, and Texas leaving their schools at the same time he left his, only they’d be in shorts and tank tops. Sunglasses and tanned skin. Homes in southern California probably had the air conditioning running. Backyard pools would be filled and filtered instead of collecting rain water and leaves leftover from last fall.

Rich slipped the chain from his bike into his backpack and glanced at the overcast sky. A steady drizzle threatened to start at any second and last the rest of the day. Mid-April in Miami may have meant an early summer, but in Wisconsin it was probably around fifty degrees if you were lucky. A sudden gust of wind blasted Rich as he stood and slung his backpack on, the wind-chill dipping into the forties without mercy.

Like most people his age in the village of Grafton, Rich was dressed completely wrong for the weather. Had he given it any thought, he would have come to the conclusion that looking cool instead of being warm was a common characteristic of young adults whose age ended in the word teen. All he knew was anybody foolish enough to be caught wearing a winter jacket after spring break risked being a social pariah for the rest of the school year. Rich himself had braved another Midwestern winter without zipping up his coat once, thank you very much.

So as he mounted his ten speed that Monday afternoon, Rich wasn’t exactly looking forward to another nipple-hardening ride home in his t-shirt and jeans. Still, it was a step up from the winter carpool. He had taken turns with his friends Paul and Matt every morning during the winter, each of their parents switching off behind the wheel. Paul’s dad chain-smoked Winstons with the windows rolled up and Matt’s mom spent the entire trip nagging him. Rich’s mother talked their ears off the whole way about nothing, much too loud and upbeat for that ungodly hour.

Rich had gotten his license in January after turning sixteen in December, but with both parents using the cars for work, that left him with his aging and definitely uncool bike for getting to school. He lived just far enough that walking was out of the question, yet close enough to be ineligible for the bus. Which was fine by him. Riding around with a bunch of freshmen in a bright yellow tin can was even worse than getting picked up by your parents. Another gust of wind blasted through the thin layer of cotton between him and the elements as one of the buses groaned out of the parking lot next to him. Yellow tin can or not, at least the losers in there weren’t freezing their nads off.

Adding to the dreary afternoon was the unpleasant task Rich had been dreading all day — an appointment to get his hair cut. His mom, who for some reason never seemed to go to the same salon more than a few times, had set up an appointment for him with her new girl, Judy or Janice or something. For Rich, getting a haircut was right up there with getting a cavity filled or turning his head and being told to cough. At least with a drill in your mouth you didn’t have to answer a battery of questions about what grade you were in or if you played any sports. Any brothers and sisters? What’s your favorite class? Big plans for the weekend? Then again, Rich had never met Judy or Janice. Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d turn out to be a mute, or no habla Inglés.

Rich turned onto Washington Street and headed for downtown, coasting downhill most of the way so he didn’t get the opportunity to warm up. A few minutes later, he parked his bike in front of Shear Instinct and went for the door. He had enough cash in his pocket to cover the trim and a tip for Janet, the Hispanic deaf-mute stylist.

He opened the door, greeted by the jangle of bells above his head and a sea of female faces turning to see who had entered their den of femininity. The air was thick with a combination of hair colorant and White Diamonds, but at least it was warm. A rotund gray-haired woman behind the counter set down her can of Tab and eyed him over the rim of her glasses. “Hi Hon. Can I help you?”

“I’ve got a three o’clock appointment. Rich Bowman?”

The lady’s eyes lit up and two of her three chins bounced with excitement. She slapped her hand on the counter top. “You must be Helen’s boy!”

“Yep, I guess that’s me.”

“Just give me a minute to run to the little girl’s room, then we’ll get right to it, okay?” The phone rang and she picked it up, motioning to the row of chairs lining the front window. “Shear Instinct, Vicky speaking.”

The yentas went back to their gossiping now that the excitement of somebody under sixty entering the establishment had worn off. Rich took a seat on one of the hard plastic chairs. He sifted through the stack of tattered magazines on the table next to him. He picked up the only title not specifically aimed at women, a Time magazine from March, and paged through it. Each story was more boring than the rest and when he got to an article featuring Milli Vanilli (titled “Two Scoops of Vanilli”), he put it down. But not before he caught a quote from Rob Pilatus boasting, “I’m the new modern rock ‘n roll. I’m the new Elvis.” And that, ladies and gentlemen, was why one Richard Bowman listened mostly to classic rock. If Milli Vanilli and New Kids on the Block weren’t bad enough, so-called rock bands were turning out utter shit from the likes of Great White to Bon Jovi. Rich had recently agreed wholeheartedly with his dad when Technotronic was on Saturday Night Live and he described their song as “Jungle Music Horse Shit.” Pump up the Jam, indeed.

“Richard? I’m ready for you.” Vicky the stylist stood next to her chair, holding up the cape thing they drape over to you like she was getting ready for a bullfight. It was pink. Rich plopped down in the chair and Vicky ran her hands through his hair. “I would just kill for a thick head of hair like this!”

Rich wanted to say Lady, for the love of God, stop fondling my head and pop a breath mint. What actually came out of his mouth was far less dramatic. “Thanks.”

“So, what are we thinking we want to do with this?”

“Just a trim, I guess.”

“Alrighty.” Vicky picked up her spray bottle and started dousing his head. Rich closed his eyes, praying that would be the extent of their conversation. Unfortunately, Vicky was just getting warmed up. “So what grade are you in?”

“I’m a sophomore.”

“So that makes you class of…’93?”

“Class of ’92, actually.”

“I graduated from GHS in 1951. Go Blackhawks!”

Vicky snipped away in silence for a moment, lost in thoughts of yesterday gone. The woman in the chair to Rich’s left laid out a detailed reenactment of her weekend with the grandkids. The woman to his right was sharing the secret ingredients responsible for her pound cake, the best in Ozaukee County. “Blame it on the Rain” started up on radio in the corner. Rich glanced at the wall clock and sighed.

“What are your plans for after graduation?” Vicky asked.

“Uh, I don’t know. Go to college, I guess.”

Snip. Snip. “And what would you like to study?”

Rich wanted to sigh again, but bit his lip instead. It was a question everybody from his grandma to his guidance counselor asked him all the time and he never had a good answer. He was sixteen for chrissake. How was he supposed to know what he wanted to do for a living? The only kid his age who did was the Jewish guy in his sociology class who’d talked about being a doctor since he was in third grade.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Probably computer science. Or maybe I’ll go into the military.”

That was the first time he expressed an interest in military service and he had no idea where it came from. Honestly, the thought of standing at attention with a bald head while a drill sergeant yelled at him scared the shit out of him.

“My husband served in the Coast Guard after high school. Maybe in the army they could teach you all about that computer business. I can’t even program our VCR.” Vicky laughed at her own joke and Rich forced a smile.

“Do you play any sports at school?” Vicky wanted to know.

“Not really.”

“Girlfriend?”

“Not really.”

Rich was single with a capital S, strictly on an involuntary basis. His last real girlfriend had been Kelly Rumple in seventh grade, a time so long ago it embarrassed him to bring it up in public. He actually felt a little pervy to think about it since she was only thirteen years old at the time. Rich was the same age, but still.

He’d been with Kelly for three glorious months. Month one was spent making out on her living room couch after school before her mom got home. Eventually Rich worked up the nerve to slip her the tongue in month two, which was spent French kissing on her living room couch after school before her mom got home.

Kelly made the next move one afternoon, apparently frustrated at Rich’s lack of confidence in the Making a Move department. She guided his hand to some over-the-shirt-seventh-grade-boob action. Things progressed quickly from there and a week later each of the young lovers had ventured down the front of each other’s pants.

Vicky asked him a follow up question and Rich snapped out of second base memory lane. He was suddenly very grateful for the pink cape covering his crotch.

“Sorry, what did you say?” Rich asked.

“Just that I think young people are getting too serious too soon these days. Good for you, hon.” Snip. Snip. “Concentrate on your studies, because there will be plenty of time for girls later.”

“Okay.”

Just as things were starting to get very interesting with Kelly in month three, she dropped the bomb and dumped him out of the blue. Actually, her friend Erin dumped him on Kelly’s behalf over the phone. He’d been looking forward to a summer full of hickeys and heavy petting, but just like that, it was over. Erin wouldn’t give a reason why, and Kelly didn’t even come to the phone to explain herself. A week later he saw her at the public pool with Kevin Steiger and suddenly everything snapped into focus.

His final year at John Long Middle School came and went girlfriendless, although he did make out with Heather Stewart at Jenny Wheatland’s birthday party in the spring of eighth grade. Heather and her friends had shared half a bottle of peach schnapps before the party and apparently Rich Bowman took on a whole new level of hunkiness if viewed through a pair of beer goggles. Or schnapps goggles, as it were. The next time Rich saw Heather, sober and embarrassed, she acted like it never happened and Rich’s hopes of another steady girl vanished.

The female situation had gotten even worse after Rich had stepped through the doors of Grafton High School as a wide-eyed freshman. His fellow freshmen co-eds suddenly found themselves surrounded by upperclassmen guys. A world of licensed drivers, facial hair, and muscles. What chance did Rich have against a bearded senior with his own car who could legally buy cigarettes and cast his vote for Michael Dukakis in the presidential election? The only exception was that asshole Kevin Steiger. He somehow landed Becky Ajax, a sophomore with a so-so face, but D cups that could stop traffic. Lucky bastard.

“So what do you think?” Vicky asked.

Rich looked back at himself in the mirror, his hair slightly shorter than it was when he’d walked in, and nodded. “That’s fine.” As Vicky brushed off his neck, the depressing realization that another school year inched closer to an end with no girlfriend in sight sunk in. Summer vacation was less than two months away and the odds of meeting someone after school ended were slim to none. School sucked the big one, but at least it put him under the same roof as the opposite sex for seven hours a day.

Rich handed Vicky the ten-dollar bill from his pocket. He promised he’d pass on her best to his mother, and walked out of Shear Instinct with an itchy neck and a dark cloud over his head. An icy gust of wind picked up as he mounted his bike and actual clouds decided it would be a fine time to start drizzling.


About the author

Robert Brumm lives in Wisconsin. He's an IT professional by day and writes in his free time when he's in the mood. view profile

Published on January 25, 2019

Published by

60000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Genre: Coming of Age

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