Sunday, April 24, 2016

MISSILE AWAY by Peter Nolan Smith

During grammar school my older brother was the top of his class at Our Lady of the Hills, but he was also a pyromaniac and on several occasions Frunk came close to burning down our suburban house underneath the Blue Hills. Each time my mother punished us both with a wooden spoon and my father sternly admonished our incendiary behavior, yet my older brother was undeterred by cracks across the knuckles and hards words.

The early 1960s was the height of America's Space Race with the Soviet Union and Frunk abandoned his fiery endeavors to conduct missile experiments with discarded hair spray cans collected from garbage cans in our neighborhood. Our blast site was a secluded sandpit, where Chuckie, my next-door neighbor, Frunk, and I taped the cans together and positioned the ersatz V-2 of Aquanet hair in a bonfire.

Sometimes our rocket would explode in fiery, yet separate bursts of colored flames, but occasionally the strapped cans would arced into the sky at low altitudes spitting toxic fumes.

None of us suffered injuries from these experiments, however we came close to setting the woods on fire and the town police warned our parents that we were a danger to the community. My father forbade any further research and we abandoned our emulation of NASA's failed rocket launches.

Even at my parochial high school I resisted the draw of the rocket club. They were interested in achieved height and not destruction, so I ran freshman cross country in the fall of 1966.

The five-mile course directed runners past a gloomy mansion surrounded by a high barbed wire fence. Our competitors were never forewarned that their runners had to leap a stone wall to cross through the estate, giving our team an edge and my school won two consecutive state championships in 1967 and 1968, however our dominance was challenged after a mysterious government agency purchased the mansion in 1969.

The men occupying the estate wore white shirts and black ties. They never left the building. We thought they might be aliens.

Chuckie Manzi said that they were CIA scientists experimenting on apes for the War in Vietnam.

When the cross-country team passed the big house, we listened for the shrieks of chimps. We heard nothing other than our panting lungs.

Upon our return to the gym, our coach informed us that the grounds were off-limits to the cross-country team.

"What about the wall?"

"No more wall," said Brother Jude.

Two weeks later we lost our first race in years.

"We want the wall."

We protested to Brother Jude. He was on our side as was the principal, who asked for special access from the men in black suits.

The men in the white shirts refused our request.

Every time we passed the mansion calling them 'assholes', then trained harder to regain our edge.

Few of our fellow students cared about the track team.

Our school's football team was state champs. The cheerleaders came from the nearest Catholic girls school. They wore short skirts.

Our only fans were the rocket club and their president said that this matter was not over.

No one from the cross-country team paid them much mind.

They were nerds and the cross-country team worried that nerdiness might be contagious.

We won our next race, although I barely beat out our rival's 5th runner. Afterward the rocket club glared at the distant mansion and the cross-country team exchanged a conspiratorial glance with them. Whatever they had planned was more than all right by us.

The next day the school's rocket club announced an exhibition of their missiles and the brothers proudly assembled the students in the field behind the high school. The principal instructed the collective classes to stand a good distance from the launch area, for the rockets were not small.

One of them was at least ten-feet long.

After running a series of tests, the rocket club signaled that they were ready and soon missiles were soaring into the sky.

Even the football team thought the rocket club was cool and the brothers beamed with satisfaction, thinking maybe one of these boys might end up at NASA.

Off in the distance a few of the men in the white shirts were standing outside the mansion.

The rocket club lined up this final missile, the ten-footer, with the mansion.

The men in the white shirts started shouting and then the president of the rocket club lit the fuse. The men ran for cover. It was a wasted effort, for the missile covered the half-mile between the field and mansion in less than a second.

The explosion was muffled by out applause.

Afterwards the men in the white shirts complained to the brothers.

The town police ignored the complaint, since some of their kids were on the track team and we regained permission to run through the field a week later and won the state championship for the third time in a row.

No one ever said anything bad about nerds in our school.

They were heroes, because they were dangerous.

At least to anyone not on our side and that's the way it should be when you're young.

ps my older brother was really pissed that he hadn't been there.

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