By Jim Landwehr
Photo: Honolulu Magazine
Our senior graduation was held at Saint Catherine’s University located down the road a ways from the Cretin High School campus. Staying true to our military roots and traditions, we didn’t wear the customary cap and gown that other high schoolers wore. We wore our school military garb, including our caps, white gloves and dress blouses. The ceremony was carried out with all the pomp and circumstance of any graduation. Greg Karter gave an inspiring valedictorian speech and my homeroom teacher, Mr. Hall (aka Hondo the Magician) wowed the crowd with some of his magic. Our homeroom class marked his first class as a new teacher at Cretin, and he’d taken us through four years together, so it was an especially proud moment for him.
For all intents and purposes, it was a normal commencement with the requisite hat toss and parental photo session following. The evening brought a more exciting twist to the festive occasion.
Word travelled between my friends that Paul Flack was having a party at his parent’s house on Summit Avenue. Rumor had it that his parents weren’t home and there was probably going to be a keg of beer and a ton of people. Pete, Pat, Dan, and I all knew the guy, but none of us were great friends with him. But there’s a sort of understanding that at graduation you may never see some of these guys again, so it seemed like it was worth a shot. The worst they could do was turn us away at the door.
We showed up around 7:30 PM and were each given a cup and pointed in the direction of the keg in the garage area out back. The June evening air was warm and humid as the three of us headed toward the beer and filled our cups. There were a number of familiar faces we had all seen around the halls at school. Guys we didn’t really associate with over senior year, or any year for that matter, who suddenly became chummy with us. The mere presence of a keg levelled the playing field for all of us men-boys. This was aided by a few “go betweens;” the easy-going guys that everyone in the school seemed to like. There were a dozen or so of them. Guys like Bill, a sports junkie who aspired to be a sportscaster. He always called me Alan Landwehr after a baseball player of the same name that I never knew from a team I didn’t care about. It was an endearing trait from a guy who just loved everyone and was out to prove it. These types of guys were the ones at parties like this who made everyone feel comfortable.
Rock music thumped in the background as we stood talking and laughing in a circle of guys like at most every keg party that ever happened. Classmates drifted in and out of the circle which grew and shrunk with each coming and going. Talk ranged from what our plans were for the future, to favorite memories of our days at Cretin, to teachers we would and wouldn’t miss. When that grew old, we talked about current movies and our favorite bands. No one was saying it, but this party signaled a transition in all of our friendships that none of us could avoid. Most of us were off to college in the fall and that brought with it a new set of responsibilities. Time together would become more difficult to come by, and the friendships that we once took for granted would now require intentionality and effort to sustain. So we relished these moments of camaraderie, as Cretin Raiders together, for at least one more night, and drank our watered down American pilsners.
After an hour or so, an older couple walked into the backyard. We turned to Paul, who seemed suddenly very concerned about what appeared to be an unexpected visit. He approached the couple and, after a short exchange, followed them into the house. Our circle of revelers exchanged worrisome glances between one another.
“That can’t be good,” Pat said.
“Yeah, that looks like the ‘rental units,” Pete added.
“Well, this was fun while it lasted,” I chimed in.
After a few minutes, Paul came out of the house with an announcement. “The bad news is, this party is over. The good news is, you guys can take the keg and move the party elsewhere,” he said.
The four of us had to agree that moving the party, rather than killing it, was good news. It was still early, barely eight thirty at night. A few of the popular kids convened and strategized a new location where we could continue. When it was decided, word spread the keg would be moved to the Saint Paul Academy soccer field, a school located on Randolph Avenue between Saint Catharine’s, where we had just celebrated our graduation and Cretin. For some reason, the idea of moving to school grounds to trespass in full view of the world seemed like a perfectly logical idea to our not-fully developed teenaged frontal lobes. What could possibly go wrong?
We finished up our beers and piled into Dave’s car. Dave worked his way toward Saint Paul Academy as we rehashed the conversations we had back at Paul’s house. When we got to the field we were surprised to see there were already a dozen people gathered in the middle of it, around the keg. These guys really knew how to move a party. We walked to the center and joined the party in progress. Led by Kevin, one of the most popular guys in our class, everyone toasted our arrival. “To the newcomers!” Kevin shouted and raised his plastic cup.
“To the newcomers!” the crowd echoed. In unison the crowd raised their cups.
Everyone took a sip and continued with the conversations where they had left off before we showed up. We each grabbed a cup and made our way to the beer. We were uncertain as to how long this party would go before we were forced to move again, so we figured we had better drink while the drinking was good.
Before long, the novelty of Kevin’s toast generated another toast. Billy Walsh raised his glass and said, “To the class of ‘79!”
The crowd echoed, “To the class of ‘79!” A cheer went up and everyone took a swig. It seemed to catch on as yet another guy offered a toast, “To Brother Pius! Long live Brother Pius!”
“Long live Brother Pius!” A cheer went up as we all toasted. The toasting became the main event. It went around the crowd featuring a different guy each time. When my turn came, I toasted Mrs. Bean, the lunch lady, “To Mrs. Bean’s bean burgers!” referencing the questionable meat-to-soybean ratio in her alleged hamburgers.
“To Mrs. Bean!”
After a couple more toasts, a pair of headlights flicked on behind the fencing on the far end of the field. Then, another pair illuminated from another direction. Then, a third. We all swiveled our heads in the direction of each set as they came on. Assessing the situation with a barley infused sense of humor, Kevin offered up a spontaneous toast.
“To the cops are here!”
The crowd raised their glasses for a final toast, “The cops are here!”
Everyone took a last swig and, without hesitation, scattered like cockroaches in every direction. A few people quoted the line from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, “Runaway! Runaway!”
I threw my cup down and broke into a full sprint in the opposite direction of the oncoming headlights. The party was a blast while it happened, but the last way I wanted to end it was in the back of a squad car or, worse, in jail. I hauled ass across the grass until I came to a six-foot cyclone fence that ringed the field. It was intended to keep riff-raff like us off the premises and now it was keeping us in. Without a thought, I jumped onto it and started to Spiderman my way over the top. I hurriedly stepped into the square links and clawed my way up like a convict on the lam. The top edge of the fence was rimmed with sharp steel edges. It was not as tricky or dangerous as barbed wire, but certainly an impediment to take note of during the crossover to the other side.
Breathing heavily, I heaved my body over the top, managing to snag my shirt on one of the steel points in the process, tearing a small hole. “Shit!” I said, as I continued my way down the backside of the fence. It was a small enough hole that it wasn’t likely to generate too many questions should Mom come across it, but it was also one of my favorite shirts. But I was on too much of an adrenaline rush to worry about repercussions for something so small. A torn shirt would be easier to explain away than asking Mom to post bail.
Halfway down the backside of the fence I let go and jumped to the ground. I hit it running and made my way into the relative darkness of the school grounds. I hoped the cops hadn’t fanned out on foot to chase us, but wasn’t sticking around to find out. Seeking cover, I ran towards a huge pine tree with low hanging bows. I crawled under the lowest branches, which hung to the ground, and lay there trying to catch my breath. My heart beat wildly in my chest. I’d never run from the cops and it was proving to be both frightening and exhilarating at the same time. I certainly didn’t plan on making it a regular occurrence, but neither did I plan to get caught on this occasion.
I lay there a good fifteen minutes before it appeared safe enough to come out from my cover. Standing up, I brushed myself free of pine needles and dirt and tried my best to look nonchalant as I walked away. I’m sure it looked shady as heck to any passerby that might have witnessed it. A tall, gangly teenager crawling out from under a tree after dark like some sort of gigantic Hobbit-Troll. Yeah, it happens all the time.
I walked across the school grounds to the sidewalk and headed toward Cleveland Avenue to make my way home, about three miles away. Once I got to Cleveland, I walked for a block and then turned down a side street, reasoning that if the cops were looking for suspicious teenagers, they’d stick to the main roads. Slinking down each street I walked briskly, trying to look guiltless despite having beer breath and a torn shirt. Nothing to see here officer, nothing at all. I kept my eyes peeled for Dan’s car on the off chance he was out looking for those of us who had ridden with him to the kegger. I guessed he took the route of every man for himself, like the rest of us had, and was driving straight home himself.
After an hour’s walk, I arrive home. As luck would have it, Mom is out for the evening, so I don’t have anyone to report to.
Graduation night will forever live in my mind as the last big adventure of my high school years at Cretin. My classmates and I went out with a bang, bonded our friendship one last time, and avoided arrest in the process. During our Miller High Life toasts on the field that night, we all put our differences aside and celebrated our collectiveness. No one knew where our future journeys would take us, though we came down the same path to get here. Whether you were a geek, a jock, a brain, a straight, or a burn out, it didn’t matter. That particular night we were all one. We were men-boys. We were student-soldiers. We were Raiders!
Jim Landwehr has two nonfiction books, Dirty Shirt: A Boundary Waters Memoir and The Portland House: A '70s Memoir. Jim also has three poetry collections, Reciting from Memory, Written Life, and On a Road. His non-fiction stories have been published in Main Street Rag, Prairie Rose Publications, Steam Ticket and others. His poetry has been featured in Torrid Literature Journal, Portage Magazine, Blue Heron Review and many others. He lives in Waukesha, Wisconsin with his wife Donna and their two children. He enjoys fishing, kayaking, biking and camping. Jim is the current poet laureate for the Village of Wales, Wisconsin. You can find Jim on the web at www.jimlandwehr.com, on his blog at www.writerjimlandwehr.com, and on Twitter at @jimlandwehr61.