A Star Tribune serialized novel by Richard Horberg

 

Chapter 19 continues

The story so far: Seventy-six trombones parade through school.

 

Then, just when he thought it was over, the brass section came down the hall alone, and trumpets and tubas entered his room. Lining up at the front, they raised their instruments smartly to their mouths and played while they marched in place, almost as though they were expecting the president. The music was deafening. A few minutes later, the woodwinds entered, clarinets, bassoons and flutes. Finally, Jack Palmer himself entered the room, followed by the drums and the majorettes, all of whom did their routine. Jack himself danced a little jig, doffed his cap, and, sweeping it in a large circle, escorted the girls out.

He re-entered almost at once.

“School’s over, folks!” he announced, grinning. “Everybody in the parking lot in 10 minutes — whether you take the bus or not.”

Shaking his head, Allen waited while his students plunged to the door, then went out himself. Dave Meyers stood across from him. “What’s he doing now?” Allen asked.

Dave said he didn’t have the slightest idea.

Curious, they went out to the parking lot too, where students crowded about the entrance and the buses waiting to take them home. The band lined up in the distance. When Jack had satisfied himself that everybody had arrived, they started to play again, marching about the periphery of the parking lot, clarinets raised, tubas blaring. Some of the students sang with the band:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored …

On the street, three passersby had gathered. A car stopped and the driver got out. Now the drum majorettes threw their batons high in the air, waited an eternity for them to come down and, catching them with apparent ease, moved on with élan.

At last, Jack Palmer led the band to the center of the parking lot, stopped and bowed deeply in all directions. At his signal, the music stopped. He stood there for several moments, grinning hugely, his baton held aloft.

“Bus drivers forward!” he shouted.

The bus drivers, some of them smoking cigarettes, looked at each other a little warily and, one by one, stood up.

“Look at his eyes,” Dave Meyers whispered to Allen, gazing at Jack Palmer. “Aren’t they something.”

Allen looked. He had looked into the eyes of a lunatic.

Someday, he thought, they’ll come and carry him off. Then Dave Meyers can take his place as principal.

Chapter 20

Not having heard from Mary Zane in some time, Allen wrote her a newsy letter, hoping to encourage a response. He treated “A Night at an Inn” lightly (therapeutic humor). It had been a lot of fun, he told her, despite the fact that (1) it had to compete with basketball for the gym, (2) was in the wrong category, (3) failed miserably and (4) almost drove him to drink root beer.

He told her about Jack Palmer’s fiasco with the marching band and about his success in using the C.P. Arndt method of teaching grammar. He quoted a stanza of a poem by Lord Byron, in which the great poet praised the name “Mary.” Hoping to fill another paragraph, desperately seeking a subject, he remembered Greg Schmidt’s comment on wanting to go out to see the world — and gave her a hundred words of wanderlust.

She responded, picking up on the wanderlust. She’d never been any place in her life, she complained, except Montana, Idaho and Minneapolis, “not to denigrate the latter.” But she would love to see the world while she was still young — Europe, Africa, the Far East, Mexico. Especially wonderful, she thought, would be what he’d called “The Grand Tour” through Europe.

“If you and Greg go,” she wrote, “take me along? I promise to be a boy through the summer and pedal my own bicycle.” She added, as an afterthought, that she hoped they could wait until next year, by which time she would have saved $1,000. She would, of course, pay her own way.

Allen was surprised and pleased. He had no doubt that with her trim figure she could play the part of a boy very well. Bicycling through Europe with his two best friends in the world — this year or next — what could be more fun, what could be more interesting? They would all grow a little bit from the experience, and he and Greg, at least, would return with more maturity than they had set out, better prepared, in whatever manner pleased them, to change the world.

***

Allen stayed in Stone Lake the first three days of spring vacation in order to do a little work on his classes, then drove down to Minneapolis to see his dad and to keep his date with Helen Jacobson.

He stayed in a room at the Fuller Hotel as he had done before, insisting, this time, on paying for it himself. His dad, he found, had used a bit of his unexpected earnings to buy some new clothes for himself — he was especially proud of the double-breasted, pin-stripe suit his friend Lotus, the tailor, had made for him, as well as two new neckties. “In case I have dinner with the mayor,” he explained.

On a stretch of wall that was not entirely covered with his drawings, he had tacked up the cartoons he’d published in “The Shopping News,” as well as clippings of his ads for Witt’s Meat Market.

On his first evening in the hotel, Allen had a little chat with the night clerk, a pale and skeletal old man. “Your dad’s making more money at Witt’s than he did at the Great Northern,” the clerk said. “He’s getting to be a pretty popular figure. He may not know the mayor of Minneapolis, but he knows a lot of other people — kind of important people. Once, when I knocked on his door, I found the alderman there talking to him. Another time he introduced the Minneapolis fire chief to me when we were in a restaurant. He even knows one of the councilmen. When I’m on duty I never know who’ll come in — a cop or a politician or some businessman. Or a wrestler. Sometimes I think that little room of his is the center of Minneapolis. It’s a kind of gathering place for everybody.”

“Mr. Downtown,” Allen said.

“You know why he likes that ground-floor, front room so much?” the clerk asked.

Allen laughed. “He likes to hear the fire engines and the ambulances and the police cars go by at night.”

“That too. But he told me that people stop on the street to look in his windows and see all those pictures hanging on his walls.”

They both laughed. The night clerk reached under his desk and took out a bottle of Seagram’s. He offered Allen a drink. Allen declined.

“What do you think of his cartoons?” Allen asked.

The clerk grinned and took a shot of whiskey. “They’re too intellectual for me.”

 

Tomorrow: Chapter 20 continues.