Drinking in The South was a rite of passage for males. If you were going to be a man you were going to have to drink to excess. The drug thing, not so much, but I felt as if doing a liquid drug was good then doing a liquid and a smoke was even better. I truly do not remember one complete week of High School. I do remember some of the things they told me I did and I remember The Smoke Bomb. It was one of those defining moments of my life as to whether or not I was going to live like some sheep carrying book inside of a prison, or if I was going to voice my concern about my general welfare by committing an act of arson and anarchy. The idea of anarchy won. My freshman year of High school was about to become interesting.
My father had done some black powder hunting but had more or less given it up. He still had some metal cans with gun powder in them, and I had heard that if sulfur burned it smelled truly rancid. I took out a small amount of black powder from one of the cans, mixed it with some sulfur from my old chemistry set, and set it ablaze. It was disappointing. It smelled bad, sure, but it burned far too quickly to ignite all the sulfur. I had to come up with some idea so I tried some filler material. I chose wax because it does burn, but not as quick as gunpowder, and it turns into a liquid and it a bitch to put out with water if it gets hot enough. Sulfur, gun powder, and wax worked very well in the trials.
The boy’s locker room at school was pretty much the standard fare locker room, but there were a couple of the wall lockers that were broken. No one ever used them or opened them, so a couple of days before the event I started hauling in supplies so no one would see me come in with a lumpy package. I brought in the wax and sulfur first because it was so benign no one would or could accuse me of bomb making at that point, and on day of the event I snuck in early, mixed what was about half a large manila envelope of wax shavings, with a pound of gunpowder and two pounds of sulfur. I made a fuse that I would light using a cigarette and hid the bomb under a pile of trash and an old dirty towel. I had gym for the first class and obediently did my jumping jacks, push-ups, and other exercises. While everyone else was showering and getting ready for class, I hastily lit a cigarette, jammed it into the fuse, and then went outside to pick a fight with one of the coaches. Coach Stocky was a bulldog of a man who never grew higher than
waist level as a child and as a result, just got broader. I asked him if he ever thought about suing the school for building the floor so close to his ass and he went off the deep end. A cigarette will burn down in about four minutes. A high school coach’s attention span when focused on yelling at the school screw up is considerable longer. About a minute deep I turned and walked off from him which assured me he was going to grab me and made me stand there and take it.
There was a yell, and then another, and then there was a chorus of yelling and screaming and suddenly the locker room began to empty out in a hurry. I followed Stocky back into the locker room, and damn, I’m here to tell you there was some smoke. Think, angry, grey smoke, poured out of the locker like some Stygian nightmare with an industrial color scheme. Like the hell it was, the locker room only needed a bat winged demon for décor. The smart kids were
getting the hell out of dodge, some sans clothing but the rest were watching the show. Stocky grabbed a broom and tried to beat the fire out. What he managed to do was set the broom on fire, spread my version of Greek fire, and got a serious case of smoke inhalation. It took four of us to carry him out of the locker room. For reasons I never understood they never called the fire department, but damn, what some smoke!
I knew, really knew, if this had played out like the trials did, they would be looking for someone’s head, and mine would be first on the block. I had learned early on there are two rules to keep yourself out of trouble.
1. Work alone.
2. Never tell anyone what you’ve done.
You wouldn’t believe the trouble you’ll get into have someone there with you. With two suspects they’ll take them to separate rooms and tell each of them, “You buddy says this was all your idea and he was just watching.” They both with turn on one another and they’d get humped. By this time in my life I knew damn well I couldn’t trust anyone else, and regardless of what you might think of the public school system, it is always the unpopular kids who get punished more
severely than those who are more culturally acceptable. Blaming Mike Firesmith was an easy way to get out of any trouble, and I played the reverse card on that one constantly saying they always blamed me. This time they were right. They knew they were right. But they couldn’t prove it.
I also learned early on there were guys who would come up to you and pretend to be all excited and happy and your best friend and then take what you had told them to the principal’s office as fast as they could scurry there. So the very first thing I did in the aftermath of the smoke bomb was to run around and asking other guys if they had done it. I tried to get one or two to confess to me they had while we were in front of other people, and this tactic worked better than you could believe. Some straight laced loser who never got into any trouble thought he would mess with me by telling me he did it but someone overheard him bragging about it. While being interrogated I told them I had overheard a confession and so had others.
The incident marked a turning point between myself, the school officials, the coaches, and most of the other students. While I never admitted to what I had done, it was generally believed I had done it. It was the first thing I did that scared people to the point they began to do something they had never done before; they left me alone. Far from an act that I committed for attention, this was fang bearing. This was a long low growl. This was my first trip into real destruction and it showed them whatever was happening in my head had begun to accelerate. The war was to last another three years before they surrendered.
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit
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