I had nearly forfeited my match to Romaine Lewis of South Central High because my nose wouldn't stop bleeding. The ref had to interrupt the match in both the first and second rounds because my nose wouldn't quit. If he hadn't called a pretty fast pin at the start of round three, he would have had to disqualify me before Romaine drowned in my gore.
I called Dr. Livengood from school the next morning. I had gone to him all through high school for my physicals and injuries, and he had cauterized my nose in my junior year. He said the nosebleeds were caused by anemia and that I had lost too much weight, dropping from 165 to 147 that season. Because I was eating so little to get my weight down to the next class, I wasn't getting enough iron. He prescribed Cream of Wheat and spinach. I couldn't eat the Cream of Wheat because I was having a tough time holding 147 and I couldn't take all those calories. So I had no choice but to go with the spinach. I hated it. I had spinach breath, my teeth were turning green and I couldn't always predict when I would have to go to the bathroom. I kept telling myself it was worth it. Not only could I probably make it to the state tournament at 147, but I might even beat somebody once I got there.
The spinach treatment did seem to work. Six days after my match with Romaine, I'd had only one bloody nose. My dad accidentally whacked me with a cold turkey leg as he was getting it out of the fridge. I was standing behind him, peering in at the goodies—cold cuts, ice cream, soda, cheese—reminiscing about what a gustatory orgy Christmastime had been for me at 165, and wham, I get this big brown greasy turkey leg square on my beleaguered schnozzola. It only bled a little and I didn't really mind. The turkey smell was so delicious I didn't wash my face until I came back from my evening run.
I ran early that night because I had to get plenty of sleep. The team bus left Spokane for the drive to Missoula at five the next morning. I was a senior then and it was the last road trip I'd ever take at Evergreen High.
In the back of the bus the younger guys giggled and flung orange peels and apple cores out the windows at the snowplows we passed. It was going to be a long two days so I sat in front trying to sleep. The older you got the more toward the front of the bus you went, until you were right up there with the coach. Those were the best seats on the bus, the seats of honor, reserved for seniors. I also liked the fresh air trickling in under the door. My nose got dry if I couldn't get a little fresh air blowing in my face.
It wasn't quite daylight, but almost everybody was awake. Kuch was reading Motocross Action magazine, Schmooz had rock music playing softly on his tape player and Otto was looking out over the Spokane River. The closer it got to daylight, the more the river reflected the mountains. They seemed to grow right out of the snowbanks into the gray water. Coach Ratta snored lightly under his old hunting hat. He had the ear flaps down and looked like an advertisement for the serenity of a collective farm.
The Missoula trip was the big road trip of the season because everybody got to go. The varsity had two matches, the junior varsity had two, and everybody was lined up against somebody close to his weight. Our jayvee team wrestled Custer High at two that afternoon, which was why we had to leave so early. We wrestled their varsity after that, then the third and fourth men wrestled until it was time for the Lewis and Clark Battleground Academy matches in the evening. The next day the losing teams wrestled in the afternoon and the winners went in the evening. It would be a lot of fun for everybody.
From behind me I heard a muffled summons, "Hey, Davis!" It was Norty Wheeler crawling up the aisle on all fours. He looked spacy. His eyes glinted. He had just dropped from heavyweight to 185 so he could wrestle first-man jayvee against Custer. Otto Slate and Howard Fontaine had beaten Norty consistently for the No. 1 and No. 2 heavyweight spots, but he had dropped to 185 and whipped up on Craig Martin for No. 2 in that weight class. However, Bulldozer had thrashed Norty so bad in their wrestle-off for No. 1 that Norty may still have been disoriented.
"Hi, Nort," I said.
Otto turned from the window. "Mornin', Dog Breath," was his friendly greeting for Norty.
"Wuff, wuff," was Nort's reply.
"What's wrong, Nort?" I asked. "You look bad." Norty was wearing a furry red tie. The part that should have been short was longer than the long part and it flopped out of his green and gold letter sweater like a big tongue.
"I got no norms," Norty whined. "Plus which I'm hungry."
"What don't you have, Wheeler?", asked Otto.
"Norms. I got no norms. None of us do. Mr. Borrison says we live in a time of anomie." Borrison was our sociology teacher.
"Davis has got norms," replied Otto. "I saw them in the shower."
"Think of it this way, Norty," I consoled. "You've got a lot of abnorms."
"You guys are a comfort," Norty replied. "Got anything to eat?"
"You didn't bring anything to eat?" I was astounded.
"Cake and turkey sandwiches and a bunch of popcorn balls," Norty said, "but nothing I can eat before the match. I'd never make weight. I think I'm on some kind of Nutrament high. I had a can on the way to school and I feel a little surreal."
"You ought to try nothing but spinach and see what that does for you," I replied.
"You sure look bad, Nort," said Otto.
I reached for my honey bottle. I figured that Norty's blood sugar was probably low. "Open up," I told him, and squeezed a thick golden line of honey onto his tongue.
"Ummmmmmm good," said Norty. He turned and crawled back toward the rear of the bus.
Otto and I looked at each other. "Hypoglycemia," I said.
"Poor guy's got no norms," Otto said.
A little later Otto prodded me out of a light snooze. Mike Konigi, our No. 1 man at 119, stood resplendent before us waiting for an answer to his question.
"Huh?" Mike asked. "Huh, huh, huh, you guys? Am I spiff city or not?"
"Eat a rock, Konigi," Otto replied. Otto, like me, was dressed in the customary denim and flannel.
Mike did look O.K. He was wearing a blue blazer over a white turtleneck and gray slacks. His black, high-topped Converse All-Stars left him a little short of formal footwear, however.
"You guys cultivate slobbery," Mike said.
"Munch a bunch, Konigi," was my reply. "We're headed for a wrestling match, not the Wayne Newton show at Tahoe."
"Think this stuff would be O.K. to wear to the New Year's dance?" Mike asked, more seriously.
"It'd be swell," said Otto.
"Yeah, it's neat," I concurred.
"What's Carla going to wear?" Mike asked me.
"She's got this long dress," I replied. "It's a little more casual than a prom dress. In fact, I think it's a nightgown. It's got little ducks on it. How about Keiko?"
"A long dress too," Mike said. "Who you gonna take, Otto?"
"I don't even know if I'll go, Mike," Otto said.
I had a great urge to chime in with some information, but I held off for propriety's sake and because Otto would have beaten me up. Otto had a secret heart-throb for Romaine Lewis' little sister Rayette. Rayette was probably the most beautiful girl in the universe, and that included my girl friend Carla. Rayette was black and had an air of mystery in addition to everything else.
"Hey!" Mike said to Otto and me. "Why don't we get some people together and have supper at my place after the dance?"
"Great idea," I said. "But what'll I eat? I can see your mom trying to feed me all that good Japanese food: 'Sorry, Mrs. Konigi. Just a bowl of spinach, please—a little on the rare side. And a can of Nutrament for dessert.' Sure," I continued seriously. "Count us in."
"Sounds great, Konigi, I'll letcha know," said Otto.
Mike strutted back down the aisle, and I turned back to the Lolo National Forest of western Montana.
Pretty soon we crossed the Bitterroot River, which meant it was about time to get dressed. Coach was knotting his tie. We had a rule that said Evergreen athletes had to dress presentably on road trips. In our sophomore year that had meant a sport coat and a tie. We got it changed in our junior year to include turtlenecks and letter sweaters, but we still couldn't wear jeans. Otto had a clip-on tie and a gold shirt he bought for a dollar at Safeway. He was wearing the shirt as he scooted by me into the aisle to put on his good pants and his letter sweater.
In my bag I had a gray cotton turtleneck Mom bought me just for road trips after we got the rule changed, and an old-fashioned thug hat Carla gave me for my birthday. In my sleeveless letter sweater and my baggy cords I looked like an escapee from the Little Rascals show. Mom and I used to watch them on TV together. She'd get up early for work so she'd have plenty of time to put on her makeup. I'd sit with her and we'd watch the Little Rascals on TV in her room. She loved it because she used to go to their movies when she was a kid. She said they were called the Our Gang Comedies then. I was always late for school.
We pulled into the Custer parking lot, and a few Custer and Battleground guys pelted the old green and gold bus with snowballs in a friendly way. Not much hair poked out of the stocking caps around Missoula then. The door opened and the sharp, cold air rushed in. On a hill behind the school, snowmobiles swarmed. Either the ring of their engines or the shot of cold air aroused Kuch from the nap he began around Coeur d'Alene. Everybody filed out of the bus and into the gym. I sat and waited for Kuch while he knotted his tie and changed from his denims to a pair of plain navy-blue slacks. He added a sport jacket, and we joined the guys in the gym.
Schmoozler and I sat off in a corner of the bleachers with some Custer guys who were reading parts of a dirty book aloud to each other. We were all chortling and guffawing. We beat them in a real close match in the afternoon. We were down 14-20 going into Otto's match. If Otto hadn't pinned his man we'd have lost. Both Custer and Battleground had big, tough heavyweights, and Coach had made Otto captain for both of the matches. After beating Custer, the worst was over for us as a team. Battleground had some pretty tough guys, but overall their team wasn't as strong.
I had felt good all through my Custer match. Coach had stuffed my nose before I went out and it had only bled a little. The match lasted into the third round. It was only when the ref raised my hand as the winner that I began to get dizzy. I had to grab onto him to keep from falling down. When it was over, I lay behind the bench and didn't get up until Otto went out to wrestle. Still, the gym spun when I stood up. Coach decided to have Doug Bowden wrestle in my place the next night. That gave Doug some tournament-type experience and it gave me a rest.
I spent the night with the Carpenter family. Their kid Chris drew with Schmooz in a tremendous match in the afternoon. Rance Prokoff from Lewis and Clark shared the Carpenter basement with me. We shot a game of eight ball to see who got the davenport, and Rance won. I slept under the pool table. Actually it was pretty cozy. I managed to hook up a little desk lamp and read The Autobiography of Malcolm X till pretty late.
I woke to the crash of billiard balls overhead. Rance and Chris were up and at it already. "Prokoff...Carpenter," I growled. "If you guys want to live to lose wrestling matches this afternoon, you'll lighten up on those pool sticks."
Crash! One of them drilled a ball into the corner pocket above my head. "Stay down there, Davis"—it was Prokoff—"or I'll clout ya on the snout." The word was out about my tragic flaw.
"What time is it?" I asked.
"It's 9:30," said Chris. "Mom says breakfast in 10 minutes."
"I don't suppose your mother has any spinach?" I asked on the way upstairs.
We headed out of Missoula after munching up a whole bunch of Battleground Bluecoats. Doug Bowden stole the show at 47 by beating Battleground's undefeated Ray Rilke, whom I was very glad I didn't have to wrestle. I had pinned Ray the last two years and I think he wanted to hurt me. Doug was just about to pin him when time ran out. Our bench went insane. Coach leapt up and down and screamed. Kuch, who lay behind the bench in semi-exhaustion after a very tough loss, whooped and yipped in his best ersatz Indian fashion and banged his hands and feet on the floor. We mobbed the mat to get to Doug, and in the confusion our assistant coach, Lonnie Morgan, cracked me in the nose with his cassette recorder. He slung it over his shoulder to keep it from getting banged up, I guess, and blam—all I saw for a few minutes was SONY. It seemed like I couldn't even watch a wrestling match without getting my nose bloodied. I soaked my letter sweater in cold water to get the blood out right after I congratulated Doug.
As we were leaving town, Otto called out above the happy noise, "Hey, Coach, how 'bout next year you don't get us up so early just to go beat up a bunch of cowboys and miners!" Otto had pinned the Battleground heavyweight in the second round.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah!" everybody yelled. But before Coach Ratta could respond. Schmoozler declared, "We're not gonna be here next year, Lard Brain."
The bus went a little quieter for a minute or two while the seniors thought that one over. But then the noise picked right back up again. Coach promised never again to get Otto out of bed to beat up a cowboy or a miner.
I was never sure why Evergreen High held its New Year's dance so late in January. It worked out well for the guys doing winter sports, though, coming as it did just before the district and state tournaments, when we really felt like busting out one night before we were carried into springtime on our shields. This particular night turned out to be a very good one.
Otto alternated between moments of slow-dance bliss with Rayette Lewis and fast-dance imitations of a Tahitian Fire Walker. In his blue suit Otto looked like the world's biggest, toughest stockbroker, and Rayette in her long sky-blue robes looked like an African angel.
We spent most of our time right near the bandstand, dancing and watching our friend Damon Thuringer, the Sausage Man as we called him, play his flute. Sausage was no killer on the mat at 103 pounds, but with a flute in his hand he was armed and dangerous. Actually, Sausage was a prodigy. The band he played with was composed of all college guys except for Sausage. They traveled around the Northwest and made a lot of money. Sausage wanted to go on the road with them, but he was only 16 and his folks wouldn't let him.
The band took its break at midnight and Sausage came down beaming and saying hi to everybody. We all told him how great he was and Carla gave him a friendly kiss on the lips. Sausage's blush could be seen even through all the flashing lights. "My first groupie of the new year," he said. We all said how sorry we were that he couldn't leave early and come to dinner at Konigi's house with us. He said it was O.K., though, working musicians had to make sacrifices.
We stayed for one more song before heading for Mike's house for the late-night supper he had suggested. Sausage and the lead guitar player took turns with a favorite melody of theirs. They played so clean and sharp. It was funny to see Sausage do something so well and with so much poise. You never would have guessed that most of the time he was just a dumb kid like us. Carla leaned back against me and watched the band and banged her head softly against my chest the way little babies will. The mood was one to be savored. The companionship and shelter of high school would end with June graduation. Sure, we vowed not to let the outside world separate us, but we all knew it eventually would. Each of us, though, would be left with comfortable memories of nights like this one, and I wanted to remember the events of the New Year's dance just as they happened. We drifted contentedly with the music until Sausage was finished.
The Konigi house looked like a shopping center, there were so many cars. I hadn't expected so many people to be there. Mrs. Konigi greeted us at the door and led us into the dark dining room. Many dark shapes stood around the long table. Nobody said anything for a second or two, and I began to feel self-conscious. Then Carla put her fingertip lightly on my forearm and whispered close to my ear, "Surprise!"
Mrs. Konigi switched on the lights, revealing Coach, the entire Evergreen wrestling team and assorted girl friends. Mike led me to the head of the table and sat me down. I was the guest of honor. Platters of sashimi, steak teriyaki, rice balls wrapped in seaweed, almond chicken and other yummies were spread across the table.
But not in front of me. In front of me sat a plate heaped with steaming spinach. A small gold flag protruded from the green glob like a buttercup from a cow pie. On the gold flag was printed in green, GOOD LUCK, TERRY.