"Rob Hill lives in an abandoned subway tunnel under the streets of New York City where he trains rats as pickpockets and nurses sick pigeons back to health. He occasionally posts rags and bones athellospider.wordpress.com."
BREAKING AND ENTERING
It's hard to describe how restless summers in a midwestern small town like mine could be back in those days. Most kids gravitated towards the arcade under the train trestle where they would spend hours shoveling quarters into Dig Dug and Pole Position machines and guzzling down grapeflavored Slush Puppies. Sometimes there were loosely organized ballgames down in Rust Park. Or attempts to catch fish in the fishless stream that zigged behind the old church. Mostly there was a lot of waiting around for something to happen.
So it was mostly a lack of anything better to do that led Marco and me to the darkened shell of the high school one breezy night. The building lay dormant, like a concrete giant sleeping off a bender. We drove around to the back of the building and parked the car in an area where we couldn't be seen from the main road. Here a greenhouse protruded from the main building. I recalled coming out here one afternoon during lunch hour to watch another kid sniff glue. We slouched on some utility structures of uncertain purpose and argued goodnaturedly over our favorite metal lyrics. Marco at that time was fistdeep into his Napalm Death phase while the band I had recently discovered was Voivod who I had been mercilessly touting all summer.
I believe it was Marco who first noticed how easy it would be to climb up the supports of the greenhouse, and from there swing onto the roof of the school. I don't recall a moment of hesitation or anything like reservation that this might be a poor idea. We just glanced at each other as if to say "well, this is clearly what's happening." I went first, nimbly pulling myself up the metal support. My feet landed on the crunchy gravel of the school roof. A moment later Marco was beside me. From there we could see down to the desolate football field. The narrow road that snaked behind the school. The strange orange church that looked like a tented book. Beams of headlights on the main road. The blinking eye of a radio tower. An unfamiliar perspective on a painfully familiar landscape.
We walked across the unusual terrain of the roof, kicking absently at the gravel. This would be an ideal hiding spot for skipping class, we both decided. Who would think to look for us here? I nearly tripped over a grey ventilation pipe that jutted up like a periscope. We reached a roof access door. I tested the handle and found it unlocked. Beyond it stairs lead down into the school's foreboding maw. We looked at each other and shrugged. Again, that this might be an unwise sequence of events did not occur to us. I followed Marco down the steps.
The ordinarily familiar hallways now seemed eerie, like the deserted streets of a major city in a post-apocalyptic movie. Never had I seen these corridors not engorged with students rushing from classroom to classroom. The hallways were illuminated by dim emergency lighting. Everything smelled of settled chalk.
We passed the cluster of science classrooms and continued in the direction of the machine shops. I halted as we came across the entrance to a girls' bathroom.
"I have to see what's in there."
Marco had no such compulsion and did not follow as I cautiously ducked my head inside. Even in an empty building my act of flagrant trespassing made me uneasy. I fully expected an authority figure to leap out from the shadows and accuse me of wrongdoing. When this didn't happen I ventured inside the forbidden realm.
Like the boys' bathrooms I was used to, there was no door, just a cavernous mouth that zigged around a tiled wall. Once inside, the first thing I noticed was the lack of urinals. This made sense when I thought about it but it still looked strange to my eye. The other main difference between this and what I was accustomed to was the unmarked dispensary mounted on the wall beside the sinks. I went over to it, envious that the girls got a gumball machine of their own. Then it dawned on me what it really was and I didn't know what to think. I peeked into the stalls and was disappointed not to find obscenities graffitied into the paint. Didn't girls share the same vile thoughts as us? Or were they just less coarse about it? I tried to imagine what mysterious rituals transpired between these walls.
Marco was waiting for me at the end of the hallway. He was holding a portable cassette deck he said he had found on a stool in a nearby classroom. It looked as if painters had been at work recently. The player was flaked with white enamel paint.
A distant noise sounded from far down the hall. Like a door shutting not very hard. We both froze. Was someone else in the building? We saw two roving beams of light appear at the far end of the hall. We bolted in the direction we had come. We reached the stairs that led to the roof and scrambled up them. I tried to run as quietly as possible but could do nothing about the tremendous thump of my racing heartbeat. We raced across the roof to the greenhouse, slid down, and dropped to the ground. We dove in Marco's car and were soon speeding along the back route that curved along a wooded area near the railroad tracks. Only then did we begin to breath normal again.
"So I guess there's a night watchman."
I glanced over and realized Marco had brought the cassette player with him.
"That was dumb."
"I forgot I was holding it."
And then there was an electronic shriek and police lights appeared behind us. Marco pulled over and we were ordered out of the car. I was told to lie facedown on the road. Thankfully the asphalt had cooled down after sunset. I couldn't see what was happening to Marco. One of the policeman was searching the car. I was handcuffed, lifted to my feet, and placed into the back of the police car next to Marco, who was similarly handcuffed.
They took us down to the police station, a sandstone building I had passed all my life but had never been inside. One of the policeman seemed to take his job in stride and recognized we weren't dangerous criminals but just a pair of scared kids. The other sneered at us, reminding me of the arrogant kids at school I hated and I knew exactly what he had been like when he was my age. They didn't mention anything about the cassette player. I don't think they realized it had been stolen. For most the night the jail was empty except for us and the two cops. We sat quietly in our cell and watched them eat their lunch.
In the early morning they turned us loose. I was given the name of a counselor I was to see weekly for the next two months. Marco's car had been impounded. He had to call his parents to come get him. I walked home in the pink dawn light. I don't think my parents realized I'd been gone all night. I explained to them what had happened. I expected my father would find it amusing and my mother would be upset. It turned out to be the other way around. My dad was furious that I was now a criminal. My mom just smirked, saying, "I figured something like this would happen to you someday."