New School

My new school was called Central Junior High. It was located at Belknap Street and Cumming Avenue. It would be a few months before I got the joke about the name of the avenue. Even though I’d played strip clubs in Fat City, I was still terribly naïve. I still thought that head was a body part that sat on the shoulders. And that dick was a nickname for Richard.

The school was a brownstone monstrosity that had originally been the high school in Superior back when there were fewer people. My dad had gone to this school but quit in the 11th grade to join the Army in WWII.

In front of the school stood a large bust of Jim Dan Hill, a industrialist who made his fortune building a railroad with government money and original growth trees from the surrounding forests. I took this statue as a bad omen about the school. I would soon find out how right my instincts were.

I was in seventh grade at this point. They discussed holding me back because I’d missed half a year and had come from the illiterate state of Louisiana, but I passed a series of tests that showed I was at college level. Of course, they wouldn’t put me in college because I was only 12. I got the old “he needs to stay with his peers” argument. Peers? What peers? I could read and write at college level or beyond. I knew science better than the science teacher. I had studied actual rocket science. I not only knew historical dates, but actually understood the socio-economic pressures that influenced the events. I played in a rock band making more than most of my teachers. Who the hell else in that school could do all that? I didn’t have any peers in this school.

I was also gawky with military-issue horn rimmed glasses, buzz cut hair, and my skin was so much darker than the rest of the pasty white people that it was scary. They looked like vampires had sucked all the blood from their body.

On my first day I got a taste of what my black friends in New Orleans dealt with. I was obviously an Indian. Most of these wasicu kids had been taught by their parents that Indians were shiftless, sneaky, savage drunkards. They were taught that all Indians lived off the public dole, were dirty and lazy, and weren’t good enough to mix with wholesome white people.

I recall particularly one painful class on that first day. The subject was Industrial Arts – Drafting. I had recently read Ayn Rand’s incredible novel The Fountainhead and thought that I might want to be an architect. Drafting was a required course for architecture students. I found the classroom late, down a long, dark, locker-lined hallway. The only remaining seat was in the left, back corner. I took my seat, a stool sitting in front of tall, slanted drafting table, constructed by a preceding wood shop class. The teacher stood near the blackboard a good 10 yards away calling row. A tall, dark kid sat on a stool behind the drafting table to my right. He answered when they called Mark O’Connell. I answered when my name was called: Blackwater, Armond. I noticed O’Connell scowling at me out of the corner of my right eye as I replied, “Here”.

Upon completion of the roll the teacher turned toward the blackboard and suddenly I felt a stabbing pain in my right shoulder blade. I looked right to see O’Connell retracting the T-Square from hitting me and winding up for another strike. I ducked the next swing. The teacher turned back to address the class with his annual indoctrination speech. O’Connell righted himself and smiled toward the front with an angelic smile that disappeared when the teacher looked down to read notes that weren’t there.

“Fucking Indian,” O’Connell spat at me.

I stood stunned. I knew the word Indian, but the new word “fucking” was new to me. I judged from his demeanor that the word emphasized a racial slur against redskins.

The word “fucking” was almost never used back in 1965. This was the first time I had heard the word. I had no idea what it meant, or how important it would become by the next century. I could not perceive what I had done to anger this kid in the 5 minutes since I entered the classroom.

We all listened intently for a few minutes while the teacher blathered on about the importance of what he was about to boringly teach us. The next time he turned toward the blackboard O’Connell grabbed me in a headlock and started banging the top of my head with his knuckles. I wrenched myself loose therein dislodging and moving my drafting table causing a low sickening groan to emit from the base of the table.

“Blackwater,” shouted the teacher, “Do you have a balance problem back there?”

I looked at O’Connell who was looking toward Heaven like a righteous choir boy and realized that complaint would only result in more pain in the future. Mr. O’Neil was not going to take my side in the battle between Blackwater and O’Connell.

“No sir,” I said in my most obedient military voice.

“Stop fooling around and pay attention,” the teacher scolded as he recorded my name on his shit list and then returned to his notes.

“I’m going to kick your nuts in, fucking Indian,” O’Connell hissed at me as I stood and shook.

I hadn’t been in many fights in my life to that point. My fight record at that point was 0 wins and all losses. I sprinted out the door when the bell rang to my next class, German. The next day, I walked in terror to the Drafting class where I received another chop from the T-Square wielding O’Connell and more racial epithets.

I avoided him that afternoon but in so doing I ran into Bob Begonia who knocked me to the street to munch on gravel. I told my dad what happened, to which I received his patented First Shirt response, “You’ve got to learn to fight your own battles, son.”

Ok, teach me. You fought in the second wave of Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge. Teach me how to fight. That was my brain screaming not my mouth.

The next day it was Sal Mortarano’s turn to ring the bell with my balls. As I stumbled toward home another Italian looking kid socked me in the face about ten times.

I was a bloody mess when I got home. When dad asked what had happened I lied, “I fell,” pausing, “several times.” He didn’t probe further. Apparently, I was learning some lesson that he believed I needed to learn.

A few days later I looked like I had been dragged on my face by a bus for a few hundred miles. The girl sitting in front of me in English class turned sheepishly to look at me as she had done all week, but this time she gasped, “What happened to you?”

“I fell,” was my guarded reply.

“It’s the eye-talin kids, idn’t it,” Loraine asked.

I stared into her sincere brown eyes and couldn’t lie, “Yes.”

“You come home wit me atter schoo,” commanded the Ojibwa girl.

She was beyond pudgy, too fat to even be called Rubenesque, and missing several teeth important to a smile, yet her heart reached to mine. “Yes, I will.”

Loraine Lafontaine waited for me by my locker as the school-ending bell rang. I was about ninety yards away when I first saw her. My brain struggled to find an excuse to not accompany her, but then I spied O’Connell coming from one direction and Mortarano from the other. Shamefully, I chose the path to Loraine. The two bullies sped up toward me until I reached my locker and they saw Loraine. Then, each mysteriously diverted to alternate destinations. Weird, I thought.

I opened my locker, deposited my load of books and notepads, and slammed it shut as Loraine grasped my left forearm leading me toward the Cummings Avenue exit.

Once out of that dark dungeon of a school Loraine tugged me toward the North End, the opposite direction of the route to my house. She immediately began quizzing me about New Orleans and my previous life. Occasionally, she would squeeze my arm and hug me around the waste. Loraine was short. The top of her head came up to just bellow my nipples. She had a strong grip in both arms and powerful legs.

Soon, I became comfortable with Loraine’s affectionate advances as we walked toward the lower end of Superior near the waterfront. We talked: I talked; she listened until we reached 314 John Avenue, her house. She marched me to the rear of the house and into a dilapidated garage. We walked into a dark, dank crumble filled with scowling Indian kids. I was fairly certain this was a trap and that these would be my final moments in this life. These were some scary looking kids. Custer looked into eyes like these on his last day on Earth.

“Brother, this is Armond Blackwater, a Nakota Sioux,” she announced. “The eye-talin kiss.” She didn’t need to explain further. My face told the story. She hugged me around the waste. I became aroused with her face so close to my new favourite toy. “He’s good.”

The tallest Ojibwa in the garage, Loraine’s brother, Buster, stepped before me, scouring me with penetrating eyes.

“Hoka hey,” said Buster Lafontaine.

“Hoka hey,” I burst in relief. “It is a good day to die!”

Buster laughed, stepped forward and embraced me, “Yes, it is a good day to die, my brother.”

Dig this picture. I had 6-foot-3 Buster Lafontaine hugging my shoulders while his little sister hugged my ass, her hot breath moistening my scrotum.

“You have nothing to fear, my brother,” said Buster.

“Nothing,” said Loraine peering at my face over my belt buckle.

Catching the vibe, the other kids in the room chanted, “Hoka hey. Hoka hey. Hoka hey.” I had never felt safer in my life, not even with the US Army surrounding me.

Loraine dragged me out of the garage and into the shabby house where she introduced me to her mother. “This is Armond Blackwater, my boyfriend,” she announced.

“Blackwater,” her mother said. “That’s not Chippewa.”

“No, ma’am” I blushed. “I am Nakota.”

“Hoka hey,” she burst forth hugging me even lower than Loraine had. Then, she jostled my jewels and jabbered something to Loraine in Ojibwa, to which, Loraine grinned and jostled said privates while jabbering a response in Ojibwa. I’m not sure if they were complimenting or denigrating, but it felt better than having my nuts kicked in.

They sat me at the kitchen table. Loraine talked to me, smiling like I was a great jewel she had just discovered, while her mother mixed and cooked fry bread that rivaled my grandmother’s for tastiness. Fry bread is a dish created by Indians out of the basic rations the government provided: flour, lard, and sugar.

Before long, the kids from the garage joined us as Loraine’s mother plucked fry bread from the sizzling cast iron pan. Lips smacked, eyes smiled, and love was exchanged while souls shared in Momma Lafontaine’s kitchen treats.

In the midst of the reverie, Momma Lafontaine pointed at me speaking something in Ojibwa while the kids in the room nodded sincerely. Then, she said something that made them all laugh and embrace me. I don’t recall her words but I’ll never forget the feeling. Loraine was truly her daughter.

My perception of Loraine as a fat, unattractive girl evaporated, replaced with a vision of loveliness that remains in my heart to this day. I recalled the words of Rimbaud, “Last night I held beauty in my arms, but I found her bitter, and I insulted her.”

Tears came to my eyes, tears that Loraine understood. She knew that she was beautiful. And she recognized that now I saw it to.

Loraine Lafontaine, Chippewa girl, was my first girlfriend.

At school the following Monday, my nemesis kept their distance and again on Tuesday, and Wednesday. I walked Loraine home each of those days.

Loraine missed school on Thursday. I quickly detected a group of my enemies as I began the three mile walk home from Central JH. I didn’t run. I wasn’t about to show fear, even if I was scared shitless.

At 21st and Hammond, the ass-kickers started running toward me. I shook like I’d never shaken before. “So, this is what racism really feels like,” I said out loud to no one.  I stopped to face the posse at 23rd and Hammond, certain that my ass was about to be kicked like it had never been kicked before.

The wasicu posse closed in screaming, ironically like wild Indians, with flailing arms, heaving chests, and drooling jowls toward their prey: me. Out of nowhere came a silent explosion of Ojibwa teens cutting across the wasicu line like Crazy Horse slicing through Custer’s troops. Disoriented as the 7th Cavalry, the wasicu scattered in every direction with nil success. Buster Lafontaine and my new Chippewa brothers cut through the enemy like a superbly sharpened lawn mower.

As the conflagration subsided, Loraine walked out and hugged me, “You no have worry no more.” I hugged her tight, tighter than anyone before her. I was now seeing the beauty in this girl’s soul. I didn’t care what my so called peers had to say about her. I was proud to be her boyfriend. Piss on anyone who didn’t like it. I didn’t need friends like that anyway. “You can’t judge a book by its cover” resounded in my head.

 

I looked around me seeing blood everywhere in the snow, Italian blood. It was a beautiful sight to behold. We walked the two miles back to North End together, Loraine clutching my forearm. My brothers relived the glory of the fight.

“We sure kicked the fuck out of them,” said Daniel Swift Arrow.

There was that word again. I wanted to ask its meaning but pride prevented me.  I tried looking the word up in the dictionary, but it wasn’t there. That meant it was a “dirty” word, as words of that sort were referred to back then.

Loraine’s mother made fry bread again for us and coffee, hot black coffee. The combination was delicious. She offered us milk but I spied the large sack of powdered milk, the same disgusting shit that we had at home that gagged me when I tried to drink it. So, I politely declined. Real milk was too expensive for people at our level of society. We ate, slurped, and talked.

The Lafontaine’s were a joyous family. Their father worked on the ore boats year-round and was seldom home. Even though it was winter and ships couldn’t sail out of the frozen harbor, their dad worked maintaining and refurbishing ships or standing watch.

Their mother was the center of their world. She was a wonderful woman, warm, gregarious, and always smiling or singing an old tribal song. It was clear where Loraine got her girth from. Her mother had the same beach ball shape, round face, and sparkling eyes.

Soon, other siblings joined us in the kitchen. Brother Auggie was similarly proportioned with that same joy in his eyes. When Sister Mary entered I did a double-take. She looked exactly like Loraine. I asked if they were twins but they assured me they were nearly a year apart in age. The resemblance was remarkable. How was I going to tell them apart? Oh yeah, Loraine was the one attached to my arm and rubbing her leg against mine under the table.

When I finally returned home that night Tad was outside waiting for me, anybody to mess around with. It was too dark to do much of anything. So, we occupied ourselves with snowball target practice and talking. Eventually, I worked up the nerve to ask him what the word fuck meant. For a kid that wasn’t too bright and had been left back a grade or two in school he certainly knew all about the word. He went on to add several more phrases to my vocabulary, like: cock, prick, dick, cocksucker, blow job, butt-fuck, 69 (which he drew in the snow to illustrate), pussy, snatch, and cunt. Tad proved to be a veritable dirty word encyclopedia. He quite eloquently explained the various ways that fuck could be used in a sentence. He was 14 and hadn’t mastered the multiplication tables yet, but he could swear like a seasoned sailor. I couldn’t wait until I could impress my new friends with my worldly knowledge.

The next day I trod softly to the Drafting class, attempting to avoid my tormentors, however there were none to be seen. I moved carefully around Mark O’Connell taking care not to make eye contact with him. Class time went by with no incident. Mark grabbed his book and darted out of the room at the sound of the bell. I remained wary as I walked to my locker, but no threat arose.

I did run into Auggie in the hall. He invited me to spend the night at their house. It sounded like a great idea to me. I wouldn’t have to listen to my parents drink and argue all night. I could hang out with my red brothers doing whatever it was they did on a Friday night. I called home from a pay phone to clear it with my mother, found Loraine, and walked her home to 314 John.