The start of my junior year was hopeful. I had worked all summer building high steel grain elevators. Everyone knows that high steel is dangerous but in those days the contractors hired young farm kids who would do anything to make $5.00 and by anything I mean climbing, working, welding and assembly at heights over 100 feet with no safety rigging at all. We thought it was normal.
The pay was good, $1.25 an hour working from 8 am to dark building grain storage towers for corn and beans. We worked in crews, 2 crews with 2 totally different bosses, Red and Duke, both heavy drinkers. Red was always talking and Duke seldom said squat. I started working with Red who quickly found out that I could read blue prints and count. counting the pieces, panels, bolts and sundry parts is a constant job on site, how much of what, when and where. I learned that management was thinking ahead and that few people were very good at it.
Red and Duke made a lot of money as subcontractors putting up these grain storage units with teenage labor, but I got what I wanted.
I had two interesting classes that year, Biology and Geometry. When I learned about the Phylum’s of Life it was wonderful thing, a thing I had seen in nature only structured, categorized and connected. Everyone had to do an insect collection which I did will zeal and determination. I had managed to collect an example of each insect order except Isoptera, termites. We lived in Iowa and termites just did not like the cold. The whole study of insects fascinated me so much that I decided that I wanted to be an Entomologist, one who studies insects. I was a nerd before being a nerd even existed, a rebel nerd warrior in self training.
My other revelation was Geometry. Geometry comes from the Greek Geo, the earth and metron, measurement, the measurement of everything you can see. Geometry has axioms, proofs and theorems that once learned could be used to prove various unknowns. To find the unknown from the known, I loved it because I could see the axioms just like I could see the road signs.
The Geometry class was comprised of the smartest kids in school. Algebra was the cut or sieve that determined who could take Geometry and because of my lack of home work, unexcused absences while running away; I had nearly failed Algebra. My Algebra teacher, none the less recommended me and I am eternally grateful. I use Algebra and Geometry everyday. The whole thing manifested with the Geometry Tournament to determine the True Geometer.
I had never heard of a Geometry Tournament or any kind of contest concerning school stuff. How does that work? The teacher sets up the overhead projector and puts up a Problem. The class is matched up in pairs with 26 students, 13 pairs. When your contest came up, one of the pair would go outside the classroom while the other contestant would try to solve the problem. Each proof was timed and whoever solved the proof the quickest won, if only one contestant solved the proof they won regardless of timing.
This went on for two days until the final bout, me against Connie Stephens. Connie was a smart cookie, a town girl and in with what passed for the ‘in crowd’ of a small Midwestern village of less than a thousand with 6 Churches. Anyway, Connie went first and I waited outside for at least 5 minutes, a long time for this kind of deal. Finally, the door opened and I walked in and straight to the overhead projector. The class room was silent and the teacher said, ‘Connie failed the proof, if you solve it you will win’. One minute and fifteen seconds later I won the second contest of my life, first the Greased Pig Contest and now Gemetor.
Mean while conditions as home deteriorated. My dad was sick and we moved to a small house on a large chicken farm. My mother had gone to work at the County Home for the Poor. We had so little money and I knew that just to feed and cloth myself and my sister was hard and a constant point of tension. I had been running away for years but this time I just drove away.
The combination of a depressing home life and the social stigmatization of being the ‘Wild Run Away’ in a small conservative, rural community was more than enough for me to seek friendship, girls and a ‘Place’ in the nearest big Town, Marshalltown, Iowa.
Marshalltown was a little city, the County Seat and Court House sat right in the middle of town surrounded by the department stores of Old, Dime Store, Mount Gomery Ward, Yonkers, a movie theater and drive in restaurants and drive in Theaters, the favorite of young teenagers with cars, well known as the best place to get up close and personal with any young lady willing to go to the Moves as I used to say.
Things were rough at home and I started to school and started running on the Wild Side. The Wide Side was the collection of young kids out on the streets of Marshalltown at night. They were the rejects from normal society often from families broken by alcohol, divorce, poverty and jail. Our main goal was to find some girls, get some beer and party, party with the hope of being … happy. We used to steal cars from car lots and take them for joy rides, drive them around for a while and leave them parked at the court house. This turned out to be a bad idea, a very bad idea.