It was zero hour.

The plans were in place and the charts had been drawn.

Mark LaFlamme

“We meet here,” my friend Timmy would say, jabbing at the crudely drawn map he had created. “On the railroad tracks behind Mr. Donut. We meet like we do every day on our way to school. It is crucial …”

Here Timmy pauses with great drama to gaze around the room, looking each of us squarely in the eye.

“… that we behave normally and not draw attention to ourselves. We proceed down the tracks — here — as if just another school day. But when we reach the old junked-out Chevy next to the Messalonskee Bridge — the one Rusty got caught smoking in last semester — we cross to the other side of the tracks and veer north along this path.”

Here Timmy jabs at the map again with the sheared off pool cue he found in a dumpster. The rest of us huddle around him in admiration. The truth is that we all know the tracks, the junked-out car and the northward path as intimately as we know our own backyards. We don’t really NEED a chart, really, but a chart lends gravity to the plan. A chart makes it seem like more than just a bunch of hooligans skipping school to avoid a test in Mrs. Brancaccio’s class. With Timmy barking out the plan in excruciating detail, it feels like a mission of global importance.


“Once we reach the Howard Johnsons,” Timmy continues, all gruff and narrow-eyed with the seriousness of the matter, “we move separately around the backside of the building and to the trailhead at the edge of the woods. You’ll all remember that this is the trail where Mark got his dirt bike stuck in the spring, so there will be dangers. But if we can traverse those mud holes (Timmy had plucked “traverse” from a thesaurus in preparation of this stirring speech), my friends, we’ll be on our way to glory. Devil’s Chair awaits and if we can reach it, then my brothers, it’s ours.”

And so we’d be off, a group of about six; half of us known hooligans like myself and the other half devoted and high-achieving students on rare breaks from responsibility.

All morning we’d march the train tracks, the winding paths and the other secret places that grown-ups are blind to in all cities and towns across the world. Into the journey we’d inject more drama than it deserved: diving over hedges with great theater at the passage of cop cars that actually turned out to be cabs; sending a group member up a tall tree to scout for threats; pulling out the map every five minutes to verify our location, although every one of us knew pretty clearly that we were presently sneaking across the Elm Plaza parking lot.

The journey itself was most of the glory. It was in those first steps away from the beaten path to the schoolhouse that the rebellion began in earnest, and we embraced the rebellion with all our hearts. Here was glorious defiance. Here was youthful adventure. Here were painful swats from Timmy’s pool cue if our spirit for the mission lapsed even for a moment.

And then, after an hour and a half of sneaking across backyards, scaling fences and braving mean dogs, we’d reach our destination: Devil’s Chair, that thickly wooded area with its massive rock cliff and the eel-crawling Messalonskee River to be enjoyed in various ways.

We’d reach the dirt area at the bottom of the cliffs, throw our book bags to the ground and declare the mission a smashing success. Sometimes Timmy would give a short speech, using the pool cue to gesture at the heavens and whatnot.


Then we’d drop tiredly to the ground, swatting mosquitoes and wiping sweat from our foreheads.

“Now what?” someone would ask.

“Yeah,” someone else would chime in, usually one of the straight-laced kids. “Now that we’re here, what do we do?”

“I don’t know, what do YOU want to do?”

“How should I know? This was all your stupid idea.”

“No, it wasn’t! I was just put in charge of drawing up the plans to get us here. I swear to God, Bartholomew, you’re gonna get a fat end of the pool cue if you don’t cut out your whining.”


And so on. Great fun. And the trek back at the end of the day was even more gnarly because by then we’d be wanted fugitives and the whole town would be out there searching for us with dogs and spotlights and helicopters, probably.

I’m just saying. Skipped school days were some of the funnest parts of the whole scholastic experience. And I can’t help feeling sympathy for kids these days, whose lives have been so disrupted, and their realities so warped, that to skip school, all they are required to do is close their laptop lids and go sit in the living room.

My gruff buddy Timmy, who led so many of those youthful excursions into liberty, died in a car wreck about two years after his last successful mission — a mission in which he bravely led us through the jungles behind the Waterville Armory, perfectly executed a crossing of Interstate 95, steered us over acres of farmland and finally got us to Xanadu: The Reservoir up there behind Ridge Road.

It was boring as hell once we got there, but hey! That’s part of the fun!

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