Top of the World – 1986


Another long week comes to a close here on the Front Porch. My dark corporate overlords got more than their pound of flesh out of me this week. I hates it when I have to put in an honest 40 hours to help the further their nefarious schemes. It’s bad for the soul I tell you.

So let’s end this week with a story. Friday’s are always a good day to have a seat on the porch and spin a yarn. So zip up your coat, put on a hat, pour some coffee into a thermal mug and pull up a rocker. There won’t be many more mornings we can sit out here and talk. Soon we’ll be taking the conversation back inside for the winter. But one last reverie out here in the autumn air will be good for us.

This story takes place during my last semester at Notre Dame High School. It was a long slow fade to black that semester, as I had already compiled the credits I would need to graduate, and aside from auditing a college level Calculus class over at BHS, my days were mostly spent hanging out in the cafeteria, or basking in the glow of my rapidly fading glory days.

I signed up for Computer Science, as easy a class as there ever was, this being 1986 and the PC being not much more powerful than a hand held calculator. In fact, half the PC’s in our classroom were old TI 99’s with tape recorder drives and used black and white TV’s serving as monitors. I was one of the lucky ones who drew a state of the art Apple 2 with a green monochrome monitor and integral floppy drive.

The Texas Instruments TI-99

The Texas Instruments TI-99

It was the last six months of high school for everyone involved, and even the instructor seemed to just be going through the motions. Being a nervous over achiever, I had never had a class feel so laid back. But this isn’t a story about schoolwork or computers. As usual, it’s a story about a girl.

Aside from my luck in getting one of the Apple 2’s, I was disappointed to be sitting next to Betty instead of one of my friends. Betty and I had never liked each other since I sat behind her in English class Freshman year and under an ill advised dare by my friend Dave, I pinched her behind. She responded with a right to my jaw that drew blood. After that, she was the bitchiest girl in School as far as I was concerned and I’m sure she must have thought I was the biggest creep on the planet. We ran in different circles and during the intervening 4 years had spoken less than a dozen words to each other. So I wasn’t real enthused about the prospect of sitting next to her.

As the semester began we immediately began sniping at each other. A little, at first, and then a lot. Soon, we were too busy trying to insult each other to pay much attention to writing computer code. The sexual tension was palpable. She used to wear this white blouse that had one button the size of a 50 cent piece, right in the middle of the back. It had a high collar in front, but exposed her lower back and the nape of her neck. It drove me absolutely wild.

As winter turned into Spring, we grew closer and closer. The jibes were interspersed with conversation, and jokes, and whenever there was a project that required us to pair off, we made sure we were together. By the end of May there could be no doubt that the attraction was mutual. As senior prom came and went, and graduation loomed the senior class organized a beer blast at “Top of the World”. Top of the World was a dead end road on the North side of the NYS Thruway, at the big rock cut where the highway climbs the Onadaga Escarpment. In a town like Batavia, drinking at the end of dirt roads is the preferred mode of entertainment for kids from 16 to 21 years old.

The Friday of the party Betty asked me if I was going to be there. There was no way I’d miss it. It was perhaps the only Notre Dame party I ever attended, having spent the previous few years chasing an seemingly endless stream of BHS girls.

That night, I drove to the party in the big old green “tank” that my Dad had just bought to drive back and forth to work. It was a 1972 Dodge Coronet the size of an aircraft carrier. The only draw back was it had a faulty water pump and a range of about 10 miles before overheating. The party was only about 3 miles outside of town, so I figured I would be safe.

1972 Dodge Coronet

1972 Dodge Coronet

Everybody from ND was there and the beer was flowing, but I was staying sober. I was talking to Betty all night long and working up the courage to kiss her. It was a clear, chilly evening, and the leaves were still filling out in the trees. Sitting around the campfire we could look off to the east and see the lights of the cars on the Thruway snaking their way towards the escarpment. We sat on a log by the campfire, huddling close together for warmth, the light of the fire flickering in her big brown eyes.

Around midnight  my friend Bella came by and asked me for a ride home. She had the strictest parents of any girl I knew, so I figured she’d be in deep trouble if she didn’t get back in time for her curfew. It had been a long year for the two of us, we had begun to drift into different crowds, and our friendship had become strained. So more than ever I felt obliged to be a good guy and drive her home. She only lived on State Street, so if all went well I figured I could drop her off and be back within 30 minutes.

I was nervous about being back before Betty left the party, so I turned to Betty and told her to wait for me at all costs because I would be right back and I absolutely, positively, promised to drive her home. Bella and I left the party and drove back over the college hill and down Bank Street Road into town. I kept my speed down, nervously watching the temperature gauge on the dashboard. So far so good. I pulled into the drive way and said goodnight to Bella. So far so good.

I passed the ball park, and started back out Bank Street Road and the needle began climbing on the temperature gauge. Halfway back to Top of the World steam began pouring out from under the hood. I pulled over. I pounded the steering wheel. I cursed the gods. I offered every prayer I knew to the good Lord, but to no avail. I never made it back to that party. After an hour of sitting on the side of the road, I turned the car around and coasted back down the hill into town.

When Betty did finally speak to me again, about 3 weeks later, she told me she stayed to the bitter end. Only a few stoners, and a particularly crazy S.O.B. named “Duder” were left around the campfire with her at 2 am. Duder drove her home in his Subaru wagon. He showed her the 4-wheel drive capabilities by driving her through a cornfield on the way.

I ran into Betty again one summer about 3 years later. She was working in Payless Shoes out on the West End of town when I came in to buy some workboots. She still wouldn’t speak to me. Man that girl could hold a grudge. Standing across the counter from her, watching the blood rise in her cheeks, I don’t think I ever wanted her more…

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5 thoughts on “Top of the World – 1986

  1. Oh man that TI brings back memories. My grandfather bought two of those in 1980. He had one at his house and he gave one to my mother for our house. He was wise enought to figure out that computers were the ‘wave of the future’ and wanted us to get an early start. I played with some basic programing on it but mostly used it for incredibly long sessions of playing Parsec and Blasto. My grandmother actually got really good at Blasto and would beat me soundly at it from time to time.

    The amazing thing is that they still work. My mother still has one at her house and occasionally i hook it up to one of her modern color TVs and whoa the colors are groovy. My daughter actually used some of the math programs when she was in elementary school. There was something really cool about plugging them in and seeing the 1979 copyright at the start of the game.

    Thanks for the memories!

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