The homecoming float was almost finished.
I hopped in the cab of the John Deere tractor and pulled the lever controlling the hydraulics. The cylinder, used to lift and lower farm implements into the ground, was now connected to a giant Orrick High School mascot.
The mascot, a bearcat made out of chicken wire and stuffed with black and yellow napkins, stood on a wagon hitched to the tractor. It slowly lifted a plastic barrel over where its head would eventually be and brought the barrel down again.
Our senior float captured the wholesome, romantic and Shakespearean essence of Donkey Kong. I just hoped the wind kept down during the parade, or it would end up naked.
The art kids were finishing up the giant papier mâché head, then our float would be ready for the parade, “Homecoming ‘83: Video Maniacs.”
I don’t know who came up with that theme, I just hoped they weren’t very proud of themselves.
It was cold in the barn our float was hidden in, and I was glad. I’d stashed a couple of Dad’s beers in the tractor cab for the parade and I’d hate for them to get warm.
I was going to be the driver. Kaz was riding shotgun, keeping his eye on the float to make sure it didn’t go out of control and kill bystanders.
Yeah, that “Best Float” ribbon was going to be ours. The senior class almost always won first place. Sure, it took some of the fun out of the competition, but high school seniors are petty, and we wanted that ribbon.
Our only threat would be from the junior class. We’d heard rumors they had a lot of parents helping with their float, but that was all we knew. High school homecoming float construction holds a certain level of secrecy, much like crashed flying saucers do in the government.
But what their float was didn’t matter.
Tomorrow, I’d smile and wave at everyone lining Front Street, sipping stolen beer out of a paper cup and celebrating the junior class’s second-place finish with whatever lame video game they’d chosen.
Oh, yeah. Tomorrow was going to be sweet.
The next day, the junior class won. All that mindless napkin stuffing, all those nights of actual work for nothing.
Kaz and I were sitting in the cab of the tractor before the parade when the float committee gave the first place ribbon to the junior class’s Pac Man float. Even with our creative treatment of Donkey Kong getting even with his oppressors, in this case the opposing football team, the juniors won with something cutesy. Oh, sure, Pac Man’s mouth opened and closed, but … who cares.
“This sucks,” I said.
Kaz looked at me.
“Somebody’s got to do something about this,” he said.
So we did.
Going down Front Street, our second-place Donkey Kong tossing a make-believe barrel at an effigy of a pirate followed the junior class’s Pac Man, with its first-place ribbon. The stolen beer tasted good to me, especially since we’d probably get in trouble if we drew any extra attention to ourselves. Of course, we got lots of attention with the big “Juniors Suck” sign we’d thrown together and hung in the tractor window.
We got in-school suspension for that stunt, but yeah, it was worth it.
You can order Jason’s book of ghost stories, “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at amazon.com.