it was to go down after school on Third Field, the farthest baseball diamond from Beveridge Junior High, the one we weren't supposed to play on because it was at the base of a vale and just out of sight of the school. "Rumble," Reed Blake told me. "Preppies versus hessians."
Reed was one of four other boys from my neighborhood who carpooled to school with me every day—our parents, all employees of Omaha Public Schools, took turns driving us. I could always rely on him to clue me in on the essential stuff. When I wore the same outfit on back-to-back days in fourth grade, Reed let me know that wasn't done, that even if the clothes had been laundered, I wasn't to wear the same thing twice in one week. In sixth grade, he informed me that my cutoff jean shorts were déclassé, that everyone was wearing Leg Goons brand shorts. Unfortunately, I misheard him and sent my mother on a snipe hunt, insisting I had to have a pair of Legumes. When she couldn't find the nonexistent brand, she made me a pair based on my description— "They're like Hawaiian shirts for your legs"—which I refused to wear.
Earlier that year, Reed filled me in on another fact, that his father could beat up my father. No thirteen-year-old boy wants to accept such a thing, but there was no denying it: Reed's father, Rod, would have pummeled my father. Other than working at the same high school, our dads had nothing in common. Rod Blake was a rugged, square-jawed, BMOC type; my fellow carpoolers and I were delighted when it was his turn to drive because we got to barrel over speed bumps in his Chevy Blazer, an exotic treat in the mid-eighties when SUVs were still a sportsman's luxury. Technically a counselor at Burke High School, Rod's real work was as coach of the Bulldog football team, whereas my father, nearly blind and rather bookish, was coach of the debate team. Had the two men ever come to blows, Rod would have leveled my father with some virile sounding maneuver like a chop block before my dad would have had a chance to articulate even one of the many disadvantages to the resolution "Reed's father and Todd's father should fight."
"Which side are you on?" Reed challenged me. "Preppie or hessian?" I didn't know how to respond. He, like his father, was a preppie; that much was obvious. Yet what did that make me? In so many ways, Reed had let me know I didn't have adequate [End Page 201] preppie credentials, but I never considered that might make me a hessian. Hessians were the bad kids. They smoked cigarettes, listened to heavy metal, and didn't do their homework. They had a lifestyle I didn't comprehend, a uniform I didn't wear, a code I didn't follow. I wasn't a preppie, but I couldn't be a hessian.
When I was fifteen, my father accepted a position with a more affluent school and invited me to tag along as one of the perks of his new job—in addition to a better-funded debate program, Westside High School offered the children of its employees a tuition-free education. At my new school, no one confronted me directly with the hessian question, but it was never far from my mind. I was never really embraced by the "preppie" crowd, as I could never afford to be one of them—teacher's kids rarely vacation in Vail—but they did let me hang around them and, on the whole, were pretty nice to me. While most didn't talk to me, at least they didn't shun me like they shunned the hessians.
Frankly, I was surprised to see so many hessians at this new, richer school. They looked identical to the hessians I had known in junior high only now they drove scary-looking, beat-down cars with loud exhaust systems and even louder stereos. They still smoked...