I don't know if you could say we had heroes in 1935. But there were some guys at school that everybody was scared of.
Parents may try to influence our choice of heroes, but they almost never have anything to do with these other characters.
Because they don't know about them.
Because we don't tell them.
Eddie Overrocker was the first one I know. He was at least 6 feet 4, with a long jaw and those deadpan eyes that looked at you straight on and when you turned your gaze away and came back they still looking at you.
I was in the fourth grade, and so was he, and he lived in a small house in the hollow below our large house. The first time my father went to see Mr. Overrocker about doing some work for us, I went along. It was a mistake, Eddie Overrocker at home wasn't the same as Eddie Overrocker, at school.
If he hadn't been twice as big as me, I would have been in real trouble. As it was, he just nudged me around the playground a little. It was still pretty scarey. I think he extorted my Walnettoes from me but I have blocked it out.
In the seventh grade Eddie (sitting in the back row of course) make a rude noise at Mr. Baietti, our history teacher, and Mr. Baietti, continuing his lecture, cruised cooly behind him and whapped the back of his head. Mr. Baietti was 6 feet 7.
Lye Davis was another one. He looked like Mickey Rooney. He was always getting into fights. At noon hour we would play Johnny Ride the Pony, a game where you try to break each other's spines by leapfrogging onto them. Every time we played it, Lyle got into a fight.
Once he took apart an electric motor and found this marvleous spool of wire so fine it was virtually invisible. Sneaking out just before noon, he wound it back and forth, here and there, from branch to fence, from swings to flagpole, until the whole schoolyard was a giant spider web which enmeshed 200 kids when they ran outside. Oh how they screamed. The next year it was discovered that Lyle was smart. I think it was then everyone say Mickey Rooney in "Young Tom Edison." Lyle turned into a first-rate veterinarian.
How these reputations came about was simple. The worse a kid got, the less he came to school. The less he came to school, the more he was talked about. Rumors. Whispers. Notes passed in study hall. Did the sheriff catch him inside Allen's Hardware at night? had he been sent to reform school?
The word got around that Paul Rouillier had hit the geometry teacher and gave him a black eye. All we knew was that neither of them was at school. It was supposed to have happened in the hall where people waited for the second bus. (To save the school board money, the buses doubled up on routes. Some kids had to spend two hours every afternoon milling around the hall. Passions ran high and tempers short. People got beat up, and some got pregnant, and some had their books thrown on the roof.)
The geometry teacher turned up the next week with a black eye. And we didn't see paul Rouiller's handsome glowering face for the rest of the year. He became a part-time legend, he and Cadet Moriarty and some others. They were all pretty famous. But none of them could touch Adolph Neidhardt.
You hardly ever saw Adolph Neidhardt. You hardly even heard his name spoken. Like Jehovah.
He had long dirty sandy hair that thatched over his dirty collar and hung down across his dirt-creased forehead in a thick scimitar that he rarely bothered to toss from his eyes.
His face was old, like those photos of Dust Bowl migrants, with a jutting lean jaw and a long pointed nose and cheekbones.
And slit-eyes. We all tried to look slit-eyed like Adolph Neidhardt. Our mothers kept taking us down to have our vision checked.
He rode a motorcycle, wore a grimy denim jacket, a full generation before Brando. A Kerouac who never left home. No one knew what did when he didn't go to school.Impossible to imagine him sitting at some kitchen table. Making his bed. Having brothers and sisters.
In an era when only a daredevil would light up a (straight) cigarette behind the coal shed even after school, Adolph Neidhardt smoked constantly and publicly. Could dangle a butt from his mouth and talk at the same time and not get smoke in his eyes. Not that he talked much.
Once I was with some neighborhood kids talking motorcycles with Adolph Neidhardt, who said nothing, but greeted his peers with a curt upward nod, and imperial jerk of the chin. Eddie Overrocker swaggered up and said dramatically, "Boys, a moment of silence. Lucky Teter is dead."
Lucky Teter was the Knievel of the county fairs. We bowed our heads and shut up, less in grief than in shock at Eddie's mawkishness. Adolph Neidhardt didn't bow his head. He took the cigarette from his mouth.
I saw him two other times. The first time I was walking home from school - the heck with the second bus - and he roared up behind me on his Harley. I stepped off the macadam. He slowed down, closing in on me. I turned, heart pounding. Nobody else in sight. An empty landscape. Adolph Neidhardt and me. I stopped. hHe stopped, squinting stonily at me, engine clattering.I could have touched him.
"Hey kid," he said.
"You want a ride?"
My mouth dropped. "Uh," I said.
I climbed up behind him. I had never ridden a cycle before. Clung to the saddle springs because I knew you weren't supposed to hang onto the driver.
In a shattering blast, we took off. I leaned with him on the curves. The countryside blurred. He dropped me off where I pointed, near our mailbox. Left me without a word, standing astonished in his dust cloud as he gunned away.
A week later I saw him outside Hogan's where he was standing on the corner with some of the other big guys. He negligent glance passed over me. I raised my fingers in a diffident salute from the waist.
He nodded his chin one millimeter.