Monday, Sept 14th, late afternoon
The letter was from Hull, and had been typed:
Thanks for bringing the festival to my attention.
I asked some colleagues back in New York to put together material for your booth. They had to get everything while the Gate was open, so this all was in a bit of a rush and they may have gone a bit overboard.
Please use whatever you can for the booth – I would also appreciate your aid in passing on anything left unused.
I am also enclosing partial payment for the past two weeks’ reports.
Aside from the letter were three 200-mil bills, each the equivalent of a US$20 bills: not bad for a phone call and two hours of writing notes. I had no idea whether we’d have any way to cook the hot dogs… one more thing to figure out, including what the booth would consist of.
Having read the letter, I moved on to the boxes. There were multiple boxes of books, photos, some posters, and tourist souvenirs most of which were more “NYC” than “USA” – some miniature Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building figures, some refrigerator magnets, and even a lone central park snow globe. Some of them would be good to decorate the booth with, but there were way too many – we could give away, or maybe sell the rest. Maybe the library would take the books if nobody wanted them?
Some of the posters and photos were promotional ones from NASA. It also included a plastic model of the space shuttle launch stack (orbiter, solid boosters, and external tank.)
I found another box filled with candy – M&Ms, Skittles and some other fruit flavored things, as well as regular chocolate bars. Those we could sell, for sure. The last box had three ten-pound packages of hot dogs – 240 in all, a lot of cold packs, and giant bottles of ketchup and mustard. I moved the hot dogs to the fridge, and figured I’d better leave a message with Hull that I’d gotten the packages.
I was working half-heartedly on my math homework when the phone rang; I expected it to be Hull, and it was. “Hi Mark, is this a good time?”
“Sure, I’m just doing homework.”
“Thanks,” he said. “I wanted to talk to you about the festival. I was thinking that it might be good ot come by on Saturday and Sunday to do meet and greets at your booth. Can you ask the school if that’s OK, and if so, publicize it in advance?”
“Sure, no problem,” I said. “Was there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
“Just to ask if there was anything else you’d need for the festival.”
“I did have two questions. The first one is, do you want me to sell these or give them away?”
“That’s up to you; Uncle Sam doesn’t need to be paid back. If it’s conventional to sell things, you can donate the proceeds to one of the clubs you’re in or to the school.”
“Thanks. In that case, can I donate some of the candy to my homeroom? They’re doing a ‘movie café’ and wanted to sell appropriate snacks.”
“That would be fine, Mark. Is there something else?”
“Oh, yes. Sorry,” I said. “You mentioned getting reimbursed a while ago, and I just wanted to check if it’s OK to do that to buy buns.”
“Yes, of course. If you need to rent a grill or anything like that, it’s fine as well. Just get receipts, please.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hull. I’ll get in touch once I hear from the school about your coming in for the meet and greets.”
The call closed out there, and I got back to homework. Joel got back, along with Dormer, around 7, and I updated them on the delivery and Hull’s plans.
Wednesday, Sept 16th, morning free periods
I’d been in a decent groove with homework for my other classes, but I had really been lagging on finding sources for my world history paper, and I was overdue to try to collect some primary sources. I had a double period free before homeroom on Wednesdays, since I was going to the fencing club instead of PE, and it seemed like a good opportunity to go to the library on campus.
The school’s library was on the near end of the Arts Center, split between the second and third floors and overlooking the green. An open study area nearest the windows was open between the floors, leaving it very well let and airy, while the library stacks behind it extended well into the building. It was quiet at this hour of the morning – I’m sure most people with the same free period used it as I would normally have, to sleep in or at least come in late.
I dropped my backpack off at one of the big tables, and set off with a list of sources that had been mentioned in the textbook. I quickly realized that I hadn’t seen a card catalog, and while they used some kind of numeric catalog system, vague memories of where history fell in the Dewey Decimal system were of no help – the numbering system was completely different, and even if it had been based on it, I wasn’t there to browse for interesting texts on a general area.
They had an electronic catalog, running on green-screen terminals – not too different from the Queens borough public libraries – and I was able to find most of the books I was looking for. Two, unfortunately, were marked as non-circulating, so I’d have to read through them here.
When I’d found the books, and checked out the ones I could bring home, I settled in with the one of the other two. I kind of wished I’d brought my laptop to be able to type my notes directly into the outline. It was a little after 9, so I had around 45 minutes before homeroom, and I was caught in my reading until a someone interrupted me in a voice louder than I’d have expected at the library.
I looked up; it was Neil. I suppressed the temptation to say something salty, and instead just replied, “Excuse me?”
“What are you doing here instead of being in class?” he asked, again too loud for the library.
“What’s your beef, man? I’ve got a free period, not that it’s any business of yours.”
“You should show more respect.”
"Respect? For what?" I asked, genuinely confused.
"For the rules," Neil said. "And for authority."
"What does that have to do with my studying here?"
"You think you can just go around getting a booth approved after I declined it? You made me look foolish."
Ah, it was about that. "I didn't make anyone look foolish," I said, keeping my voice even. "I wasn't even the one who got the approval. I told you before, there's a trade mission here from the US, and they got in touch with the school. If you have a problem with that, take it up with the administration."
"You've made me look bad," Neil sneered. "Well, I'm not going to let you get away with it. I'm going to figure out what your angle is and then make sure everyone knows what kind of people you 'Americans' really are."
"My angle?" I rolled my eyes. "Whatever, man. I've got work to do."
Neil huffed and stood there, muttering something under his breath. I tried to go back to my reading, and he interrupted again, "I'm not done talking to you."
“Unless you want to talk about post-second-empire politics, I’m done here.” I closed the book I was reading, started packing up, and worked hard to ignore my rising anger.
As I stood up and started to leave, he said, "Don't walk away from me, you damn coward."
I walked out of the library without looking back. Luckily, he didn't follow.
Joel was already hanging out in our classroom, waiting for homeroom to start and chatting with Kai and Jack; I warned him about Neil’s weird confrontation, and spent the rest of the day in a pissed-off mood.
Wednesday, Sept 16th, fencing practice
Sports center fencing room
When I got to the end of the day, I was still in a bad mood, and I didn’t feel like biking home on my own since Joel had soccer practice. For lack of anything else, I thought I’d see what fencing was like on a non-PE day. Fewer people were there, but most of the ones there were the folks I knew – Cory, Mina, Kai, and Galen, plus a few others who I didn’t. I was a little surprised to see Galen there, since I thought he was also doing it for PE.
“I’m glad to see someone here to practice with who isn’t competing,” he said to me. “I am going to miss practice tomorrow so I had to make the day up. What brought you in?”
“I had bad day and wanted to work off some steam before going home,” I said.
“Take it easy on me, then,” he said. The warning was unnecessary; we were still drilling moves on our own and not sparring. After, both Galen and I helped with the cleanup.
I didn’t bother to change back to my regular clothes, since I was going to bike home. Up at the bike racks, as I was unlocking my bike someone else came up and started removing theirs from the rack. Then, they stopped. “Hi Mark,” a familiar girl’s voice said. “I was wondering whose bike that was!”
I looked over; it was Gwen. “Hi Gwen. Yeah, this is mine.”
“It makes sense that you brought it from America, I’ve never seen that brand or one quite like that.”
I shrugged, and then said, “I brought it with me.”
It was a nice bike back at home, but not an expensive one – I’d been all set to replace my worn-out cheapo ten-speed mountain bike with a similar one, but Anne had convinced me to get something a little better since I was riding over the bridge to school, and I’d ended up with a hybrid - upright frame with road wheels.
“Do you ride every day?” she asked.
“The year just started, but I’m trying to most days,” I said.
“Nice, nice. I try to on days I’m not going to be here too late, although with three clubs I can’t as often as I’d like.”
We ended up chatting briefly about her clubs – student council, the theater group, and fencing – and then I wished her a safe trip home and started heading for the main road circling the green. As I started to turn left towards the main entrance, Gwen called out, “Hold on a minute.” So I did.
When she caught up to me, she asked, “Were you going to ride along Surrat-Efrel?”
I nodded. “It’s a pretty direct shot home,” and when she gave me a puzzled look, I added, “it’s faster than side streets would be.”
She stuck with the puzzled look for a moment longer, and then said, “I guess you must not know about the trail that runs along the river?”
I shook my head. “I didn’t know there was one. How far north does it go?”
“To the city limits, I think,” she said. “I live up near the university, and it runs well past there.”
“Oh, nice,” I said. “That would take me all the way home.”
“You’re welcome to follow me this time so I can show you the route,” said Gwen.
“Sounds good,” I said.
The back exit from campus had a pedestrian gate, open with a couple of security guards. There was a park a couple of blocks long between campus and the river, with a residential neighborhood just north of both. Behind the park was the trail, running high up over the river where we started. It looked like it sloped down gently northward. When we got to the trail, Gwen said, “Every fourth or fifth block cuts through to the trail. Just keep an eye for the cutoff for your neighborhood, and let me know if you need me to slow down.”
I nodded, and we set off. She set a good pace; without traffic lights, and with only a few other people out jogging or bicycling, the distance went by in no time – a good ten minutes quicker than on the main Boulevard. I called out to Gwen, who was still ahead of me, that we were coming up on the turn for my stop. She slowed down for a moment, and when I caught up, said, “You kept up a good pace. I don’t usually go that fast the whole way. I guess it pays to ride with someone else.”
“Thanks, this was really helpful,” I said. “Have a safe trip home.”
“You too,” she said, and she headed north along the trail while I cut over east away from the trail.
When I got home, I was surprised to see Dormer’s car in the driveway, and Joel was already home. “You’re back late,” he said.
“I went to fencing practice today.”
“Were you still steamed about this morning with Neil?”
“You know it. Was he at soccer today?”
Joel shook his head. “Wednesdays are student council days, so he’s never around,” and then after a moment, “since you rode home after fencing practice, I’m surprised we didn’t see you while we were driving, we only got in a few minutes ago.”
“I got shown a new route home,” I said. “There’s a trail that runs along the river.”
“Explains why we didn’t see you. Must be good to be out of traffic.”
I shrugged. “Certainly faster. Compared to traffic at home, the boulevard here isn’t much.”
“Fair enough,” said Joel. “You said you got shown, who did you hear about it from?”
“That’s the funny part,” I said, and I explained about running into Gwen and her surprise that I was riding along the boulevard.
“So you rode home with a girl?”
“Um, yeah, so?”
“With the senior from fencing, the one you said you liked when we saw her at the opening assembly?”
“I said of the three, I thought she was the most attractive, I didn’t say I liked her.”
Joel grinned at me. “Sure, sure, but that’s how these things can start.”
“You’ve got girls on the brain, Joel. She’s so far out of my league that it’s not a funny joke.”
“We’re in a different league altogether here, Mark, so you never know. I’m still willing to bet we’re going to have girlfriends by the end of the year.”
I rolled my eyes, “What do I get if I take that bet?”
“You’re supposed to be rooting for it to happen.”
“I’ll happily root for you from the sidelines. Besides, I’m going back to NY when the school year is over, remember?”
He shrugged. “No sense worrying about that until you have to. You’ve got to live in the moment more.”