MISSILE AWAY by Peter Nolan Smith

During his youth my older brother was a pyromaniac. Frunk nearly burned down each of our houses and those of our neighbors on several occasions. Each time my mother punished us both with a wooden spoon and my father sternly admonished our incendiary behavior, yet my older brother was undeterred by cracks across the knuckles and hards words.

The early 1960s was the height of America’s Space Race with the Soviet Union and Frunk abandoned his fiery endeavors to conduct missile experiments with discarded hair spray cans collected from garbage cans in our neighborhood. Our blast site was a secluded sandpit, where Chuckie, my next-door neighbor, Frunk, and I taped the cans together and positioned the ersatz V-2 of Aquanet hair in a bonfire. Our launch area was a sandpit not far from our suburban development on the South Shore of Boston.

Chuckie, my next-door neighbor, Frunk, and I tapeed the cans together and the fuse was a bundle of sparklers. Sometimes the can exploded in fiery separate burst, but occasionally the strapped cans arced across the sky at low altitudes spitting toxic flames.

None of us suffered injuries from these experiments, however the town police warned our parents that we were constituted a danger to the community and my older brother obeyed their orders to abandon our emulation of NASA’s failed rocket launches.

At my parochial high school I resisted the draw of the rocket club.

Instead I ran cross country.

The five-mile course passed an abandoned mansion. Our competitors were never forewarned that their runners had to leap a stone wall to cross the estate, giving us an edge and my school won two consecutive state championships in 1967 and 1968, however our dominance was challenged by a mysterious government agency’s purchase of the mansion. The men occupying the estate wore white shirts and black ties.

Chuckie Manzi said they were CIA experimenting on apes and we listened for the shrieks of chimps, as we panted across the fields for the start of the 1969 season. They were none.

Upon our arrival back at the gym, our coach informed us that the grounds were off-limits.

“What about the wall?”

“No more wall,” said Brother Jude.

Later that month we lost our first race in years.

“We want the wall.”

We protested to Brother Jude. He sided with us as did the principal, who asked for special access for these bi-weekly races.

The men in the white shirts refused this request.

Every practice session we passed the mansion calling them ‘assholes’, then trained harder to regain our edge.

Few of our fellow students cared about the track team.

Our school’s football team was state champs. They had cheerleaders from the nearest Catholic girls school

Our only fans were the rocket club, who said that this matter was not over.

No one paid them much mind.

They were nerds and the cross-country team worried that nerdiness might be contagious.

We won our next race, although I barely beat out our rival’s 5th runner. Afterward the rocket club glared at the distant mansion and the cross-country team exchanged a conspiratorial glance with them. Whatever they had planned was more than all right by us.

The next day the school’s rocket club announced a test of their missiles and the brothers assembled the students in the field behind the high school. The principal instructed the collective classes to stand a good distance from the launch area, because these rockets were not small.

One of them was at least ten-feet long.

After running a series of tests, the rocket club signaled that they were ready and soon missiles soareed into the sky.

Even the football team thought the rocket club was cool and the brothers beamed with satisfaction, thinking maybe one of these boys might end up at NASA.

Off in the distance a few of the men in the white shirts stood outside the mansion.

The rocket club aimed this final missile, the ten-footer, at the estate.

The men shouted and the president of the rocket club lit the fuse. The men ran for cover.

The missile covered the half-mile between the field and mansion in less than a second.

The explosion was muffled by out applause. Afterwards the men in the white shirts complained to the brothers.

The town police ignored the complaint, since some of their kids were on the track team and we regained permission to run through the field a week later and won the state championship for the third time in a row.

No one ever said anything bad about nerds in our school.

They were heroes, because they were dangerous.

At least to anyone not on our side and that’s the way it should be when you’re young.

ps my older brother was really pissed that he hadn’t been there.

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