Shoe Column: My First Published Story
By Tim “Shoe” Sullivan
Pacelli High School. Stevens Point, Wisconsin. 1966. But before I get into this, a little background is needed.
Went to Pacelli in 1963 and got out, barely, in 1966. For four years, the only “highlight” I had in high school was cafeteria. Mrs. Ohlert was a fantastic cook. Loved her fried chicken, mashed potatoes, pizza. My freshman year remains a fog. I did absolutely nothing. No sports. No clubs. Zip.
Sophomore year was even worse. Loved to shoot baskets. Had I gone out for basketball, I probably would’ve been cut. But it didn’t matter. Broke my leg in September fooling around at home with the neighborhood kids. Was in traction for four months.
Got addicted to watching soap operas on the small black and white television and was really into one when they broke in to announce that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. There went the soaps. Somehow I passed the semester. Obviously joined nothing.
At least I was healthy my junior year. Still wasn’t on any teams. No clubs. Nothing. Was just happy to be out of the hospital. Then came the senior year. Mostly hung around with my buddies from P.J.’s. Finally decided to join something so I joined the band. Couldn’t play a note. On anything. Chose the clarinet. I practiced occasionally and totally sucked at clarinet. But they put me in the band and gave me a uniform.
Towards the end of the year, we were in a four-school “concert” with Assumption, Newman and Columbus. Pacelli’s pep band was awesome. Those dudes could really play! At the time of the concert, I’d learned somehow how to play the first two notes of “Rippin’ the Blues”. That was MY song!!
The band instructor LIVED for that concert. And he knew I sucked. Big time. So there I was in the back row, and he pulled me aside and said, “It’s okay if you sit up there with your clarinet, but PLEASE don’t try to play.” Fine with me. So we “played” a few songs and did great, and I didn’t even put that clarinet to my lips.
And then it happened. The next song was — you guessed it — “Rippin the Blues”. Uh oh. MY song. So I figured, hey, I can do the first two notes. So the song started, and there was this big screech coming from the clarinet section. I wanted to die and the instructor was gonna help me do it. We had first place just about locked up until that; I think we finished in third and my band career ended right on the spot.
I got into intramurals and loved it. Could shoot hoops as much as I wanted and never had any coach telling me to guard someone. Still wasn’t on any teams. Still no clubs. Social life wasn’t any better. No dances for the Shoe. No proms. So I joined The Spectrum, the school newspaper. Figured it’d look good to have SOMETHING next to my name. Beer parties didn’t count. Noon wiffle ball didn’t earn you a letter. So The Spectrum got the nod.
And I was proud, very proud, to be on that fine newspaper. For three months, I was a “reporter”, and I “covered” absolutely nothing. Didn’t write a single word. Didn’t know how to write anyways. And then disaster struck. Mr. Art Butler, the paper’s adviser, called me into his office.
I thought, “What the heck could he possibly want from me?”
Well, I found out. He said, “I see where you’ve been on the staff for three months now.” I said, “Yup”. He said, “Well, I don’t believe you’ve written anything yet.”
What could I say? I told him he was correct. And then it came; Mr. Butler said, “Well, I’m giving you your first assignment.”
My mind raced. Would I cover noon-hour wiffle ball? A day in the cafeteria? Nope. He said, “We’re having the homecoming election in two weeks and I want you to interview the queen.”
I’d rather eat a whole bottle of goiter pills. I tried everything I could think of to get out of it. No dice. Art said my grade depended on it.
Finally the day came. The queen and her court were gonna be in our gym — there went my “I got lost” excuse.
The queen was Katie Boyer, a blonde knockout from, I think, St. Stan’s. I voted for her myself. I knew two of the girls on her court from grade school. So I marched up to the gym door. About 50 Pacelli guys were staring in through the window. My knees were shaking.
The gals were all sitting at a big table near mid-court. I walked in carrying my small notebook and ballpoint pen. Walked up to the table. Looked at everybody and figured the one in the middle was Katie. Dropped my notebook. Turned beet red. The girls laughed. I picked up the notebook, looked at Katie, and mumbled, “Are you the Queen?”
She said yes. And right on the spot came my “interviewing” technique. I said, “Uh, I’m a reporter for the P.J.’s … uh, I mean Pacelli yearbook…uh, I mean newspaper…and I was wondering if I could interview you and if you’d rather not that’s totally fine with me and I’ll leave now.”
I took two quick steps towards the door and she said, “Hey, come back. What do you want to ask me?”
I was afraid she’d say that. So I told Katie, “Just a minute. I gotta write this down.” Then I asked her, “What is it like being the Homecoming Queen?” She answered something like, “I like it.”
Whew! My first in-depth question was out of the way! Then I asked, “Can you wait a minute until I think of another question and write it down?”
She said sure. So I wrote, “What school do you go to?” I started asking that question and stopped. I figured that big “Maria” banner on the table should give it away. So I asked, “Do you like sports?” Katie said, “Oh yes. I like football and basketball.”
I said, “Me too.” Then I couldn’t think of anything else so I asked, “Well, what is it like being the Homecoming Queen?” She gave a strange look and said, “Well, I like it.”
Five minutes later and I was out of there. Went home and worked on the interview for two weeks. Then turned it in to Mr. Butler and forgot about it. A week later and I’m walking down the hallway. Some guy comes up and says, “Did you write that Homecoming Queen thing?” I said yes. He said, “Well, The Spectrum just came out and you got a byline on the story.” I said, “Great! What’s a byline?”
He said, “It means you got credit for the story.” Hell yeah. Then people I never talked to in my life would approach and say “You lucky devil! What was it like interviewing the Homecoming Queen?” And I’d say, “Nothing to it.”
That summer, I was working at the old Northside IGA. Jack Mrozinski, a fellow worker, came up and said, “Man, you gotta check out the break-room! We must’ve just hired a knockout checker!”
I walked into the break-room and got a Coke. One girl was there. Nobody else. It was Katie Boyer.
I sat down. A few minutes later, I said, “Uh, are you Katie?” She said yes. I said, “Uh, do you remember me?”
She said, “Sure do — you interviewed me at Pacelli. It was my first interview ever, and I was petrified!!
I said, “Yeah, but you did fine.”