Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Susan was feeling at least a little better when she drove the Cavalier back downtown. She really hadn’t made up her mind about where she wanted to go to college, although she was pretty sure it wasn’t going to be to Riverside, anyway. It was one of those things that she had to make up her mind on in the next few months, but for now her options were still pretty wide open.
She was aware of the fact that most kids spent a lot of time in their junior year working on that issue, at least investigating the options and narrowing the field down. That was one thing she hadn’t been able to do in Germany, and she’d barely given any thought to the issue. Indeed, about the only thinking she’d done about this since she’d been home had come from meeting Dr. Hartwell-Harris at the open house on Saturday. From the little bit that she’d talked with the professor, Weatherford College seemed to be an option and might be interesting; she knew that several kids from Spearfish Lake had gone there over the years, and from that she knew a little about the place.
Weatherford College was a private school, and from what she knew a pretty good one with a good reputation, and that was good. However, it was also supposed to be pretty expensive, not exactly a Harvard or equivalent, but still not cheap.
One of the real downsides to Weatherford, at least as far as Susan was concerned, was that Weatherford wasn’t very far from home – about seventy-five miles, about an hour and a half drive, a little too far for a daily commute. Even Dr. Hartwell-Harris didn’t try to commute; Susan’s mother had told her that Dr. Hartwell-Harris had concentrated her classes into three days a week, and stayed in a tiny apartment not far away for the two nights needed to limit the commuting. That probably wouldn’t be an option for her; she’d be expected to stay in a dorm on campus.
In one sense of the word that sounded interesting – she’d be more on her own that way, although Henry’s stories of his year of dorm life at Central Michigan University made the place sound something like an Animal House. That was something she wasn’t really sure she wanted to deal with. On the other hand, dorm life sounded interesting in a way, and might have its points, but it might also make it more difficult to study. It needed some research.
Another downside to Weatherford being so close to home was that, well, it was too close to home. It would be easy for her parents to drop in on her, and Susan thought that would make it difficult to have a more active sex life than she was willing to allow herself in Spearfish Lake. If she wanted to have something on the order of what she’d enjoyed in Germany, it would be much too easy for the rumors about it to get back to her parents, especially if there were other Spearfish Lake kids going there. It was better to do something like that far from home.
At least it wasn’t a decision that had to be made right away, she thought, dragging her mind back on track. First things first. If it hadn’t been for the business about her year in Germany not counting toward her graduation, the idea of spending part of her senior year taking classes at Riverside would have been a good one. It was much better than the idea of having to sit around Spearfish Lake taking classes like Spanish I, art appreciation, and weight lifting. However, two years of that horseshit, and not being able to graduate with the kids she’d gone to school with all her life except for her year in Germany, well, that really sucked. Sucked big time! And to have it dumped on her because she was the daughter of a prominent citizen in the community just so that asshole Gingrich could make points, well, that was what really made it stink!
The more she thought about it, the madder she got, so by the time she reached the Record-Herald office she was seething. She walked in the front door, to find her father and mother waiting for her. “We know,” her father said before she could open her mouth. “And we think it sucks just about as bad as you do.”
“What really pisses me off,” she announced, “is that he thinks that he can slap a kid down from an agreement that’s already been made, just to prove he’s the boss.”
“Me, too,” Mike said. “But let’s not discuss his ancestry and habits out here in the front office. Let’s go back to mine and close the door.”
The three of them went back to his office. When Susan had been a little girl the office had been in a ramshackle building located at the corner of Central and Third, but they had not been utilizing all of the building, and it was difficult to heat and a firetrap besides. Several years before, the whole operation had been moved to the old Marlin Computer store on Lakeshore, which had been a pizza joint before that. Somehow, her father’s office had wound up growing out of the deal, and there was plenty of room for the three of them to sit down, which there hadn’t been in the old building.
It turned out that both Susan’s father and mother were pretty much aware of the discussion Susan had with Mr. Hekkinan, who had apparently called them back after she’d left the office. There was no need to go over the points again, but they did anyway, and at least everyone agreed that the idea of her attending Riverside Community College at least took some of the sting out, even if it wasn’t a perfect solution. “I suppose this isn’t the best thing a parent could suggest,” Mike grinned, “but if you managed to schedule your classes right, you might not have to spend much time at the high school, anyway.”
“That thought had crossed my mind,” Susan said. “I really haven’t thought about it very much, but I might be able to get away with only spending a couple hours a day taking Hauptschule classes around that stupid Realschule. At least that would limit the amount of time I’d have to put up with getting my nose rubbed in the fact that I was a good student and worked very hard to do the exchange year, just to get shit on for doing it. I wish the hell now I’d never come up with the idea of doing a junior year abroad and just held off another year so this shit couldn’t be used against me.”
“I can’t say as I disagree with you,” Kirsten nodded. “And what really irritates me is that part of the reason the school agreed to your going your junior year is so you could bring some of your experiences back to the school. Well, a lot of thanks we got for that.”
“No shit,” Susan sneered. She usually didn’t swear around her parents much, but this was a special situation; everybody was pissed and trying not to let it get too far. “I’ll damn well tell you that, if there was a way I could avoid having to spend another minute in that stupid place again, I’d take it.”
“I sure can’t blame you on that,” her father replied. “In fact, the first thing I thought about when I heard about this was to tell you to just not go back there, whether Hekkinan is a friend or not. Maybe explore the idea of sending you to Albany River, or maybe just get you into a home-school program. I think most of your credits would transfer there, and you could take a few tests and be done with the damn thing so you could go on to college.”
“It sounds like a wonderful idea,” Susan said. “Like I said, I don’t care if I never walk in the place again.”
“It sounded like a wonderful idea to me, too,” Mike said. “And it may be something we have to do. But if the goal is to get you into college a year early, well, I think for practical purposes, we’re too late. It would be very difficult to get you into a real college at this late notice. I don’t think we could even pull off Weatherford, probably not even with Myleigh’s help. It just takes too damn much time, and that’s one thing we don’t have. But Riverside, on a dual enrollment? There’s plenty of time for that, and I like the idea that the school has to pick up at least part of the toll. Even if you’re not taking a full load, you get a head start on getting some credits, and that could be useful on down the road.”
“Well, yeah, I can see that,” Susan said. “I mean, this was going to be a pretty much wasted year anyway. That gains back a little, but if we can’t do anything about it that means I’ll have to spend another year at Riverside or something just to get a goddamn piece of paper from Spearfish Lake. Somebody ought to kick that goddamn Gingrich’s ass.”
“I agree, somebody should,” Mike said. “But I don’t think I have to explain to you why it can’t be us, at least not over this issue. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to keep a very close eye on him. And I would point out that if we file a lawsuit against him, it will limit the things we can say about him in the paper on other issues.”
“I sure would like to know why Glenn Aho thinks this Gingrich joker is such a big deal,” Kirsten said sarcastically. “I know Glenn sold him all around the school board like he was the Second Coming or something.”
“I sure would, too,” Mike said. “I didn’t hear as much about it as I should have. The Lindemann kid we had in here as a junior reporter should have been telling me more about it, but as a junior reporter he was about as useless as any I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and that was pretty damn useless. I don’t know if I mentioned him, Susan, but I canned him the first of the month after only three months on the job, so I’m back to doing both jobs again.”
Susan was well aware of what that meant; it was a fact of life around her family and the Record-Herald. For as long as anyone could remember, the weekly newspaper had hired kids more or less straight out of journalism school, or occasionally elsewhere, to fill in the scut work of reporting around the place. Mike had started at the Record-Herald as a junior reporter thirty years before, and the guy who had hired him had started there as one twenty years before that; he hadn’t been the first of the series, but that was as far as institutional memory went.
The problem came up when they hit periods between junior reporters. Usually that meant Mike himself had to fill in to get the work done, sometimes with a little help from Carrie, and in those periods he’d been spread pretty thin. While Tiffany had mostly escaped the duty – writing wasn’t exactly her strong point – both Henry and Susan had pitched in during those times; indeed, Susan had covered her first fire for the paper when she’d been in the fifth grade. She knew she was going to miss the duty this week, especially with this Gingrich deal happening, but in another week she was likely to get pressed into service to help out, not that she particularly minded. Although the Record-Herald was employee-owned, it was still pretty much a family business, and her own family owned close to the majority of the stock, which was at least partly due to their combined high seniority.
“So you’re saying that his hiring got missed in the shuffle?” Susan said. “That might have something to do with it.”
“Yeah, it might not have gotten missed quite as badly as it had been if Lindeman fought half the battle that he talked, but that kid was full of shit to the eyeballs. I don’t know how I messed up so much on the guy, but I kind of guess that illustrates how the board could have fucked up so bad on Gingrich.”
“But we got rid of Lindeman,” Kirsten pointed out.
“So, it’s a little different situation with Gingrich, and he’s not as easy to get rid of,” Mike sighed. “I really don’t know much about him. He came from down south somewhere; I’m not sure where, but Glenn Aho was just gone on him, like you said Kirsten, like he was the Second Coming. I don’t know why he thought that, but he pulled every string he could and called in a lot of favors on the deal. And then he delayed the hiring coming before the board until after the new board members took office after the election, so he’d have one more vote for him. Again, I don’t know what he did to sell that board member on him. I sure as hell would like to know, too.”
“Maybe we ought to look into it,” Kirsten suggested. “At least into his background.”
“Oh, I’m sure we should,” Mike shrugged. “But there we are back at the junior-reporter problem again. I’m just spread too damn thin to do much about it. Hopefully that won’t last too long. Getting someone to replace Lindeman has already taken longer than I thought it would, but a resumé could come out of the woodwork any day. Give me a little time to get a newbie doing a little of the regular work and maybe then I can look into it a little. Besides, it probably wouldn’t hurt to let this die down a little so he won’t be suspicious if he finds out we’ve been sniffing around about him.”
Everybody was still ouchy about the whole topic around the dinner table that evening. For a treat, Susan’s grandparents were there. The intention had been to talk about Susan’s experiences in Germany in a little more detail than had been done at the open house, but after the news of the day they hardly got near the question. It was a huge disappointment to everyone involved, and it took what should have been a happy occasion and turned it into a sad one as they explored it again from every angle, it all having been done before.
“I do not see why even going to school at Spearfish Lake any longer should be a question,” Oma Birgit commented at one point, trying to use her English carefully as she always did. “I mean, you passed the Abitur, did you not? Does that not make you a high school graduate anyway?”
“Well, yeah, I suppose,” Susan shrugged. “But the problem is that attending a Gymnasium in Germany and passing the Abitur doesn’t mean anything in this country. I mean, the big thing that I can see about getting a high school diploma in the first place is that you need it to get into college. Well, maybe not a Hauptschule type of college like Riverside, but a real college, like, say, the University of Michigan, it’s not going to mean anything without it.”
“That does not a lot of sense make,” Oma Birgit protested. “I mean, you hear all the time of foreign students coming to this country to study, and American high school diplomas they do not have. Perhaps something from their own country, which might not mean as much as an American diploma or an Abitur.”
“Well, I suppose it makes sense that way,” Susan said. “But the problem with that is that I’m an American already, so the fact that I have a good Abitur score isn’t going to mean much to them.”
“Then I wonder if you could go to college in Germany,” Oma Birgit commented. “It seems that with your score on the Abitur you could easily get into college there. Then whether you had finished high school here would not matter since you have finished high school in Germany already.”
“I’d love to,” Susan said, a little glumly. “I know that Hans is leaving for Albburg pretty soon, and you’d better believe that I’d like to be going with him. But there’s just not enough time to do everything. Now, if it was next year, we’d have time to make it work, but on this short a notice nothing much can be done.”
“There are a couple other problems with that,” Kirsten pointed out. “The big one is that we just got you back, and I’d like to keep you around for a while. I wouldn’t be real happy with you taking off for Germany so soon after you just got back from there.”
“Right,” Mike agreed. “We kind of like having you around. Besides, when you were in Germany, you at least had exchange parents. You wouldn’t have that if you went to school there this year. Even if everything else was ready to go, I’d just as soon you were eighteen before you went off to do something like that. In fact, since we wouldn’t be in the country we might have to do it that way. It’s more than just us; it’s legal issues. And, on top of it, there’s the money.”
“The money might not be that much,” Oma Birgit pointed out. “After all, students in Germany attend college at no charge, for free.”
“That’s only at some schools,” Susan pointed out. “And that might not apply to me, being an American. I doubt if I could get American student aid to go to uni in Germany.”
“And the money would still be an issue,” Mike added. “Even if tuition was free, then it’d cost a ton just to fly you there and back, for room and board and the incidentals. Our funds to help you with that are not unlimited. I don’t want to get into the details, but we gave Henry quite a bit of help in going to college, but we put a cap on what we could contribute. Your mother and I talked it over while you were in Germany, and I think we’re going to be able to contribute about the same amount as we did with Henry. Now, I have no idea of what the actual numbers are and I’m sure you don’t either. But since there’s no way you could go to school in Germany this year anyway, that means we’ve got a year to find out what those numbers are and work out the details. My feeling is that if this stuff Gingrich pulled winds up standing and you don’t get to graduate with your class next year, well, the option of going to college in Germany is far preferable to wasting another year at Spearfish Lake High School.”
“I suppose your father is right,” Kirsten sighed. “I would really hate having you that far from home, but I suppose it’s going to happen sooner or later anyway. And college in Germany strikes me as a much better option than wasting another year in school here so that jerk can get an extra $6700 for the school out of it.”
“I have to say, I like the idea of going to uni in Germany,” Susan said, a little surprised that the option was on the table. She’d dreamed of being able to go to Albburg or someplace with Hans and Elke and maybe Lothar and Freya, but now it almost seemed like it could be done – at least her parents weren’t squirming about the idea as much as she thought they would. Maybe, just maybe, Gingrich was a blessing in disguise, but at this point it was hard to say. “The problem with that is that I’m not sure how a degree from there would apply to a job in this country. On the other hand, it might prove to give me an angle on getting a job where I could travel, too. There’s just no way of telling.”
“It’s a question that can’t be answered now, in any case,” Mike summarized. “There’s too much we don’t know. At least we have some idea of what we need to find out, and we have, well, not a year but several months to find it out, and that includes finding out how much time we’re going to need to get you into a college in Germany. I presume that getting you accepted to wherever it is that Hans is going or anywhere else isn’t going to be much of a problem, but the paperwork could be a whole other issue. If there’s anything I’ve learned as a result of your going there as an exchange student it’s that all the paperwork has to be in order before anything happens at all.”
“Ah, yes,” Susan shook her head. “Alles ist in Ordnung. That may be the German mantra.”
“I learned that the hard way from your grandmother nearly thirty years ago,” Mike smirked at Oma Birgit. “I have to say that it looks good on the surface but that there may be some downsides we don’t know about. Right now it looks like a pretty good fall-back position if you don’t have an American high school diploma by next spring. But, we need to explore other options, in getting that diploma some other way so you could go to college in this country, and that means looking for a college here that you’d be happy with, too.”
“Well, at one time I thought maybe the University of Michigan,” Susan said. “But from what little I know from what kids talked about a year ago, it’s pretty hard to get in there, especially if you can’t take advantage of their affirmative action program. I don’t know that I would mind a smaller school, but at least people have heard of U of M.”
“It’s not impossible,” Mike told her. “As you know, I went to State, and I might be able to pull a string or two there. That’s one of the options we can consider. But as far as I’m concerned, this next year will be your last one at Spearfish Lake High School whether you walk out of there with a diploma or not. You might as well spend all the time you can at Riverside Community College on the school district’s nickel, so you can pick up what credits you can just in case you wind up at an American college. And if the opportunity arises, I’ll tell Gingrich to put that in his pipe and smoke it.”