In an era when winning popularity was the principal reason for a teenager's existence, Karl was willing to burden himself with friends who could only be social liabilities. At the same time, he was not above subjecting his friends to the occasional cruel practical joke. One of our friends I'll call Max. He was from a broken home and was the subject of much persecution for the sin of a harelip. Our willingness to brave public opinion on such matters won us his devotion. He was especially interested in Karl's ambition to be a psychiatrist. He continually pestered Karl in study hall and the library to psychoanalyze him. At last Karl acquiesced. Over a period of days he subjected Max to a battery of tests that he made up as he went along.
At last, one day in library, he revealed that Max's analysis was complete. "Well, let me see it!" Max demanded eagerly.
"No, I'm sorry Max. The results of your tests have been most unexpected. If the authorities were to become aware of this informationor even if you should see itthe results could be tragic! I urge you to avoid any sort of psychological testing in future. I've decided " and he paused dramatically to look at the paper in his hand, " no eyes but my own must ever see these notes." And he stuck the paper in his notebook and got up to peruse the shelves.
Disregarding Karl's warning, Max sneaked a look at his psychological profile. It read something like this:
Max, as a recent convert to horror fiction, knew full well what lycanthropy was and was delighted to learn of his atavistic endowments. We directed his attention to Mrs. Pierce. Soon he was growling at her from deep in his throat when he passed her in the halls.
Wagner and I began considering the best way to transfer a pentagram to Mrs. Pierce's palm. We knew that Max had seen enough Lon Chaney, Jr. werewolf movies to know that he would see a pentagram on the palm of his next victim. Various methods were considered: a seemingly innocent handshake, some sort of stamp pad inlaid into the desk upon which she often leaned, and so on.
One day, David, a fellow in one of my classes, expressed his concern about Max's sanity. "I was showin' him my knife collection and he dared me to hit him with my machete. Said I couldn't hurt him 'cause he was a a a lycanther, or somethin'." The reality of our little experiment dawned on us and Karl was obliged to make it known to Max that modern manifestations of lycanthropy were usually very short-lived.
* * *
Karl was, in a more cerebral way, as unconventional as myself. One year, Wagner got me out of the detention hall he had helped get me into by telling Assistant Principal Nicely that my help was needed in preparing the Science Club skit for the annual talent night. So I joined the Science Club. The skit they were burdened with was embarrassingly corny, so, at Wagner's urging, the club agreed to scrap it. Karl proposed that since we had no chance of winning anyway we could at least do something memorable. He told us of an art movement called Da-Da, something no other Central student, I'm sure, and probably few of the faculty, had ever heard of.
The curtain would open on a person reading aloud the want ads from a German newspaper. Another cast member would beat rhythmically on a 55-gallon steel drum. Another would simply sit in a folding chair, his back to the audience. A fourth person would ride a tricycle around the stage (mind you, this was years before Laugh-In). This was to continue for our entire allotted 10 minutes. Sadly, Mrs. Pierce was one of the Talent Night advisors and got word of our avant-garde concept. She vetoed it. When pressed for a reason she remarked that the fact that I was involved was reason enough.
In for a penny, in for a pound. Now that I was a Science Club member, in spite of my abysmal GPA, I joined the Knoxville Junior Academy of Science along with Karl. He became vice-president and I a member of the executive council. We published the Academy newsletter, The Cauldron, Wagner's first publishing venture. During the Cuban blockade we published a special Doomsday Issue. For our April Fool's Day Issue we enclosed with each copy a demand for payment for the member's Cauldron subscription. This little gag prompted many angry complaints from members' parents. For the Hallowe'en issue, Wagner wrote a detailed planning guide for throwing a black mass. This prompted cries of outrage from members' parents and a special meeting with Ben Sparks, the Science Club Advisor.
It was in The Knoxville Junior Academy of Science that we met Marjorie Mott, a meeting that was to prove fateful.
In spite of his freethinking, unconventional nature in a repressive milieu, and despite hanging out with losers like Max and me, Karl was affable enough to get along with most of the duck-tailed toughs of Old Central and big enough to intimidate the others. Even though he didn't actually involve himself in sportshe dropped off the wrestling team after a couple of weeks when he discovered, he said, that he wouldn't be allowed to wear a mask and a cape and rub soap in his opponents' eyeshe was one of the first Centralites to study a mysterious oriental art called ka-ra-te. When one especially aggressive tusk-hog challenged him in the locker room one day after gym, Karl agreed to fight him at Central's traditional dueling grounds, Fountain City Park behind the public library.
"I feel it's only fair to show you what I'll be forced to do to you, however," Karl warned him. He placed a two-by-four across two equipment trunks, had someone walk across it, and then split it with one blow of his hand. The hoodlum allowed as how maybe he'd been out of line. I often asked Karl how he'd done that stunt. "Just practice on a four-by-four till you can break it," he told me. "A two-by-four will be twice as easy."
Later he emphasized the point to a small crowd by striking the iron banister on the school's side steps. The dent, he told me privately, had undoubtedly already been there. But, even though Karl was never forced into physical combat, the sense of being at odds with his fellows showed up in his later work.