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Wisecracks & Roadside Flats: Paper planes

Angel D and Sunnyside Turner were days away from graduating Jordan Road Junior High School in Somers Point. Partners in almost everything, it slipped both their minds they had also partnered up for the paper airplane competition.

The morning was filled with excitement as optimistic students showed one another the carefully crafted paper planes they had labored over the night before. Sunnyside grabbed a piece of white paper off the floor in the hallway and passed it to Angel.

“You know how to make a paper airplane, right?” asked Sunnyside.

“Maybe,” said Angel. “My uncle showed me a long time ago. I don’t know if I can remember.”

That was good enough for Sunnyside. He knew Angel’s uncle had also taught him some amusing juggling and yo-yo tricks. Sunnyside made paper airplanes the same way as everyone else, the way that flaps around for a few milliseconds before spiraling down to the floor. Sunnyside had never seen a paper airplane actually fly.

Angel was in deep concentration. His arm muscles flexed as he pushed down the paper folds his uncle taught him, quietly reassuring himself he remembered the folds correctly.

Sunnyside stood in between Angel and the rest of the class, not wanting attention as the only partners without a paper airplane.

“You got this,” Sunnyside said over his shoulder.

There were strict warnings against anyone throwing paper airplanes in school. Angel and Sunnyside had to wait until the competition to see if their plane would fly.

Angel, Sunnyside and the rest of the 8-2 class lined up and walked to the gymnasium to determine who had the best airplane. The winning partners in each class would compete in the science fair’s annual paper airplane championship at the end of the day.

Eric, a star Little League pitcher, was determined to win. He worked barely within the rules and with half-dozen rolls of Scotch tape, constructed something more like a missile than an airplane. If Eric had thrown it like a cut fastball, it probably could have killed a third grader.

One partnership’s aviation creation after another nosedived before Eric reared back and threw a high-arching launch that nearly skimmed the gymnasium ceiling as it passed high over the basketball backboard and landed with a thud at the base of the opposite wall of the gym. Scoring was judged on a combination of distance and hang time. Eric didn’t score much for hang time, but distance produced an overall score of 83, easily best in the class.

Sunnyside had witnessed Angel do the unexplainable before. Yet even Sunnyside was surprised when the piece of paper he had found on the hallway floor flew off Angel’s hand as a bird floats on the shoulders of a great northern wind. It didn’t flip, flutter or flap. The plane gloriously soared high above the heads of Angel and Sunnyside’s classmates and was still gaining altitude as it approached half court. Kids and even teachers began to cheer. A few boys impulsively ran alongside with glee as the plane glided under the basketball net and gently kissed the opposite gym wall 4 feet above the floor.

Angel and Sunnyside’s winning score of 117 meant they would represent 8-2 in front of the whole school. The winners in the other classes had only scored in the 30s. The paper airplane championship was in the bag.

“How did you get 117?” questioned the 8-1 kids at lunch. “That doesn’t even make sense. You boneheads did the math wrong.”

Sunnyside said nothing but spread his arms wide, pretending to fly around the cafeteria.

“Have to make room for this in the school trophy case,” said Angel, displaying the beloved plane. “Gonna have to get rid of those stupid spelling bee plaques.”

In the last class before the science fair, Mr. French surprised 8-2 with a grammar quiz. Mr. French surveyed the room looking for cheaters and always suspected Angel and Sunnyside were up to something. When Mr. French saw the paper airplane on Angel’s desk, he scooped it up, ripped it to shreds, slammed the remains into the waste basket and rubbed his hands clean with a satisfied smirk.

Angel and Sunnyside held their mouths open in shock, unable to speak.

“That was for the science fair!” protested Cindy. Cindy was quick to point out injustices but had never defended a boy before. She witnessed the inconceivable flight of the glorious plane and despite her disapproval of Angel and Sunnyside’s gloating, Cindy and the rest of 8-2 were looking forward to their imminent victory over the supposedly smart kids in 8-1.

“I don’t care what it was for,” said Mr French, turning around in a crouch, pointing his teaching stick and exaggerating random syllables for theatrical effect. “There will be noooo paper airplanes in my class.”

Cindy crossed her arms and gave a cold glare to Mr French, who paid no attention.

“I think I remember how I made it,” said Angel after class. Sunnyside tried to encourage him but Angel was seething mad at Mr. French.

117 was written next to 8-2 on the big science fair scoreboard behind Angel, Sunnyside and the rest of the competitors. The champions of 8-3 threw their airplane first for a score of 23. Eight-one threw for a score of 32 followed by 8-4 who scored 29.

Cindy was nervous. Angel leaned back for the throw and the entire student body leaned forward in their seats to see the magic paper airplane fly.

The magic plane was in Mr. French’s waste basket. The substitute plane flew straight up and held still for an instant before flipping backwards, inciting a collective chuckle from the crowd. By the time Angel’s liftoff flipped backwards twice more and landed softly on Sunnyside’s shoe 7 feet behind the start line, the entire school was in hysterics.

“Angel and Sunnyside from 8-2 … ” announced the official judge of the science fair.

“A score of … negative 10.”

Teague Alexy

Teague Alexy is a Duluth-based musician and writer who grew up in Somers Point, N.J. teaguealexy.com

Check out the podcast version of Wisecracks & Roadside Flats on iTunes, Stitcher and Google Play.

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