Last laughs

Tomorrow middle school starts, and life changes forever. For now, it's still summer, and there are still a few more hours just to be a kid.

September 05, 1999|By Larry Bingham | Larry Bingham,SUN STAFF

Back when summer began, Josh and Ian had exactly 79 days until school started again. Now they have one. It's half past 10 when they finally wake up and paddle down the stairs to the kitchen, where Ian's mom is frying bacon and stirring home fries and telling Ian he has to clean his room and organize his school supplies and rewrite his summer book report before the boys do anything fun.

Josh groans. He says, "I wish this day would last forever."

The boys are 11. They don't want to talk about tomorrow. They don't even want to hear about tomorrow.

Ian's dad asks him to help unload the groceries. Ian wails. "Thank you, Dad! It's my last day of freedom!"

Josh thinks this is funny so he mimics it when Ian storms outside.

Then it hits him. It's his last day of freedom, too.

Joshua Liberto and Ian Schwartz, best friends, have known each other since they were little kids, from when their big brothers played in a basketball league and they hunted for loose change under the bleachers.

"We've known each other since we were 1," Ian says. "No, since diapers," Josh says. "No, since I was a baby," Ian says. "Since I was like zero years old."

Actually, they were 3, but they can't remember back that far. Now that they're 11, now that they're going to be sixth graders at Catonsville Middle School, this seems like an incredibly long time ago.

Josh and Ian hung together through Cub Scouts. They both went to Hillcrest Elementary School until last year, when the county built a new school and Josh went there, and the boys didn't see each other that much, except for on weekends.

This summer, they've seen each other about twice a week. They're best friends because they like the same things. They like duckpin bowling, video games and McDonald's, but neither of them likes to read. They both have crew cuts. They both put $500 bills in Free Parking when they play Monopoly. They both think "The Simpsons" is the funniest thing on the planet, except for making bodily noises.

But they're not identical. Give Josh a No. 2 Value Meal and he'll eat two bites of French fries between every bite of hamburger. Give the same meal to Ian and he stuffs the fries between the buns.

If you saw them walking down Frederick Road in Catonsville, heading for the Armed Forces Recruiting Center to get some stickers because Josh wants to be a sniper, Ian would be the short kid walking in front and Josh would be the taller one walking behind.

Ian might be talking with his hands. Josh might be checking his hair. They'd probably be wearing T-shirts because they wear them almost every day, and they never tuck them in. Ian might be wearing shorts. Josh might be wearing jeans so baggy he has to stop and pull them up.

They live three miles apart, but it's too far to ride their bikes. Ian lives in one of those old, two-story white houses across the street from the Catonsville Library. When the leaves are off the trees, he can look through his telescope and read the book titles.

Josh lives in an old house, too, but he lives in Oella, near The Corner Country Store at the four-way stop. He and Ian used to have a fort in the woods near his house but they outgrew it.

Now here they are, two best friends facing one decision: It's their last day of freedom. What are they going to do?

Josh had been thinking about going swimming. He has an above-ground pool in his back yard and even though it's only three feet deep, he once swam 80 laps -- 1,000 feet. He thinks swimming would be a fitting end. Ian isn't so sure. Ian wants to go to Josh's cousin's house because the kids on that block play Capture The Flag and games like that.

Right now, the boys are eating home fries and watching a summer music video countdown on MTV.

They would have done more stuff together this summer but they were both pretty busy going places. Josh took a Greyhound bus to Canada with his grandmother. It was a church trip so they went to a lot of churches, but he swam in the hotel pool so he still had fun. He also went to Ocean City because his grandparents retired down there.

Ian's family didn't go to California as they usually do, so they went on a lot of small trips instead: to the beach in Jersey, to West River, to Elk Neck State Park where they went camping. Ian's mom made his big brother take him fishing.

But now it all comes down to this last day. Outside, the sun is shining, a breeze is blowing, there isn't a cloud in the sky.

Josh and Ian couldn't care less.

They're back upstairs in Ian's room. Ian is cleaning, picking up books off the floor, books such as "The Visual Dictionary of the Universe," and Josh is playing a video game called Twisted Metal. Ian squawks when his mom comes in his room without knocking.

The object of Twisted Metal is to drive around a city and blow up as many cars and trucks as you can before they blow you up. Josh is driving a monster truck called Warthog and he's already blown up five other cars. He's pretty good.

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