Palmer Moose.

Algebra was never a favorite subject. Hell, math in general makes my skin crawl. Yet I was required to take it as part of some silly requirement as mandated by the Alaska State Board of Education.

Class was held in a ‘portable’ building that was recently installed in the parking lot to accommodate recent population growth in the small town of Palmer.

These building were a step below the double wide mobile so commonly found dotting finer communities in Arkansas. The doors never sealed properly, there was a huge shortage of windows and when the heating worked, well that was like declaring a national holiday.

Life for the one hour and fifteen minutes in these wooden igloos was far from interesting. Combine the mundane surroundings with talk about fractions, integers, and polynomials — it was like living an elevator stuck between the 1st and 2nd level of hell. And every time you go to use the emergency phone to call for help, Stalin answers with “Joe’s Pizza!” laughs and then hangs up.

In this class, my assigned neighbor was Steve Bromner, a tall blonde, hulky, nordic boy who could take a hit from a moose, get up and brush off the snow, and help the moose get back up and brush the snow off it’s back. In fact I’m not so sure he hadn’t already danced with the pickup sized mammals more than a few times — he wasn’t the brightest.

Yet on one cold January day it was Steve who had a brilliant idea (keep in mind we were high school freshmen) and thusly provided a distraction from yet another lesson scratched in chalk on a black colored board.

For it was he, Conan the Scandinavian, who noticed that between our seats was the main access panel to the heating control unit of our “Arkansas Palace”.

During the moments where the teacher was facing the black board, Steve managed to remove all four screws holding the access panel to the wall. With MI-6 precision he removed the panel without making the slightest noise.

After tinkering with a few wires and dials Steve grew bored. Not wanting to simply mess with climate settings, because that was not nearly stupid enough, Steve took his half consumed orange beverage and wedged it inside the heating unit.

Snikering ensued as the young Thor replaced the cover and we returned to normal afternoon Algebra activities.

Being young and landlocked in the cold harsh winter of Alaska, it’s easy to forget things. In this case everyone in Algebra just plain forgot about the can of orange soda.

And so many months passed. Snow melted. And warmth could be felt from the rays of the Sun once again.

Then on some random day in May, sitting half-asleep while being told how very important Algebra would be to our lives after high school, one of us remembered.

Again with the teachers back facing the class, Steve removed the heating panel to discover what wonders a long forgotten can of soda could have produced in the singular life inside a heating unit.

He pulled back to reveal a large jiggling green sponge that had grown well beyond the volume of it’s former 12 oz. aluminum home. I remember being surprised that despite the fungus, how the can had retained it’s vibrant shinny orange color.

A cloudy musky perfume began to crawl through the building.

Steve was double-dog-dared to drink out of the can, but somewhere between February and May he had grown smart enough to know it wasn’t a good idea. Instead he flicked at the green stuff and watched it break off into smaller chunks.

It didn’t take long before Steve was bored again and so without celebration the cover was replaced and class went back to normal. And to this day, as far as I know, the Orange Crush Monster of Freshmen Algebra still haunts what was the second portable to the left in the parking lot of Palmer High School.