“Dad, what is the jar you keep next to your trophies from watching TV marathons?”
“Well, it’s a reminder of when I first fell in love. Her name was Grethel. I was in second grade. She was a girl, obviously, with pigtails and freckles. My how she used to terrorize me. I was hopelessly smitten. She would chase me around the playground at recess. I’d have to duck under tires, hide behind swings, and run like the wind. She kept telling me that if she caught me, she would pound me.
“It did me wonders. I loved every minute of it. I was getting chased by girls. After all, girls don’t fight fair. If one girl starts chasing a guy, then all the girls join in. That makes for interesting quarrels later on in high school, but in grade school it’s foolproof. Twenty or thirty blood-thirsty, fingernail-clawing, pigtails-wielding monsters pursuing you with the intent to kill puts a little umph into your step. Of course, knowing that you’re popular does, too. That’s just how grade schoolers flirt.
“Well, life went on like this for a while. Some days I’d manage to escape. Other days I’d come home scratched to pieces with holes in my shirt. Needless to say, my love for Grethel only grew.
“As the year went on, I kept thinking that there must be more civilized ways to express our love. After all, if I couldn’t wear a loin cloth and carry a club while on the prowl, I didn’t think that it was fair that she could use mob mentality tactics. After all, it was just a reversion to Neanderthal love antics. If there was anything that I knew about cave people, it was first that the cave men didn’t stand for the women’s lib movement. Suffragists were just clobbered and grunted at like all the rest. Cave men didn’t vote, so the suffragists were way ahead of their time. Besides, women had a workplace to occupy, staying at home and cleaning the caves while the saber-toothed tigers and the cave boys and girls played.
They did bend the line about grooming, shaving, and beauty, figuring that such nonsense wasn’t important. One woman was pretty much like the next big hairy brute. Many of their descendants have kept their traditions, like not shaving, alive, despite our beauty-centric culture. They’re called French. The other thing that I knew about cave people was that I was not allowed to wear a loin cloth and bring a club to school. I’d found that out in Kindergarten during show and tell.
“But running, screaming, and abuse were all that we managed to come up with. I wracked my little brain, but I was stuck in a rut. It’s not uncommon to see people who never got past this stage of this life from time to time. They’re caught in the lull of easy love. You can see them on Cops for domestic violence. Sadly, I felt like our relationship was stagnating. I wanted to spice up the affection. So, I went to the one person who would know.
“‘Dad, what do you do to make momma feel special?’
“‘I buy her pots.’
“‘Is that romantic?’
“‘Sure is. She cooks with them, doesn’t she? And you know what the only thing more romantic than a woman cooking is?’
“‘Uh, pencil break?’
“‘No, seeing that woman washing the dishes she cooked with.’
“In later years, I would see that my father was the poster boy for the adage, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” I realized why washing dishes was so romantic-it meant that she could cook from them again.
“‘Well, dad, thanks…’
“‘Glad that I could help. It’s a sure-fire way to be a heart breaker.’
“I could tell I would get no help from his suggestion. First of all, I didn’t have a job to get the money to buy pots with. My allowance would barely buy the bubblegum that I wasn’t supposed to have because of my braces. Secondly, I didn’t know if pots were a good gift for a frenzied second grade lover. I doubted that she could cook, but then I could only burn water. More importantly, I could envision her and her screaming horde chasing me with my love offering of pots. Those would leave some serious bruises.
“I decided not to go with the pots, after all. It was a good thing, too. Years later, I gave them to your mom. I was just trying to be romantic like my dad. But she got all indignant and violent. Women.
“‘What am I supposed to do with these, cook?’ your mom screeched at me like a hoarse parakeet. Well, let’s just say that I got a taste of what kinds of bruises they leave. I’ll stick to buying her power tools.
“Instead, I borrowed a friend’s whoopee cushion. Not only does it make cool sounds, but it’s soft. I figured that even if she hit me with it, it would only leave a red mark. How much damage could it do? It could only improve our relationship. When she stepped out of the room to get some water, I was ready. I had it placed on her seat. She came back into the room humming and never once looked down.
“Everyone’s eyes were on her. Would she really sit on it? When she did, everyone snickered, and she glowered at me. I figured that must be a good sign. After all, there’s a fine line between love and hate. And the way that our relationship was going, the more that she tried to hurt me, the more loved I felt. Oh, as a side note, when you grow up, and you meet people that still feel this way, they have a special name. They’re called masochists.
“While we were taking a test later, something hit me in the back of the head. I looked around and saw a wadded up piece of paper on the floor. I leaned down and picked it up, trying not to make too much noise. Inside there was a love note, or what some would call a hate note. There was a picture of a girl stuffing a stick figure’s head down a commode. There were only four lines. They read:
I’m going to kill you.
How would you like to die?
? Slow ? Painful
“I looked around, and saw her looking at me like a lawnmower looks at grass-ready to tear me apart. I turned back to the note hastily, so that I could avoid her gaze. I’ve been told that women are supposed to be seen and not heard, but this was an occasion when neither applied. It reminded me of how my mom looked at my dad when he would come home, walk right past her, sit in his recliner, and turn on the television. She called it her, ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ look.
“As I was determining which answer would be the cleverest to mark and throw back at her, the teacher came by. I hastily tried to hide the note, but it made some noise.
“‘Cheating!’ Mrs. Nozy exclaimed.
“‘No ma’am, I was just trying to figure out the right answer.’
“‘That’s called cheating. Give me the paper.’
“‘But Mrs. Nozy, it’s private.’
“‘Give me the paper, and go throw your test in the garbage.’
“‘But Mrs. Nozy, it’s personal. I wasn’t cheating.’
“Don’t talk back to me. Go throw your test away, and give me the paper. I’m already going to talk to your parents.’
“I went and threw away my test. That didn’t bother me much, because I was going to fail it anyway. Then, I returned to my seat.
“‘The paper,’ she demanded, extending her eager, greedy little fingers with the anticipation of little kids who stand on tip-toes at parades trying to see beyond the wall of adults who block their sight and access to the showers of candy.
“‘Ma’am?’ I tried to play dumb. It usually worked wonders for me, since it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
“‘Give me the paper.’
“‘Oh, uh, yes ma’am.’
“Hesitantly, I handed her the paper. That did worry me.
“She opened the wadded mess.
“‘Is this all?’
“‘Hmmn. This is definitely a cheat sheet. It must be in a code. That’s just like you, to spend all your time learning secret codes instead of studying for school.’
“‘Oh, uh, yes ma’am.’
“‘Well, who’s it from?’
“‘Oh, uh, nobody.’
“‘Right. You expect me to believe that?’
“‘Yes,’ I said with as much wishful thinking as a kid who lives in an apartment begs to get a pony.
“‘Well, I don’t.’ Just like a teacher to play games with you like that. ‘This isn’t your handwriting.’
“‘Oh. I wrote it with my left hand, so it just looks different. But I wrote it, honest.’
“‘But you are left-handed.’
Mrs. Nozy was good. I was counting on her to forget about that little detail. She always seemed to forget whenever she passed out scissors to the class. It doesn’t pay to be left-handed in a right-handed world. She wouldn’t have understood me if I had said that I had written it with my right hand.
“‘So, whose is it?’
“I had only a moment to think. But that moment seemed like it was an eternity. Should I tell on Grethel? After all, she did write the note. She was the reason that I was in trouble in the first place. But, I didn’t want to get her in trouble. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to get beaten up-that was inevitable. I just didn’t want to ruin our relationship. The last thing that I wanted was for her to choose a new victim. Girls have been known to be fickle.
“‘My friend Zack’s,’ I said, waiting for Zack to complicate matters worse with his denial.
“The whole class gasped. After all, no one is supposed to rat out a friend. They were just about as sure as I was that Zach would never speak to me again this week.
“‘So, Zack wrote you this note?’
“‘Yes, ma’am. ‘
“‘The one with the girl giving you a swirly?’
“‘Doesn’t that seem strange to you?’
“‘No ma’am. It happens all the time.’
“‘No, I mean that your friend Zack would make you an ideogram.’
“‘No ma’am. He calls me worse than that when we’re safely out of school.’
“‘That’s exactly why it seems strange, since you don’t even know what an ideogram is.’
“‘So, I’m not one? Well, my mom’s always told me that there were people worse off than I was in school. Maybe she was right. So, yeah, I guess that Zack shouldn’t have made me an ideogram. I know stuff.’
“‘Not idiot, idgit. Ideogram. It’s a drawing that people write with instead of using an alphabet.’
“Oh, like Cave Men did?”
“‘Then it is strange that Zack wrote me an ideogram like Cave Men used to put on the walls of their caves, since he knows that I don’t want to talk about my loincloth experience from Kindergarten.’
“‘Loincloth?’ Mrs. Nozy paused, obviously a mixture of confused and intrigued. ‘Oh, never mind. Tell me, what does this drawing mean to you?’
“Well, art is a very subjective thing. I could say that I see anything, and no one can disagree with me, not even the artist. It’s similar to when you sing the wrong lyrics to songs and not even the artist can convince you otherwise. Besides, even if you did believe the artist, the song is much less fun to sing. So, I decided that I would really sell this cheating bit.
“‘Well, this picture is you, Mrs. Nozy. It’s symbolic of how you’re going to fail me. You’re going to hold my head under and enjoy every second.’
“‘Well, there’s some truth to that. Now, tell me what the rest of it means, or I’ll go give you a swirly right now.’
“I could tell that she was serious.
“‘I’m serious,’ she warned.
“‘Well, let me hold it for a second. I was trying to figure that out earlier. But since idgits are no good with ideograms, I hadn’t figured it out yet.’
“She handed me back the paper. While I tried to figure out a story, I gave it my best blank stare. I had had plenty of practice with that before, so it came naturally. As the dust made laps in my brain, something remotely resembling a decent story hatched.
“‘Well, “kill” is our codeword for help. It seems like Zack’s telling me to check my answer for number one. I must have had it wrong. He’s telling me to take it nice and slow or the results will be painful.”
“‘Why did he say, “How would you like to die?’
“‘Well, he didn’t say it. He asked it.’ Her mouth puckered like she was drinking lemon juice concentrate-I’d know. I decided that I’d better continue before she spat any of that sour taste in her mouth on me. ‘It’s something that we invented. We make some random statement that doesn’t really have to do with anything else. That way it confuses everyone.’
“‘Well, your friend Zack’s definitely brighter than you are.’
“‘Yeah, that’s why I keep him around.’
“‘That’s precisely why I thought that it was strange that he wrote you this. Zack’s not here today.’
“That realization hit me like thirty second grade girls. I had been half surprised that he hadn’t denied his participation at first. And I thought that he was just a good friend!
“‘Grethel, go with him to the office for helping him cheat.’ My head whipped around like a hippo in a tilt-a-whirl.
“‘What! But she didn’t help me. I wouldn’t take help from a freckle-faced girl like that!’
“‘I would normally believe you, since I generally wouldn’t think that such a sweet little angel like her would get involved with trouble like you. But obviously you have corrupted her. There is no mistaking it. This is her handwriting. Both of you, go to the Principal’s office right now.’
“Well, I could see that this was not an argument that I was going to win. I got up, free from Mrs. Nozy. She looked at Grethel like Caesar when he was stabbed by Brutus. Then she looked at me as if I were Cassius, Cinna, and Casca rolled into one horrendous form. I was just about to reach the door, when Mrs. Nozy blocked my escape.
“‘Well, aren’t you forgetting something?’ she called.
“‘My manners?’ I figured that she was trying to remind me about letting ladies go first. Leave it to a woman to think of etiquette at a time like this! She’d obviously never been chased by Grethel before. I knew from experience that you needed a good head start.
“‘Yes, but no. The pass. Grethel, come get your cheat sheet. I want Dr. Nurz to see what you two have been doing.’
“‘Yes, ma’am,’ I replied, eager to get out of the room. She could still change her mind and make me take the test.
“At school there was a pass for everything, and I had to dig through them all to find the right one. I shifted the wooden underwear with Transformers out of the way, since I didn’t need the boys bathroom pass. The pink wooden panties with princesses on them were more useless, since no boy was allowed to go to that Holy of Holies known as the girl’s bathroom. The wooden onion we were supposed to use for the burp pass brought back fond memories of burping the alphabet backwards and forwards when we had a substitute one day. She didn’t know about the passes. Ah, sweet rebellion.
“My hands moved the wooden sneakers used for a hall pass, and found the deflated football. That was probably the dumbest pass that Mrs. Nozy had come up with. No one, besides Clumsy Klaus, ever wore it, since it was the incomplete pass. How were we supposed to know if we were going to catch the ball or not? Besides, the ball would never get passed to us if we held it. Just ask Klaus.
“By this point, Grethel had reached Mrs. Nozy. Our teacher gave her the note like it was Brutus’ dagger. She watched Grethel all the way to the door, perhaps fearing to turn her back on the armed traitor. Finally, I found the Principal’s Office Pass behind the free pass. It looked like a paddle that had “Please Spank Me” written on one side. The other side simply said, “Harder.” I took the paddle in hand and tried to make it out the door as quickly as I could.
“‘Wait for your girlfriend,’ Mrs. Nozy called after me.
“I thought that I could have died right then. No one was supposed to know that! Grethel walked up to me and looked me in the eye. This was not good at all. We shut the door behind us, and mumbled our way up the hall. I tried to touch as many of the lights, signs, ceiling tiles, and lintels as I could on the way. She just shook her head. When we were almost at his office, I calmed down and started walking backwards. I didn’t want to look like a suspicious character.
“‘Thank you for trying to save me,’ Grethel said.
“I was as shocked as the key on Ben Franklin’s kite.
“‘You seem shocked,’ Grethel said.
“Well, you’ve never been nice to me before.’
“‘Don’t expect it to happen again. It’s just that you were brave.’
“I didn’t get a chance to make a suave response, because about that moment the back of my head banged into a giant silver fire extinguisher mounted on the wall.
“‘Well, it’s good to see that you’re back to your dumb old self again.’
“Thinking to impress her with my bravery again, I asked for the note.
“‘What do you want it for?’ she asked, handing it to me as if I had more germs than a dog’s mouth. I probably did.
“‘To save you. If the note doesn’t exist, then they can’t prove it was your handwriting.’
“With that, I plopped the crumpled note into my mouth and started chewing like a dog on rawhide. I hope that rawhide is more enjoyable to dogs, because paper is not that great of a snack for humans. It is high fiber, though.
“‘You’re gross!’ she exclaimed.
“She sounded like she meant it. But I could tell different. Really, I could see that she was touched by my heroism. Women are always trying to deceive men. Look at what Eve did to Adam!
“I was still chewing when we opened the door to the office. I didn’t want to rush things. I’d had a papercut before on my finger. I had no desire to find out what they felt like on my tongue. Besides, mom always told me to eat slow, since it was better for my digestion.
“‘How may I help you?’ Mrs. Secretary asked. No one knew if she had a real name. She’d just been Mrs. Secretary for as long as anyone knew. We were certain that she was born in that chair with a pencil behind her ear and a phone in her hand.
“I made some kind of muffled, unintelligible sound. Mrs. Secretary looked at me like an Impressionist trying to understand Cubism. That is to say, she was confused and agitated.
“‘We’re here to see Dr. Nurz,’ Grethel said.
“‘You’re the cheaters?,’ Mrs. Secretary asked, not waiting to hear my garbled plea of innocence. ‘He’s been expecting you.’
“‘Dr. Nurz, the perpetrators are here; are you ready for interrogation?’ she asked through the intercom. ‘More water, a new flood lamp, and a saw? I’ll see if we can get one of the custodians to take care of that. Yes, Dr. Nurz. I’ll send them right in. Do you want both of them, or just the guilty one? Okay, I’ll send them both.’
“She looked at us, and motioned us forward. I was thinking about how to save Grethel again. After all, Mrs. Secretary already established that there was only one guilty person. Since she threw the note at me, it had to have been her. I defied my upbringing, chomped as quickly as I could, and swallowed the pulpy mass.
“‘Ah, Mr. Loincloth,’ Dr. Nurz, or Nurzy as I knew him, greeted me. We’d been on friendly terms since that incident in Kindergarten. We hung out once or twice a week, so I was sure that I could call in a personal favor to rescue her. That would certainly impress her.
“‘She didn’t do anything, Nurzy.’
“‘Of course not,’ Dr. Nurz said.
“‘We never thought that she did.’
“Nurzy caught on quickly. Now this was a true pal. Not like that Zach character, being absent when I needed to frame him most.
“‘We know that you’re the problem here,’ he continued.
“‘Nah, I ain’t never done nothing wrong to nobody,’ I said, winking viciously at Nurzy. I was quite proud of that quadruple negative, quintuple if you count nah, and it would surely help him see the errors of his ways. Grethel, the guilty, was innocent, but I was innocent the whole time. So there was no need accusing me. I was the victim, an innocent bysitter.
“‘Really? You were the one caught cheating with the note. We know Grethel is sweet and innocent. We figure that you threatened to beat her up, and that’s why she was helping you.’
“‘Yes,’ Dr. Nurzy continued, ‘We think that you were coercing her. Victims need to know that they are still loved and that nothing bad will happen to them.’
“‘I never threatened to beat her up. Have you seen her? She’s bigger than I am. All the girls are!” The said irony of being nine was that girls were bigger, stronger, and more boyish than we were with our falsetto voices. ‘Coercing? Never. That sounds dirty and bad! That’s gross!’ I retorted.
“‘Yes, it is gross,’ replied Nurzy.
“‘Yes, it is bad,’ agreed Dr. Nurz.
“‘Sometimes it’s dirty,’ continued Nurzy.
“Well, Nurzy was definitely getting part of it right. Victims should be free of consequences. Since I was the victim, that should be me, not her. He was still as kooky as the last time I talked to him this week. I’d asked him then who “we” were. He’d only replied, ‘Never mind that.’ I figured that he was only trying to do impersonations, because his voice would change depending on who was talking.
“‘Let me see the note,’ Dr. Nurz demanded.
“‘What note? There is no note,’ I told him. I wasn’t lying. The note had ceased to be.
“‘We’re sure Mrs. Nozy had mentioned a note,’ Nurzy said with a twinge of doubt.
“Yes, she told us that she was sending a note,’ Dr. Nurz responded a bit more confidently.
“‘Ah, there on your lip. A piece of paper.’ Nurzy cried.
“I wiped my mouth reflexively. Sure enough there was a scrap of paper. Grethel could have told me that earlier. I couldn’t even say that it was a remnant from where I had nicked myself shaving. She had a better chance of needing to shave than I did.
“‘So you’re destroying evidence, are you?’ Dr. Nurz accused, wagging a finger.
“‘You’re just like the government,’ Nurzy joined in.
“‘What, was it a state secret?’ Dr. Nurz asked.
“I figured that since Nurzy couldn’t play along, I would have to show my cards. I proceeded to take my baseball card from my socks. Those were my least favorite ones, the Indians, the Cubs, and some assorted cards. Then, I started to get the Yankees from my underwear waistband. Finally, I pulled out my mint condition, protector sleeve covered Braves from my wallet. With my club and its protector sleeves gone, my wallet was almost empty. All that remained was some Monopoly money and an Ident-a-kid card that I pretended was my license.
“Dr. Nurz was expecting my ploy, for he said, ‘It’s no good. You know I want the Nolan Ryan you keep taped to your thigh.’
“‘What about considering the ‘ Tom Glavine and Fred McGriff?’ Nurzy asked himself. Yeah, he’s strange.
“‘No, he can’t buy his way out of his crime here. This isn’t the criminal justice system. He will have to be punished,’ Dr. Nurz reprimanded himself.
“‘Wait,’ I tried to plead, ‘You’ve got this all wrong, both of you. We were never cheating. She was threatening to kill me.’
“‘A likely story,’ Nurzy chided.
“‘No, she is definitely too sweet to do something like that,’ Dr. Nurz agreed. Grethel looked at him sympathetically with her big cow eyes.
“‘Besides, you would probably deserve it even if she did threaten you, since you are a cheater,’ Nurzy continued. It was obvious that they believed her.
“‘But I never cheated!’ I cried.
“‘We’ll just ask the victim,’ Dr. Nurz stated.
“‘You just did,’ I retorted.
“‘Not you, the other victim,’ Nurzy scolded.
“‘Honey, did he make you help him cheat?’ Dr. Nurz asked her.
“‘It’s all right to say, ‘Yes,’ since we know he’s guilty. You won’t get into trouble,’ Nurzy prompted.
“‘No,’ she said. That surprised me. Here she was trying to save me. I could never let the guys know that a girl had saved me, though. I had a reputation to think about.
“‘But of course he did,’ retorted Dr. Nurz.
“‘Yes, tell us how he coerced you,’ Nurzy badgered.
“‘He didn’t. I threatened to kill him.’
“‘We’ll give you one last chance,’ Dr. Nurz began.
“‘We don’t want to have to punish such a sweet little girl like you,’ Nurzy said, trying to manipulate her.
“‘But I really did threaten to kill him. He wasn’t cheating.’
“‘Ah, so you are both liars,’ Dr. Nurz declared.
“’She’s suffering from battered schoolgirl’s syndrome,’ Nurzy muttered.
“‘No, we’re not liars!’ we exclaimed in unison.
“‘Really, then prove it.’
“That Nurzy was certainly a character with his ultimatums. We had just proven it. She was my witness. What better witness to have than your accomplice in crime? Not that we committed a crime. We were innocent. At least, I was. She was the guilty one.
“‘Just give us the note, and then we can really see which of you is lying,’ Dr. Nurz ordered.
“‘I can’t,’ I replied. ‘I ate it.’
“‘I’ll give you one more chance,’ Nurzy offered, ‘And then you’ll both suffer.’
“‘Don’t you mean, “or you’ll both suffer?”‘ I asked.
“‘That’s it, we gave you a chance, and you blew it. Since you have failed to produce the note, you’ll both have to stand with your noses to the wall during recess as long as I am principal here. Make sure that it’s the wall that they dust erasers on after school.’
“I didn’t know exactly how I felt when I left his office. I was wrongfully accused and convicted of a crime. I had a hit out on my head. A girl had tried to save my honor. The same girl had put the hit out on my head. The same girl was going to kill me. I would have to stand next to that same girl day in and day out, rain or shine, tornado drill or fire drill, for the rest of elementary school. That might not be too long, since she would have easy access to end my misery. I supposed that I could be best described as being devastated. I couldn’t flirt with her anymore. Our relationship was definitely doomed.
“‘Thank you for trying to save me,’ I said, trying to make conversation while we were still together. Supposedly conversation is important for grownup relationships. At that time, it was all about body language-hitting, kicking, clawing, slapping, and menacing gestures. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like adult communication at times.
“‘Oh, well, sorry I got us into this mess,’ she said.
“‘Me too,’ I replied. It was apparently not the correct thing to say, because she glowered at me and didn’t respond anymore.
“‘You know what I’m going to miss most about recess?’ I asked.
“‘Not having it?’
“‘Exactly. I’m going to miss being chased all over, running like a madman. It was fun.’
“‘Yeah. I’m going to miss chasing you and bringing blood.’
“‘Maybe we could do it after school?’
“‘It’s just not the same.’
“‘Yeah,’ I replied. As we walked, a thought occurred to me, which is a relatively novel experience in and of itself. But this thought was monumentally stupendously profound. ‘Grethel, you weren’t just chasing me for my baseball cards, were you? I mean, some of them are pretty valuable.’
“I waited for the answer nervously. Surely she hadn’t been leading me on the whole time. She wasn’t a gold digger, was she?
“‘No, not at all. Your cards are safe in your underwear as far as I’m concerned.’
“That Grethel sure had a way of comforting a guy. Conversation wasn’t that bad at all. It was almost pleasant. I had never used her name politely before. When I said it without a mean nickname right behind, I noticed something. It made me feel good. Of course, that didn’t mean that I would stop calling her mean names any time soon. Why change a good thing?
“So, it became our habit to stand on the wall with our noses turning white in the chalk dust like Michael Jackson’s. We’d sneeze occasionally, such as when a wind would pass by. But it gave us some quiet time together alone. After a couple of days of this, I tried to do that conversation thing again.
“‘So, what’s the girls’ bathroom like?’
“‘What’s the girls’ bathroom like?’
“‘Why do you care?’
“‘Because I’m a guy. We can’t go inside, and so I figure that it must be a wonderful place.’
“Well, it’s nice enough. It’s probably pretty similar to the boys’ bathroom, except with girls in it. Y’all do have swimming pools inside, right?’
“‘No. You have swimming pools? No wonder you girls take so long in there and always go with a friend.’
“‘You don’t have swimming pools? What about the waterfalls?’
“‘No, we’ve been robbed! The closest thing to a waterfall that we have is a urinal.’
“‘Oh, well if it makes you feel better, our miniature golf course only works at lunch.’”
“‘You have golf, too? They really spoil the girls. If our bathroom was like that, I don’t think I’d ever leave, except maybe to go to lunch.’
“‘Not really. We don’t have any of that. The girl’s bathroom is just a bunch of stalls and gossip.’
“‘Oh, then I don’t know what all the hype is about. Ours is better. We don’t have the gossip.’
“‘Well, it’s probably just because you aren’t allowed in. If you tell someone that they can’t do something, they’ll immediately go out and do it.’
“‘Oh. I never thought of that. You’re smart, like parents.’
“Somehow, despite the lack of running, our relationship flourished. We got to spend a lot of time together. Still, after a while I found that I wanted to take our relationship further. The only problem was that I didn’t know what to do. I was considering asking dad, but I’d seen where that had taken me. I figured that I would just have to wait for the answer to plop itself down in my lap like a big, stinky dog.
“It turned out that my dad was that big, stinky dog. In fact, he was so stinky with the answer, that he was like wet dog smell. For it just so happened that about the same time, my dad and I started spending more time together. It was great. I wish my mom would have just knocked the rabbit ears off the top of the set, bent them into aluminum pretzels, crushed them in a trash compactor, cut the coax cable twelve times, melted the splitter, and ripped the jack from the back of the TV-all by accident mind you-sooner.
“One day we were out walking in the park, when I saw two teenagers who looked like they were locked in a mortal combat to either suffocate or revive each other. My dad saw where I was looking and sighed with disgust.
“‘They must really like each other to be swapping spit that way, poor devils. I hope they brought some oxygen,’ he muttered
“That was the answer-not the bringing oxygen part. People who really liked each other swapped spit! I had no intentions of doing it the conventional way, though. That was gross. Recess was after lunch, you know. Instead, I figured that, just as there was ‘more than one way to skin a cat and more than one type of cat’, there could be more than one way to swap spit.
“When we got home, I headed for the pantry. I needed an empty jar. However, mom had used all of the empty Mason jars with one bottled vegetable or another. But there, at last, I spotted it. Its name was Smucker’s, and its flavor was strawberry. I stuck the jar underneath my shirt and headed to my room. A few minutes later, I snuck down to the kitchen to get a spoon. I took a couple of big, sweet mouthfuls. That was only bearable for so long, and then it started to make me sick.
“I still had over half of the jar left. What could I do with it? I began to think like a Smucker’s jar. If I were a jar of jelly, I’d want to be in the kitchen inside the fridge. Since this jar would not be making it inside, I figured that it would have to settle for the next best thing. Taking out some construction paper, I began to paint with the spoon. I knew that mom would be proud and hang it on the refrigerator. After all, my macaroni art hung up there for years.
“Well, there comes a point when you no longer feel inspired to paint with strawberry jelly. That point came after the first drawing. It looked like someone had bled everywhere. The last thing that I needed was for mom to send me to a counselor because she thought I was demented. With my luck, it would happen during recess. So, one jelly-paint masterpiece it was. Maybe she’d believe that we did it at school for Valentine’s day. Red and pink seem to be the themes for that day.
“There was still a good bit of jelly left. Dad never said that swapping jelly was a sign of like, just spit. I thought that swapping jelly would be more like teasing, especially if you didn’t give any peanut butter with it. Looking around, a window of opportunity opened up. It was my window. I stuck my head outside and made sure that no one was watching. Then, I began to shovel strawberry jelly outside. I should have considered that mom’s mums were underneath.
“After rinsing it out in the bathroom sink, I brushed my teeth. Then, I screwed up my face as if I were gargling. Making the face helped, because I produced my finest spit possible. After all, Grethel deserved the best. I looked at it in the bottom of the jar. There was a lot less there than I expected. I wondered if I should give a little more. But I didn’t want to overdo it. If I gave too much on the first time, then she would want more and more each time. It was best to start out small and build myself up to it. Maybe it would seem a little less weird with time.
“Nightfall found my gift hidden in my book bag. Thankfully, that was before mom started checking my backpack like she did later that year to make sure if I was really telling the truth about not having homework. It woke up with me in the morning, and sloshed its way to school. Just before we went out for recess, I stashed it beneath my shirt. Trying to be nonchalant, I went outside behind all the others.
“I joined Grethel by the wall. My heart was pounding like hammers at a construction site. I was so nervous that I couldn’t think of what to say. What can I say, I had never swapped spit with anyone? I didn’t know how you started a conversation like that. Not knowing, I just waited with my nose in the chalk dust, trying to act normal.
“‘What’s that in your shirt?’ Grethel asked.
“‘What? Oh, um, it’s funny that you should ask.’
“‘Why, what is it?’
“‘It’s a gift for you.’
“‘Really, can I see it?’
“I tried to stay relaxed. But I was trembling as I pulled it out of my shirt and handed it to her. Who knew that swapping spit could be such an emotional experience? The excited look on her face slowly melted into a look of disgust.
“‘That’s not what I think it is, is it?’
“‘Um, I don’t know. What do you think it is.’
“‘Spit. Please tell me that this is not spit!’
“‘It is,’ I said heartbroken.
“‘Why is it red? Are you bleeding?’
“‘No. There must have been some strawberry jelly left in the jar. I couldn’t let my mom wash it, because it was a surprise.’
“‘Lovely,’ she said.
“From the way she said it, it didn’t sound like she thought it was lovely. Why don’t girls ever say what they really mean?
“‘You don’t like it, do you?’
“‘No. This is just gross. Why would you give this to me? Why didn’t you just give me a Valentine’s Day card instead?’
“‘Because I, uh, like you. You like me, don’t’ you?’ I asked.
“‘Yeah, but in a kinda sorta disgusted way right now,’ she said.
“‘Well, if you like me, then you’re supposed to swap spit. I overheard my dad talking about that last night.’
“‘You’re so immature,’ she said, along with a few other words that I couldn’t comprehend.
“I was about to be indignant when the unbelievable happened. She leaned over quickly and gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“‘Ew,’ I cried. ‘You’re gross!’
“She just smiled. Finally, she said, ‘That’s the dung beetle calling the butterfly gross. But, if that’s too gross for you, we can always hold hands.’
“I was shocked. A whole new world had opened up. She had kissed me. No spit was involved, and she wanted to hold hands. I tell you, that was one of the proudest moments of my life. But, leave it to a girl to go and ruin it.
“‘You know that you still owe me a Valentine, right?’
“‘My spit jar wasn’t enough? There was a lot of hard work put into the making of that jar!’ Girls! They’re never satisfied.
“Maybe our noses were white and our sinuses were always acting up, but we didn’t mind. We got to hold hands everyday. That was much better than swapping spit, as well as a whole lot easier on the stomach. I didn’t even care that her hands were bigger than mine. We didn’t get too ridiculed for it, either. Grethel had convinced Mrs. Nozy and everyone else that our handholding was part of the punishment Dr. Nurz had prescribed. There were three reasons why no one doubted her. First, she was too sweet and innocent to lie. Second, they thought I hated her. Third, they knew that she hated me. It was just a cruel and unusual punishment. Why else would a boy and a girl hold hands at that age?
“Eventually, we graduated from grade school. Ladies first, though. I had to visit her at her house, under the pretense that she was tutor for a whole year, since she had gone and left me to the mercy of Nurzy alone. But, I eventually made it to middle school. Since Dr. Nurz was no longer our principal, we no longer had an excuse to put our noses on the wall and hold hands. That was a big disappointment for me. Why else would I want to come to school?
“‘Do you think that you can write me notes that will get caught more often? I don’t mind going to the principal with you. It’s nice,’ I asked her at lunch my first day in middle school.
“She looked at me and giggled. Then, she said, ‘We’re big boys and girls now. We don’t have to hide it any more. We can actually hold hands without an excuse.’
“‘Really?’ That was a novel idea for me. I tried it. It felt good, brave, and adventurous.
“As our like progressed, so did I. She told me that she liked smart guys. So, I started to really try to learn. It’s sad though, since she left me for a real failure in the long run. The guy later became a cardiologist. He couldn’t spell ‘dadgummit’ or win a mudbogging competition if his life depended on it. What a real winner! I guess that she was just one of those women that always needed a project guy. When she patched me up and it was obvious that I would turn out right, she had to find someone else to improve.”
“Dad, you ramble a lot. You should have just said that it was a jar of spit you tried to give to a girl. You might have actually saved some of what little respect I have for you.”
“Well, it’s not just a reminder of Grethel. It’s also a memento of Mrs. Nozy, my second grade teacher. Those were some of the best years of my life.”
“I think I’m going to take this jar to get my DNA checked. I can’t believe that we’re really related.”