By Garret Mathews
I’m recalling three events from fifth grade that foreshadowed the fact I would never achieve most favored status in high school.
- Mustard, peas, mashed potatoes, hominy grits, oh my.
I received no allowance, and Dad made me give back the money Granny pinned in my shirt at the end of every visit. So that left me no choice but to eat disgusting foodstuffs in the lunchroom for financial gain.
Anything the cafeteria ladies dumped on our plates was fair game. I also put no limit on seasonings, sauces and flavorings. I used to allow classmates to bring stuff from home until I was counseled during homeroom by Tommy, the foremost science scholar in the entire school, who said unscrupulous types might smuggle motor oil or carpet cleaner, and the nickels and dimes I might collect weren’t worth having my stomach pumped and maybe dying.
It was agreed that I forfeited all coinage if I threw up. Once I had a few fitful moments with a vinegar-sugar cocktail, but the dry heaves produced nothing more than a few beads of saliva which the judges ruled incidental dribbling.
As the school year wound down, my audience became exclusively male. A few girls watched my warmup exercises — usually a Fudgsicle coated with ketchup — but they were long gone when I progressed to the money rounds and the vinegar.
“You’re gross,” they said when we passed in the hall, even though I always made sure to wipe my mouth and clean my tongue after performances.
I remember asking Jennifer if I could buy her a Coca-Cola on the walk home from school.
“Are you going to use the money you got at the lunch table?” she asked.
“Then absolutely not.”
- Bringing members of the low-riding animal kingdom to class
I thought it great fun to pocket woolly worms during recess, and plant them inside geography books of unsuspecting classmates while they were on the monkey bars.
A rookie sicko puts the critter anywhere he can and slams the book before he’s caught. The veteran sicko knows the day’s lesson is the Adriatic Sea on page 311, delivers accordingly, and gently places the pages down softly so there’s not a corpus delicti. It never failed. The shrieking was something out of a horror film.
While I was never found out or even accused, I stopped after the teacher said whoever was causing the woolly worm scare was someone, and I still remember the quote, “with very poor social skills,” and if she ever found out who it was, “These incidents will be put in his permanent record until the end of recorded time.”
I couldn’t take that chance. There would be no more wiggling inside geography books.
- Ah, Sylvia
Every day I passed her a note saying I loved her and could we run away together some day after the final bell? She was always too polite to reject me out of hand, scribbling back that she liked me a little, but wasn’t ready to settle down.
One day on the playground, David Sutton ran into the swing set and got a black eye. Sylvia fetched a cold compress and held it against his face for the rest of recess. Talk about heaven. When David didn’t immediately get better — which would have taken a complete idiot — Sylvia hugged him.
I wanted Sylvia to nurse me back to health in similar fashion, but I needed a shiner. No problem. I went in the bathroom and proceeded to hit myself under the eye. Ten times, 20 times. Finally, a red welt formed. The next day, helped by some boot black, I had an injury.
Sylvia was playing tetherball with Doris Jean when I presented myself. Ta-da. Major contusion. Cold compress time.
She told me the nurse’s office was the second door down from the principal’s office and went back to her game.
Almost worse than that, the boot black ran down my face and I eventually had to explain how it got there.
At home that afternoon, I prepared my own cold compress and held it against my eye. Sometimes you just have to do things for yourself.
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