Friday, January 29, 2010

Bluegills from Gallaher Elementary

Sometimes you have to squint your eyes and strain your brain real hard in order to remember.  Else you'll forget.  It's like fishing.  You throw back your arm, then whip it forward, letting go of the little button on the reel.  And the see through line whistles as it sails towards the center of the pond.  The red and white bobber goes plop, and then you wait. 

That's how I caught these memories.  I laid in bed on a Sunday morning, waiting for the red and white bobber in my brain to pop in and out of the water.  "Got one!" I said.  Actually, I got more than one.  The fish were biting.  They do that in the morning, you know.

I went to Gallaher Elementary School.  Or was it Gallagher?  I'll have to ask my mom or my oldest brother, Mike.  He's the only brother who cares about the old stuff.  It's not like I can drive down to Huntington and check the sign on the school.  Mike called one day a few years back and told me they tore the school down.  "I got some bricks," he said.  "Want one?"

Every morning, Monday through Friday, Labor Day to Memorial Day-ish, I walked to Gallagher School with my dad.  It was just five blocks.  We'd talk about everything--Alistair Cook on Masterpiece Theater, our next camping trip to Carter Caves, or Piggy Boy Twisty Tail.  He was a pig on the farm where Dad grew up, before his family moved to Charleston. 

Dad got grumpy when I told him I was going steady with David Lively.  "You're only in the fourth grade, for crying out loud!" 

David was the only guy who signed up for the Gallaher School Summertime Reading Contest and he beat me.  Me!  Of all people.  I went to the library twice a week in the summer.  Read under the covers at night with a flashlight and everything.  I was a shoo-in to win.  But the summer before fourth grade, David Lively crashed his bike and his foot got stuck on the banana seat and he ended up with a cast from his ankle to his hip.  Wasn't like  he could do anything but read that summer.  That made me think he was pretty neat.  That he read a lot.

David wasn't my first crush at Gallagher School.  In first grade I was gaga for a boy named Beau.  Know what beau means in French?  Beautiful.  And he was.  Had the biggest baby blue eyes ever.  Sometimes we'd just stare at each other with silly grins pasted on our faces.  Mrs. Collins would tap the blackboard with her pointer stick.  "Pay attention, you two."

Green paint's what I remember from second grade.  Mrs. Calfee handed us each a piece of off-white paper, big as our desk tops.  "Green starts with the letter 'g,' so we're going to paint something green."  Then she picked up the big container of grass green tempera paint and shook it real hard.  I guess the lid wasn't on good 'cause next thing you know, we were something green.  I bet if Gallaher Elementary was still standing, you could walk into Mrs. Calfee's classroom and the green splatters would still be up on the ceiling.

In fifth and sixth grade, I got picked to be a safety and a fire patrol person.  When I was on safety patrol duty, I wore a white cross-my-heart-go-'round-my-waist thingy.  I carried a flag made out of a bamboo pole and a twelve inch square of orange cloth.  I'd open it and shut it after I looked both ways 'cross Gallagher Street or Norway Avenue.  If it rained, we got to wear cool yellow coats and hats, like the guy on the box of fish sticks. 

When the fire drill bell rang, I'd put on my orange cross-my-heart-go-'round-my-waist thingy.  I'd run to my post--the second floor stairwell on the Gallaher Street side of the building--and hold the door.  I was ready to shout, "Stop, drop and roll!" if I saw someone a-flame.

The cool thing 'bout being either kind of patrol was going to Camden Park at the end of the school year.  I was too chicken to ride the roller coaster so I'd ride the Whip and the Tilt-a-Whirl over and over.  And eat cotton candy.  Pink please.  Oh, and pronto pups with bloody ketchup and sunny yellow mustard.

Mr. Lee was our principal.  Remember that saying?  "The principal is your pal."  Mr. Lee looked like a bull dog.  Like the one on the Purina dog food commercial.  "This is dog chow's finest hour."  Mr. Lee made it his personal mission to make every child at Gallagher School an adventurous eater.  "Eat the nutritious before the delicious."  Like there was something delicious.

The worst day of the month was Liver Day.  The school would stink to high heaven.  'Round 'bout eleven o'clock I'd start poking at my uvula with the bubblegum pink eraser of my orangey-yellow, #2 pencil.  Tried to make myself throw up so I wouldn't have to taste the liver.  Mr. Lee would stand over your shoulder 'til you took, "just one bite."

The thing was, the liver looked like a square b.m..  My mom was a nurse and that's what she made us call poop.  It smelled like it too.  If I'd been unsuccessful triggering my gag reflex, there was always Timmy Howard.  He was the only boy in school who liked liver.  For a quarter, he'd eat yours.  Man, that kid ate a lot of liver!  I always wondered if he died young.  Doesn't eating a lot of organ meat give you something called gout?

I think my sixth grade teacher ate something that made her sick.  Her skin was all bumply.  All the time.  She tried to cover it up with lots of face makeup and cream rouge the color of Bozo the clown's nose.  You could still see the bumps though.  Kinda looked like toad skin.

I had to mouth breathe whenever I went up to her desk to ask a question.  Her perfume was rank.  She said it was Wind Song but we called it Break Wind Song.  Her lips looked like the Joker's but she didn't smile much.  I reckon I was partly to blame for that.

See, I was ornery.  No one knew it 'cause I made good grades.  No one thinks the smart kids ever do anything wrong, but I did.  I had the world's A #1, best spit ball system ever.  First, I made my ammo.  I'd tear off little bits of notebook paper and put 'em in my mouth.  When they were good and soggy, I'd roll 'em into little balls, just a tiny bit bigger than a beebee.  Then I'd roll 'em in Elmer's glue.  The last step was covering 'em in pencil shavings. 

When I had a dozen or so of my super awesome spitwads, I'd work on the delivery system.  I'd pry the stopper off my Bic pen with my teeth.  Couldn't use my fingernails 'cause I bit 'em.  Then I'd grab a hold of the writing tip and pull it and the ink tube out.  Then real sneaky like, I'd load the tube with a spitball.  When the teacher went to write on the blackboard, I'd . . . ready, aim, FIRE. 

The spitwad would fly through the air and get caught in the adhesive that held her hair together.  See every day after lunch, she'd spray her hair real good with a blast from her big  pink can of Aqua Net.  The spitwads would dangle in the back of her hair for a little while, then they'd fall to the floor like little woody booger balls. 

The hardest part was trying not to get caught laughing.  I had to bite my lip real hard.  If I laughed, I'd get caught.  If I got caught, I'd probably have to go to the principal's office.  I'd never been in Mr. Lee's office but I was pretty sure it'd be scary.  He'd probably get in my face and I'd faint from the terribleness of his breath.  I was sure he had bits of liver between his teeth, decomposing at various rates.  Worse even than his breath was the possibility that my safety and fire patrol privileges might be yanked.  No more Camden Park?  Perish the thought!

Well, the sun's coming up.  Time to get cakes on the griddle.  But I sure am glad I went fishing first.  Just think, if I hadn't gone fishing this morning, the woody booger balls and the bits of liver might've been the ones that got away.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Boss I Loved and Hated

The boss I loved and hated looked like Albert Einstein with a tan, thanks to Clinique bronzer. 

I never really did hate him.  I was just super upset 'cause he made me cry in front of the whole staff that one time.  I don't cry easily, but he could be vicious.  He reminded me of that nursery rhythme.  You know.  The one that says, "And when she was good she was very, very good. But when she was bad, she was horrid."  Change the she to he and you've got my old boss.

"That won't happen again," I said that morning as I put lipstick on my mad mouth.  That incident taught me a valuable life lesson.  Negative behavior without negative consequences will never stop. 

So the next time he was mean, I was mean right back.  In a respectful, passive aggressive way, of course.  Within an hour, he brought me cocoa in a china cup. With marshmallows and Walker shortbreads.

When he went out for lunch that day, he came back with a white flag, 'cept it was black.  It was a vintage purse that looked like a beaded shoe box.  I reckon Miss Fran, of Miss Fran's What Not Shop 'round the corner, told him I'd had my eye on it.  Apology accepted.

I think my boss started inviting me to all his social events because I was clever and had the knack of looking "just right" no matter what. I read Vogue and Elle on my lunch hours to make sure I'd get an approving nod, not an eyeroll, when he came downstairs every morning at nine. 

He didn't bat an eye the Monday I came into the office with flaming red hair. I'd been a model in a hairshow over the weekend.  The hairstylist--a cross between Edward Scissorhands and Conan the Barbarian--shaped my hair like a Christmas wreath right after he colored it the shade of a brake light. "Red hair is all the rage in Paris," I told my boss.  He nodded like he knew it before I did.

My boss wasn't the only meanie in the office.  His dog was a tyrant too.  The beast weighed more than I did.  He had a canine major in security training with a minor in dark-skinned men wearing hoods.  In the three years I worked there, the dog bit every employee but me.  I had the dog figured out though.  Just like I had my boss.  Whenever I heard the designers leave, I'd throw a Milk Bone in the back of his crate.  He'd lumber in and I'd slide the lock shut with a yard stick.

Whenever my boss's picture was in the society pages, his dog was usually beside him.  They were both local celebrities.  The dog came to all my boss's parties.  No one peeped when he sidled up to the buffet, turned his head sideways and inhaled an entire pate.  Everyone tittered behind their fingers when he peed for five minutes straight, right there beside the baby grand piano.  The pee ran downhill 'cause the townhouse was built in the early 1800's.  Everyone just stepped to the side when the canine creek came their way.

After we made our peace, being the office manager in his interior design firm became my favorite job ever.  My boss was the most brilliant and creative man I've ever known.  Everywhere you looked in his townhouse, there was something beautiful, interesting or unique. 

He'd make striped wallpaper go left, right instead of up, down.  He covered the walls of his parlor with beautiful scarlet tablecloths he'd found on sale at Big Lots.  He had us paint the bulbs on nine strands of red Christmas lights with purple nail polish to get the exact hue he was looking for.  He taught me how to shine ivy leaves with mayonaise so they'd look pretty on a cheese tray.  He turned me on to trash picking too.  You can find some pretty neat stuff on the curb if you keep your eyes peeled.

At the end of my second year, he became generous with me.  It was like he was the Grinch and I was Cindy Lou Who.  He gave me boxes of old fabric samples--stuff that was worth a hundred dollars a yard.  He asked me if I wanted his old Ralph Lauren sports coats, the ones from Saks Fifth Avenue, 'cause we were the same size.  I still wear the black and red plaid one with suede elbow patches.  It looks sharp with black skinny jeans.

My boss took my husband and me to our first opera.  He smiled and handed me his handkerchief when I teared up over some aria.  He invited us to our first ball.  His eyes got big when my husband and me walked into the ballroom that he'd decorated to look like Egypt.  I had on a sheer, black beaded dress from the '20's.  It had a nude lining but if you glanced at me real quick, you'd think I was . . . Well, you know.

One time he gave us tickets to the ballet.  I've never been back.  Don't think it's my thing.  I fell asleep actually.  Might've had something to do with the fact that it was the ballet version of Anne Frank and all the dancers were wearing grey scrubs.

When I look around my house today, I see all kinds of stuff from my boss.  Drapes, pillows, chairs, vases.  My black beaded purse.  Stuff he gave me for free and stuff he gave me at a really good price.  He was German, after all.

When I called to tell him I was quitting to stay home with our first child, he told me I was doing the right thing.  Threw me a baby shower too.  Made the women promise not to talk about our girl parts though.

On my last day, he hugged me and told me he'd miss me.  He did too.  He kept having me come back in to train the new me's.  They never lasted very long.  I think it's 'cause they never learned to be mean back.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Songs from the Woods

Four lefts is all it took to get to Gideon Woods from my house.  I probably could've made it in 15 minutes.  Maybe even 10. But there was so much to see and do.  It wasn't like I had A.D.H.D. or anything.  Heck, they hadn't even thought of it yet. 

For starters, Green Oak Drive was cement, not blacktop.  If you looked real close, you could see tee tiny pebbles in it.  It was put down in big, square sections.   If no cars were coming, I liked to run my finger in the little divot that ran curb to curb, between the sections.  When the cement cracked, they patched it with black springy tar.  On hot days, I liked to press my thumbs (or my big toes if I was barefoot) into the warm, smooth, darkness.

Half a block down, I always stopped to pet Missy, the little black dog with soft curly fur.  I called her Tripod after she lost one of her back legs chasing cars.  She still tried to chase 'em, but with only three legs, she'd get tuckered out quickly and plop down on her rounded, refurred stump.

Four houses later, I'd wave at Mrs. Meek.  She'd either be sweeping her front porch or sitting in an Adirondack chair, reading a library book.  I always wondered what it would be like to have a mom who looked like Barbie with short hair.  Like Cloris Leachman really.

After the second turn, I almost always stopped at the Biebers'.   "Should we play whiffleball or kickball this afternoon?" I'd ask Lisa, as we sat on her front porch steps.  Her mom taught fourth grade at our school.

"Or, we could have a horseshow," she'd say.

We put on horseshows, on our Schwinns, in the parking lot of Beverly Hill Presbyterian Church.  I didn't always win the blue ribbon for Best in Show, but I always looked the realest  'cause I'd wear one of my brothers' batting helmets.

I'd say bye to Lisa and walk up the road that ran between her house and the Swisher place.  I liked the Swisher's house 'cause it had chubby, super tall white columns in the front.  They had a big, ole RV parked in their extra wide driveway.  I bet they went cool places on the weekends. 

I'd stare at each of their windows, hoping Jeff Swisher would look out.  When he was younger, people mistook him for a pretty little girl.  Not anymore.  What would it be like if he was your brother?  Or . . . your boyfriend?  I'd swipe the sudden mist of sweat off my upper lip and continue up the hill.

After I made the third left, I'd see Miss Lorna's house.  Miss Lorna was best friends with our next door neighbor, Mrs. McCallister.  Miss Lorna's daughter was a real live Rockette in New York City.  I got to meet her once when she visited.  Her teeth were super white and her lips were as red as maraschino cherries.  A couple times, her false eyelashes got stuck in her eyebrows.  I turned my head so she wouldn't see me smile.

When I got to the next corner, I had a choice.  Make the sharp left down to Gideon, or veer slightly right and walk across the street to the property of the nice rich people who had two horses.  I usually only stopped to pet the horses if I'd remembered to bring them a treat.

No carrots or apples?  Then it's down the big hill.  I usually ran this part.  You can run faster and longer when it's downhill. 

At the bottom of Forest Drive, Gideon Woods was on the right.  There's a trodden down, driven down, half-circle, bald patch by the side of the road.  This was where parents picked up kids who'd scamped around in the woods all day.  This was where teens turned off their headlights and turned toward each other.  This was where people dropped off garbage bags of trash, or puppies and kittens, when they were too lazy to do the right thing.  I always ripped an airhole in the bags.  You know.  Just in case.  This was also where John Edwards' giant, super soft, all white sled dog put my whole face in her mouth.  Guess I got too close.

The dents on my forehead and chin went away by bedtime.  Unlike the time when Peaches, a neighbors' Peek-a-Poo, gave me puncture wounds on my ankle when I got too close to her.  Had to get a tetanus shot for that.

Man, I hate shots.  I remember the time Mom tricked me.  Told me we were going downtown to shop at Stone and Thomas.  We were really going to get me a mump's vaccine.  I flinched so bad I broke the needle and they had to shoot me again.  But, she did take me to Shoney's afterwards for a hot fudge cake, extra whipped cream.

There's a slight rise to get into Gideon Woods.  Then, at the top, there are ruts like someone drove a pickup in there awhile back.  And then maybe they changed their mind or thought they'd get stuck so they backed out.

Weeds and high grass were everywhere.  Trash too.  I don't think the ad campaign with the Indian guy crying over pollution worked.  Pop and beer cans.  Crushed cigarette packs.  Wadded up, snack-sized chip bags.  Unless the Scouts had been there recently.  Couple times a year, they came and cleaned up that front part.  So it looked nice when the rich people drove by.  The ones who lived above the people with horses.

I went to Gideon Woods for lots of reasons.  Sometimes I collected shotgun shells.  The aqua ones were my favorites, but I was always on the lookout for new colors.  If you looked really hard, you could find .22 shells.  I think they're pretty--almost the color of a new penny.  They're so dainty looking.  To me anyway.

I always went to the woods when the warm days started to outnumber the cool.  That's tadpole time.  I'd take a Skippy peanut butter jar with me but first, I'd use one of Dad's Phillips-head screwdrivers and a hammer to jab airholes in the metal lid.

There were no ponds or creeks in Gideon.  Just really big puddles or places where the ground couldn't hold any more water so it climbed up the rough, sawgrass blades an inch or two.

I listened.  That's how I knew where to look.  The grown up frogs would make a ton of noise 'til they heard the shush-shush of something coming.  Or, maybe they felt the vibration in their water.

Their peeping would stop.  Everything would get real quiet.  Even the birds hushed.  It's like the danger signal  of animals is silence and people's is noise.  "Wheee-oohhh!  Wheee-oohhh!"  or "An! An!  An!  This is a test.  This is just a test, of the emergency broadcast system . . . " or "Clanga!  Clang!  Clang!"  That was the bell on our front porch that Mom or Dad rang when they wanted us in the house.  Right now.  I mean it.

So after I listened, I'd look.  For snot.  I mean really.  That is what frog eggs look like, you know.  Like someone hawked a lugy.  All gelatinous, like egg white.  With little transparent spheres with black spots, like the googly eyes you get in the craft department of Hill's. 

I scooped mud puddle water, wiggly egg whites, googly eyes and all, into my Skippy jar.  Sometimes, the eggs had already turned into tadpoles.  Hi, little guys.  I screwed the lid on.  Mission accomplished.

On the days when I wasn't harvesting frog eggs or tadpoles, I brought our dog along.  She was a liver and white Beagle-Spitz mix.  We named her Holly 'cause we got her in December and 'cause the mark on her head looked like a holly leaf.

One day when Holly and I were in the woods, I found this little white container.  It looked like a plastic lip gloss tub.  I picked it up and read the label.  "Contains 3 prophylactics.  Not intended for the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases."

I wrinkled my nose.  Do what?  I unscrewed the top.  Out rolled three, slippery, cloudy discs.  They look like rolled up balloons.

When I unrolled one, I got an idea.  "Holly!  Come here!"  I stuck the unrolled, slippery white  thing on her tail.  Then I let go of her leash and she knew it. She trotted into high grass.  All I could see was her tail, sticking straight up, with its little see-through rain coat on.  I grinned.

A few minutes later, the white rubber-clad tail disappeared.  I heard the shush-shush of grass and the grunting of dog happiness.  I scowled and ran toward the noise.  Just as I suspected.  She was anointing her back with eau du dead critter.

I clapped several times.  "Here!  Stop that!"  I grabbed her leash and yanked.  She stood up and did a get-every-hair-back-in-place shimmy.  The tail decoration was gone.

We stepped out of the woods and onto the trodden down half circle.  I frowned at my feet.  Picked up a stick and dug mud out of the treads of my purple Chuck Taylor's. 

A car horn honked.  I jumped and stood up.  It was a green Buick Skylark.  My oldest brother rolled down the window.  "Mom's been ringing the bell.  Didn't you hear?"

I huffed.  "All the way down here?  No."

"Get in."

Holly and I climbed into the backseat.  I cranked the window down just enough so she could let her ears and tongue flap in the wind.  Her wagging tail 'bout put my eye out.

Four right turns and we'd be home.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

An Artist Loved Me Once

It's wonderful to be loved by an artist.  When they paint you over and over, it makes you feel beautiful.

The painter and I were pen pals before we met.  My roommate was dating a sculptor.  The sculptor was friends with the painter, and voila!

I loved to get his letters.  I ran to the mailbox every day.  Each envelope was a work of art.  Even his signature was aesthetic--a swoop of a first initial, a period, then his last name.  You can fall in love with someone who writes you a lot.  Happens all the time these days.

He sent me a birthday present before he ever saw me.  It arrived snuggled in bubble wrap and brown grocery bag paper.  I snipped the Scotch tape carefully with manicure scissors.  It was a painting, sort of--all aqua paint, real live dead butterflies, pictures of pickles and torn out pieces of the Sears and Roebuck catalog.  I fell in love, right then, with the idea of being loved by an artist.   

He was older than me and that felt cool.  He'd been a hippie, a druggie and a lush.  He'd climbed twelve steps, more than once.  He did all the wrong things right.  He wore leather pants and had his right ear pierced.

The painter liked when people told him he looked like Rod Stewart.  Even so, he let me dye his eyebrows and hair the color of a carrot even though it was beautiful just the way it was--the shade and texture of a palomino pony's forelock.  My dad took one look and pulled me into the kitchen.  "Is he a homosexual?"

The painter picked me up for our first date in a convertible Cadillac--once upon a time powder blue.  He called it, The Landshark, probably 'cause it rode so low to the ground it felt like the Flinstone-mobile.  He took me to a jazz club in Charleston.  I don't care much for jazz, but I was willing to give it a try, if it would make me cool, like an artist.

The painter ordered me a shot of Ouzo and a glass of ice.  He demonstrated how to melt drops of water into the licorice-smelling liqueur to make little cloudy jetstreams.  He wanted to smell my Ouzo breath.  "So I can remember."  Me, or the Ouzo?

He called me his little prairie chicken.  He liked that he could pinch an inch over the top of my Levis.  "When I hold a woman, I don't want to feel like I'm hugging my brother."

He only had one brother.  He was ten years younger and his face looked like Cream of Wheat with raisins for eyes.  He was a certified genius.

The painter's dad was a big man with a done-lopped belly.  He worked at Union Carbide.  The painter's mom was tiny, like Carol Burnett.  She worked at the DMV.  She used to tell me stories about people with weird first names.  "I think the topper was Placenta," she said.  "This woman told me her mother heard the word when she was in labor and that's how she got her name--Placenta Ann Jones."  I never forgot that.  Or, the twin girls named Christy and Chanda Lear.

My family and friends never did take to the painter.  It wasn't like he tried to isolate me on purpose.   The split--me and him on one side, everybody else on the other--happened naturally, like the parting of the Red Sea.  I didn't mind too much 'cause I was love struck, baby.  I was absolutely certain that love . . . love would keep us together.

My best friend growing up had a habit of dating all the wrong guys.  The fact that she was the only person I knew who approved of the painter should have been a do-not-enter (this relationship) sign, but it wasn't . . .  'til later.

One night, the painter grabbed my arm and squeezed it 'til I screamed at the top of my lungs, right there on Campus Drive.  The next morning, I talked to myself as I leaned over the bathroom sink to get closer to the mirror to put on my mascara.  "I'm not gonna be like my best friend.  I'm not gonna keep lovin' Mr. Wrong, over and over."

There was lots of stuff the painter wanted me to do that I didn't.  I reckon that's why he left me for another prairie chicken.  I saw them sittin' in the window of the Boston Beanery in matching, paint-spattered overalls.  I looked away quickly, but not before I noticed that she looked like a girl Bugs Bunny.  He must like her 'cause she's an artist.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Saving Booger Hole

Francis, the gentle giant, was going to feed a cute little mouse to a mean old tarantula and it was my job to make sure it didn't happen.

I'm not sure why Frank got a tarantula.  It's not like you can cuddle one or anything.  Frank named the spider, Legs, 'cause he liked ZZ Top.  The mouse was a BOGO item--buy a tarantula, get its first meal free.

I was walking through the common room on my dorm floor when someone made an announcement.  "Frank's gonna feed a mouse to his tarantula tonight.  Who wants to watch?"

That's all I had to hear.  I left a trail of my econ textbook, a spiral notebook, two Bic pens, my gloves and coat in the hall.  I flung open the door to Frank's room.  He lowered the beer bottle that was en route to his lips.  One corner of his mouth went up.  He didn't say it, but it seemed like he was expecting me.

I put my hands on my hips and glared at him and his red-headed roommate.  "Where's the mouse?"

The guys looked at each other, then back at me.  Frank used his beer bottle to point to the other side of the room.  I walked over and sat down at his desk.  I looked at the cardboard pet box.  I could see a half dozen fiber optic-looking whiskers sticking out of one of the air holes.  I touched them and they retracted.  Then a little eraser pink nose poked out, all quivery.  I held my pointer finger a half inch away for him or her to sniff.

I picked the box up and held it close to my heart.  I walked around to the red head's desk and perched on top of it.  "How much?"

Frank squinted.  "How much what?"

"How much for the mouse?"

Frank shrugged.  "I don't know," he said.  "That probably would have fed him for a good month."

"Crickets 'til the end of the year," I said.

Frank shook his head.  "What?"

"I'll buy your stupid tarantula a bag of crickets every week 'til the end of the year in exchange for this little guy."  I tapped the top of the box.

When he didn't answer, I balanced the mouse house on my lap and held out my hand.  "Deal?"

Frank looked at the ceiling for a minute, then he held his hand out.  "Deal."  He took his time giving me back my hand.

The next day, Frank and I rode the elevator to the ninth floor after lunch.

"You want a ride to the pet store?" he said, before he turned right and I turned left, off the elevator.

I looked up at him and wrinkled my nose.  "What for?"

"You know . . . mouse food . . . crickets?"

"Oh.  Yeah.  I guess I do.  Let me get some money."

My monthly money from Dad was running low so I got Booger Hole a turtle bowl instead of a Habitrail.  I didn't get food.  I'd just bring him stuff up from the dining hall.  I bought him a little blue bowl to drink water out of 'cause I couldn't figure out how to attach a water bottle to the turtle bowl.

I named the mouse, Booger Hole, 'cause one of my brothers had told me about a bluegrass band called Booger Hole Revival.  When you revive something, isn't it like snatching it from the jaws of death?  Like Jesus did Lazarus?

Booger Hole was a silky, charcoal-colored mouse, the size of my thumb.  I could tell he was a boy  'cause . . . well, I could tell.  Even though he was super cute, Booger Hole turned out to be a pain in my butt.  He was forever peeing in my sweatshirt pockets and getting out of his turtle bowl.  He didn't seem to realize or appreciate what I'd done for him . . .  the way I'd purchased his redemption and all.  I loved him anyway.

Booger Hole  figured out early on how to come and go.  Every morning he was inside his bowl,  but there were  always little chocolate jimmy-looking mouse presents all over my desk.  I started putting a textbook on top with a sliver of a gap for him to get air.  Each of my textbooks wound up with a crescent moon-shaped hole on the side opposite the spine.  I didn't get cash back for used books that semester. 

On about our fourth trip to the pet store, Frank turned to me at the stoplight right before the Mileground. 

He looked at my knees instead of my eyes.  "Legs was scared of Booger." 

I looked over at him and huffed.  "Are you serious?"

Frank bent forward to look up at the light to see if it had changed.  "Yeah.  I put Booger in with him and he ran to the other side of the tank."

I didn't say anything.

Frank cleared his throat.  "You don't have to keep buying crickets . . . if you don't want to."

I looked out my window and shook my head.  "No.  A deal's a deal."

And then I killed him . . . Booger Hole.  School was out for summer and Booger Hole and I went home to Huntington.

One night I had one too many at the Varsity Club, and I made a bad choice at 2 in the morning.  After I brushed my teeth, I got Booger Hole out to play on my bed.  I passed out and when I woke up,  I felt like the Princess and the Pea.  What is that lump under me?  The lump was Booger Hole . . . dead, but still warm. 

I held him in my hand and sobbed, trying to wash my guilt away with tears.  I stroked  his little body with my pointer finger.  All his important stuff was smooshed to one side.  Like when the loaf of bread gets crushed by the gallon of milk in your grocery bag.

I never did tell Francis, the gentle giant, that Booger Hole got killed by a sleeping giant--me.  Sometimes I wonder, which way would Booger Hole have preferred to die?  Death by hairy tarantula, or death by tipsy giant . . .


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