The simplest things can be a source of embarrassment for youngsters. A lot of kids pick their noses. Some are more secretive at it than others. Some are blatantly open about it. I was always discreet about such things.
The same went for farts. Like most others, I never wanted to be the one to get blamed for cutting the cheese. A few robust souls would sniff the pungency of the gas and immediately say, “Woo Hoo! I gotta claim that one!”
I was never so crass as that. I did get a kick out of those instances of being able to fart in a crowded noisy space where I could move away from the immediate area of the violation and watch the results of my actions. Sometimes I could only see looks of discomfort of those in the cloud. Other times, of course, there was nose holding, giggling, and pointing fingers. If they’d only looked in my direction, they’d have seen the smug grin on my face.
At the tender age of eleven, I once found myself in an extremely compromising situation concerning one innocuous little booger. It happened in a hardware store in Griffin’s downtown proper. It was here that I learned about prejudice.
I was interested in scientific projects that had to with electricity. Most of them called for common switches, batteries, incandescent bulbs and wire. These things could be found in the hardware store. I stood alone on an aisle looking at the prices of a few items I’d need. I picked my nose and ended up with a small, but very visible booger on my finger.
I tried to flick it off onto the floor. It was stubborn. It stuck to my finger. A salesman on the floor appeared at the end of the aisle with a female customer. He asked if he could help me. I innocently put my hand with the booger finger in my pocket. I heard the woman say lowly, “He just put something in his pocket.” The nosy old heifer was accusing me of shoplifting!
The salesman approached me. He was a wormy little dude that reminded me of that smartass Eddie Haskell on Leave it to Beaver. But as wormy as he was, he was still bigger than me, and what I considered an authority figure. “What’d you put in your pocket?”
“Nothing,” I answered. “Sometimes I just put by hands in my pockets,” keeping the booger secured. I tried to get the pesky little thing to stick to the pocket lining of my jeans.
“Can you pull your hand from your pocket and show me it’s empty?” Eddie Haskell was persistent. The nosy old heifer looked on suspiciously.
I pulled my hand from my pocket slowly, trying to get the booger to stay behind. It didn’t. It clung stubbornly to the finger that picked it. I looked in horror at the thing.
“Show me your hand. Open it up,” Eddie Haskell insisted as the nosy old heifer looked on.
I carefully opened my hand, trying to keep the booger from his line of sight.
“Turn you hand so I can see it,” the little worm insisted. I turned my hand just a degree. After all his insistent nudging, I turned my hand a total of five degrees. The nosy old heifer stood patiently at her outpost. I finally made a last ditch effort to get rid of the booger by suddenly putting my hand in my back pocket.
“He just put it in his back pocket,” the nosy heifer dutifully reported.
“She must be a school teacher,” I thought to myself.
“Can you turn your pockets out for me,” Eddie Haskell asked insistently.
I pulled my hand from my back pocket. At last! The booger was gone! I was rid of it. Soon, I’d be rid of Eddie Haskell and the school teacher heifer. I opened my hands jubilantly. I turned my front pockets out. Nothing there. I clutched my dollar bill and change in my hand.
“What’s in your hand?” The detective Eddie Haskell didn’t miss a trick. Feeling almost giddy, I opened both hands victoriously, showing him my money. The nosy heifer stood her ground.
“Can you turn your back pockets out,” the thorough detective Haskell asked.
“They’re jeans, dumbass, they don’t work like that,” I wanted to yell. Instead I answered abashedly, “No sir, they won’t do that.” I pulled outward on the left pocket and let him look. He looked into the abyss of the pocket, where somewhere, there was a pain in the ass little booger hiding. I was sure I heard the little snot wad let out a barely audible snicker, the kind of snicker that people make unintentionally when they’re trying not to laugh because the thing they’re trying not to laugh at happened an hour ago and to laugh at it now so long after it had happened would seem inappropriate or weird.
“May I look at the other pocket,” he continued. I pulled it open. I imagined the little booger still struggling not to laugh out loud. The nosy old heifer stood her post vigilantly, arms crossed firmly. He peered into my pocket.
Satisfied that he and the nosy old school marm were satisfied, I suddenly announced, “I have to get back to work.”
“Well, certainly, young fellow, no one’s detaining you here.” Detective Haskell stepped aside, amicably. At the end of the aisle, the nosy heifer smiled sweetly and stepped aside as I went by. I only glanced at her, humiliated by the whole experience.
Little did Eddie Haskell know that my older brother, Greg, worked as a salesman here on a part-time basis. I never said anything to him or anyone else about the occurrence.
A year later, Greg was having me help with a repair at the nearby cafe that my parents owned. He asked me to walk with him to the hardware store where he worked with the wormy little detective. I was now a year or more older and wiser and not as embarrassed by snotty little boogers. Still I hoped we wouldn’t cross paths with Eddie Haskell. We walked in. The store was empty.
Eddie Haskell’s double stepped out of an aisle. “Hey Greg, what brings you in?”
“I just need a couple of things to repair something at the cafe. Gary, this is Cody, my little brother. Cody, this is Gary,” he said, formallly introducing us.
So, now I knew his name and he knew mine. But he’ll always be Detective Haskell to me. And I’ll probably always be a stealing little street urchin to him. His next utterance confirmed this.
“Oh, yeah, I met Cody about a year ago. I almost caught him shoplifting,” the little worm announced with conviction.
I was now a year or more older, wiser, and a smartass. Gary didn’t look as big and as authoritative and I had my big brother beside me.
I spat out acerbically, “No, you almost caught me with a booger on my finger. I was trying to hide it, but you and that stupid woman insisted that I was stealing something.”
“That’s enough, Cody. Right or wrong, Gary is older than you and you shouldn’t be disrespectful to him. But no, Gary, Cody doesn’t steal.” Big Brother stood up for me.
I scoffed, and giving Gary a dirty look I said, “I’ll wait outside.” I turned and stepped through the doors and out onto the street.
When Greg came back out we walked toward the cafe. As soon as we were out from in front of the store, Greg began laughing. “Gary is a smart ass. I’m sorry he put you through all that, but I’m proud of how you stood up to him in there. I only said what I said because he’s a co-worker and I still have to work with him.”
As I said, it was here that I learned what prejudice is. Because I was young and by myself, the nosy old heifer who was actually a middle aged upper crust “lady” assumed that I was a street urchin that was nothing but trouble and would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. Since that day, I’ve always tried to keep in mind how hurtful it is to be pre-judged.