Cookie crumbs

Crumb – I’ve become Southernized. Kind of.

Crumbs are shortish observations and thoughts that come to me amidst other pursuits. I post them without photos and without editing.

I can’t believe it and am loathe the admit it: I have become Southernized. It’s not that I’ve bought a machine gun or purchased a truck with eight-foot-tall tires, but it’s something much more important: the heat.

Regular readers know that I hail from just south of Seattle, where a nice winter day is forty degrees with no rain and a pleasant summer day is seventy degrees with no rain. Here in sunny South Carolina – “it’s like a vacation every day!” my wife says – a nice winter day is seventy with no rain and a pleasant summer day is 105 degrees with no rain but dripping humidity.

Nice is relative. But I caught myself today opening the back door to the screened-in porch, and propping it open.

“I really like the sounds of the outside and the breeze blowing through, I told my wife. “And just to make sure we’re not spending money trying to cool the outside, I’ll turn the AC up to 78.


For you math types, that’s almost 80, at which point I die in Seattle. Now – weirdly – it’s livable.


Maybe I should rethink my plans to move back to upstate New York and bask in six months of snow and sub-thirty. I might be too Southern for that now.


Floating with Jesus. Non-fiction? Dream state? You tell me.

Here is something different…

Maybe this rightly goes under the fiction heading, but so often now, when I read the Bible, my eyes stop on “…the word of the Lord came to me in a dream…” so I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to know. I’m happy to live in that crack between what is real and what’s not and what might be. We live with question marks. Enjoy!


Floating with Jesus

The sun bragged on the peaks below, lifting high through the clouds like bent knees in bed. We floated on clouds, Jesus and I, hands clasped behind our heads, drowning in the sheer beauty of it. The ocean beneath was clear and blue. We didn’t talk but shared a silent satisfaction.

Jesus, looking every bit a long-haired Scandinavian god like the one pinned above my grandmother’s bed, looked at me, arching His eyebrows. Reaching into the cloud, He pulled out a leg. A human leg, apparently unused. It was new and shiny, and muscular and clean of any hint of blood or tissue. Unused, I thought, created on the spot by the Creator.

“Here,” He said, holding it like a drumstick. “Feel it.” I took it and stroked it like a cat’s back. Now, awake and writing, I’m surprised at how I gushed. “My gosh,” I said, “this thing is beautiful. I mean…it’s gorgeous.” I was in a bicycle racing accident a year earlier, spending three months in the hospital with a brain injury. For the first two weeks, machines kept me alive, and I was comatose for a month. I learned to walk again, but doctors said no more bikes. No racing and no circling around the block. But, in the clouds now, I wondered: what about with a new leg?

The offer

“You can have it,” He said, waving His arm, nonplussed. “I have arms and more legs for you, too, if you want them.” He smiled again, knowingly. “You can be better than new with these. Faster.” He was speaking my language, appeasing my base desires.

I looked straight at Him. “Are you kidding me? I can have this? I can have new arms and legs? Man,” I said, “I am all in.”

He slowed me down. “There’s something I need to tell you, something you should know.”

“Anything. Shoot.”

He lifted His hand to his chin, and dropped His voice, “You have to die first.”

The denial

Maybe it was my grimace, but he went on, a little too giddy. “Really, it’s no big deal. For you, it’s a drop of water. I mean, it’s eternity, but you’ll see your family again, and it will be like you blinked.” He paused. “Of course, they’ll have to die, too. And for ten or forty years, they’ll have to live with their dad and husband dying, but in eternity they’ll see that it was nothing.”

I didn’t think my dying would be ‘nothing’ to my family and looked at the leg and then at Jesus. “Man,” I said, and shook my head. “Did you see them when I was in the hospital? They literally gave up their lives for me. The girls were fantastic. They made everyone feel better. And Mal? I mean, she was the husband and the wife, she paid the bills, she took care of me…” I looked up at Jesus. “I’m sorry, but I can’t trade their misery for my wholeness. It doesn’t matter for how long. A nurse at the hospital told me one night that when she sees my wife, she thinks she ‘ain’t never seen love like that before,’ and I didn’t argue. Love like that should be loved back.”

No Problem

I don’t know what I expected. This was the God of Thunder, after all, who whipped the money changers and cleaned out the Temple of anyone taking advantage of others, but he just smiled, laying back in His cloud.

“It’s no problem, Dennis. Really. It’s your decision.”

Somewhere between awake and dream, I sat up that morning, in bed, with Jesus still smiling at me. I shot a look to where my wife would lay, and she was there. “I’m still alive,” I thought. And I couldn’t help but wonder, as I lay there with my hand on my wife’s back if I would have died if I said Yes to Jesus. Awake, I wondered, too, if it was a test, a dream, or the result of food gone bad. I still wonder.

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Book Review – What Makes Olga Run?

My family history

My grandfather and then my father died at 67. It’s a four-year hop and a skip from where I sit. Both died from cancer. What started as skin cancer metastasized into something threading through every open space like a pot-bound plant. When I went through my family history with my dermatologist, she said, “Ya know? If I were you,” and she wasn’t laughing, “I wouldn’t let the South Carolina sun touch my skin.”

The best guess about my grandfather was granite dust. When he was young, he worked as a stonecutter, turning granite pillars all over Washington State. He didn’t smoke and had no family history of cancer, so granite was the best guess his doctors had. Granite dust is radioactive and sharp as a knife along its broken edges and may have sliced into tissue for years with each inhale and exhale.

Doctors weren’t sure about Dad. He smoked but never had lung problems. His mom died at 92 and lived the life of Annie Oakley until the Saturday morning when she dropped her mortal coil. She lived until she died, driving her gold ‘67 Ford Galaxy across town twice a week to organ lessons. Wise drivers pulled over as she cruised by, taking two of the four lanes. The trouble was, no one was sure which two she would take. And she didn’t much care. There were organs to be played.

Olga and living well. And long.

Medicine has far from a comprehensive understanding of aging, but we’ve learned much. Movement appears essential for healthy aging, as does a healthy diet without gimmicks. Good friends, family, and healthy relationships put us in the right frame. Genetics are important, but not nearly as much as we once thought. But living long is only half the calculation: it’s living well that counts. Researchers consider engagement and continuous learning as required components of this long, good life.

One person who lived long and well was Olga Kotelko. She began competing in track and field when she was 77. By the time she died at 95, she’d won hundreds of gold medals and held almost every master’s record for her events and age groups. How? What was unique about Olga? In many ways, the author of What Makes Olga Run? finds nothing unique. Most of her medical metrics were normal or close to it. She ate a healthy diet, but nothing exotic or rigorous. She exercised daily and maintained a positive outlook. But she was unique, and somehow these normal parts add up to an extraordinary whole. The book offers no magic. No crazy diets. Only observed advice that is easy to follow for healthy and happy living. Following is my review of the book: it’s an interesting and provoking read.

Book Review – What Makes Olga Run?

Olga Kotelko was an elite masters track star who, upon her death in 2014, at age 95, held hundreds of gold medals in track and field, none of which she earned before her 77th birthday.

In What Makes Olga Run? author Bruce Grierson jumps headfirst into the life of Olga to understand what makes her special. What he finds is that Olga wasn’t very extraordinary. There is no magic. Readers looking for superfoods, esoteric yoga mantras, or exotic training regimens won’t find them here. Olga’s story is remarkable in how unremarkable it is.

Grierson follows Olga through just about every test one can think of: stress tests, DNA analyses, diets, psychological examinations: in every case, she tests normal or close to it. But somehow, in Olga, the whole is greater than the sum of her parts. At 77, when most people are dead or dying, she hires a Hungarian track coach and begins a daily training regimen. She eats a nutritious, but not remarkable, diet. She loves competition and loves to win. She is upbeat and refuses to dwell on dark things. All of this adds up to an uncommon life of steady and satisfying accomplishment.

The book is not a textbook. There are passages, especially concerning biology, that could be more precise. But precision in a book like this often translates into boring. And the book is not boring. It is well written, reads easily, and is adequately documented.

Take aways

There are three main take-aways:

1. What you already know about good health is true. Eat well. Exercise. Sweat a little every day. Enjoy friends and family.

2. Work at being positive and optimistic. Eschew pessimism. Keep a good perspective.

3. Your bad habits can be reversed. You can improve your heart health. You can enjoy time with your family again. Every decision, every step, every bite represents a fork in the road that leads to a result you chose.

The author ends with Nine Rules for Living that summarize simplicity and health. None will surprise you. But for Grierson, Olga’s best gift is a strong rebuke that changes his perspective. He records her advice:

“Look around. These are your kids. This is your wife. This is your life. Its awesomeness is eluding you. Pay attention. Yes, there will come a time when you have genuine, life-threatening ailments. But, for now, stop your kvetching. And stop dreading birthdays that end in zeros. Those zeros can pull you under, like stones in your pocket. At your age, your story is not ending: you know that.”

An uplifting read.

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Olga on Amazon.

Or go here to Barnes and Noble

Or, it’s a weird thing I know…take the title to your local indie bookseller. If they don’t have it, they can order it. The library is a nice place for books, too.


Number 11

I came across this little gem/not-gem today while cleaning a stack of files from my accident. It’s my wife’s little notebook from when I first went to the hospital. You see the entry on 5/31? 

“Also said I looked sad.”

This breaks my heart even now, four years later. She scribbles that I was confused: I’m sure that’s the least of it. I joke with her – ha ha! – that the accident and recovery were easy for me: I never knew what happened, never really experienced it, and – at least at first – was doped up like a Munch painting. But even then, even with all this stuff, even flashing in and out of consciousness, I saw her sadness. I know now that she wondered how to take care of the girls by herself and how she would tell them I was gone.  

Whew. Tough.

Note, too, the hilarity of it: I asked if she wanted to go on a bike ride. Maybe it hadn’t sunk in quite yet?

1970s Stereo

Number 18

Me and my Guerciotti…

Somewhere in the archives is a story about my epiphany after a bicycle race. Before the race, I was dead-set on a Guerciotti.

“That’s what I need: a handmade Italian beauty looking like Michelangelo’s Pieta on wheels. I could be fast, then, like a real racer. As fast as water spewing from a hydrant.”

Instead, I rode a Kobe. A Kobe. Who ever heard of a Kobe? Who’s ever seen a Kobe? It was a Japanese bike made for the California market and for poseurs who lightened their hair with sun and lemon juice. It might as well have had John Deere decals.

I won the race – a twenty-mile time trial – by twenty minutes. Middle-Georgia produces many things but not bike racers. I sat at the finish line and saw Guerciottis come in well after me. And Bianchis and Peugeots and Raleighs. I realized that fancy and expensive doesn’t automatically translate into good, best, or fast. I’ve pondered this truism several times over the years.

In fact, I thought about this recently after buying a stereo component magazine. If I had only paged through the thing, I would have saved six bucks. You see, I have a hankering for classic stereos – meaning 1970s-era components – and the cover of this magazine announced loud and clear as I walked by the shelf at Barnes & Noble that this was the TURNTABLE ISSUE! I had to have it.

I got home, drew a cup of decaf, and then sat on the couch to waft back to 1975 and imagine when I played Dark Side of the Moon or Sabbath’s Volume IV 17,000 times on my cheap ol’ JVC. Let me tell ya: nothin’ in this magazine was cheap. Or inexpensive. Or cost less than a used VW bug. They reviewed five turntables, and the least expensive was $14,000. That’s a fourteen followed by three zeros! Fourteen times one-thousand. Almost a year of mortgage payments for me. I tossed the magazine and shook my head, wondering what has gotten into people.

So, I’m either poor as dirt or smart enough to know when I’m being had. I think it’s the latter. And I found a nice refurbished JVC on eBay – just like I had – for two hundred bucks. Maybe it even has DM scratched onto the back plate. Wouldn’t that be sweet?


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Number 15

Early 2023

I haven’t sprung this yet, but I sauntered down to the emergency room suite Monday night and am possibly staying. At least for a while. Smart people are talking bilirubin and gallbladders and how things don’t measure up.

A surgeon asked me – I thought she was joking – “Have you looked in the mirror lately?” I hadn’t, but did, and, wow! I look like a yellow onion.

Anyway, it’s all a secret part of my weight loss/bike racing plan, though the radiologist was pretty impressed with my diminutive gall bladder. I’m also getting plenty of time for Bible reading and for writing. Nice! But my wife might disagree.

Grading Papers

The acorn and the tree

Red pen editing

A phone call brought it all back

My oldest boy phoned yesterday. He’s in the military now, protecting the world from nefarious elements scattered across the globe while ensconced inside his cozy Las Vegas office. He also just finished a couple of lit degrees. I would never have never guessed.

I spent most of his high school days between either him and his mom, or between him and his school principal. One time I was called to the school because he raised his hand in Mr. McCracken’s class. “I was just wondering,” he asked the teacher, “if your last name is really McCracken. Like in, ‘butt crack’?”

Neither the school nor Mr. McCracken thought this was funny. Apparently, the class did, and they fell out of their chairs laughing, giving my son exactly what he was looking or.  So, I met with the principal and the teacher and to talk about the improprieties of my progeny. I remember nothing of the meeting except that Mr. McCracken was so red-faced that he couldn’t speak. And really? What do you expect? You’re a high school teacher named McCracken.

There was another teacher who kids loved to get riled up, and my boy stood in line for the opportunity. Everyone knew that If you got this teacher mad enough, early enough, the class was over. He would rant and steam for forty minutes about kids these days and how when he was young, there were rules, and kids did what they were told. I don’t know when he grew up, but I remember being at the same school back when American Was Great and getting caught handing out commie pamphlets between bouts of throwing up Southern Comfort after chemistry. These were good days, to be sure, but we didn’t follow rules nor did we do what we were told. Well, I didn’t


A new author in the family

So, the young pup phoned yesterday.

“Dad. You’ll never guess what happened.”

“Your wife is pregnant?”

We both laughed, but, truth be told, Mittons are proven breeders.

“You know my final paper that we talked about? For my lit degree?”

“Yeah,” I said. “But, last we talked, I you hadn’t decided on a topic”

“Oh. I ended up writing about kids and literature, but hey, the prof who graded it? He wants to publish it in a lit journal. Can you believe it?”

“Wow. Very nice.”

“Yeah. He wants to team up, and he’ll help me with formatting and how to present the material, but I’ll be the main author.”

“That’s very sweet. Way to go.”

“When I first got it back, it was covered with red marks, and I thought, oh man, I botched this one, but they were all about how great the paper was.”

“Awesome, man. I’m super proud. Did I ever tell you about my first college paper? All covered in red marks?”

“What? No. What was that one?”

My first college writing experience

And so ensues the tale.

I was a freshman at Western Washington University, that bastion of higher education in Bellingham, WA. I assumed – for no discernible reason – that academics were a given. Write the paper, take the test, get an A, and party on. We did a lot of that in high school.

So, I sat in English 101, and on the first day of class the prof sent ‘round a drawing that looked like he tore it out of his kid’s coloring book. It was of some farm animals, cows, pigs, and horses, and they were smiling and happy, like there was nowhere else they would rather be than here on the farm getting fattened up for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Our next class is on Monday,” the prof said. “Let’s do this: take this picture and write a story about it, or an essay, or anything you want. Make it about two pages long. I just want to get an idea of where we are with writing. Okay?”

Sometime over the weekend, between girls and parties and football and who knows what, I spit out an essay I was happy with. It was about how animals accept death as a fact of their life cycle and humans should, too. There’s nothing to fear and nothing to plan for. When you’re done, you’re done. I slapped the final carriage return and patted myself on the back. It was smart, philosophical, a little theological, and I probably threw in a few impressive words.

I turned it in Monday, and he handed it back on Wednesday, a day that lives in Mitton Infamy.

He was visibly pained when he handed me my paper. I wasn’t surprised. It wasn’t often, I guessed, that he got such erudite work from a freshman. Big and bold red words emblazoned the first page, as if from the finger of the Almighty on granite tablets. I read the words though, and a foggy confusion draped over me like Washington rain. I remember the words exactly: “The oddest and most poorly written paper I’ve ever read by a college student.”

My head spun, and I checked the name. Yup. It was me. Did he read it? Could he have read it? How did he miss the insight? How could he overlook my unassailable argument? Was he really this much of a dolt? I was stupefied.

Thinking about it, and telling my boy, we both laughed about high school and how we thought we were pulling one over on our teacher when, in fact, we were missing things we would need later. I don’t blame the teachers – they’re just trying to make a living doing something good.

Bad high school essays

Also from my boy’s high school days is this story that kind of follows the thread.

“Really?” I said to him. “You got a D on this? In science? C’mon. Your Dad is a WRITER and a SCIENTIST. Surely, I could have helped you?”

“Dad!” he got more excited the deeper I drilled. “This is like the first time he’s ever read our papers. Really. I just usually write the first and last line and fill in the rest with words. I always get a B.”

“Am I really that dopey to you? You expect me to believe that?”

“I can prove it,” he said, rummaging through a mess of papers. He found what he was looking for and pointed to a line. “See? Read this.”

“I slept with your wife last Saturday when we were both drunk at your house.”

It was right there, penned in blue, smack in the middle of the paper, bookcased by a couple of nonsense sentences about real science. With a bright red ‘B’ circled on the front.

“I do it all this time,” he said. He never reads them, so we all put stupid stuff in the middle. He’s never said anything to anyone.”

I wanted to be mad and tell him but, like on a 1970s sitcom, my vision went wavy and my memory of Mrs. Rose wafted before my eyes.


I was back in high school now, my high school, with longer hair and platform shoes. I had just got a C on a paper from Mrs. Rose. She was my favorite and let me slide on almost any stunt. I don’t know why – substances now legal in Washington but illegal then may have come into play – but I wrote all my papers in her class backward. I could write backward or forward and chuckled when I thought of her putting my paper up to a mirror to read it. I always got a B, and that was good enough for me.

Except for this time. It was the same thing that happened to my boy in high school: the teacher decided to actually read this one.

I marched up to her with my C paper in hand and asked her to explain. It was her fault, you know.

“Uh-huh,” she exhaled as I made my case. “But, it really is a C paper. It’s not that good. Probably should have been and C- or a D+.”

“But, I mean, I always get a B. I’m a B student.” I was reaching.

“Oh, I’m getting it now,” she said, laughing. “Do you think I read those backward things you turn in? Honey. I have better things to do than read that stuff, so I just give you the grade I think you should get.”

“Well, then why don’t I get a B on this one?”

“Because I read it.” She leaned toward me, reading my face to see if I got it. “It’s not that good. Is all your work like this? I think I’ll give you Cs from now on.”

I might have been dopey, but I wasn’t stupid. I didn’t want her to redo all my grades, so I started writing in semi-readable frontward English, and my boy quit writing about his teacher’s wife.

Back to my first college essay

Because you are wondering about that first college paper I wrote, I didn’t finish the class. I could have, I should have buckled down and worked long hours to improve my writing, but that sounded like work, so I just dropped the class.

Later, having to take this class to graduate, I wrote a paper called The Theme of Angst in the Writing of TS Eliot. Whereas the other essay was the first paper of the term, this was the last, but the prof still had things to say. He wanted to see me after class in his office.

We sat down and he opened with the exact opposite of the first year prof’s assessment.

“Dennis,” he said, “this is the best lit analysis I’ve tread by an undergrad.”

He looked at me hard, and I nodded, expecting a ‘but’. “What are you doing next year? I’m pretty sure I could get you into any of a dozen MFA programs.”

I was confused again.

Shaking my head and waving my hands, I told him that I already had a college lines up. And that I was going to study molecular biology.

“Huh?” he said. “Molecular biology? You write like this and do science too?”

I was unsure of what to say. “Well, I do science…”

And that was it. I did science for most of my adult career, and wrote, too. Mostly long and angst filled governmental reports about our work. TS Eliot might not have approved.


So, I have written academic papers, and maybe my boy will, too. And, to this day, I am obsessed with getting words on paper. Maybe he will be, too. As the cliche says, the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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The second time I fell in love

I skipped into Fife Elementary halfway through the kindergarten year with new boots – loggers – squeaking on the waxed linoleum. Mom was horrified: on my first day there, the principal, Mr. Norby, yanked me and Jody Satiacum into his office for throwing blocks out the window. Mom met dad at the same school, and my grandparents met there, too, so I had a reputation to keep. I remember nothing of kindergarten except that I loved my teacher, Mrs. Scoggins. The next year, first grade, was more memorable: I met Rocky, to be one of my best friends, and met my second girlfriend, with whom I enjoyed my first kiss. Well, my first kiss not planted by a relative. I had my first school paddling, too. Kisses at school, I learned, are rare. Paddlings were more common.

What can I say? Patti was a wisp of a thing with a purple aura glowing around her ebony hair. Her legs blurred when she ran, like a cartoon. She was street smart, too, with sisters in third and fourth grades who showed her the ropes of school life. Mrs. Grove was our teacher: Patti sat in the first seat of the row, and I sat behind her. Rocky, always laughing, took up the caboose.

Love has given me many woes, and today might be the first. Recess was finished, and we funneled into our classroom like cattle through a chute. Settling into our seats, we watched art or science or who-knows-what on TV and did our best to stay awake. When the show was over, Mrs. Grove, always in a pink sweater, turned the TV off and pulled the plug.

She looked at us over the top of her glasses. “Kids,” she said, giving us that I-mean-business-this-time look, “I’m pushing the TV back to the media room. I’ll just be a minute. Stay in your seats and draw or color. “

She gave the TV stand a shove, and by the time one foot was halfway out the door, Patti, all three feet of her, jumped out of her seat like a cheerleader. “Okay!” she said, clapping. “Let’s go!”

I didn’t know who ‘let’s’ was, but in an instant, and without effort, she jumped onto my desk like a deer and ran down the tops of the other desks in the row. At Rocky’s desk, she jumped off like a ballerina, turning to the class to graciously accept her rightful accolade. Kids clapped and shouted. A few sunk further into their seats, sure they had seen something they shouldn’t have. I sat confused.

Amid the clapping, Patti ran up to my desk. Doesn’t she know we don’t run in class? Recess is for running. Well, Patti ran up to me and started slapping my desk like a war drum. “C’mon. Your turn!” she said.

I looked around, wondering who she was talking to.

“C’mon. Go before Mrs. Grove gets back.”

This was serious.

“Get on the desk. C’mon! It’s your turn,” she said,telling everyone else what a chicken I was.

Kids started chanting. “Come on, Dennis. It’s your turn. DO IT!”

Patti got away with it, right? How long can it take? I looked at Rocky, who waved me on, laughing. Resolved and glowing with courage, I looked at Patti and stood, expecting angels to sing. But unlike Patti, who jumped onto my desk like a mountain goat, I took a more careful approach, scanning every surface and hand-hold before making any move, like an ice climber on Mt. Everest. I climbed onto my chair first and then onto my desk. Flush with the pride of accomplishment, I turned to look at the class, to bathe in clapping and shouts. I saw Rocky, proud of me for taking my turn, and I swiveled to look at Patti again before making a mad sprint over the desktops to Rocky and back.

I stopped, though, instantly, when Mrs. Grove walked into the room. Her eyes met mine with me still standing on my desk. Patti jumped into her chair in time, sitting with her hands clasped, quiet, as if pondering her catechism. If I thought Patti was fast, Mrs. Grove appeared at my desk without moving. The class faded from view, and all I could see was Mrs. Grove.

“Is this what you call sitting quietly at your desk?” she said?

Her cat-eye glasses belied her true nature, and she was ready to pounce. “Look at Patti!” she said, pointing at her cherubic face. “She’s sitting at her desk with her arms folded and quiet. And what in the Sam Hill are you doing standing on your desk?” I knew from home the Sam Hill lived next door to You little bastard, and I had visions of our principal and his nail-studded spanking machine. Mrs. Grove wrapped her arm around my waist just like she would when she hugged me and set me on the floor. Steady now, on my feet, she grabbed me by the ear and hauled me out of the room in one motion. No one clapped. She didn’t say a thing to the other kids, sure my impending doom would keep their rear ends attached firmly to their chairs.

We hardly made it out of the room before she started looking for another teacher. Across the hall, the door to the other first-grade class cracked. “Mrs. Grove? Everything okay? Do you need help?” Miss Mullen. Hm.

“Can you watch him for a second?” She turned to me and said with an ominous tone. “I need to get my paddle.” Even at this age I sensed a heavy emphasis on paddle.

“Let me talk to my class,” Miss Mullen said and went back behind her door. “She popped out again, waving a paddle. “Look what I found. I keep it handy right by the door.”

“Perfect,” Mrs. Grove said, more to me than to the other teacher. “Can you watch?”

“Sure thing,” she said, liking this way too much.

Mrs. Grove stared at me again, drilling into my eyes with hers. “So,” she said, “can you explain to us why we are in the hall?”

“Because I stood on the desk,” I said, fessing up and realizing for the first time that no one had specifically told me not to stand on a desk. It was a fine point I didn’t dare broach.

“Right. You stood on the desk. Are you going to do that again?”

“No.” Not unless my girlfriend taunts me, I thought.

She took up position on my left side. “Okay, you know what to do. Bend over.”

I really didn’t know what to do. This was so…clinical. At home, infractions were dealt with by yelling, swearing, and lots of arms and hands waving. It was an emergency. Here, in the first grade, it was an annoyance. I bent over, showcasing my rear like a prize to be painted.

She whacked me, and it was like water from a tepid faucet.

“What do you think? Will that teach you to follow the rules?”

I was stunned. That? That was a paddling? I lied. “Yes, ma’am,” I said, trying to pout and look sad.

“Do you need another?” She stared at me again, hard, driving home her point.

“No ma’am,” I said, not sure if it was over.

“Good. Let’s go back into the room now.” She handed the paddle back, and both teachers looked like they had done their duty, saving another child from prison and poverty. Making the world safer from bad boys who stood on desks.

Back in the room, tugged by my ear, I was a hero now, having survived a thrashing by my teacher with no evidence of tears. I walked back to my desk and fell in love, Patti throwing me a quiet smile, waving to me with the rise of a finger. Several weeks later, we kissed outside of Mrs. Grove’s class under the windows and behind the scrubby bushes.

It was to be my only elementary school kiss. Alas, this was not true for my paddling.