I was sitting around the kitchen table, nibbling on nachos. They were from a party the crew and I had three days ago. If you could image nachos as a bowl of leftover corn flakes, floating in a soup of stale milk that 48 hours ago could have been called cheese, and today called a science experiment, then you get the idea. I hadn’t eaten because me and my crew had just got back from a call and there was nothing left to eat here at Pollen Central. My legs itched, and my crotch felt as if in a vice – I hated these damn tights. Even when the four of us were out on patrol, or, as in the case of this last call, dressed alike in our gold spandex unitards with the giant ragweed pollen logo on our chest, I still felt foolish. Knowing that Hector, Elise and Frank looked as stupid as I felt just made matters worse. The only one who didn’t seem to mind was Skippy, our mascot monkey. Then again, he kept trying to eat his unitard. I thought he liked the taste of it, but maybe he thought the only way to get rid of the damn thing was to eat it.
The call came in around 2:00pm on a Thursday afternoon, from William Howard Taft middle school. Recess. Cottonwoods seeding out. You get the picture – horrible, simply horrible. We hopped in our VW Vanagon and sputtered to the scene. The tough 6 grade boys were still playing hopscotch, but the girls – ALL of them were writhing on the ground in obvious agony. It looked like that scene from Gone with the Wind. You know the one, where the entire confederate army was stricken on the ground in the rail yard, waiting to die? Yea, a sea of 12 year old humanity on the brink of being wiped out because some landscape architect liked the look of Cottonwoods against the backdrop of a school yard. The Bastard!
We let Elise take the lead, ‘cause she was once a 12 year old girl. Personally, I had trouble believing it, because she could bench press more than Hector and me combined, and her mustache was darker and fuller than Franks. She didn’t so much as take the lead as the rest of us stopped dead in our tracks sooner than she did. So there she was, leaning over the first victim in her gold and red spandex unitard, cape flapping, mustache bristling.
“Kid! What’s your problem?” she whispered in that hoarse, yet soothing baritone. Little Debbie, or Amber, Crystal, Tiffany – whatever her name was, jolted stiff, popped open an eye and looked up into Elise’s contorted, yet sincere face and screamed. It was worse than I thought. The other stricken 12 year olds, all turned their heads at Little Debbie, and stated to scream as well.
“Mass Hysteria.” I whispered to Frank. I was always the first to diagnose the problem, which made me feel like the team leader. Six months earlier I actually was the team leader, until that unfortunate incident when I mis-diagnosed that high school couple in the back seat of Daddy’s Buick with hydrocephalus, when it fact Junior had hit one off the fence and was rounding third heading for home. Ever since that mandatory court appointed sensitivity training I was forced to take, I had to take a back seat to Frank, and even Skippy when it came to bandaging and hand holding.
Elise reaches down and holds Little Debbie by the shoulders to settle her down, but the kid has her eyes clenched real tight as if it’s her first day of drivers ed, and that “Danger, Road Out” sign is coming up at 80 miles an hour. That’s when the other stricken girls come over and offer their assistance – by jumping onto Elise’s back, or tugging on her cape. But Elise keeps at it, trying to still Little Debbie during her seizure. It reminded me of ants on hot dog. You were glad you weren’t the hot dog, or the ant on the bottom getting squished into jelly.
That’s when I catch a glimpse of Sister Mary Kick-your-ass, running out of the building, with a yard stick in her hand. You know the kind, the one that gets issued to every Nun in the convent. Makes Louisville Sluggers feel like wet noodles when you get smacked with one. She runs past us and gives each of us a good whack on the back of the head, which I can still feel 3 days later, as she makes her way to the giant hot dog, I mean Elise.
“Young lady! Young lady, what do you think you are doing?” I had to hand it to the good Sister, on a dead run, her sentence structure was perfect AND she didn’t make the mistake so many citizens do of mistaking Elise for an Ed, or a Bill, or Walter. Oh, by the way, Elise was a Walter before he, was a she, if you know what I mean.
“Young lady, stop this at once! These girls are ‘pretending.’ It’s an exercise of free association and free movement.”
I was astonished. Back in the day, if I so much as twitched in Sister Mary Kick-your-ass’s class, she’d have given me what for with that yard stick. I hope to god she didn’t recognize me after all these years. But of course, she did. Nuns, like elephants remember EVERYTHING! It must have been all that Nun/Ninja mind training those Nuns go through – like being able to see who’s been passing a note behind her back in catechism class. How she knew it was me that passed a note to Suzy Ortonisky back in fourth grade, I’ll never know. I drew a weeks detention for that little note, but only served 2 days outa defiance. So, Elise lets Little Debbie up, the other girls drop off Elise’s shoulders like rain drops and they all begin to snicker at our unitards. I had a thought to offer a piece of my mind, in that colorful language we learned in Pollen Avenger school, when I again felt this sharp crack on the back of my head. That damned yard stick!
“That will be all, Sylvester.” I heard the good sister say and not for the first time in my life mind you. My face flushed, I head everyone snicker, even Skippy the monkey snickered at hearing my name. I hadn’t told anyone my real name since I joined the Pollen Avengers. Snake was my name, no longer. I’d be Sylvester, and would never be team leader again. Could you with a name like Sylvester?
So where have I been for the past 3 days? I’ll tell you. In Sister Mary Kick-your-ass’s detention, that’s where.