One Thing You Don’t Know
When I was a kid I stuck things up my nose. Everyone does, you say. But I say, Nay. (Not like I did anyway.) Because when I say “things” I mean “everything” and when I say “stuck” I mean “stuck.” Peanuts (shelled or no), carrots, oats, beans, and barley, potash, bread, guava, kiwi, lime, cinnamon sticks, marshmallows, asparagus, chicken nuggets, rolled-up slices of ham…and we haven’t even left the kitchen yet. There were G.I. JOE body parts to cram, pocket-change to pack, cotton-balls to stuff. Once I tried to map the contours of my schnoz with silly-putty. And once I filled it with grass while playing the role of a listless little league center-fielder. Chopsticks at restaurants. Pens at school. My toothbrush, at home, alone, absentmindedly. And I didn’t do it for money. Not even because I was dared. I just did it. ‘cause it was a hole in my face that needed filling? ‘cause I needed the attention? ‘cause I liked the smells of things and took it a little too far? Who can really say?
But my parents, teachers, and increasingly as I grew older, my contemporaries began to worry. Enough had become enough and they all (in their own way) attempted to rid me of this curiously idiosyncratic tendency. At first they tried approaching the situation with a certain degree of amplified shock mixed with concern. “Oh, Patrick what on earth are you doing, you don’t know where that _______ has been. It could be terribly dirty, and you might come down with something.” Then they made grave warnings regarding my susceptibility to potential mockery. “Patrick do you want people to think you are weird? To make fun of you? That’s what they’ll do if they see you.” When that failed they tried some good old-fashioned put-downs. “You are a disgusting little pig.” And when that seemed to only hurt my feelings and not to curb my nasal fixation, they tried ignoring the behavior altogether—“….”—thinking (praying no doubt) that it was a passing phase. But it didn’t seem to be, and slowly those people around me began to accept that I might forever be a nose-jammer.
Are you familiar with Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle? The small hump-backed woman who lived in an upside-down house and had a magical chest of cures for whatever might ail the children of her neighborhood. The Won’t-Pick-Up-Toys cure, the Chews-His-Food-Too-Much cure. Being altogether fictional she had no cure for me, but I was in desperate need of a Puts-Things-Up-His-Nose cure. Which is finally the reason behind this story.
Marbles are well matched to a human nostril, they are perfectly spherical, cool (a temperature which suits a nostril just fine), and of variable size. (I am ahead of myself.) Now, I never played marbles the way my granddad played, or perhaps my father played—in that sumo ring of thievery. I had marble-runs.
At first I was engaged by the simplicity of the antique wooden ones, the two towers connected with ramped gutters that sent a marble sliding back and forth, back and forth; then later, the plastic jobs that allowed you to design a much more elaborate run. Although the original lacked elaborative creativity, its successor lacked the aural satisfaction of a marble knocking on wood; and so, using tools I pilfered from my dad’s workshop, I set out to construct my own runs, whittling almost any bit of wood I could find to meet the variable dimensions of my marble collection. To see it now you would not be impressed with my output, unless you took my relative talents and age into consideration. (And even then.) But it kept me busy for a while, and sets the stage for the curing of my lamentable habit.
During periods of intense construction and between test runs I would (as my nature suggests) store marbles in my nose. Being well practiced in this arena I could store one small marble in the back cavity and cover it with a mid-sized marble. Two marbles to a side, four in all, like a double-loaded shotgun. And as I would discover, the risk was just as severe.
Anxiety, a boost of testosterone brought about by a crucial development in my run, the slightest seismic activity—I will never know, but one day something bigger than me and any marble I could imagine intervened and transpired to forcibly jam a little blue-wisped bastard deep into my nasal passage.
As with all of life’s greatest tragedies, I headed first to the bathroom, where I looked with horror at my freshly goitered face. Hurriedly, I made attempts to free this foreign object from my face, but no amount of blowing or prying, back of head slapping or snorting could dislodge the glassy ball. I could not force any air past it. The tweezers my mother kept by the sink could not begin to grip round it. And so, after some hopeless minutes in front of the mirror, I turned teary-eyed to the greatest mirrors of all, the faces of my mother and father. And there, panicked, I learned that everything might eventually be okay again. It was decided—only after my dad tried the shop-vac and my mom tried basting the interior of my nose with olive oil—that a trip to the hospital would be required.
Although I looked scarily primeval—a missing bird/man evolutionary link—with my nose stuffed so, we happened on a busy night at the neighborhood ER, and my problem ranked on the order of a cat up a tree when the town was ablaze (i.e. it could wait). For seven hours as it turns out. Not to say my parents didn’t try their darnedest to expedite the process. During one heated discussion between the desk clerk nurse and my father (which also turned out to be the last), I overheard the nurse say something on the order of: If you’re tired of the wait you can head on home, but we treat patients on a priority basis, and picking your son’s nose ranks pretty low on that list.
After a couple laps of the kid friendly magazines, a tour of the gaming corner, and a brief snack of bite-sized Butterfinger’s (which I was courteous enough to keep from my caverns) my name was called out, and I was greeted by the Doc.
“So kid, I hear you jammed something up your nose.”
“Yesth,” (remember I was a little stuffed-up) “a marble.”
“You know those holes aren’t for storage right?”
“All right then, let’s have us a look.” My head was forcibly tilted back, my nose flash-lit (something I did seasonally to myself in front of the mirror). “Well, well, that is far back in there. I’m sort of impressed. You want me to see if the Guinness Book people could come down and get this on the books, you might have some sort of record.”
I could tell all the adults were enjoying the moment. My mom blushed as she looked to the Doc; my dad chuckled along.
After a saline-pump and Doc-vac failed I was given a local anesthesia and pulled every which way, as a bouquet of metal clamps and picks were shoved into my honker. The holy trinity of effort was put forth in that examination room—blood (mine), sweat (the doc’s), and tears (mine again, plus my mother’s)—but finally the orb was extricated. And squinting as he held it up to his eye the Doc proclaimed: “I guess you can have this back, so long as you don’t go trying to lodge it in your brain again.” And they all laughed. As for me, I remember my nose being sore for days (and being darn well Rudolphed to boot), and these days I almost never stick anything up there that doesn’t belong.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED