Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Right on, Mr. Snivels

This time of year—with pollen a flyin’ and people a snifflin’ at my office—always takes me back to high school English with Mr. S. English had always been my favorite subject, one I later majored in at college. But the year I had Mr. S. almost made me hate the subject, and was my first experience with true panic-inducing fear.

Mr. S. seemed ancient to my young teenage self (he was probably only in his forties). A shock of white feathery hair swept across his head. He was short and stout, his diamond pattern sweaters always taut over his rotund belly. His face looked porcine, with big full cheeks that hung down into jowls, a turned up nose, and a splotchy redness that suggested alcoholism or high blood pressure. His Spartan desk was clear of any clutter, and only boasted a box of Kleenex.

With other “old” teachers, we students had the run of the show—swinging from rafters, talking back, throwing paper. But Mr. S. somehow commanded a militant discipline; each of us sat in our desk, hands folded, looking straight ahead. Nobody dare flinch.

There was one thing, however, that really got Mr. S.’s panties in a bunch—and it was something none of us did on purpose or could control. Sniffling.

The first time we learned of his pet peeve was a few days into the beginning of school. Some poor slouch sniffled and Mr. S., who was writing on the blackboard, suddenly stopped, shoulders hunched in annoyance, before slowly turning around, cheeks flaring up, hands shaking. With undisguised disgust he literally growled: “USE. A. TISSUE.” The boy who had committed the crime timidly approached the desk, took a tissue and returned to his seat. Wiping some snot away, he left the balled up tissue on the corner of his desk and continued to sniffle.

Mr. S. put down the chalk and turned around. By this time his face had taken on the shade of a beet, and looked like a balloon that had been filled with too much helium. “BLOW. YOUR. NOSE,” he said dangerously before turning back to the blackboard. But what teenager likes to blow their nose in class? It’s a recipe for disaster, and can only end with visible boogers hanging out or some other source of fodder for bullies or teasing.

Tension filled the air. The only sound in the room was Mr. S.’s clickety-clack chalk working its way across the board. I was afraid to swallow. But snot boy couldn’t help himself…his faucet was a drippin’. He sniffled—a big one—and all hell broke loose.

Mr. Smith threw down his chalk, jumped over his desk with the finesse of a football player and grabbed the boy by his collar. “GET OUT!” he shouted, escorting the boy to the hallway. “GET OUTTTTT.”

We all looked around, laughing nervously while inwardly assessing our own nasal passages and whether or not they had the potential to leak. Throughout the year, especially during winter and spring, a record number of students were thrown out of Mr. S.’s class. Nerd, dirtbag, punk or prep—nobody who had the sniffles was safe.

I remember being anxious to go to class. I remember using the rest room beforehand to blow my nose. I remember HATING Mr. S. with all of my being and thinking how utterly unfair he was. I remember thinking: what’s the big fartin deal about a sniffle?

Now in my mid-thirties, I can tell you what the big fartin deal about a sniffle is. IT’S ANNOYING. As I sit at my desk amid the sounds of coworkers' throat clearing, coughing up of phlegm, dry hacking coughs, over-the-top sneezing, and sniffles galore, I can honestly say that I totally sympathize with Mr. S. and totally "get" him.

If you’re still out there Mr. S., if you’re still alive and torturing students with poor immune systems or allergies, or even if you are in an old age home ready to go postal on your snivelling fellow residents, all I have to say to you is this: I hear you, man! Right on!