“Holy cow,” Dale blurted as the nine of us bumped
awkwardly into one another’s partially naked bodies.
From a poster just above the makeshift changing room
at the rear of my fourth grade classroom, President
Lincoln averted his stoic gaze from the jostling group of
boys below him as each of us desperately shimmied into
our festive costumes.
Having just removed my own shirt, I cautiously assumed
that I, for some reason, had become the focus of his
intrusive, zealous fascination. Locking eyes with the
auburn-haired second grader, I endured a curt seizure of
confounded panic brought on by the flamboyant intensity
of his enthusiasm. I glared at him temporarily as I
worked to forcibly summon the broadest, most sincere
smile I could muster. Then, planting my hand on his
bony shoulder, I complimented him on his novelty
I felt confident that my “I’m your buddy” act would
succeed in winning him over. I often relied on my pre-
pubescent acting skills to shield me from trouble and
blame. Regrettably, these same abilities failed to secure
me the lead role of the wide-eyed boy—Timmy or Jimmy
or something—in the Perry West-Perry Elementary
Christmas play. I, of course, objected to the decision
with the sanguine poise and delicate grace of a derailing
locomotive. Witnessing my protest, the school
librarian/pageant director then explained that my
contrary temperament earned me the equally impressive
part as the Grinch.
The hodgepodge play—titled something like How
Rudolph’s Wonderful Carol Stopped the Grinch from
Melting Frosty—unapologetically borrowed famous
characters from a pantheon of other beloved holiday
productions. This shoddy concept was undoubtedly
developed by the school district’s accounting
department—I think her name was Esther—in an effort to
cheaply reuse a decade’s worth of sweat-infused
costumes stored in musty boxes beneath the auditorium
Even with such loose guidelines, a costume could not be
guaranteed for every performer; a quarter of us were
expected to supply our own. While some of the wealthier
parents thought nothing of spending the adequate money
to rent or purchase costumes for their kids, the rest of
us had to rely on more fiscally responsible methods.
Though my mother had the uncanny ability to fashion a
knee-length winter parka and three afghans out of little
more than a simple cotton ball and spindle of thread, she
decided to forgo her talents in lieu of a more time-friendly
solution. To transform me into the Grinch, my mother,
instead, dressed me in a borrowed forest green dress
shirt and a generic pair of clearance sale olive slacks
from K-Mart. In hindsight, had I been privy to her plan to
rotate these wretched pants into my normal school
attire, I would have dipped my entire lower half in green
paint and strolled on stage bare-assed.
Unfortunately, such behavior would have certainly
provided Dale with much wider success than he was
currently achieving. Just as no one else behind the
partition seemed to be giving sufficient notice to Dale, he
snapped the elastic waistband of his loose-fitting cherry
red briefs, waved his undershirt in my direction, and
again exclaimed, “Holy cow!”
Tainted by the hiss of my scalding blood, my Cheshire
grin wilted under the onslaught of his menacing
effervescence. To rid myself of his hungry visage, my
eyes clamped shut just seconds before he anxiously
proclaimed, “You’re moldy!”
His emphatic declaration ensured that everyone—both
the boys inside and the girls outside the ramshackle
barrier—was instantly enlightened by his startling
discovery. Following some of their probing glances, I
peeked down at the smattering of insignificant brown
moles blotting my lithe torso like a haphazard map of
Hershey Park attractions.
Now, the larger chocolate spots illustrate the location of
our most popular rides while the smaller dots mark the
convenient placement of our numerous eateries. After
enjoying the rides, don’t forget to visit our wonderful gift
shop situated adjacent to the picnic pavilion signified by
this simple pink nipple. Thanks for coming and we hope
you enjoy your stay!
While I felt annoyed that Dale deemed it necessary to
point out my minor genetic irregularities, I fumed over the
realization that he seemed to be enjoying moderate
success at ridiculing me despite my being two years his
“They’re moles,” I corrected while wondering if
associating myself with a homely burrowing rodent with
an orthodontic crisis was actually all that preferable to
an outcropping of fungus growing on a month-old bologna
and double crust-piece sandwich.
“That’s what I said,” he countered flatly.
“No,” I boldly refuted. “You said ‘mold,’ but they’re
‘moles,’” I clarified before passively adding, “You don’t
really care… do you?”
“Nope,” the pasty miscreant replied casually. Grinning,
he then blurted, “Don’t get so upset… Spot!”
Being in fourth grade, I hadn’t yet developed the
necessary vocabulary which could adequately
communicate my pulsing rage. Had I been Dr. Banner,
Dale’s statement would’ve been the only trigger required
to bring about the onslaught of colossal muscles surging
beneath my rapidly greening skin.
Most of the other guys snickered shamelessly at his
comment while I bent down to desperately search my
book bag for my other shirt not realizing that my action
afforded the gawking troop a prolonged look at my back.
“Look! He’s got more on his back!”
I had already pushed my head and one arm into the shirt
as I stood. Leering at me, Dale wore the despicable
smugness of a crooked faith healer pushing over an old
woman wearing a neck brace.
“Man,” remarked my classmate Kevin as he reached out
to poke at a couple brown specks on my exposed left
shoulder, “Your grandmother must’ve been a Dalmatian
“Shut up,” I protested while struggling to thrust my arm
into the inverted sleeve.
“What’s the matter,” badgered Dale eagerly. “Are you on
There was at least one audible gasp from the troop.
While I was positive that Dale didn’t fully understand the
meaning behind the question, some of the older boys
did, for the most part. Mouths agape, they stared and
anxiously waited for the appropriately snappy response
to his blistering challenge against my manhood.
Unfortunately, I had none.
Embarrassed and harried, I stumbled through a few
feeble comebacks but could not conjure the words with
enough profundity to mount a satisfactory defense.
Moreover, the urgency of the moment limited my choices
to the point where yanking off my briefs to provide them
with adequate physical proof seemed like the only viable
alternative. Tragically, I couldn’t even manage that
because I was completely hung up in my tangled shirt.
Frustration deliriously mounted with every jerky attempt
to punch my fist through the twisted opening until,
overwhelmed and exhausted by the feverish succession
of failed efforts to cover my torso, I simply gave up and
let my arms hang limp. Sensing weakness, the circling
sharks drew closer.
“How many’ve you got anyway, Spot,” demanded Dale
before deliberately announcing every single number
during his impromptu tally as if he were introducing a
procession of foreign dignitaries at a royal gala. As a few
of the other boys pointed to spots on my neck or face
that he’d somehow managed to overlook, I thought I
spied Mr. Lincoln gawking down at me as well. Surely,
his count would fall far short of four score and seven.