"Mrs. Clayton, Jimmy's eating paste!" Little Suzy's tattletale shrieks broke the relative giddiness of the room and the whole class turned to see for themselves.
There he was...the telltale sign of paste hanging on the corners of his mouth like dingleberries...well, hanging on a whole other orifice; his mouth clamped tighter than that other sphincter, but smelling remarkably better.
"Let me see, James. Open your mouth." Mrs. Clayton's direct order and stern gaze (peering out from behind her black cat-eye glasses which were perched precariously on her hawk-like nose) had absolutely no effect on the kid. He wouldn't, or maybe he couldn't...but he shook his head forcefully back and forth and then a couple gulps later...he'd open wide for all to see. The evidence cleverly swallowed...his fat pink tongue wagging back and forth like an innocent puppy dog's tail. He was triumphant and, like that puppy, clearly oblivious to any wrong-doing.
With the "whiff test" administered directly after, Mrs. Clayton could do no more than to confiscate our group's paste container and we'd have to make do with passing around the industrial-sized Elmer's Glue which always needed Herculean strength to squeeze out a hair's diameter of the stuff on your paper. Even with shoving both a pin and a nail in the top part (over and over again)...the best you could hope for was an inconsistent dotted-line of semi-clotted goop to plop out and sore muscles the next day.
Now paste always had that nice minty aroma to it when I was a kid...I'm not sure if it still does nowadays...but back then it did. Perhaps that's why the paste-eaters of my era treasured it so. And you can rest assured there was always one kid in class who was an elitist gourmand when it came to all things sticky.
Elmer's Glue, although much more fun to play with (when it finally did come out) didn't have the culinary draw that nice white paste had. And don't forget, paste did have that popsickle-like stick inside the cap with which to poke and probe your way to the parts that didn't have any construction or crepe paper bits intermingled with it. Pure, unadulterated paste. Left alone with a tub of the stuff and the likes of Suzy being absent that day...Jimmy could get his fill uninterrupted. Sure, we'd laugh and point...but you have to keep in mind paste wasn't the only thing this kid was "into".
Jimmy had the unfortunate luck to be born a "Barger"..."James Barger" to be precise. Naturally, Jimmy also had reddish hair...all the more to stand out and be different from the other kids - but other than his propensity for paste...Jimmy had another proclivity: Jimmy liked to pick his nose and eat the contents therein.
In the well-oiled machinery of the mind of a five or six-year-old, it doesn't take too much gear-turning to alter "Barger" to "Booger"...and well, the name stuck. Stuck better than a nose-mining paste-oholic on a sub-zero playground in December. If you've never witnessed the sheer amount of "stuff" a nose can leak out of it in the winter in Jersey during recess...well, you haven't truly lived. Usually this is what mittens and coat sleeves were for...but little Jimmy "Booger" would be off by himself with the unbridled passion of a deer with a salt-lick. The kid was an unstoppable, unwavering gross-out spectacle. I'm not sure which he enjoyed more...the taste of paste and snot or the constant attention of his classmates pointing at him and egging him on to eat more paste and snot.
As he went through the elementary grades, Jimmy "Booger" Barger went through his fair share of paste. Paste becoming more and more a rarity with each passing year, Jimmy was eventually weaned off his habit, at least as far as we knew.
The nickname was still in use the year I moved when I was eleven, and while I was never there to know for certain, I'm pretty much inclined to believe it stuck until graduation day...when he could finally venture forth on a new life outside of the Hamilton Township School System.
Memories of youth undoubtedly fade...although some things do seem to cement themselves in our minds. It's silly what we retain in our heads years down the road - and how the simplest things can trigger those memories. You see, lately I've been wondering about poor old James...and whatever became of him -- because there's a boy in my daughter's school who looks strikingly similar.
Oh, I'm not going to blurt out any questions regarding paste ingestion to him...but...I might be inclined to get close enough to catch a whiff of his breath. You know, just for old-time curiosity's sake.
And, if it's minty fresh, eh...perhaps then I'll ask.