All week long we’ve been answering goofy questions from the authors of Four Fantastical Ways to Lose your Fingers. Here’s my question:
There are a lot of ways to use the word ‘finger’. I’m thinking specifically as a verb. Have you ever fingered someone…in a crime?
…Okay, so that’s a pretty boring answer, isn’t it? Let’s spice this sucker up a bit with a story from my childhood when I was a wee lad cursed with what I like to call Ralph Macchio Syndrome. RMS is in no way fatal, but it does make you look about 75% of your actual age. (This is a great thing when you’re an adult, but when you’re 16 and being offered the children’s menu in a restaurant, it can be less than ideal. But I digress.) I was in elementary school, probably 9 looking 7, and that, combined with my own terror at the idea of getting in trouble for anything gave me the reputation of being a complete innocent. In most cases, this reputation was accurate, except for one fateful school bus ride the morning after I’d had a pine cone fight with a friend. (This is what little kids do in rural areas when they want to have a snowball fight but there’s no snow. At least, it’s what I did.)
On the bus, I discovered a small pine cone in my pocket and, in a fit of youthful rebellion against my usual persona, I discreetly tossed it up toward the front of the bus. Struck with horror at what I’d done—I’d misbehaved! If I got caught the school would lock me in a dungeon with a thousand spiders and never let me out!—I hunched down in my seat and spent the rest of the ride to school staring out the window. My busmates, however, did not. The pine cone had hit a kid I’ll call, um, Joey-Joe-Joe (not his real name), who was also the kid who got in trouble the most. Joey-Joe-Joe’s immediate reaction was to tear out a sheet of paper from his notebook, crumble it up, stand up in front of the entire bus, and chuck the paper toward the back.
This sparked off the school bus paper fight equivalent of the Trojan War (well, sans giant wooden horse). It lasted the entire way to school, and then continued to rage on the way home. We had a substitute bus drive that day, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with this; she just wanted to get us brats safely to school and home. I can’t blame her. But the next day, when our tough-as-nails, discipline-through-fear regular drive returned…
I can still remember her staring down at me as I got on the bus. “Did you throw anything yesterday, Michael?” I froze, terrified, and managed to squeak out, “…just one thing.” Technically, it was true. I got to my seat then, quaking. When we arrived at school, she stood up before letting us off and said, “Okay, I want to know who started the paper fight yesterday!”
I sunk lower in my seat. Then, the rest of the bus, almost as one, yelled out, “Joey-Joe-Joe did it!!” Poor Joey-Joe-Joe protested, saying something had hit him in the back of the head, but no one believed him, and he took the fall. So I guess this story doesn’t entirely fit the bill, as I did no actual fingering, but I did finger poor Joey-Joe-Joe with my silence.
Plus I hit the poor kid in the back of the head with a pine cone.
Okay, so here’s how it went down. I was in a café and bent over a book with my phone beside me on the table. Steaming milk machines roared their white noise into the rafters. This had been the state of things for about half an hour when a guy came out of the bathroom. He nonchalantly ambled over to my table, then put my phone in his pocket on his way to the door.
I stood up and ran after him, all the while yelling “thief” and “give me back my phone.”
He actually turned around, instead of fleeing, and returned the phone. “Sorry,” he said, “I thought it was mine.” Sure, buddy.
I glared at him, sat back down, and resumed my reading with my phone at my side. Briefly, I was glad he didn’t have an accomplice, because a second thief could’ve taken my bag and all my things while I chased the first guy down.
Anyway, not ten minutes later, the same guy comes out of the bathroom and reaches for my phone on my table. This time I got my hand over it before it disappeared into his pocket. Whew. Seriously, pal? We just did this routine.
He gave me a shrug, like “what can you do?” and sauntered away. I guess yelling “thief” wasn’t enough the first time. And I didn’t bother the second time, too struck by shock to react.
It still bothers me though. (1) Why did he go after the same person twice? (2) Why did no one kick him out (like the people who worked there)? (3) Why didn’t he have an accomplice to steal handbags and laptops while he returned phones?
We will never know.
And finally, my story:
I have not. But my old dog did.
I used to have a three-legged dog. He was a great dog. Not a perfect dog, but when it came to loyalty, he had everyone aced. His name was Chuck.
Chuck was a substantial dog. Even missing a front leg, he topped the scale at ninety-six pounds. Sitting down he was well over three feet tall. Standing on his back legs, he could easily put his front paw on my shoulder and look me in the eye. Granted, I’m only 5′ 4″ but that’s still pretty tall for a dog.
Like most labs, Chuck’s biggest downfall was food. And his definition of ‘edible’ encompassed many things. He loved bubble gum most of all. Thankfully this all happened before xylitol became a huge thing but his second favorite snack was chocolate so I still had to be hyper-vigilant with food. Whenever he could smell chocolate he turned into some sort of three-legged ninja dog. It was the worst.
I adopted the Labrador owner habit of keeping anything especially aromatic out of reach. Waaaay out of reach. Usually someplace I had to stand on a stool to get at. The top of the fridge was always a good choice. But, even then I had to put cookies towards the back so he couldn’t see them because Chuck loved cookies, especially Girl Scout cookies. Girl Scout Cookies are like Labrador-crack.
It was during one GSC season, that I came upon a very puzzling scene. Texting and smart phones were still a few years in the future so arriving home from work, I glanced at the answering machine as I always did. If I had a phone message, a little red light would blink.
It was rare for me to have any telephone messages. And on this particular day, I came home to find the light blinking. But unlike every other message I’d ever received, this light was not blinking red. It was blinking green. I had no idea that the answering machine even had another color of light. What kind of message did you have to leave in order to get it to blink green? I went investigate.
Written over the little green flashing light were the words: PERSONAL MEMO. Next to the light, a small button announced ‘push to record’.
Had that always been there? If so, who left me a message? I lived by myself and for half a moment, I was really scared that someone had broken into my house.
I reached down to play the message but in doing so, my eyes fell upon a piece of cardboard, semi-hidden behind the comforter of my bed. I picked it up. My Girl Scout Cookies! The ones I had specifically hidden on top of the refrigerator, all the way in the back, with a box of cereal in front of it just in case!
I turned to confront Chuck who was, by this point, holding his head in that way dogs do when they know they are about to get in trouble but aren’t sure why anymore. For those of you that have never seen this look its part side-eye, part adorable and mostly shame. It speaks volumes but mostly it says:
“I am not looking you in the eye because I know I am a bad dog even though I cannot really remember what it is I did that made me a bad dog in the first place. But that does not matter because I did not do it. I Swear.”
Standing in the middle of my living room, I tried to piece together what exactly happened. Somehow, he’d gotten the cookies off the top of the fridge, brought them into the living room and tore the box apart while standing next to my bed. My brain hopped from dog to couch to kitchen to bed and finally back to the scene of the crime and to the little green light blinking on my answering machine.
Finally, I reached down and pushed play.
For twenty minutes, I sat and listened to the soundtrack of my three-legged ninja dog eating an entire box of Girl Scout cookies. By the time the tape ran out tears were streaming down my face I was laughing so hard.
I never did figure how he got those cookies down.