Every elementary school class has one — a Pig Pen.
The kid who wears tattered clothes, whose butt crack hangs out his pants, whose hair is unwieldy, who never bathes, who picks his nose constantly, who farts at all decibels, who is just simply an uncared for mess. “Uncared for” is key.
In second grade, Randy was that kid.
Because of Randy, I was often saved from being the only kid on the playground with Cooties. I had a mild case. Randy’s was rampant and contagious because no one would go near him.
When we did go near him, it was when we all sat in rows on the floor (criss-cross Apple Sauce style) to watch a movie on the pull-down screen. Invariably, Randy would let out the biggest farts with other students just inches behind him. At which — kids would leap across the floor — screaming “P.U.,” “disgusting,” and much worse.
Once, while seated on the floor, I saw the jock boys behind Randy taking spitballs and slipping them into the back of Randy’s pants — where Randy’s butt crack hung out. It seems that Randy never had clean underwear or just forgot to wear them.
I recall riding home on the Late Bus with Randy. The Late Bus was for kids who got stuck late after school and whose parents couldn’t make it to pick them up. Unlike a student’s assigned bus, the Late Bus went through our entire suburb, dropping off us stragglers. That was the first time I saw where Randy lived — in a neighborhood called Home Place. It had shoebox-sized homes, and it was supposed to be where the poor kids came from.
Now something that I didn’t understand until I was much older, that no one really was that awfully poor in our suburb — maybe lower middle class — but not poverty-stricken to the point of homelessness.
Yes, like my parents, I’m sure they went through scares like they were going to lose their home if the mortgage didn’t get paid. But us kids, we were safe. The roofs stayed over our heads, even if they were caving in.
Once I heard a kid ask Randy, “Why is your blonde hair orange?” Randy said it was because the pipes in his house were rusted.
Sometimes the water in our house went cold, but it was never orange.
I, too, changed color as a child.
Once a classmate said to me, “Gross. Your fingernails are all yellow.” I clammed up. I didn’t know how to respond as I never noticed the yellow stains. Later, I put it all together when we sat around the dinner table, eating curry with roti with our hands. Haldi — or turmeric — had stained my fingernails. I was thrilled.
Maybe the next day at school I could explain this to my aggressor — the white classmate who most likely would have laughed harder or been even more disgusted when I told her my whole family ate dinner with our hands. But I kept quiet and accepted my lot in elementary school — a Cooties kid.
Apparently, how hard or how different you had it at home was directly proportional to the acuteness of your case of Cooties.
I had a case because I was Indian in Indiana, and to the folks around me, I came from the land of National Geographic spreads of starving, barely clothed children.
Randy‘s case was worse. Like my family, his parents were probably hustling to pay bills. But unlike my family, it seems the kids in the Davis home went neglected.
As I got older, I realized that Randy probably never had anyone show him how to bathe or brush his hair — that maybe his parents didn’t have time to do laundry. I realized that Randy was Randy not because of Randy, but because he was uncared for. An uncared for “mess.”