Object: Silly Putty
“Did you know Silly Putty was an accident?” I asked Jeremy as I opened the red, plastic egg in which the putty was packaged.
“That’s great, Doofus,” said Jeremy, “No one cares.”
It was 1992 and we were in the 2nd grade. Our teacher thought a fun science lesson would be to work with a partner and write down all the different physical properties of several different objects. I knew Jeremy wasn’t thrilled to be paired with me, but here he was. He was definitely one of the cool kids. At least, that’s what he thought. Well… a lot of other kids thought it, too.
I was not one of the cool kids. I was just… Doofus.
No, that’s not my real name. What parent names their kid Doofus? Unfortunately, as the chunky kid in class (Mom would’ve referred to me as “husky”), I was left open to a lot of name calling over the years. But one that stuck as early as kindergarten was Doofus. Because of my striking resemblance to the character Doofus from DuckTales. Especially when I showed up to school in my Cub Scouts uniform.
I’d tell you my real name, but what’s the point? None of the other kids used it until I moved away to start college, anyway.
Looking over at Jeremy’s worksheet, I noticed it was blank. He refused to pay attention to me when I tried sharing my ideas about the physical traits of the objects we had. The Silly Putty was number four on our list. Jeremy had completely missed the answers I had attempted to share for the nail, the baby food jar, and the cotton ball. His response to my attempt at telling him about Silly Putty’s accidental creation was, for me, the last straw.
Let him turn in a blank worksheet. Let him fail this simple science lesson. He literally didn’t have to do anything. He didn’t have to use any of the few brain cells he apparently had. All he needed to do was write down what I told him to. Even that was too much work. He was too focused on trying to get Stephanie to laugh at his stupidity.
I poked and prodded the Silly Putty and wrote down my three physical traits for the stuff. I didn’t mention them out loud, as I knew Jeremy wasn’t interested in hearing them anyway. He still could have just copied the answers off my worksheet, but I was tired of trying to get him to pay attention. I moved on to our last item, a grape.
It wasn’t long until the teacher announced that she would be coming around to pick up our worksheets soon and that we should wrap things up. Of course, my worksheet was complete and ready to be turned in. Jeremy’s worksheet was still blank. And he did not hear our teacher’s announcement.
When Mrs. Naff started picking up worksheets, Jeremy panicked. He asked me what the answers were. I just scoffed at him.
“You had all this time to write down the answers! I was literally telling you the answers the whole time!”
“I was busy!” he yelled at me, eyeing the teacher as she drew closer to our table.
“That’s a sad story,” I said, refusing to feel sorry for him.
Jeremy grabbed my shoulder hard, in a way that hurt like crazy. “Put my name on your paper or I’ll kick the crap out of you during lunch,” he whispered.
I refused to show how badly he was hurting me. I refused to show that I was afraid of him beating me up. But I gave in and wrote his name at the top of my worksheet. He wrote Doofus at the top of mine.
Why he ever thought I would use that nickname on a paper I was turning in to the teacher, I’ll never know.
Ours were the last worksheets to be taken by Mrs. Naff. Walking back to her desk, she directed us to line up for lunch. I took my place at the back of the line where I could go unnoticed by anyone else in the class and not have to deal with talking to anyone. It’s not like I was a shy kid who didn’t want to talk to my friends during lunch. But, at the moment, I wasn’t feeling particularly chatty. I had just cheated for that jerk, Jeremy, and insured that I, myself, would fail that simple science activity.
Mrs. Naff told Nicole, who was at the head of the line, to lead us to the cafeteria and she would be right behind us. Before I could leave the room, she called my name. My real name.
“Doug, can you tell me why this worksheet is blank?” she asked as I walked toward her desk.
I was unsure what to say. I didn’t want to tell her the truth because I didn’t want to get beaten up. But I didn’t want to lie to her because, well, I didn’t like to lie to adults. So I remained quiet.
“Let me see if I can guess,” sighed Mrs. Naff, sitting in her chair. “Jeremy was goofing off, not paying attention while you did all the work. Am I close?”
“And then when he saw me collecting papers, he panicked and threatened you in some way, forcing you to switch papers with him.”
I nodded again.
“Yeah,” she smiled, “I didn’t figure you’d write Doofus on your own paper.”
Sheepishly, I asked, “Can I go to lunch now?”
“I’ll come with you.” Mrs. Naff stood again and led me out of the classroom with her hand on my back. “Have you ever considered standing up to these kids who call you Doofus? I’ve graded your tests. You’re no Doofus.”
“They’ve been calling me that since kindergarten. It’s not gonna go away. Even my friends call me that. It’s okay, really.”
“Well, it’s not okay for Jeremy to threaten you into cheating for him. Will you tell me what he said to get you to change papers?” asked my teacher, real concern in her voice.
“No…” I trailed off.
Before we could walk into the cafeteria, Mrs. Naff stopped me. “Doug, there will be kids like Jeremy who are willing to take the easy way out and will be willing to step on whoever they can to get what they want. They’ll be there all the way through college. There will even be adults like him when you start working somewhere.” She looked at me seriously. “Don’t let their failure to recognize your worth bring you down.”
I simply nodded and turned to walk into the cafeteria. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Jeremy staring me down. I ignored him as I went to grab my lunch tray. I might wind up with pudding in my hair before lunch was over, but I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was getting to me.
I hope this one turned out all right. I wound up taking a break from everything during April for the A to Z Challenge, so exercising those fictional muscles was a bit of a challenge in itself when I got to today’s post. Thanks to Authoress51 for this week’s challenge! She just finished up the A to Z Challenge, too, so head over to her blog and check out what she’s up to! I’m still planning to keep this up each week, so if you haven’t submitted your challenge, you can still click here and leave something for me in the comments.