On Big Bad Wolves and the Proper Application of Cootie Spray


(I wrote a handful of pieces for a Why It Matters manuscript that I never posted here. 

That manuscript is long dead–not even the hint of a nibble on it–so rather than leave them unread I’d like to share them with you. Here’s the first of those pieces.)

I was always girl crazy. All the other guys were quick with the cootie spray, but I didn’t even know how to make the right noise. Shannon Senna grabbed my arm on the kindergarten playground and my buddy Carl launched into action like a front line medic.

“Spray it!” he yelled.


“Spray it with your cootie spray!” He held an invisible aerosol can and pressed the nozzle to make his point. I aped his pantomime, pointing to the infected patch and adding a tongue-flapping raspberry: pfplpblbt. Carl laughed. “No! It’s psssht psssht. You don’t know how to use cootie spray!”

But I knew this: Shannon was cute, and she grabbed my arm. In her red coat with the fake fur trim on the hood she looked like Little Red Riding Hood, and I lived on Wolf Street. If that isn’t kindergarten fate then I don’t know what is.

One night I dreamed that Shannon and I were standing at the corner, waiting to cross the street separating us from our red brick elementary school. I turned to see a wolf stalking us through the neatly trimmed yard of the house on the corner. I rushed Shannon into the house’s garage, and she hugged me while the wolf clawed at the metal door.

Throughout kindergarten and first grade I played out this scenario each afternoon, walking Shannon the length of Wolf Street, my little arm around her shoulder. Sometimes we were joined by Cindy and Monica, and on those days I really felt like The Fonz. Cindy was a dress and ribbons kind of gal and Monica was a Brownie, a lady in uniform.

Our neighborhood was working class: chain link fences and 800 square foot houses; aluminum awnings over small front porches; cinder block retaining walls.  It was a fine neighborhood, though, and kids had the run of the place.

And contrary, or perhaps due, to my diligence there were no wolves, though one of the neighbors kept a Great Dane, a dog much too large for the tiny yard he’d enclosed with a cyclone fence. Each afternoon as Shannon and I walked past, my arm Fonzie cool around her shoulders, the big dog barked and tugged at the chain staked into the ground.

“Aw, shut up,” I’d yell. No big bad wolf was going to get my girl.

One afternoon I walked home from school alone. When the Great Dane saw me he lunged and the stake holding his chain jerked free. The dog cleared the fence like it wasn’t there. I tried to run but he was on me within a step, digging his teeth into my back.

A man working on his car ran over and hit the beast with a big wrench. The dog yelped and jumped off of me. I never teased another dog, and I never forgot that dream. All it took to get hugs from pretty girls in red coats was protecting them from wolves. Cootie spray my Toughskins-covered butt. Carl didn’t know what he was missing.

Categories: Memoir

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