Who put itching powder on their principal's seat when they were in grade school? Just me?
Well, the fact is, I would never have done it on purpose.
In our town, there was a little corner store called The Spot, which sold much more interesting novelty items than you can get today. By saving my milk money for two days, I could take the two nickels and buy a tin of cigarette loads. These were little slivers of wood, covered in a white powder (which was highly toxic lead azide, as I found out years later). It did say on the tin, Do Not Put in Mouth, but it didn't mention why, or that the powder was poisonous just to get on your fingers, which it easily did. Or, that it wouldn't be so good for your victim either, when he inhaled the exploding gasses.
However, what we did know, is that the loads worked really well. You would insert one into the end of a cigarette, and when the unsuspecting smoker applied the match, the load would explode with a ringing crack, shattering the end of the cigarette. I only tried this on my mother once; the shredded bits of tobacco and paper were still fluttering in the air when she rounded on me; she was very free with the back end of a hairbrush for lesser pranks than this, but it was (almost) worth it this one time.
Another item that could be purchased at The Spot, besides whoopee cushions of course, was itching powder. I have no idea what this material was made of; probably asbestos, or shredded fiberglass. In the instructions on the package, the powder was recommended to be dropped down someone's shirt.
Now, the principal of our school, Mr. Stouter, was a kindly, balding man who always had a smile for us children when he saw us in the hall. He seemed to always be on our side, whatever might happen.
For instance, one time Mr. Stouter was called upon by my second grade teacher to reprimand me. The teacher, Miss Skidmore, was a crabby, cross-grained old lady who was always finding something to lose her patience over, and this morning she hauled me down to the office to present my latest crime before the principal.
Here is what I had done: after the morning's recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and during the Lord's Prayer, when our heads were bowed and eyes closed, I had been attempting to point with my finger at my girlfriend Carol a few rows away.
However, what I was not expecting to see when I opened my eyes, was the glowering, outraged face of Miss Skidmore standing right in front of me. She had observed my peculiar gesture (as a matter of fact, my finger was pointing at her), and had interpreted it as some devilish sort of blasphemy.
"Let us see what Mr. Stouter has to say about this!" she intoned ominously, taking me roughly by the ear. With my face burning with shame and terror, she marched me down to the office.
When we were standing before the Presence, she commanded, "Tell Mr. Stouter what you were doing!"
I told him exactly what I had done, and his face took on a look of serious concern, tinged with bewilderment. To my secret relief, I could see that he didn't share Miss Skidmore's high degree of indignation over my behavior, but it was also obvious that he had to support her for the sake of discipline. So he did his best to give me a speech; telling me I must never do such a thing again, etc., and then he dismissed me back to class. He and I understood each other better than Miss Skidmore ever suspected.
So, considering my liking and respect for Mr. Stouter, one would assume that I would never do such a thing as mischievous as putting itching powder on his chair. But I did, and here is how it happened.
It was in the following year, third grade. There was a certain kid in my class who had the unfortunate gift of being the one who always gets picked on by the class brats. So naturally, he's the one I picked on, to test a bag of itching powder that I had recently acquired. I had no idea if it worked; I certainly wasn't going to test it on myself.
So, before class one day, I sprinkled a liberal amount of the itching powder on the chair of my classmate Eric, and I sat in my own seat to watch and wait. Unfortunately, of all days, this was the day that Eric did not show up for school, and his chair remained vacant. Then, about 15 minutes after class started, our teacher Miss Lane announced that Mr. Stouter would be visiting our class for awhile, and we were all to be on our best behavior while he was here.
Presently Mr Stouter arrived, beamed his smile of greeting upon the class, and of all confounded bad luck, he chose Eric's desk to sit at, among the several vacant ones in the back of the room.
In helpless dread, I watched as his posterior settled into the anointed seat. After a short while, he began to shift uneasily in the chair, and his expression became somewhat preoccupied. OK, so the stuff seems to work, but this was not good. I could hardly bear to look at him, between guilt, fear and remorse; mostly fear. I did manage a few covert glances, and it was obvious that he was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, trying not to twitch.
But being the deep old file that I am, I gave no hint that I was aware of anything unusual going on. Miss Lane was perhaps a bit surprised when Mr. Stouter's visit ended up being shorter than she had expected; however, he soon rose from his seat, gave us a brief smile, and briskly took his leave.
All of us had noticed that Mr. Stouter hadn't said much on this special occasion, which people found puzzling, even though it did seem that he had approved of our general conduct. In any case, Miss Lane never found any reason to find fault with my best behavior, on this special day.
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