With rarely combed hair and heavily chewed fingernails, Marie wasn’t a classic third-grade beauty. Then again, I was not exactly leading man material in 1975.
I do not remember much about third grade, really—only Marie and my kick-danger-in-the-teeth commitment to get her attention. Take, for example, the thumbtacks we found on the teacher’s desk. When Marie and I saw the box, we had the same thought: tap shoes.
One by one, we snatched thumbtacks and pressed them in the soles of our sneakers. We drained the box and I remember the satisfying clacking as we marched to the principal’s office.
The principal, paddle-deep in thugs with real credentials, simply released us and told us to be careful.
I did not listen. Marie liked rebels.
Which brings me to the most important Marie story, the one that stays with me with every glance in the mirror. I was on a playground death contraption common in the 1970s—steel bars stacked into cubes four layers high with one cube on top like a chimney.
Marie was across the school yard when I scampered up the chimney and popped my oversized head out the top with a mighty “HEEYYY MARIE! Look …”
Maybe I tried to wave. Maybe I tried to wave with both hands. But there was no “maybe” about the sound my nose made hitting each steel bar as I plummeted toward Earth. THUP THUP THACK THACK CRACK.
Make no mistake, I got Marie’s attention. Hard to ignore a whimpering twig-tangle of dirt, blood and snot.
This being the 1970s, there was little hysteria. My mom was not called. I returned to class with a swollen nose and a blood-stained shirt.
Nearly 50 years later, my nose—already substantial due to genetics (thanks, Dad)—remains misshaped and curious at various angles, as if Picasso painted a portrait of Jimmy Durante.
My nose is a certified conversation starter with historical significance—“The Nose Knows” slogan won the Forest High School Band lieutenant campaign in 1985. It also inspired the FHS gameday song Schlenkalo: “We have our nose up high, our nose down low, and that’s the way we Schlenkalo—SCHLENK-A-LOOOOH.”
In the end, this column is an origin story. What the hell is up with Schlenker’s nose? Well, it is a big, bulbous chunk of flesh shaped by German ancestors and a suck-it-up playground mishap that did little to woo the lovely Marie.
I did not win the girl, but the playground injury left me with a facial quirk as powerful as Harry Potter’s forehead scar. The injury also allows me to gross out friends by cracking—impressively loud—my nose cartilage. Ask me about it the next time you see me. It will impress as much as disgust.
Marie, wherever you are, thank you. My quest for your attention resulted in a freaky calling card that has served me well for 50 years. The Nose Knows, indeed. And THAT’s the way we Schlenkalo! OS