Peanuts, floors, buses and kindergarten…

Every time I go to an establishment that allows the throwing of peanut shells on the ground, I can’t help to firstly, force myself to throw them down on the ground and secondly think about why it’s so hard to throw peanut shells on the ground to begin with.

When I was in kindergarten, we lived in Riverside, California. I went to Longfellow elementary. We lived about two miles away and so I, along with my neighbor Matt, was bused to and fro school.

On one occasion, the afternoon bus driver, not to be confused with the angry morning bus driver, had given us peanuts for our good behavior throughout the week…With the reward, she only had one stipulation: ”Do not drop the shells onto the bus floor, or else…” What “or else” meant, I’m sure that we didn’t quite know, but we definitely didn’t want to find out.

As the bus ride from school progressed, we ate our peanuts, being careful as to keep hold of their abandoned, empty shells…Until it happened. The jolt of the bus…the bus lunged forward and then abruptly halted. I don’t recall as to why it did. It could have been a hard shift, or a almost overlooked stop sign. In any event, the bus got rocky for a brief moment, and at least three empty shells went to the bus floor. At that moment, I jumped down to secure the carcasses, but to no avail, as the bus halted at that very moment sending the shells forward, out of my reach. Being the consummate optimist that I was at that time, I decided that I would just get the shells as I got off of the bus and that would be that.

The bus stopped in front of our apartments…I scurried down the aisle looking to left constantly, waiting for that moment to retrieve the evidence. Row after row, I looked. Nothing…nothing…nope…not there, nope, must be the next…no…next…no…nope…behind the bus driver’s seat: No…The shells seemed to have disappeared. As if someone had seen what happened, took pity on me, and prevented the impending “or else” from ever being revealed. What a relief.

“Bye, see you guys tomorrow!” She said with that “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands” attitude that she always had. Gleefully, I turned back to said a rebutted a cheerful “Goodbye!” as I grabbed the rail to right to step off, started down the bus steps and started back on path. Out of the corner of my eye, there they were; the peanut shells. Right at the bus driver’s gas pedal. Oh my God. My stomach sank, my head became heavy, and I jumped from the bus knowing that “or else” would surely come tomorrow.

I worried about it all night. Fretted about it most of the morning. First recess came and I discussed the dilemma with Matt. We became quite worried. Not just for me though, for his self as well. He had surmised that not only would I get the “or else” but so would he as he was also eating the peanuts and adults didn’t care. All children get punished for everything.

Sometimes the greatest plans come from sheer desperation.

Matt and I decided that we would not allow the “or else” to happen. We mustered up a plan to walk home. The advantages were that 1) the bus driver could not punish us that Friday, and if you don’t get punished on the day after the incident, that 2) The statute of limitations would have run out by the next week.

The plan was ingenious.

After school released, instead of getting into our bus line, we ran around the side of the school, just out of site of the yard duty that watched the bus children. As we waited behind the bushy berm, the bus pulled up and waited. After a few minutes the driver stepped out of the bus to talk to the yard duty. Surely about the fact that the roster had shown us on the morning bus and that we should have been there for the afternoon departure. A few more minutes past and the principle arrived. She was an older, more staunch gal. One without a funny bone in her body. The kind that children stayed away from. The kind that wore the pant suits and scarves. The kind that no matter how many different pant suits and scarves she had, she still looked the same: Unhappy with life and even less happy about being around children.

A few more minutes past and the adults broke up on their separate ways. As they all fell out of site, the bus down the road, the principle towards her office, and the yard duty…well where ever yard duties went after school. Their yard duty closets presumably, we made our break.

The plan was infallible.

We trekked our way home. We knew that it was going to be a long trip, but we were confident in our abilities to navigate the landmarks of houses, dogs, streets and stores. We knew that we only had to make it so far before we could see that ever present red “K” in the sky…The “K” that all but marked our freedom. The gigantic “K” that signified K-Mart.

K-Mart was right around the block from our apartment complex. We knew if we could make it to where we could see it, we would be all but home free. It was a great idea, that after only a few blocks came to fruition. Off to our left, over the neighborhood trees, there it stood. Like the North Star that so many times, guided the sailors of old, the red “K” beckoned us home. Very similar to the Northern Star, the “K” didn’t seem to move that much as we moved either. But it did move, and after some time, we arrived to the intersection that separated us from our proverbial freedom that we knew that we would find in that “K”.

Waiting for the lights to change we stood there, for I’m sure seemed like eternity. Six lane intersection lights tend not to change so fast. At one point, we questioned if we pushed the right pedestrian button to cross. Fortunately for us, there was a woman in a pants suit that looked very similar to the kind that the principle wore, that stood on the opposite side and decided to take her queue of when to cross…After an eternity, the walk sign came on, the lady started towards, and we were off to cross. Like crossing the Rio Grande, we were home free. Like scaling the Berlin wall, we had claimed our freedom.

The plan was bulletproof.

Scurrying across, the lady started changing her bee-line that she was on…The bee-line became more of a dog leg, with the end of that leg intercepting us. Like so many times freedom seekers before us, we had made it to the home stretch only to be cruelly plucked from our delusion of potential happiness. The principle grabbed firmly, our wrists in each of her hands and sternly walked across the rest of the way of the intersection. “You had everyone worried sick about you two. Your families were in tears. They didn’t know what happened to you boys.” the principle voiced in that uncaring way that adults do, when children inconvenience them. I doubt that the Northern Star ever failed those brave explorers like the red “K’ did us. With our heads hung low, we listened remorsefully. Not remorseful that we had worried our families, but rather, for another more egotistical reason.

The plan was conquered.

We jumped into the back of the car like common criminals. Broken criminals. Criminals without hope…We buzzed through the K-Mart parking lot, out onto the side street and one minute later we were pulling up to our apartment complex…

I don’t really remember much after being apprehended. The best that I can gather is that one falls into the hands of their captor, a surrealism falls over that person.. A dream like state as to prevent some sort of deeper shock. Or maybe the surrealism is the shock in itself. I don’t remember much of that night. I can’t say that I was interrogated. I don’t remember if I was punished for doing such a thing. The whole weekend to me, is just a blur. Maybe due to decades of lapsed time. Maybe due to blocking out the bad.

The plan was memorable.

The next Monday after school, me and Matt got on the bus like every other day. And there in her navigational chair, sat the afternoon bus driver with her “If you’re happy and you know it stomp your feet” dimply smile on. “Hi guys! I missed you on Friday. Where were you?” She said it with such enthusiasm to the point that “or else” could have never even been in her vocabulary. Like maybe the idea that “or else” was more of a self imposed hype to potential ramifications of our losing control of the peanut shells.

The plan was uncalled for.

We just looked at each other, looked forward and hung our heads with a slight tilt, and in unison gave a simple shoulder shrug that every criminal uses from the onset as to say I don’t know.

So every time I go to a place that encourages the throwing of peanut shells onto the floor, I have to think twice. I have to think about the ramifications of my actions. Most times, I give in and let go… Some times I let my ego get the best of me because it knows that “or else” is still just right around the corner.

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