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Mythomanic by Tucker Spolter 

Chapter 3



     “Mr. Daily?  Mr. Potty mouth?”


      “Lake Titicaca” still echoed around the chalk boards of my fifth grade classroom.


“Mr. Daily!” Merciless’s second summons broke my reverie.  I rose and moved dutifully toward 


her desk, which over the semester had been dubbed the ‘Desk of Pain’. Two small, convoluted 


human hands were painted on the oak top. Small, student sized hands. The left hand Mortal Sin 


Black and the right hand in Skull and Crossbones white. The white hand was blurry, perhaps 


compromised by the sweat of this nun’s previous pubescent victims. . . ‘Justice?’ came swift and 


deliberate in the confines of Room 5.


      I placed my left hand on the Mortal Sin Black, and my right hand on the Skull and 


Crossbones white. My legs were spread. The disciplinarian always approached the sinner from 


the rear. I noticed flab’s of white skin dangling in the open sleeves of her black robes. Her paddle 


was perforated. A lean mean machine.  Designed to inflict pain. Pain on the tender, young flesh 


of the most recent offending ten-year-old buttocks. 


      I don’t know if this happens to spies just before the bad guys threaten to shove 


thin shards of glass underneath fingernails or activate the electrodes clamped to their testes, but  


there I was with my legs spread and my rear end wiggling in front of my whole class  


waiting for Merciless’s  swat when two things spilled through my mind:


      My first thought: Where does a nun get such a paddle?  Once she has a paddle where 


would she find a sadistic carpenter willing to drill a series of minute holes into the center to make


it more aerodynamic?  Merciless’ paddle was the size of a Wilson tennis racket, but made out of 


sterner stuff, ash, maybe hickory. I doubt that Mother Superiors’ pass these out on graduation 


day from nun school. 


      I can’t imagine a parent giving such a graduation gift. “Here my darling daughter. 


Congratulations  for spending five years in silence contemplating the life of Jesus Christ. Now 


you can move ahead and spend the rest of your life  inflicting pain. Children cause so much of 


what is wrong with our world. Never hesitate to whack away.”


      My second thought: I’d already spent three months under Merciless’ tutelage and just as 


she lifted her paddle I realized she was a south paw. A lefty! Unbelievable. All other 


considerations were interrupted by a burst of pain.


     As the shock coursed through my body, I vowed that I would not cry. I would not cry.


I did not cry. Daily’s don’t cry.


      For several weeks it seemed that we’d established a silent truce.  Hell! I’d never declared 


war. Sister Mary Merciless initiated the pre-emptive strike in our relationship. Ten years old


I was neither trained for, nor able to contend with her sort of adult combat.


      The next wrinkle in our cuddly relationship? Religion homework. In all fairness, this was 


not Merciless’s mandate. It wasn’t just my assignment nor that of our fifth-grade class. Maybe 


with a clap of thunder and an accompanying trumpet blare God sent a dictate down from the 


cosmos to the current Pope who declared everyone who attended St. Agnes. or any Catholic 


school on planet earth and its immediate environs, under threat of eternal damnation, 


excommunication – would be committing a greater mortal sin than eating a hot dog 


on Friday if they didn’t watch the Bishop Fulton J. Sheen television show every Thursday night 


at 8:00 p.m. on Channel 4. 


     In our house, this edict caused two problems:


    1.The reception from Channel 4 sucked. The black and white image, blinked, samba like 


fading in and out, up and down, right and left.


     2. The Groucho Marx, “You Bet Your Life,” show came on Channel 5 every Thursday


night at 8:00 pm. Our reception was clear as a bell. Go figure. My Mom loved “You Bet Your 


Life.” I believe she had a crush on the announcer George Fennemen. There was a ‘Duck’ that 


dropped out of the sky with a SECRET WORD in its bill. Every time I prayed the SECRET 


WORD would be the largest lake in South America.


      Conor and I thought Groucho was a crack-up, though most of  his double entendres went


over our head. That’s not to say that Bishop Sheen lacked a sense of humor. One heckler 


asked him a question about a relative who died. The Bishop replied, "I will ask him when I get to 


heaven." The heckler replied, "What if he isn't in Heaven?" The Bishop replied, "Well then you 


ask him.” 


     We heard that reply because like all good Catholics . . . At first,  we watched The Bishop 


Fulton J. Sheen  television show. But we all missed Groucho Marx. I especially missed the 


Duck. Though when Sister Mary Merciless gave us a pop quiz just to check if we were 


following the edict of Pope Pius the XII, I got most of the answers right.  


     Then it happened. 




     I don’t remember why I got that swat from Merciless on that December morning. I do


remember THAT SWAT. It was a no-nonsense swat. ‘A  God and I are tired of your behavior   


SWAT.”  Well delivered.  A strong, left-handed forehand down the line, a sure point winner at 




     My infraction may have been my red hair. My youth. Not raising my hand. Hyperactivity. 


We “A” personalities usually know it. We’re prone to laugh at nothing, and break into song 


whenever/wherever we’re inclined.  Until the ‘troubles’ I couldn’t help skipping down a 


sidewalk. I wasn’t sure what my problem was . . . Or, whether I really had a problem. I 


suspect I enjoyed life more than most. And I believed everyone would have more fun if  they 


skipped along with me or simply leapt into the air and clicked their heels once and a while. 


     “Mr. Daily,” the inquisitor summoned me to the ‘Desk of Pain.”


     I knew the drill. I knew my options. Take the swat or there would be the phone call 


home. The dreaded phone call home would mean embarrassment to my mother and father, and 


shame to the Daily name.  I would have none of that.


     My options were nonexistent. I’d been there before. Four times. I took the swat. I 


didn’t expect any surprises. I braced myself. Daily’s do not cry. The blow was horrific. My eyes 


glassed over. Daily’s do not cry. I coughed as loud as I could to cover my anguish. Snot poured 


out of my nostrils. Better snot from my nose than tears from my eyes. 






     The night of the SWAT, just as I stepped into the shower my mom pulled open the 


bathroom door. We shared a moment of mutual embarrassment.


     “Jeez, mom!  Please shut the door.” 


     “Sorry, honey.” She pulled the bathroom door shut behind her. What followed was one


of those moments when all time seems suspended. When the second hand on a monstrous 


clocks suddenly stop ticking, the shadows on a sundial pauses, the sand in the hour glass freezes. 


     Our bathroom door exploded open again. My mom burst back inside and stared at my 


bare rear. Ask any ten year old boy.  Nope, I’ll speak for them. At ten, the concepts of birth 


and maturing are bewildering. Having my Mother staring at my nakedness was embarrassing.  


     “Where did you get those marks?” My mom demanded as she moved in for a closer 


inspection.  I only hesitated for a moment, then quickly explained THE SWAT 


process and reminded her of the Daily family credo and proudly professed, “I didn’t even cry.”


     “YOU ARE COMING WITH ME. Get your clothes on.” 


      Within five minutes, I’d dressed and we were driving back to St. Agnes. Except for one 


question we rode in silence which was odd. My mom liked the radio loud no matter her mood 


and this mood I could not read. 


     “This Nun?” she asked. “This Nun that swatted you, is she the same one who said we 


had to watch Bishop Fulton Sheen?” I nodded.  She ‘umed. But it wasn’t one of those um 


ums. It was hard to tell if it was an ‘ I see um’ or an ‘I’ll be damned,’ um.


     Mom made an illegal U-turn on Ashbury Street right in front of the Nun’s Rectory,


dragged me  out of the car and up the stairs to the convent door. I’d never climbed these stairs 


before. I don’t  know any kid that did. This was uncharted, scary territory. The landing was cold 


and dank.  


     Mom lifted one of the  round knockers. They were huge. Bigger than a NBA basketball 


hoop. She dropped it against the oaken door. A THUD exploded off the wood. A resounding 


echo repeated through the corridors of the nunnery. 


     Nothing. She thudded the knocker again. 


     A few moments passed before the door creaked open and a young novitiate queried, 


“May I help you?”


     “I would like to speak to Sister Mary---“ My mother turned to me. “What’s that woman’s 




      Up until that moment events had transpired too quickly. Until, I heard that question,  


and my mother’s tone,  I wasn’t sure how this was going. Now I knew. I knew this was not 


going to be my trial. I said, ‘Sister Mary Mercy, aloud; surprising myself with the volume.


     “Sister Mary Mercy, is in the chapel at Vespers,” The young woman said.


     “Go to the chapel and get Sister Mary Mercy out of Vespers,” My mother said. “Tell her a 


very angry parent would like to speak with her.”  The novitiate hesitated.  My Mother did not.  


She brandished a forefinger: “Move it, dearie. Or I will move you!”


     The Novitiate got the message and sprinted down the corridor.  Merciless appeared a few 


moments later. “Ah, Mrs. Daily,” she nodded her wimple toward me, “and Collin.  Am I to 


understand we have a problem?” She smiled the most unctuous smile the world had ever seen. 


     “We do not have a problem,” my mother countered. “You, Sister, have a problem. And 


that problem is me.”  My mom leaned in close. Whenever my mom leaned in close it meant 


trouble for the leanee. 


Sister Merciless’s inner senses kicked in. Some primeval voice warned. She backed away. 


      My Mother leaned in again.


      Merciless backed into a coat rack. Trapped she could back no further.


      My Mother pointed a long, tapered finger. She conducted the brief, one-sided 


conversation with the bravado of a symphony conductor.  “Never, ever touch either of my son’s 


again!” Her voice careened through the convent. “Or may God strike me dead I’ll come back 


here and touch you.” She jammed her index in the middle of Merciless forehead.  “Do you 


understand me?”


     Sister Mary Merciless had suddenly gone mute, though she did manage a nod. 


     “Incidentally,” my Mother continued, “the Daily family will no longer be watching 


Bishop Fulton Sheen.  In the future, we will be tuned to Groucho Marx.  If you want to give 


Collin an F in religion, so be it.  In my eyes, you’ve got an F in understanding and compassion 


and an A+ in child abuse.”


     My Mom took my hand and we sauntered down the convent steps.


     I scored the whole encounter Catholic Church 0   Mom 47


     And may God bless Lake Titicaca. 


     I heard later,  Miss Felece gave birth to twin girls. Married someone named Glen Masco and 


wrote two articles on atheism for the New Yorker Magazine.






     “HELLO, HELLO. Earth to Collin.”  Dr. Foultz was tapping his desk with the frame of the 


picture that held Thai his dead Siamese Cat. “Collin, Collin are you with me?


     I was startled back to reality. Man, I was in orbit around Pluto. My brain torpedoed back into 


Foultz’s office. 


     “Thought you might be having some kind of seizure. Do you do that often?” 


     There was an old tulle fog a hang over the creases of my brain. “Do what often?” I asked. 


     “That trance thing.”


     “Trance thing?”


     “Collin, I’ve been trying to get your attention for several minutes.”


     “Uh, huh.”



     “Uh, hu is not an answer. We were going to talk about the fire. The school fire.”  He gave his 


ear a couple of good tugs and looked at his watch. 


     I tried to remember what I thought and what I said aloud. 


     “I have to start with our Traffic Squad.” Foultz sighed. A  loud annoyed sigh and wiggled his 


fingers in go ahead motion. So, I went ahead. 


     “We have three Traffic Squads at St. Agnes: morning, lunch and after-school. Stan ‘The Man’ 


and I served at lunch time which was great. You didn't have to get to school early or stay late.


Every day we got to come to our fifth period class, five minutes after the bell. This was the 


beginning of the trouble.


      Even though Sister Berkman kicked Stan out of class a second time, you could tell he 


immediately became her favorite. And after he raised his hand and swore to God Almighty that 


he would shave daily, she appointed him First Lieutenant of our traffic squad.


      I'd been a member since fifth grade and was still a private. As it turned out it didn't matter. 


Stan's promotion didn’t change him a bit. We were in the same squad and he immediately 


made me a Sergeant. Nepotism is good. Our time in uniform only cemented our relationship.


     As we marched back to school one afternoon, Stan said, "let's go to the head."


     By then I'd gotten used to Stan's nautical terms. His father was in the Navy, and owned


 a sailboat. Whether they had been overrun by pirates in the South China Sea, was another 




      On traffic duty, on the corner of Ashbury and Fredrick St. I’d asked Stan about the scar that 


left a white divide in the middle of his bushy, left eyebrow. 


      "Got it when a shark tried to bite my head off in the South China Sea," he told me in a 


whispered confidence. "Pirates were trying to take over our boat. My dad threw me overboard, to 


save my life, but I landed in a nest of Great Whites. One was about thirty─" he spread his arms 


for emphasis. "Maybe, forty feet long. I punched it in the nose when it attacked. Shark noses are 


very tender, Collin. But it’s dorsal fin caught me in the forehead.”


     I didn't believe most of it. Great Whites don't get much bigger than twenty feet. But who was 


I to challenge a kid almost five ten with a five o'clock shadow?”


      “Collin, the school fire.” Dr. Foultz interrupted with obvious frustration.  “You were going to 


explain about the fire.” His eye bulged a bit. “The original charge of arson. Collin . . .” He 


swiveled in his swivel chair.  Almost a complete three-sixty.  He stopped rotating right were he 


began.  “Collin, I’m really trying to help.  How about an assist?” 


     “Right.” His sincerity hit a chord. I decided to move it along. But I knew I had to cover the 


basics. “The rest of squad was ordered back to class and Stan and I sauntered down to the boys 


bathroom. Stan took a right as we walked into the basement. I didn't care, I didn't have to pee 


anyway. Stan walked up narrow passage and pushed open a door. ‘Found this yesterday,’ he 




      No one had used the band room in years. It was below street level. There were three, wire 


mesh windows, high in one corner where you could see blurry legs as people walked by. All the 


instruments, except a dented tuba, had been hocked to help the convent through some bad 


times. The tuba hadn't been played since "Fats" Markum graduated two years earlier. There were 


a few broken desks stacked in a corner next to several bent music stands.


     "Do you smoke?" Stan asked tapping an unfiltered Pall Mall on his thumb nail.


     Talking in class, chewing gum, rude behavior, tardiness where all venial sins. SMOKING 


was one of the big M's. Mortals. Hell time!   


     I'd been impressed before. 


     "Sure," I said nonchalantly.


     Stan was puffing, I was coughing when Sister Berkman burst through the door a few minutes 


later.  I watched in amazement as she crunched both cigarettes in her bare hand. I was certain 


Stan’s was still lit. 


     "I’ll see both of you in MY office after school!"


     Nuns have a way of drawing out your punishment. For the next two hours Stan and I sat in 


her class. She never mentioned the incident.


     On the way down the stairs after school, I looked at Stan for a little encouragement. Talk 


about calm.


     "Quit worrying, Collin," he ordered.


     The door slammed behind us. I felt like Caesar on the Ides of March. 


     "Well now, my two little chimney's.  So you boys like to smoke: do you?"


     I shuffled. Stan stood at attention.


     "As of today, you are both off the traffic squad," she said emphatically.


     That stung. I'd finally made Sergeant and I knew this cute girl walked two blocks out of her


way just cross at my intersection. Some women just love a man in uniform. 


     “Collin,” Foultz pointed to his watch.


     “Almost there.”


     "Furthermore,” our principal continued since you both enjoy smoking so much. Each day


after lunch, the two of you will gather all four trash cans; bring them down to the furnace room


and shovel in the garbage. And then back to class as fast as your little legs will carry you." She 


rose ominously from her chair, "and now. . . You’re uniforms and badges.”


      It was a solemn moment for me. Stan seemed unfazed. We apologized for our sins and left 


her office. Our punishment wasn't so bad. Of course, I had lost my badge and uniform; but, now 


we ended up missing even more of fifth period.  Fifth period was religion.  Go figure. 


     The furnace room at St. Agnes's is in the basement next to the boy's bathroom, behind 


two steel doors. The bottom part of the furnace is brick with a hinged, cast-iron door in the 


middle. The room, or what's left of it after the furnace, is used as a storage space for: paint, tools, 


nails etc. Everything you'd need to build a perfect club house.


     Our first couple of days went smoothly. We devised a system.  I would truck down the 


trash cans and dump them on the floor. Stan would shovel the garbage into the furnace. Then it 


happened.” I looked to Foultz. 


     Foultz gave me a big sigh of relief.  Hefted his pen, straightened the top paper my 


portfolio and gave me a go-ahead-nod. 


     Our third day turned out to be one of those days when you ask yourself, why couldn't this be


a year or fifteen from now? During lunch it began to drizzle rain. Most of the kids had only eaten 


half of their lunches and dropped the rest the trash cans before beating it back inside to the 


cafeteria or their classrooms. Then it began to pour.  Our perfect system dissolved in the rain.


      Stan had to help me bring down the trash cans.  They were heavy.  We had to make four 


trips to the furnace room.


     Instead of one small pile of lunch bags and left over food, we had a big pile of garbage 


scattered all over the concrete floor. For some reason I decided to slide the steel door to the 


basement and boys bathroom shut.    


    At the same time, Stan opened the metal door in the middle of the school furnace. With a 


broom, I pushed all the trash into one pile. Stan grabbed the shovel and tossed in a blade of  


lunch bags, paper napkins and fruit rinds.  One brown bag tumbled down from the heap and 


popped open. A huge, uneaten, three-layered slice of chocolate cake slid out riding in the middle 


of a paper plate that had colored balloons and Happy Birthday written on it. 


     ‘Chocolate cake!’ I shouted. ‘With chocolate frosting.’




      Here’s where we think Stan might have dropped the shovel onto the pile of lunch bags. 


And the shove might have had a few hot embers from the furnace stuck to the bottom of the 


blade.  Because we sitting on the work bench, munching away when we both smelled something 




     ‘Fiiiiiiiiiiiiire, Stan!’


     The bags at the corner of the pile were ablaze. Stan grabbed a bucket of what turned out to be 


paint thinner and tossed it on the flames. This was a mistake. 


      We grabbed the handles of the janitors mop buckets and made a mad dash for the boys  


bathroom. I tipped the lip of the bucket into a urinal and flushed like a crazy person. This was 


another mistake. After seven flushes I had an inch of water.  I looked back at the furnace room 


smoke was oozing out of the crack in the door. 


     Stan flew to a toilet bowl. The bucket was too big and the water too low. The sinks were 




     "We'll have to piss it out," Stan said confidently.  


      I didn't have to go, but I was willing to give it a try.


      We raced back to the furnace room. The smoke was black and bellowing now. We could hear 


the fire spit and crackle inside. After ten kegs of beer maybe King Kong could have pissed out 


that fire. We couldn’t.  


     We screamed "HELP!" And raced up the stairs. 


     School got out early. Saint Agnes's was cited by the Fire Department for a series of 


violations. Now there is a fire hose in basement near the furnace room and all the sinks are 


large basins.  


      Two weeks later some big guy in a short sleeve shirt and a tattoo of tiger on his arm started


asking Stan and me about the fire. I thought he was a cop.  He wasn’t.  Now the custodians union 


has a case pending against the Pope. Apparently, Stan and I had taken someone's job.  




     I looked up to Foultz for some solace. Understanding. Some reaction. 


    Foultz scribbled something on his legal pad. I knew he was writing. Pyromaniac.


    "Well.” He sighed. I'll see you next Wednesday. Collin." 

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