When I was in fifth grade -- in about 1962 -- a lot of us boys became addicted to a solitary, secret vice involving cinnamon oil. I don't know whether boys in later years experimented likewise with cinnamon oil. The vice was suppressed ruthlessly by St. John's faculty over the course of about two school years, and so all of us boys evenutally stopped, as far as I know. I don't know whether the following classes became involved in this vice, but I must assume that they learned from our class's bad example. The lesson: don't even touch the seductive stuff!
I assume also that this vice started at the Seward public school and then spread to our Lutheran school. However, I do remember that the person who seduced me was my St. John classmate John Garmatz. Each of us seduced fellow students, and then when we all were addicted, we all kept each other entangled. So, each one of us had to recognize his own personal responsibility, as well as his own innocent victimhood, in this situation.
Here is how the vice would start and then spread:
John Garmatz started walking around with a toothpick in his mouth. It looked cool and grown-up -- like The Marlboro Man smoking a cigarette.
John would not say why he had started to chew a toothpick, and I did not ask. I pretended not to even notice. Eventually, though, a situation occurred where he and I were alone together, and he pulled a toothpick out of his shirt pocket and tossed it into his mouth, catching it expertly in his teeth."
He asked, "Would you ike a toothpick?"
I nodded, "sure."
He reached into his shirt pocket, drew out a toothpick grandly and handed it to me. I tossed it into my mouth and caught it in my teeth. I bit in and sucked.
And then I spit the toothpick right back out into my hand.
What is that on the toothpick?!" I exclaimed. "It's really, really hot."
"It's cinnamon oil."
I licked my toothpick tentatively and then tossed it back into my mouth. That's what that familiar, spicy flavor was! Cinnamon!! But I never had tasted it in such a powerful, scorching-hot concentration.
John then taught me the secret methods, and by the next day I too was walking around with a toothpick in my mouth and a couple more in my shirt pocket. I am ashamed to admit that in the following days I too introduced a couple of my own classmates to this enticing, exciting pleasure.
For a while, John continued to feed me cinnamon-oil toothpicks conveniently. But there never were enough of them. I needed them for myself, and I needed them also for a couple of my classmates who now were pestering me constantly for more cinnamon-oil toothpicks for themselves. Eventually John cut me off, and so I myself had to learn how to make my own cinnamon-oil toothpicks.As instructed by John, I went to the Rexalt drug store downtown, on the town square. This was the same Rexalt drug store that had a display stand, with a lot of comic books, by the front door. I had been in that drug store many, many times, sitting on the floor and reading comic books for free for about an hour before chosing one to buy -- as if the hour of reading comic books for free had been a careful selection process to chose the very best comic book to buy. But on those previous visits, I had dealt only with the scornful glare of the cashier, not with the pharmacist himself.
I strolled into the drug store, this time only glancing at the comic-book display at the front door. I strolled in further, pretending to look at the more grown-up products on the store's further shelves. I tried to look as if I were selecting some vitamins or some ... or some ...
What was all this stuff? I had no idea what most of this stuff in the drug store was! All I recognized was comic books and Flintstones vitamins!!
As I walked slowly up and down the small drug store's corridors, pretending to examine the products for sale on the shelves, I really was watching to see whether anyone else was standing around near the pharmacist's counter. The pharmacist was a middle-aged man. Sometimes a customer left, but then as I began to approach the counter, another customer came in the front door, and so I turned back immediately to re-examine the shelves.
After about an hour, an opportunity finally arose (or else I figured out that I was drawing more and more attention to myself), and so I walked briskly up to the pharmacist standing at his counter. My cheeks blushing bright red, I told the pharmacist that I wanted to buy a bottle of cinnamon oil. I looked around nervously. Thank God, nobody was walking into the store!
The pharmacist cleared his throat and walked into a back room, where he remained for an uncomfortably long time. During that entire time, I watched the front door. Time passed with torturous slowness. Five seconds. Ten seconds!! Fifteen seconds!!!
Eventually, about twenty seconds later, the pharmacist returned to the counter, carrying a small bottle of cinmamon oil. The bottle was just the right size to hold about a half-dozen toothpicks.
"Do you want this in a bag?" he asked.
"Yes, of course!" I responded urgently.
He reached under the counter and slowly pulled out a small bag. I glanced at the front door.
"Hurry!" I thought to myself. "Hurry!! Hurry!!!"
I paid for the bottle. I don't remember what the bottle cost back in those days, but now one costs about seven dollars. I was buying this tiny bottle with my paper-route money.
I hurried out of the drug store, hopped onto my bicycle, and sped away.
To be continued ....