by: Todd Andrew Clayton
For the first two weeks, I didn’t even notice his hand. He’d find me in my office at school every morning to say hello. All the other kids called him Scoops, and it wasn’t until he asked if he could crack my knuckles that I knew why.
“Let me see your hand, Todd.” I stretched out my left arm and he pulled my fingers until they gently popped.
“The other one,” he continued. When he took my right hand in his left, I saw it. Born with a congenital birth defect, his left hand curled inward, like a perpetually half-closed fist, scoop-like. Scars on his forearm evidenced a surgical attempt to remedy the malformation. I said nothing, but instead looked in his eyes and smiled.
Scoops, who could avoid crowds and attention and fun for fear of mockery from his peers, is, instead, one of the most popular, well-respected, and out-spoken students on his middle school campus.
When he stood up in English last month to give a speech on the abolition of the death penalty, before he began speaking the audience hushed, save one brave seventh grader:
“Scoooooooooops,” he hollered.
The rest of the class joined, chanting in rhythm: “Scoops, Scoops, Scoops, Scoops.” Like a flag, he raised his left hand, his face beaming. The students cheered.
Every time I take him to the mall or the beach or to lunch, he tells me how many bitches he’s going to holler at. I tell him “bitches” isn’t a kind way to talk about women.
“All right, then,” he says. He calls them “honies” now, which I tell him is fine.
On Saturday, I picked him up to spend the afternoon with some other kids from his school at Belmont Park, a small beach boardwalk on the other side of the city. I got to his house early, and—since we had some time before the other kids would be there—asked if he wanted to stop by a bakery that I used to go to when I was in college.
“They make this chocolate bread—but only on the weekends—so I would come on Saturdays and get a slice with a cup of coffee and read.”
“That’s what’s up,” he said, which is Scoops for: “That’s really cool.”
On our way, we listened to Mexican banda music on ciento-seis punto cinco, the windows of my truck down, the wind constantly disrupting our hair. When the music swelled at the choruses, he’d laugh, look at me, and dance in the passenger’s seat.
When we walked in the bakery, I felt him immediately at my side.
“Scoops, what’s up?”
“Nothing, man. I’m fine,” his eyes struggling to make contact with mine. They found refuge in the grout of the black tile counter-top. He inched closer, now hip-to-hip with me. He didn’t holler at any of the honies.
“Scoops, what are you thinking about?”
“It’s just,” he hesitantly began, “I don’t know, man. This place is for rich people. And for white people. I’m the only Mexican in here.”
I looked around: Thomas Edison light bulbs dangled from the ceiling, a chalk menu written in cursive leaned against the opposite wall, families wearing expensive North Face jackets sat around the hardwood tables. I said nothing.
That there might be degrees on my wall or price tags on my jeans, that there might be light bulbs of judgment that hang in my heart, signaling people to feel too Mexican, too Islamic, too poor, too straight, too Christian, too dumb, too anything but perfectly welcomed and celebrated is deeply unsettling to me. People like Scoops are too good to be missed, and I must be aware of the bakeries in my life, the places and statements and decisions and attitudes that unknowingly alienate people I encounter and send them clinging for comfort to their hips of stability.
I paid for our loaf and we walked back to my truck.
I picked him up two days later to go surfing.
“I like you, Todd,” he said before we got to the first stoplight. “I like you like a brother.”
“I’m really glad we’re friends, Scoops. You teach me a lot.”
“That’s what’s up,” he said, before turning the music up like he always does.