I looked down to see two drops of blood on the green carpet. They had come from my nose, and there would be more. The clerk, a woman in her 40's, began walking toward me from the counter with a concerned look on her face. It occurred to me that she may find it odd that I was standing in the sock aisle, with a nose bleed, after closing time, at a Boy Scout Store.
My love affair with the Boy Scout sock started innocently enough. I had graduated from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts in the fall of 1990, around the time I turned ten. Reading about the BSA (Boy Scouts of America) now, I can only imagine the amount of angst within its ranks. The membership controversies over sexual abuse, homosexuality, and religion make me wonder if I will let my son join. But my time with the Scouts was nothing but sunny skies and clean, safe times. Well, mostly anyway. There was that one summer camp when my patrol leader ran out of cigarettes and gave us all tea leaves wrapped in parchment paper saying, "Look, it's the same thing, okay?" Or the time that we filled another Scout's bellybutton with tooth paste the first night of a trip. A week later, we watched in horror as the same scout took off his shirt before jumping in the pool. The once green and white toothpaste had turned black and molded into the folds of his overweight... folds. Or the time that we wiped an entire can of catfish bait under another scout's tent at the National Jamboree. The poor kid smelled like a cow pasture for the rest of the week. Even at my wedding a Boy Scout story was told, about earning my wilderness survival merit badge when my best man and I rolled over one another down a hill because we decided to sleep on too sharp an incline. (Many in my family already thought that I may be gay. The story of two boys rolling over one another down a hill didn?t help.) The Boy Scouts was a great experience for me, filled with excitement and adventure.
I earned the rank of Life before dropping out and clearly remember the night that I told my scoutmaster I was leaving the troop. I cried and stuttered. I knew I was never going to make Eagle. It wasn't in me. I had been drifting away from Troop 674 for a year. It was my time to leave. I grew out of my uniform. I left the dreams of Eagle behind me. I even started growing my hair to lengths the Beatles would never have gotten away with. But I never took off those socks. When I started with the Scouts, the uniform sock was worn up to the knee, puce green, and had a three-inch red rim that was meant to be folded over. A uniform change in the early 1990's brought the red trim to a logical half inch. That sock was the one I fell in love with. It was called "The Boy Scout Crew Sock," but was changed later to, "Boy Scout Thorlo Hiking Sock." The sturdy socks were made from a blend of acrylic, nylon, and spandex. If you bought them from an official Boy Scout store they were treated with Triclosan, an antibacterial, antifungal agent that stopped odors and athlete's foot dead in its tracks. The sock wicked sweat away from the foot and into the shoe. You could hike all day without an extra pair and never give it a second thought. You never had to wear two pairs to stop blisters. These socks were thick and clung to your foot with the force of super glue. They were, by far, the best sock ever produced.
I haven't worn another sock since their release. I wore them to job interviews, funerals, and of course, hiking. I wore them on my first date, wedding, and to the birth of my child. Every year, my mother bought a few more pairs at Christmas, and I waited until they were beyond threadbare to throw them away. I gave serious thought to learning how to darn socks just to make old pairs new. Ask anyone who knows me well about my clothing. Invariably, my socks will come up. But I never learned how to darn socks. I never savored the pairs I owned. Standing in that aisle at the back of the Boy Scout Store, I came to the realization that my sock was not there. After eighteen years, the uniform had changed, and left me in the cold.
That's when my nose started to bleed. I was tempted to bolt to my car at the speed of shame, my embarrassment following a few seconds behind. I pictured myself in the car, nursing my nose with an old Wendy's napkin from the glove box for almost a minute before a knock on the window would catch up with me. That's when I saw the woman with the concerned look walking toward me.
She must have thought I was up to no good. But when she saw maroon spilling from my nostrils she softened. ?Are you okay?? she asked with the empathy only a den mother could muster. Her tween son was in tow, dressed in the new Scout Uniform. I looked at his feet, but couldn?t see his socks. ?I?m so sorry.? I mumbled and looked at the drops of blood on the floor.
I imagined what would happen after I left the store. My pathogen-free blood would be cleaned up by a Scouting hazmat team, double bagging latex gloves and wearing face masks with plastic eye shields. They would utilize a triad cleaning solution that would leave a white stain on the carpet. The stain would be the centerpiece of stories about the guy who loved socks. Later, as the story grew to legend, I would have become a seven foot tall bearded pedophile who came in looking for children to pillage before being overcome by a wily scout who, after just earning his karate merit badge, "totally kicked some Yeti ass." The den mother sat me down on a hand carved Scouting bench while her son ran to the front of the store for his handbook. I was embarrassed, but comforted by this stranger, even though she did not yet know how insane my plight was. (After all, I WAS having a panic attack over socks. How do you explain that to someone?) I knew she didn't quite know what to say, either. After all, what would a den mother say to a grown man with long hair and a messy beard? I had changed out of my work clothes and into my normal wardrobe consisting of old jeans with holes in the crotch and t-shirts with holes in the armpits. I looked like a hobo, in a Boy Scout Store, in the sock section. She said nothing, but held a tissue up my face.
Her son returned and read aloud from the Scout Handbook. "A nosebleed looks bad but is usually not very serious. Most nosebleeds stop themselves in just a few minutes. Mom!" The kid yelled for her attention. "It says to have the victim sit up and lean forward slightly to prevent blood from draining into his throat! Eww." "Hasn't been through first aid training?" I asked with a gravely laugh. The Scout's mother and I looked at each other and she smiled. She realized that I had been a Scout and we both looked at her son.
"You have to press the bleeding nostril toward the center. Apply a cool, wet cloth to the nose and face." The kid looked up and paused. He was no older than eleven and his rank was "Scout." He would learn how not to freak out about nose bleeds before becoming a Tenderfoot. The den mother understood my embarrassment without a word being said and asked her son to watch the front door. After he was gone, she asked, "Is there was anything I can do to help you?"
I did not answer her question. Instead I blurted, "You aren't selling my socks anymore."
I shrank from the woman. I had never felt so small and obsessive in my life. But the woman obliged my pathetic obsession and pretended to understand. "The green socks with the red rim? Yeah, I liked those too."
I didn't believe her but her sincerity was genuine. I nodded and pulled up a pant leg to show that red stripe spinning around my tattooed calf. She nodded, both with understanding and disapproval over my life choice. My mother has done the same thing. She stood up and reached for a gray, low cut sport sock with the letters "BSA" sewn into the top in bold, all caps, sans-serif font.
"These are the new official uniform sock." She dropped a pair of "large" into my outreached hand and turned, as if to look at her other sock choices. "There is a hiking sock with a boot cut." She paused after picking up a pair and dropped them back into the bin. "But they aren't the same. They are made from GORE-TEX and, while great for hiking, they are not an all around sock."
She was clearly torn between a sale, and caring for her bloody nosed ex-scout. She'd probably just spent her entire sock knowledge in those two sentences. I started to wonder if eBay would have any pairs left. But would I be willing to wear used Boy Scout socks? I decided I wasn't willing and asked if she had any of my kind left. She paused and cocked her head.
"I think we do." She paused again, and then said, "Large?"
"Large and up." I replied. I would hate for her to come back from the stock room empty handed, feeling inadequate having only found pairs of small, medium and extra large.
"Let me check," she said with a smile and disappeared behind a curtain into the stock room.
I listened for her to tell people in the back room about the moron in the store with the sock fetish, but she was either polite or alone. I walked around the aisle, just to make sure there wasn't another section containing "vintage socks." Hey, you never know. I saw the new Scout Belt. It looked pretty cool and has been renamed, "The Centennial." I almost bought one but decided against it after realizing it would have been a purchase fueled by nostalgia. I checked my watch and saw that it was after closing time. I was now that customer who shows up right before closing to "grab something fast" but always takes forever.
When I worked for Blockbuster Video in the 90's we had customers like these every night. I always wondered what circumstances would drive a person to enter a video store at 11:58 pm on a Tuesday. The employees in my particular store wagered on the section about to be visited. Was the customer a male entering alone? The drama section held all of the soft core porn. Was it another teen, racing in after dropping his bike off at the door? The smell would dictate that answer. If stale cigarettes followed him, the Anime section was behind Action in the back right hand corner of the store. If he smelled of pot, the Music/Arts section next to the Musicals was what he needed. If there were multiple teen males, it was always pot; point to the Comedy section and hope they don't take long. If a woman under fifty entered, send her to Drama. A woman over fifty? It never happened.
The point was that every retail store was going to have these customers rushing into the store while employees were trying to count down tills and lock the doors. Sometimes we broke out the vacuum cleaner and start working on the floors, hinting that the store was closing. It never worked and I resented many a customer. Now I was guilty.
When she returned she was carrying seven pairs of large Boy Scout socks. "How many do you want?" She smiled and I dropped the tissue from my nose. I wanted to hold them in my hands as soon as possible. They had to be mine.
"All of them!" I took them as quickly as I could without looking like a freak. These seven would bring my usable total to thirteen pairs, two of which are "sock thongs," having holes in the sole and the toes.
Once in my car, I called seven local stores to find that they were all closed. The next day I called the stores again but, instead of being comforted by Scout mothers with my emotions on their sleeves, I was heard by surly men who didn't care about my plight. Those thirteen pairs would be my last.
As of this writing, I still feel betrayed. I am not sure what sock I will wear in a year, once my "baker's dozen of love" become too thin and weak to support my activity. My mother came up with the idea to hold one pair back, and I have. On my fortieth birthday I will wear them and remember my childhood. They will become that pair of socks only worn on my birthday, to funerals, my children?s weddings, and finally, my own cremation. I, like most children, have many physical reminders of childhood. But one of my most important ones, the Boy Scout sock, was taken away from me while I wasn't paying attention.
I hate this story. I mean, it's written very well and I love it from that perspective and it's a great story, but it depresses me to an unknown level, and it probably has the same effect to anyone that really knows you. That's why I just skipped it to post this comment...Did you ever find more socks?
Nope. The socks no longer exist. Sadly, I have ten or so pairs left and NONE of them are any good. I did hold back one pair that I plan on wearing on my birthdays starting at 40.
Are you still going to be cremated in them too? See? This is why I don't like this story. Now we're talking about you dead...
I don't know. I plan on donating my body to science. So unless they want me to be wearing them as first year med students pose me in funny positions...