2-Pane Combined
Full Summaries Sorted

A Plague of Tics

Excerpt from “A Plague of Tics”

by David Sedaris

When my teacher asked me if she might visit with my mother, I touched my nose eight times to the surface of my desk.

"May I take that as a 'yes'?"

According to her calculations, I had left my chair twenty times that day. "You’re up and down like a flea. I turn my back for two minutes and there you are with your tongue pressed against that light switch. Maybe they do that where you come from, but here in my classroom, we don't leave our seats and lick things whenever we please. That is Miss Chestnut’s light switch, and she likes to keep it dry. Would you like me to come over to your house and put my tongue on your light switches? Well, would you?"

I tried to picture her in action, but my shoe was calling. TAKE ME OFF, it whispered. TAP MY HEAL AGAINST YOUR FOREHEAD THREE TIMES. DO IT NOW, QUICK, NO ONE WILL NOTICE.

"Well? I'm asking you a question. Would you or would you not want me licking the light switches in your house?"

I slipped off my shoe, pretending to examine the heel.

"You're going to hit yourself over the head with that shoe aren't you?"

It wasn’t 'hitting' it was tapping; but still, how had she known what I was about to do?

“You should take a look in the mirror sometime. Shoes are dirty things. We wear them on our feet to protect ourselves against the soil. It’s not healthy to hit ourselves over the head with shoes, is it?”

I guessed that it was not.

“Guess? This is not a game to be guessed at. I don’t ‘guess’ that it’s dangerous to run into traffic with a paper sack over my head. There’s no guesswork involved. These things are facts, not riddles.” She sat at her desk, continuing her lecture as she penned a brief letter. “I’d like to have a word with your mother. You do have one, don’t you? I’m assuming you weren’t raised by animals. Is she blind, your mother? Can she see the way you behave, or do you reserve your antics exclusively for Miss Chestnut?” She handed me the folded slip of paper, "You may go now, and on your way out the door I'm asking you to please no bathe my light switch with your germ-ridden tongue.

It was a short distance from the school to our rented house, no more than six hundred and thirty-seven steps, and on a good day I could make the trip in an hour, pausing every few feet to tongue a mailbox or touch whichever leaf or blade of grass demanded my attention. If I were to lose count of my steps, I’d have to return to school and begin again. “Back so soon?” the janitor would ask. “You just can’t get enough of this place, can you?”

He had it all wrong. I wanted to be home more than anything, it was getting there that was the problem. I might touch the telephone pole at step three hundred and fourteen and then, fifteen paces later, worry that I hadn’t touched it in the exactly right spot. It needed to be touched again. I’d let my mind wander for one brief moment and then doubt had set in, causing me to question not just the telephone pole but also the lawn ornament back at step two hundred and nineteen. I’d have to go back and lick that concrete mushroom one more time, hoping its guardian wouldn’t once again rush from her house shouting, “Get your face out of my toadstool!” It might be raining or maybe I had to go to the bathroom, but running home was not an option. This was a long and complicated process that demanded an oppressive attention to detail. It wasn’t that I enjoyed pressing my nose against the scalding hood of a parked car—pleasure had nothing to do with it. A person had to do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them. Bypass that mailbox and my brain would never for one moment let me forget it. I might be sitting at the dinner table, daring myself not to think about it, and the thought would revisit my mind. Don’t think about it. But it would already be too late and *************

Arriving at the front stoop of the house meant that I had completed the first leg of that bitter- tasting journey to my bedroom. Once home I would touch the front door seven times with each elbow, a task made more difficult if there was someone else around. Inside the house there were switches to be acknowledged. After kissing the fourth, eighth, and twelfth carpeted stair, I wiped the cat hair off my lips and proceeded to the kitchen, where I was commanded to stroke the burners of the stove, press my nose against the refrigerator door, and arrange the percolator, toaster, and blender into a straight row. After making my rounds of the living room, it was time to kneel beside the banister and blindly jab a butter knife in the direction of my favorite electrical socket.

There were bulbs to lick and bathroom faucets to test before finally I was free to enter my bedroom, where I would carefully align the objects on my dresser, lick the corners of my metal desk, and lie upon my bed, rocking back and forth and thinking of what an odd woman she was, my third-grade teacher, Miss Chestnut. Why come here and lick my switches when she never used the one she had?

Her note had asked if she might visit our home in order to discuss what she referred to as my “special problems.”

“Have you been leaving your seat to lick the light switch?” my mother asked. My mother read the note from Miss Chestnut and lit a cigarette.

“Once or twice,”

“Once or twice what? Every half hour? Every ten minutes?”

“I don’t know,” “Who’s counting?”

“Well, your goddamned math teacher, for one. That’s her job, to count. What, do you think she’s not going to notice?”

I got a phone call just this afternoon from that lady up the street, that Mrs. Keening. She says she caught you in her front yard, down on your hands and knees kissing the evening edition of her newspaper”

“I wasn’t kissing it. I was just trying to read the headline.”

“And I suppose this Miss Chestnut is mistaken, too? Is that what you’re trying to tell me? Maybe she has you confused with the other boy who leaves his seat to lick the pencil sharpener or touch the flag or whatever the hell it is you do?”

“That’s very likely, that she’s mixed up. She’s old. There are spots on her hands.”

“How many?”

DMU Timestamp: May 06, 2020 21:48

0 comments, 0 areas
add area
add comment
change display
add comment

Quickstart: Commenting and Sharing

How to Comment
  • Click icons on the left to see existing comments.
  • Desktop/Laptop: double-click any text, highlight a section of an image, or add a comment while a video is playing to start a new conversation.
    Tablet/Phone: single click then click on the "Start One" link (look right or below).
  • Click "Reply" on a comment to join the conversation.
How to Share Documents
  1. "Upload" a new document.
  2. "Invite" others to it.

Logging in, please wait... Blue_on_grey_spinner