The bell rang!

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Remember the scene in A Christmas Story when Ralphie’s pal, Schwartz, triple dog dares another classmate, Flick, to stick his tongue on a flagpole? Remember how Flick rose to that dare, stuck his tongue to the pole and was immediately a prisoner of his own pride? And remember how Flick begged Ralphie as well as he could with his tongue stuck to a flagpole, to stay with him and Ralphie shrugged as he replied, albeit regretfully, “The bell rang!” Off Ralphie ran to his classroom while Flick and his tongue remained stuck to the pole.

“The bell rang!” pretty much sums up my husband’s and my take on life. We are both rule followers, both faintly appalled when anyone does anything other than run inside after the bell rings at the end of recess. Rules aren’t suggestions, they are rules and they weren’t made to be broken.

Except for that one time.

It was back in our starving college student days. Freshly married, we attended a college on the north side of Chicago and lived on the traditional student diet of ramen noodles and generic peanut butter. A big night out for us was going to one of the many Greek diners in our neighborhood and ordering an omelet which came with hash browns. Throw in coffee and culinary bliss could be bought for around five dollars plus change. Yes, those were the days.

One day we were walking back to our one bedroom, one bath, dining room, kitchen and living room for two-hundred thirty-five dollars a month apartment (see what I mean about those being the days?) when a rather oddly dressed woman approached us. “Hi,” she said in the too cheery tone of someone who wants something.

“Hi,” we replied in wary unison as we took in her tights, stovepipe hat and what appeared to be one of those coats chimney cleaners wear.

“Are you guys busy?”

Mark and I exchanged glances. Yes, we were young and naïve but not that naïve. A stranger, especially one who looked a little bit like Mary Poppins after a bender, was best treated with kid gloves or avoided as much as possible. But we couldn’t be rude. The bell rang also applied to manners and one of the rules of bell ringer abiders everywhere is that when asked a direct question, one must answer.

“No,” Mark finally said as I fidgeted next to him.

“Great! How would you like to make five dollars? Each?”

Five dollars each meant ten dollars total which equated two meals at a Greek diner or a large pizza. Throwing caution to the wind, I asked, “Doing what?”

“I’m moving and I need a couple of boxes and a few other things moved. Shouldn’t take long. Maybe half an hour.”

I suppose it shows how truly desperate we were for a meal out since without even discussing the offer Mark and I followed Mary Poppins down the street to her apartment. Her third floor apartment, I might add. Parked in the alley was a small semi-truck overflowing with boxes, furniture and potted ficus trees. Another person, obviously a fellow recruit, was struggling up the rickety outside staircase carrying an enormous box loaded with at least fifty saucepans.

Our enthusiasm for an omelet went on a mutual decline but we’d agreed to help so Mark picked up one box and I grabbed another. Slowly we made our way up to her apartment, passing the other mover as he came back down.

“Not worth it,” he muttered. “Listen to me. It’s not worth it.” With that he reached the bottom step and vanished into the alley.

Mark and I gazed after him. “Should we leave too?” I asked.

“We said we’d help,” Mark reminded me.

“And she said just a few boxes. She could fill an entire thrift store with that one truck.”

“Let’s move a few boxes and see what happens. Maybe some other people will show up to help.”

Knowing the bell was ringing on some playground somewhere, I followed Mark up the steps and tried to focus on what kind of omelet I’d order for dinner. My favorite was the Western omelet but ham and cheese was good too.

Mark and I worked steadily for maybe half an hour without making much of a dent in the truck. I was getting tired and was more than ready to ignore than ringing recess bell in favor of a nice package of ramen soup and a generic peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I opened my mouth to tell Mark I’d had enough when a second truck also obviously loaded to its gills pulled into the alley.

“There’s the last of my things,” Mary Poppins trilled. “We’ll be done in no time!”

Mark waited until she went back into her apartment before fiercely whispering, “Run!” Grabbing me by the hand he pulled me down the stairs and into the alley. Within seconds we were free.

“I feel kind of bad leaving like that,” Mark commented as we walked swiftly toward our apartment.

I did too but I also felt relieved. The bell might have rung after recess but there was no way I was rushing back to that particular classroom.


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