LS: Bruce Cameron Column December 28, 2009

Bad-breath boy

When I was in sixth grade, I noticed something wonderful, something I’d never seen before: girls.

Well, OK, I’d seen them, but I felt about them the same way I felt about housecats: They did only what they wanted to do, and they weren’t any fun to wrestle. And, like cats, they could be cute sometimes, but they always left me feeling mildly allergic.

And then one day the girl in front of me in class smiled at me, and chemicals flooded my brain, turning it into the Love Canal.

My immediate reaction was to try to get the girl to perform that magic trick again, but she didn’t seem inclined no matter how many amusing noises I made. (And I was very amusing — I could do a chicken passing gas. The guys thought I was hilarious.)

I took stock of my shortcomings, and fortunately, there were plenty of TV advertisers to help me. I had germs that could cause bad breath. I needed to spray stuff on my hair to make it look dry (the wet head was dead).

Four out of five dentists recommended a certain product for their patients who chewed gum.

(What did the fifth dentist recommend, the death penalty?)

I absorbed these messages as if they were being communicated to me by the village elder, and in short order I had outfitted myself with a tiny bottle of breath drops, which I carried around like a CIA agent carries a cyanide tablet. Whenever I saw a girl, I’d whip out my bottle and place a drop of what tasted like flaming acid on my tongue. Try to cause bad breath now, you lousy germs!

Soon I was taking hits from the little bottle every few minutes, seriously in need of some sort of rehab program. When I spoke to people, their faces would wince, their eyes would tear up, and their hair would fall out.

In gym, I won my weight class in wrestling simply by exhaling on my opponents. First place in the sub-micro-featherweight wrestling tournament!

Completely misjudging why it was that girls didn’t seem to want to talk to me or breathe in my
presence, I assumed I must have body odor, and I began spraying my arms, chest and face with deodorant, laying it on so thick I was virtually laminated. Not only was I a champion wrestler, I was well on my way to becoming an EPA Superfund site.

One day in class, the little bottle in my pocket leaked. I didn’t notice it at first, but then it felt like my leg was being napalmed. I was forced to ask if I could use the bathroom, which was torturously embarrassing because I didn’t want any girls knowing I ever did such a thing.

I limped to the men’s room (ironically named, since I’d never seen any actual men in there) and took off my pants. A scarlet blotch covered my leg, indicating the area that would have to be surgically removed. Water brought relief, though, and when I rinsed my pant leg I was able to clean away most of the spill.

Now, though, I had a real problem: When I put them back on, it looked like I had wet my pants. I couldn’t let any girls see me like this, but I was pretty sure there was a rule against spending an entire school day in the bathroom. And there was no way I was going anywhere without pants.

The only solution that I could come up with was to douse myself from head to toe with water and claim to my teacher that I was victim of some sort of plumbing accident in the bathroom.

I was in the process of executing this brilliant strategy when the principal walked in — the first time an actual man entered the men’s room, and I had to be there to see it.

He wanted to know what I was doing.

Lacking a cyanide pill, I confessed to everything.

The principal’s humiliating solution was to have me change into my gym clothes for the rest of the day, and he confiscated my breath drops.

It was the last time I ever used them.

To write Bruce Cameron, visit his Web site at


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