If you have one of your old yearbooks nearby, take it out. Don't open it yet, but keep it close by.
Then read on.
I look back on my years in elementary school quite fondly. Rather, I did until recently. I think that was the last time I was truly happy... when the idea of a new toy or an upcoming cartoon special was enough to look forward to in life.
I was a typical kid, though I leaned a bit more toward being an artsy outsider. In other words, you would've found me doodling more often than making friends. I don't want to say I was unpopular or picked on, just that I wasn't very interested in interacting with other children.
I do, however, remember one of the most popular kids in class... David Urso.
I remember him, now.
David could be a bit of a bully, though he was shorter than any other kid in class. His parents were abusive, though I didn't understand that at the time, and he took all of that out on the easily intimidated students.
The one time he tried to pick on me, I wasn't having any of it. Maybe I'd read a few too many comics, or I'd seen too many after-school specials... but I was firmly convinced that you could simply stand up to bullies and that would be that.
David had decided that it would be fun to punch the back of my head as we sat on the school bus one afternoon. The driver had left, and chaos reigned.
Almost as quickly as his fist found my skull, I stood up, turned around, and hauled him into the aisle by his shirt.
"Do that again," I screamed, "and I'll punch your nose through the back of your head!"
I'm not really proud of that reaction, mostly because it was less about standing up for myself and more like I immediately went psycho on him.
If I had remembered that embarrassing incident throughout my life, I might've made different choices. I can't count how many times I've flipped out on somebody because they were being a bit nasty.
So... Why did I remember that until now?
I'm moving into a new apartment soon, and in the process I came across my old yearbooks. On a whim, I sat down and took a trip through memory lane.
There was David Urso. Hair slicked, smiling, wearing his best jean jacket.
"Oh, yeahhh..." I muttered to myself. "Holy shit, it's Asshole Urso."
The memories came flooding back. The time he put someone's art project under their own school chair so it tore when they sat down... the time he held a girl's face under the water fountain and shouted, "I'm peeing on you"...
"Whatever happened to him?" I wondered aloud.
Then, something else came back to me.
It was a day like any other in Mrs. Watts' class. Boredom and depression as a teacher who had been beaten down by life droned on and on about facts none of us would remember by the bell's ring.
Then, something special.
"Well, I told you last week that we'd have a guest today," Mrs. Watts reminded us, "I'm going to pass your Stranger Danger reports back to you, now."
We'd written out a few paragraphs of how we'd react to a stranger propositioning us in various ways... and I'm sure all of us had completely forgotten we'd done it.
The wrinkled, lined pages were handed back, and I read my report as if it were new to me.
"If a stranger offered me candy," I'd written. "I would tell HIM to eat it instead!"
A reasonable option, I suppose.
Once we'd all had a chance to review our own materials, Mrs. Watts opened the classroom door and let someone in.
A lithe, tall man in a full purple bodysuit came prancing into the room like some sort of foppish cartoon villain. The suit covered his legs, his arms, even his head, with no discernible seams in the stretchy, shimmering cloth.
Perhaps a bit odder, the man wore a ridiculous plastic Dracula cape around his neck, along with a cheap-looking vinyl top hat. His hands were covered in soft-looking black gloves while his feet wore strange, black, impish shoes that reminded me of Peter Pan's classic footwear.
"This is Mr. Stranger Danger!" Mrs. Watts announced in a mockingly worried tone. We'd never heard her fake interest before, and that was the most disturbing factor of all.
Mr. Stranger Danger, the purple man, hunched forward and wiggled his fingers as he surveyed the class... as if he were a starving old-timey hobo looking through the window of a butcher shop.
"Oh, ho ho! Who wants to go?" he sang in a high, yet rough voice.
We all laughed at the sight. Mrs. Watts might as well have hired a clown.
"Oh, ho ho!" Mr. Stranger Danger repeated as he started to move between the desks. He brushed a hand against one child's hair, and tugged at the sleeve of another. All the while, he remained hunched, fingers waggling, purple hooded non-face turning from one kid to another.
"Mr. Stranger Danger is someone you don't know," Mrs. Watts helpfully interjected, "he's not a policeman, he's not your mom or dad or any of their trusted friends. A stranger is someone you shouldn't trust!"
"Oh, ho ho!" the odd, stretchy man interrupted Mrs. Watts at the end of her sentence. "I have a song, and it isn't very long! I'll ask you a question, and you mustn't answer wrong!"
He was at the back of the classroom now, and we all had to twist around to watch his antics. A poster of the human body hung on the back wall, showing a cross-section of crudely drawn organs and skeleton.
Mr. Stranger Danger focused on the poster for a moment, almost as if he'd forgotten us. Slowly, deliberately, he ran a single lengthy finger from the body's ankle and up its calf. He walked two fingers up the thigh, and stopped just shy of scandal. His finger retracted with a quiver.
"Oh, ho ho!" He turned back to us and approached a boy in a yellow shirt. "What do you know? Well, let's see! You'd better be right, or you're coming with me!"
"Remember what you wrote, children," Mrs. Watts nodded.
Mr. Stranger Danger put his hands on the yellow-shirt boy's shoulders and rubbed them a bit.
"Puppies, Kittens, Mice, and Birds. I'll coax you with my friendly words! I've lost my doggy, where could he be? We'll look for him, come search with me!"
The boy in the yellow shirt seemed to turn a bit red. He clearly didn't like being the first one on the spot.
"Sure, but only real quick!" he responded.
BOOM. The purple man hauled the yellow boy up by his shoulders. The kid barely got to his feet as his chair screeched out from under him.
"Oh, ho ho! You've made a mistake! Now I'm afraid you're mine to take!" Mr. Stranger Danger crowed.
The boy in the yellow shirt hung his head as Mr. Stranger Danger walked him out of the classroom. The rest of us whispered and laughed to ourselves until Mrs. Watts cracked a ruler on her desk.
Within moments, the odd man was back.
He stopped at the head of the class and stroked his chin. After thrusting a digit into the air as if he'd just had an idea, Mr. Stranger Danger shimmied over to a little girl with a ponytail and glasses.
Mr. Stranger Danger held the girl's hands as she looked down in shock. Then, he slid his hands up her arms and held her shoulders, fingers beneath cloth.
"Your mommy sent me, I swear it's true! She's hurt and wants to be with you! She's in the hospital, hurt in bed! Come quick, come quick, she may be dead!"
"What?" the little girl squeaked, her brow furrowing. She clearly didn't understand the game. "Mom? My mommy? Really?"
"Oh, ho ho! You've made a mistake! Now I'm afraid you're mine to take!" Mr. Stranger Danger excitedly whipped his head left and right, moving so fast you'd expect it to fly off.
He pulled the little girl up by her shoulders and dragged her across her desk before her feet awkwardly met the floor. Seeing this, Mrs. Watts stood from her desk and looked to the girl's fearful expression.
As if sensing the growing concern behind him, Mr. Stranger Danger belted out another rhyme.
"Relax! Recline! I swear she's fine! She'll love this game of mine. Good! Okay! Do as I say! I only want to play."
Mrs. Watts seated herself again, though a look of skepticism was now slowly overtaking her haggard face.
The rest of us exchanged self-satisfied glances as Mr. Stranger Danger lead the girl out of the classroom and into the hall. There, she would join the yellow-shirt boy in his failure.
"I hope he comes to me," whispered a kid next to me, "I know what to say, and I'd never go near a stupid stranger!"
Again, within seconds, Mr. Stranger Danger popped back into the room. There was a certain spring in his step, now, that seemed to go with him getting his way.
In the anticipatory silence, a quiet, half-whispered comment rose from the back of the room.
Some of the kids gasped, but the sound hadn't seemed to reach Mrs. Watts' ears. The unmistakable sound of David Urso's mocking voice.
The comment was not lost, however, to the strange guest who had come to visit. He cocked his head to the side with a snap, then very slowly raised one hand to his ear, cupping it as if to hear better.
I looked back to see Urso frozen in his seat. He knew now that he'd be in trouble with the adults.
Mr. Stranger Danger did a weird sort of jiggling swim-motion through all the rows of children. He moved quickly, wiggled back and forth like mad, yet he still seemed to cross the room in slow-motion.
He stopped at David and began stroking the boy's hair, mussing it up.
"Candy, suckers, sticky sweets. Chewing gum and tasty eats! I have a bag or two, you see, and you can try it all for free!"
Silently, I cursed my rotten luck. David got the question I had been ready for, and now I wouldn't get to stun the class with my genius "YOU eat it!" response. Seeing that my chance was gone, I instead focused on hoping David Urso would botch the answer.
Instead, he was silent. No good answer, no bad one.
"It's rude to sit there, cold and still," Mr. Stranger Danger roughed David's hair a bit harder, making his head wobble, "answer, please, if you will!"
"I don't want to play this..." David muttered, his eyes wide and staring forward. He'd suddenly gone pale.
Everyone, every child, began singing along with Mr. Stranger Danger...
"Oh, ho ho! You've made a mistake! Now I'm afraid you're mine to take!"
The man grabbed a handful of David's hair and yanked him up from the chair, causing the boy to let out an ear-splitting shriek of pain.
"Hey!" Mrs. Watts stood again as Mr. Stranger Danger dragged David across the room by his hair, strands shedding out of his clutched, purple fist as the boy kicked and screamed.
Mrs. Watts moved toward the classroom door, almost as if she was about to get between the man and the exit.
"Get away from the door," Mr. Stranger Danger growled, not losing a step. "You fucking whore."
Every child erupted in a mixture of shocked gasps and riotous laughter. Mrs. Watts tried in vein to quiet us all down at first... then she turned away as David Urso's dragging shoes disappeared into the hallway.
The laughter slowly died down as the teacher stood in the doorway like a statue. She stared out into the hall and remained motionless until the noise dwindled and we all fell silent.
"Jesus... there’s nobody… no…" Mrs. Watts finally spoke, meekly, as she retrieved a single lost shoe from the threshold.
We heard the sound of footsteps approaching the classroom.
"Hey, kids!" called a jolly, booming voice as a man with a bushy beard and black sunglasses came into the room with long strides, "Sorry I'm late!"
The man stood before the class as Mrs. Watts just stared at him, her hand over her mouth.
On the man's chest was a simple nametag reading "MR. STRANGER DANGER".
You can open the yearbook now.
I'm not sure if it'll work for everyone... I'm not even sure if I'm remembering everything, myself.
After school let out that day, I didn't recall the purple man or any of the events surrounding him. I didn't even recall David Urso, and no one else seemed to, either.
When I found him in my yearbook, hair slicked, jean jacket on... he was in the background of a playground photo. There was no graduation picture. No signature. It was as if he'd never actually existed... and if I hadn't spotted his random appearance in that one shot, he'd still be gone from my mind.
Look through your books.
Look for kids you don't recognize and see if you can remember them.
Look for kids who never made it to the next grade.