I remember the carpet in my elementary school. It was that short kind of carpet: cut low to the floor. You know, that commercial/industrial strength carpet, you probably have it your office. I do. I’m sure some chemical or textile company had developed it particularly to withstand the 1000’s of muddied, sneakered, stomping feet.
Of course we were made to scrape the mud off our feet before we were allowed to the drinking fountains after recess. But it often did little good. Sometimes, while sitting in a group in front of the teacher as she read Where The Red Fern Grows or The Bridge To Terabithia or some such nonsense, I would try to peel large chunks of dried mud from the tread in my sneakers. Trying to keep the chunks as large as I could without breaking them, so they would end up being a cast of the shape, design, and pattern of the tread of my cool new kicks. After examining my cast and then breaking it into little pieces and pebbles and dust, I’d simply leave the dirt there on the carpet.
The carpet was glued, it seemed, straight onto the concrete pad, almost as if it were a part of the cinderblock building’s foundation. It seemed as unyielding as the cement it was bonded to. This carpet had the ability to give you the worst rug burns ever. It had no give and could peel away the first layers of skin faster than sandpaper. I remember we would rub a pencil eraser, or the round butt end of a bic pen, as fast as we could on the carpet. The friction heated up the eraser/pen to such a degree that it had the ability to burn you and leave a bright red mark. This was a great trick for unsuspecting foes and a strange rite of passage given to close friends.
Occasionally, actually, quite often, some poor child would be brought to school ill, or would have a stomach problem, or anxiety, or bad food, and would throw up on the carpet. Everyone would gross out while the poor child’s teacher, or an aid, would come to console them and take them down to the clinic. The janitor would then come out of his closet to clean it up the best he could. After some hosing and mopping, he would then sprinkle some sort powder that smelt like mint bubble gum on the carpet, I presume to absorb both the acid fluids and the odor. Later on he would come and clean the carpet with a vacuum and you would never know that some unfortunate seven-year old lost his insides there.
Sometimes there would be pieces of the carpet that had been damaged. Little pieces of it, about the size of quarters. The chunks would be smooth and black like glass. I think they were either caused by melting, or possibly chewing gum that has been ground into its tiny fibers for years.
The carpet was mostly orange but had a little brown in it. It covered the entire floor of the school: classrooms, library, offices, and even during my early elementary years, the gymnasium. This was unfortunate because the gymnasium was also the cafeteria. I have no clue as to how many cartons of milk, bowls of peaches, cups of cottage cheese or blobs of ketchup were dropped and left to sit (please don’t tell the aid that I spilt my juice again, she always yells at me) on that carpet. But if the stench that it held was any indication, it was a LOT. A putrid smell of leaked, trickled, dropped and dumped slop having sat stagnant and unable to be completely, or even partially, cleaned. Rancid in the carpet for who knows how long. I bet I could still instantly recognize the peculiar sour bouquet of lunch-carpet. We played basketball, dodgeball, and danced on that gymnasium/cafeteria floor. But when we did tumbling and gymnastics our gym teacher put mats down. By the time I was in 6th grade they replaced the gym with regular wood, basketball-court-style floors.