Covering Up for Mister Stink


By Anthony Kovatch, MD

Pediatric Alliance — Arcadia


In keeping with last year’s Thanksgiving theme of following “Doctor’s Orders,” I wish to update my previous premise regarding this special holiday:  In addition to all the traditions we all look forward to, I like to smile (or laugh) on some of the long-forgotten memories that resurface during these holidays. This year’s is from an elementary school.


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Musical Accompaniment: “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.


“Nothing real is absolutely simple… there are things we cannot finally know.”    

— American philosopher William James.


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“Hurray for us — Mister Stink is up” shouted the 5th grade boy’s gym class, delirious with the possibility of upsetting the 6th grade boys in kickball; their opponents had players on second and third with two outs in the bottom of the final inning with “Mister Stink” at the plate. Just like “Casey at the Bat”!

He had been dubbed “Mister Stink” (as in “YOU STINK!!!”) since the early weeks of Kindergarten; by second grade the kinder kids called him “Mister Brain,” which the boy equally disdained. Since the religious elementary school had upgraded its physical education program by substituting an enthusiastic young male teacher for the aged nun who was previously in charge, the boy’s pathetic lack of athletic prowess had discouraged him from social interactions. Although the new teacher was empathetic and non-judgmental, he was rigid in that a player had to announce his name distinctly in the batter’s box or it was “You’re OUT, son, you’re OUT!” But because of his kindness and fairness, the boy called the teacher “Mister Hero.”

Now the game was on the line. He stepped up nervously and tentatively to the plate and aimed his kick into an area of the gymnasium larded with tables and chairs.  However, to everyone’s astonishment, the ball landed in fair territory and the hit scored both runners for the victory. The jubilant peers carried the boy off the gym floor on their shoulders!

“He forgot to announce his name!” cried the opponents. “He’s out!” The boy immediately realized that they were right and his heart sank. “The game is over!” declared the compassionate gym teacher. “You all announced his name for him!”

The chubby, timid boy gained confidence after his meager victory, began to play basketball, and in high school won foul-shooting tournaments. He practiced his shooting at the local park courts every night at dusk. He eventually would run for miles in the early hours of the night, become a competitor, and cross the finish line of marathons and “bite-size marathons” (half marathons) in the years to come.


Tweenager “Mister Stink” around the time of the “cover up” — the formative years of empathy. As the saying goes:  If there had never been a “Fat Freddy,” there would have never been a Mister Rogers.


This Thanksgiving, the “cover up” that in all likelihood changed his life slipped out of his memory while running a turkey trot — and “Mister Stink” was gone forever.