Nose Shrapnel from my Latchkey Youth


“What’s that metal in your nose?”

About every ten years someone asks me that question — someone who is looking at an x-ray of my head.

“As a young man, I was shot in the face by a crazed Gypsy* girl.” That should be my answer.

Renie Apolius** was the first girl I ever French kissed. Memory is fuzzy, but I think I was 12 years old. We were playing Spin the Bottle, or maybe Truth or Dare. I tried to act experienced, but the kiss was a mess — more like thumb wrestling with tongues.

The Apoliuses were a family with a spooky Gypsy mystique. In their home they had an ornate crystal ball, an “authentic” Ouija board, occult art on the walls, and a small collection of 8mm porn films.

The older brother, Uriah, allegedly had the ability to hypnotize people — which is supposedly how he persuaded his youngest sister, Naomie, to strip buck naked in front of a small group of neighborhood kids. She was convincingly furious at everyone present when she snapped out of it.

Needless to say, they were an interesting family.

Renie became my girlfriend for a short period of time, and then she wasn’t, and then she didn’t like me much at all.

I was a so-called latchkey kid. I kept my house key on a big rubber band around my neck. And when I was bored (which was often)  I would occasionally twirl that rubber band around my finger, or wrist, developing skill and inventing tricks for what surely would one day become an Olympic event.

Latchkey Weapon
Historical Reproduction

One day after walking home from school, I was in front of the khaki colored stucco condo where I lived, lingering with some friends before we parted to our respective homes. As I twirled the big rubber band, it slipped off of my finger. The key shot straight for Renie’s foot. She might have been wearing sandals. It probably hurt a little.

Renie picked up the key and threw it straight at my face, cutting into the tip of my nose. I ran to my house and unlocked the front door with the very key that had just been used as a weapon against me.

I put a bandage over my nose. It took weeks to heal.

Jack Nicholson - Nose Plaster - Chinatown
For awhile my nickname was “Chinatown.”

Left Me Hard-Nosed

But it eventually did heal, and left no noticeable scar. There was, and is, a hard spot right at the tip of my nose. At first I thought it was just a piece of cartilage that got pushed out of place.

A few years later in high school I got hit in the head with a shot put. Some equally dumbass kid and I were playing catch. I was taken to the ER to see if I had a concussion, and a radiologist took an x-ray of my head.

My skullcap was fine, but the doctor looked at a different part of the x-ray and asked, “What’s that metal in your nose?”


“Uh huh. Only metal shows up bright white like that.”

It took awhile to get used to the idea. I wondered if it would set of metal detectors (it doesn’t), or if a powerful magnet might cause it to rip out of my nose (it doesn’t seem to be magnetic).

Now, mostly I don’t think about it. I’m as used to the metal in my nose as I am to my Bergmeister’s papilla eye floater, and my constantly popping ears. I never feel the shrapnel unless I push it with my finger.

Recently I was at my dentists office, and he left the room while my panoramic radiograph was still on the computer monitor. I pulled out my phone and took a photo of the screen.

Key Shrapnel
Yes, I’ve had some dental work too.

So, Renie, if you are out there, your youthful passion and problems with impulse control are still a part of me.

Those trendy nose piercings and subcutaneous implants — the ones that look like keyrings; those are for show-offs. I think this is way cooler. I have an actual key in my nose implanted by an unlicensed miffed Gypsy.

*The family referred to themselves as “Gypsies,” which, I know, is a word that can be used as a slur. I don’t know whether they were actually Romani.

**First names are changed.

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