The Yellow Stick of Terror (tf)

We always had to have “number 2 pencils” in school. I was never sure what a number 1 or a number 3 pencil was, but they must have been something the Protestants used.

My mother would buy me boxes of number 2 pencils. I had a habit of chewing on them and she was always telling me I’d get lead poisoning but just like when she said I’d get Beriberi from not eating my vegetables I always figured she was just trying to scare me. Rarely did I use and sharpen a pencil enough to wear it down. I mostly just put so many teeth marks in it that it would turn disgusting and I’d start on a fresh one. The erasers on the end were never sturdy enough for all my mistakes and would always tear off. Then I’d throw them at the back of somebody’s head, which is after all what erasers are for.

We had to use these pencils to take those wretched standardized tests that may or may not still be in vogue. The one with the booklet and separate answer sheet with the dots that could be mass-corrected by a computer so you could tell how below-average you were compared to the rest of the world. I hated these things and in the math sections would create designs going down the page to amuse myself because the nuns were always telling us it was better to guess than to leave blanks. I figured doing so improved my grade a good 10 percent. In math, once we got past the 12 times tables I was lost. I always wondered why they stopped at 12. Were the 13 times tables unlucky? Quick. 13 x 13? You don’t know do you?

Nobody trusted us with pens at that age ’cause we’d just drop them in our shirt pockets and they’d leak all over (pens are much less deadly these days). Even then guys had the sense that so-called “pocket-protectors” were for the kids who got beat up all the time. I’d see my dad at home sitting at the typewriter with a pencil in his ear and he just looked so cool to me so I started to put the pencil in my ear but I could never get it to stay there. Even then I was never as smooth as my Dad.

Not sure when the switch was made but eventually we weren’t allowed to use pencils anymore. If you handed in homework that wasn’t written in pen you’d get a zero. If the nun was particularly sadistic she’d give you a zero if it wasn’t written in blue pen. I guess they figured their ghastly red marks all over your paper would stick out more contrasted with blue.  Hard to tell. The minds of nuns were fairly inscrutable.

Hardly anybody uses a pencil or a pen anymore. Everything is typed on the computer. I’ve actually forgotten how to write in cursive, which is what they call it these days. It was called “writing” back then, as compared to “printing”. Anyway, they only thing I can “write” in “cursive” today is my name, and like most people my signature is completely unintelligible. Go figure.

But over the last few years I’ve grown nostalgic, and have started writing (I guess I should say “printing”) everything longhand. It makes me feel like I’m accomplishing something….even though when it’s done I have to translate my scribble and type it into the computer anyway.

I guess that’s called progress.

— Tom Flannery

~ by admin on February 11, 2011.

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