On School Supplies

In my childhood school supplies required no batteries, but did leave a boy armed and dangerous. Every year, I bought a new compass, not the directional kind, but a metal probe designed for drawing circles used by students to spear unwitting victims. I never used this compass for its intended use any more than the thing with the slightly obscene sounding name: protractor.

What is a protractor?

Nobody knows, but in the nineteenth century a Robber Baron by the name of Protractor clearly forced his useless product on schools. I bought ten of them over the years and have no idea where they ended up.

There is a landfill somewhere consisting of protractors unloved and unused.

My system of organization required a three-ring notebook, blue denim, and loose-leaf paper. In first grade a teacher warned me of the dangers of spiral notebooks with their evil shreds of paper when you tried to remove the paper. I have never purchased one since and have looked askance at those who do.

The expensive notebooks with the shiny plastic covers, I coveted one with a Packer insert, but knew not to fall for it. First, the plastic rings within would soon snap apart and allow my papers to spill. Second, the plastic would come off the notebook and leave an ugly remnant of past glory.

There was a lesson here, though I am not sure what it is. Denim would receive months of inked in glory, an Imperial Russian eagle, a map of my fantasy world Barterra, and so increase in value. The shiny plastic notebook was best on day one and declined from that point on. Like the Obama administration, it was best at the start and worst at the end.

My last lunch box was a Snoopy one . . . but then a kid mocked me pointing out that fifth graders must carry paper sacks or at worst an NFL lunchbox. Snoopy was out. As a result, I still own my Snoopy lunchbox and occasionally carry my lunch to work in it as Provost in an act of defiance to the Rules.

Perhaps the most seductive purchase every year was the eraser. One had a choice between the standard pink and the fudge-like beige eraser. Perhaps I am the only one to assume that an eraser that looked like fudge must be tasty, but I can report that this is false to any who shared my curiosity. The pink eraser was a lesson in the brokenness of creation as its pristine purity soon decayed into black, rubbery mess. Finally, it would reach a point of uselessness.

There was only pencil Faber and Faber and I could never afford anything but the clear Bic-pens. Rich kids got roller ball pens, but the clear case of the Bic could be customized with inserts or the case used to form a lethal spit wad shooter when the ink ran out.

Rich kids lost out on this and so were often the victims of their own success.

Finally, all my goodies were held in a plastic pouch that clipped into the notebook. This would soon split, but for a while my notebook was one glorious whole.

For those buying school supplies this Fall, I can only ask that you cherish the experience. Soon enough the days when a List contained all you need will be over and you will launch into supplies ambiguity.


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