July 19, 2007


Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:37 pm


Sit in the middle of your chair! Both feet flat on the floor! Back straight! Turn the paper to the left at an angle! Align your forearm to the bottom of the paper at a right angle! Hold the pen loosely! Loosely, I said! I should be able to sneak up behind you and snatch the pen from your hand! The end of the pen should be pointed over your right shoulder! Your arm should only barely touch the desk! Now, ARM MOVEMENT! Make those ovals! I don’t want to see any wiggling fingers! ARM MOVEMENT!

And so it was, several times per week for me between second and sixth grade** (one decade after the invention of the wheel, as I recall) in penmanship class.

I remember at first thinking that penmanship class would be fun. After all, there were no historical dates to remember and no brain numbing multiplication tables to learn.

It didn’t take long before I realized that it was anything but fun. The only thing I can liken it to was being barked at by a drill sergeant in the Army. “Get those gottdamned feet at a forty-five degree angle! Line those thumbs up with the seams in your trousers, Goat!” Shit like that was penmanship class.

And, on top of everything else, it was really nuts. Even at a snotnosed seven year old I realized how goofy it was to move your entire arm to write letters that were something like 3/8th of an inch tall. Hell, if I have to write letters a foot tall, I’ll use my farookin’ arm.

Oh, and then there were the pens. When I went to grammar school, each student’s desk had in the upper right corner*** an inkwell. Yes, an inkwell. I told you all this happened a long time ago. Each of us was issued a black pen that looked not unlike a stiletto. We were also given a blotter. Yes, a goddamned blotter. None of those newfangled ballpoint pen stuff for the penmanship teacher. As a result, we would have to make a shitload of ovals, blot, then dip the pen back into the inkwell to make more ovals.

As each student’s penmanship became more proficient, he or she was awarded a new color plastic pen. The pens went from black (for beginners), to red, to blue, and to green. When you hit the big time, you were awarded a GOLD pen. By the third or fourth grade, most the girls had graduated up to blue pens. Some even proudly did their arm movement with green pens. The boys tended to come along slower. I think I was a black pen guy for a couple grades.

By the time we reached sixth grade, virtually all the girls and most of the boys were sporting gold pens. I believe that coming out of the fifth grade I was still stumbling along with a blue pen. I so wanted a gold pen. I believe the sixth grade the teacher felt sorry for me and awarded me a green pen at the beginning of the year. I think that I and the class juvenile delinquent (every class had one) were the only two without a gold pen.

Finally, a few days before the end of the year, I was to be awarded with a gold pen (a mercy award, methinks), but the teacher had run out of gold pens, so she apologized and wrapped a flag sticker around the tip of my green pen.

So, there I was finishing sixth grade with my dumbass flag-stickered green pen surrounded by a sea of golds. (The juvenile delinquent stayed back, as I recall). I knew damned well that the only time that I and everyone else in the damned class did the stupid “arm movement” thing was in penmanship class. Surely the teacher must have known that. Green pen with a flag sticker, my ass!

The good news is that, after all the years of Green Pen Humiliation, I’ll bet that I can type way faster than any of those gold pen, phony arm movement, rat bastards.

** In first grade, we didn’t learn penmanship. Rather we learned how to print using pencils that were roughly the diameter of bratwursts. Little hands and big, fat pencils. WTF?

*** Penmanship class was a special nightmare for the poor bastards who were lefties. Everything was backwards (the angle of the paper, the pointing of the pen over the left shoulder, etc.) and seemed to be an annoyance to the penmanship teacher.

August 8, 2007

Second Grade.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 8:01 pm

I have no idea why, but I got to thinking about second grade today.

The teacher’s name – we’ll call her Miss Daniels. She may have been Mrs. Daniels, but I don’t think we were old enough or hip enough to appreciate the difference between “Miss” and “Mrs.”, and “Ms.” would not be invented until many years later.

Back then, although Miss Daniels looked to me to be as old as time itself, my guess now is that she was into her sixties, which, if one does the math, would put her birth some time towards the end of the nineteenth century (Oy!).

I recall that when it came to numbers, she absolutely would not permit us to say “zero,” and heaven help the kid who said “O” (as in “oh”). Instead, when reciting a number such as 302, we had to say, “three naught two.” If you said, “three zero two,” Miss Daniels would be in your face with an attitude just south of that of the Drill Sergeant in Full Metal Jacket, and if you said “three oh two,” you would pray for a swift death.

Not surprisingly, we quickly learned to say “naught” instead of “zero” or the dreaded “oh.” A Second Grader doesn’t argue with a second grade teacher, particularly not Miss Daniels. Besides, we figured she was the teacher and had to be right. We must have been knuckleheads for ever thinking that the proper term for the cipher “0” was anything but “naught.”

Problem is, apparently she was the only person in my school (in the town? county? state? nation? world?) to use the term “naught” in that fashion, as I learned just one grade later.

Teacher: Class, it is important that you know the room number of this classroom. James, I’ll bet that you know what the room number is. Would you please tell the class what it is.

James (i.e. me): Its two naught one.

Teacher What did you say?

Me: Two naught one.

Teacher: (Rolls her eyes, thinking that this is another product of Miss Daniels’ tutelage) Children, if you want people to understand you when you tell them to what classroom you have been assigned, please say “two oh one.”

I was certain that Miss Daniels would come charging into the classroom and deliver an ass kicking to this heretical teacher, but it didn’t happen. I don’t believe that since the second grade I have ever (until today) used the term “naught” to describe “zero.”

When she wasn’t giving us mental beatings over the occasional forgetting to say “naught” instead of “zero,” she would read us Bible Stories, each of which was followed by a bit of an animated sermon. Did I mention that this was a public school?***

I’ve saved the best for last.

As you know, in second grade, kids begin losing their baby teeth. A loose tooth is something that needed regular wiggling in order to coax it loose from its pediatric moorings. Problem is that, if Miss Daniels spotted you wiggling a loose tooth, you got to stay after school while she would grab your tooth with a hanky and pull the farookin’ thing out! I know, because she nailed one of mine.

I saw her pluck one poor bastard out of line just as we were leaving for the day. Earlier I had seen that he has a loose tooth, so I knew what he was in for. Resistance was possible, but not without a bit of a physical tussle and being berated as a “baby.” I’m certain that I didn’t mention Miss Daniels’ curious amateur dental practice to my parents, for I doubt they would have approved.

Somehow she managed to squeeze in the time between Bible thumping and tooth extractions to teach us readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (as long as we said “naught”).

And that, dear friends, is what second grade was like in the Dark Ages.

***I know that there are those today who would say, “What’s so wrong about reading Bible Stories? Hell, now they’re teaching young kids how to put condoms on cucumbers! The schools could use a bit of Bible Study.” I’m not religious, and I’m not interested in participating in a church-state debate, which I often think devolves into the world of silly. Trust me. This woman was wayyyy over the top. In fact, I learned the word “proselytizing” in the course of overhearing an argument between my parents when they learned of the time in school that was devoted to studying the Bible.

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