‘You Did What?’

I wonder: Are kids these days, as a consequence for minor misbehavior, kept after school to wash the blackboards and do other, similar, tasks?

My gut instinct says no, imagining several reasons why not, including liability issues for accidents, the seemingly lockstep schedule with which kids – from my vantage point, anyway – seem to live their lives today, and even potential backlash for any teacher who for whatever reason keeps a child of any age after school when all other children have left school. I can easily envision angry, frightened parents and angry, worried administrators.

It was not uncommon forty years ago, however, for a student aged ten or older to be disciplined for minor infractions by being required to stay after school to wash the chalkboards and tidy up the classroom. This accomplished several things: It inconvenienced the student, altering whatever plans he or she had for the post-school hours. It relieved the custodian of some of his duties (though blackboards washed by a shorter amateur were far less clean than those washed by a full-sized professional). And it required the student to explain to a parent or two why he or she had been kept after school.

Speaking from (limited) experience, those explanations could be difficult.

“You did what?”

“I erased the eyes from a girl in an advertisement on the back of a magazine.”

“You did what?”

I don’t recall the name of the magazine, but we used it during English class when I was in eighth grade, forty-five years ago. The magazine offered several essays and pieces of short fiction, and we’d read one entry or the other and then spend a portion of the fifty-five minute class discussing the story or essay.

One day, as Mr. Obler brought our English class to attention, he said we had a new edition of the magazine and showed us the cover. And then he said something to the effect that at least one ne’er-do-well in a previous class had made an interesting discovery. On the back cover of the magazine, there was always a cosmetics ad with a picture of a lovely young lady only a bit older than we were. Mr. Obler showed us the back of the magazine in his hand, and we laughed as we saw that the young lady’s eyes were gone, made to disappear with the application of the ne’er-do-well’s pencil eraser.

“Please,” said Mr. Obler as he began to hand out the magazines, “do not deface – literally – the magazines.”

I have no memory of what our assigned reading was from the magazine that day. I only know that, as was almost always the case, I finished reading it long before anyone else in the class. I paged through the rest of the magazine, looked at the ads and then closed the magazine. And I saw the bright blue eyes of the model in the back cover ad. Having nothing else to do, I picked up my pencil and used my eraser.

Mr. Obler saw me, of course, and as I left class that day, he told me to return at the end of the day. I did so, leaving a clean blackboard behind me a half an hour later.  And I somehow explained my misdeed to my parents although I have no memory of that uncomfortable moment.

What I do remember is the temporary satisfaction of seeing those surreal off-white blank spots in the face of the pretty girl on the magazine and then noticing Mr. Obler’s face, bemused and resigned, as he watched me admire my handiwork.

I don’t know that my boredom-inspired cosmetic surgery took place in December, but it easily could have. It was cold and gray outside at the time, I seem to recall. So let’s say it was mid-December of 1966. I wasn’t really listening to the radio at the time, but if I had been, there’s only one record in the Billboard Hot 100 of December 17, 1966, whose title sums up the silliness of blanking out blue eyes with a pencil eraser. “Wack Wack” by the Young Holt Trio was sitting at No. 91 in its first week in the Hot 100, heading for No. 40. (In just less than two years, the group would be known as Young-Holt Unlimited and would get to No. 3 with ‘Soulful Strut.”)


4 Responses to “‘You Did What?’”

  1. Paco Malo says:

    One thought.

    At the beginning of this fine post, you write about the “… the seemingly lockstep schedule with which kids – from my vantage point, anyway – seem to live their lives today ….”.

    From my vantage point, I would have agreed with you until the ongoing Occupy Movement sprung to life — real grass roots democracy at its finest. No lockstep scheduling there. Just, as Steven Stills once put it, “young people speaking their minds”. And doing so on the streets of almost every urban center in this country.

    I salute these young people who are breaking out of there lockstep routines and speaking truth, as they understand it, to power.

  2. whiteray says:

    @ Paco: True enough, for those past a certain age. I was thinking of children – those 18 and younger – when I wrote those words, and I do think those young people are overorganized these days.

  3. Yah Shure says:

    Sounds suspiciously like one of the old Breck ads. I still chuckle at the thought of Mad magazine’s Breck parody, using Ringo Starr’s profile in their faux Blecch! ad.

    Most of my sixth grade classmates got into a major food fight in the cafeteria on the last day before Christmas break. Our teacher waited until the end of the school day to lay out the punishment: everyone was to stay late and copy dictionary pages. No exceptions. Having not been involved in the fracas, I raised my hand and pointed to the station wagon parked outside, where my mom and siblings were waiting to pick me up and immediately depart for the five-hour drive to Iowa for Christmas. I was excused, although I suspect my classmates probably got the better deal.

  4. Paco Malo says:

    Good point, whiteray. I completely agree about the under-18 crowd you were thinking of. I’m just too enthusiastic these days to see teach-ins, non-violent civil disobedience, and Athenian-style pure democracy out in our streets — young people, once again, taking their politics to the streets. And the “Occupy the Ports” development of the movement that is building on the West Coast gives me confidence that this is gonna last.

    I just love to see the Echoes in the Wind of the 1960s-style grass roots social consciousness reborn, not to mention the over-reaction of municipal police departments confronted with real American values.

    In the five years I’ve been out in the blog-o-sphere, I’ve been very careful to avoid mixing contemporary politics with my, with our, efforts to keep our music from back in the day on the front burner. But I missed the 60s, being born in 1957. When I got my first stereo at 13, I cut my teeth on anti-war protest music. And now, for the first time, I’ve slipped into mixing my politics into my blog posts.

    I need to remember that, first and foremost, our blogs are about the music. You’ve given me some much needed food for thought. I am in your debt.

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