Posts Tagged ‘Young Holt Trio’

‘You Did What?’

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

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.”)