The pencil sharpener blues
The day my classroom MVP went down
A classroom needs pencils, especially when you’re asking kids to write. They need something to write with, obv. I’ve had various approaches to pencils over the years, but I’ve settled on just buying 60 boxes and saying: Here’s a bunch of pencils. No more He took my pencil, or I can’t do work because I don’t have a pencil. It’s a non-issue because we’re swimming in writing implements.
I mean, is teaching kids to bring a pencil the best use of my finite teaching time? Should I teach kids to read a clock, or should I buy a digital clock? Should I ask kids to bring a notebook every day, or should I keep them in a crate in the room? I’m fortunate to live in a district with a materials budget, so I have the liberty of throwing money at certain problems. Enough sixth graders leave behind winter coats in 0-degree weather to convince me that asking them to remember a pencil feels like a battle worth skipping. YOU get a pencil and YOU get a pencil and who needs a pencil?
I try to pre-sharpen them so kids don’t have to take the time, plus the noise and the inevitability of someone breaking my pencil sharpener. This crowd seems pretty on the ball, but I’ve had sixth graders sharpen crayons, pens, wads of paper. When my super deluxe sharpener died last Monday, the Xacto website thought it was likely a jam. Was it a sixth grader? I can neither confirm nor deny.
I do know I felt exposed without a pencil sharpener. Could the kids plausibly now avoid work without a pencil? Or am I more than my pencil sharpener? I hadn’t appreciated its significance, its contribution to my classroom infrastructure. A steady stream of pencils is a foundational helper that allows me focus on the actual teaching. I forgot I had that until it didn’t.
I took the damn thing apart, got the motor and the gear each to turn, but couldn’t make the motor turn the gear. Same-day delivery and more materials budget got me an instant replacement, and maybe it wasn’t brilliant to get the the same one again. But I found it while hopping classrooms post-quarantine, and it’s the best I’ve seen. The supposedly updated version just died, the original rattles on.
So I’m giving that to the kids, and I’m sharpening every pencil I see. Writing this post made me realize I’m the primary user, and I rarely try to sharpen slime. If it’s adults only, will it last longer? The sexy new one lies hidden on my desk, kids can sharpen their pencils with the sputtering one. But if it goes wrong, I swoop in with a fresh Dixon Ticonderoga to trade, and I sharpen the dull one they give me. A good pencil sharpener is my classroom MVP, and it was good to get back in the game.
The Week in Dog Poo
Winnie visited Grandpa this weekend and he was eager to report on various poos he encountered. Like what he termed the “thank you” poo":
After a long night of sleeping by me (I try for nine hours per), Winnie rewards me with two separate and distinct deposits. The fact that they are different colors puzzles me as the food regimen was basically the same.
Oh, Winnie eats the same thing every day and the poo color and consistency vary wildly. I choose to blame it on phases of the moon. I mean, she freaks out when I get a silenced phone call on a different floor, she’s clearly using dog senses I know nothing about. Daddy Jack also noted her “angry poos”:
This is the one that is held back until the very end of a long guilt walk after a very long duration of Winnie being inside while I was out.
Ah yes, the revenge poo, I’m sadly familiar. The wife working from home has spoiled the dogs, I’m not surprised she expressed displeasure at being left home alone. One time Winnie protested a dog walker she didn’t like by diarrhea-ing around the house all weekend. Luckily it sounds like she just took her time and maybe gave those famous beagle eyes. Thanks, Daddy Jack!
The Urban Blah
Back in 2009-11 I collaborated with the brilliant Lovisa to make a webcomic that failed to become syndicated across the globe. I am pro-recycling.
Lovisa pointed out that the snowman has the same head as Onion, a fantastic detail I originally missed. I don’t believe I contributed to the creation of this comic other than to be the Stan Lee-ish architect of the characters. So all credit to Lovisa… who has her own substack, you should subscribe!
Jam of the Week
One of my favorite rap records comes from 1954, Art Carney swinging his way through “Twas the Night Before Christmas” over a hip jazz drumbeat. He gets increasingly unhinged throughout, it almost makes we want to revisit The Honeymooners. Strong beatnik vibes, it’s 1000 times better than the choral version we sang in fourth grade.
My Back Pages
I was surrounded by a murderers row of journalistic talent at The Boston Phoenix, but none were really dishing the jokes. So I found my niche because I brought the funny, and that was handy because I was crap as a journalist. From the “The 12 Pains of Christmas” in The Phoenix, December, 1998:
Nobody freaks out about the actual holidays; they freak out about people's reactions to the holidays. Buying gifts, planning parties, distributing holiday cheese logs -- these stresses have less to do with Mary, Joseph, Judah Maccabee, or Rudolph than with the guy across the street who lights up his house like a Vegas casino. Yes, the true annoyances of the season are the different holiday personalities you have to deal with around the office, at home, and in every retail store full of panicky shoppers.
But you don't have to go postal. If you can recognize the different types of people, you may even be able to cope. Just use this simple guide to dealing with the 12 Pains of Christmas.
Usually there was a high bar for getting your work in the paper, but the “Holiday Supplement” was an excuse to sell advertising, so they were desperate for content. I was only too happy to give the full B+ effort, and I was rewarded with $200 and illustrations by my hero Tony Millionaire!
1. LITTLE MISS CHRISTMAS
Motivation: Wants to celebrate the Yuletide spirit and turn your frown upside down!
Identifying characteristics: Wears lots of red and green, distributes candy canes, informs you how many hours remain until the big day, uses exclamation points inordinately!
Overheard saying: “Ooooh, don’t you just looooove the holidays? Hee-hee!”
Why she's annoying: Unless you inherit royalties from Three Dog Night, joy to the world is seriously overrated.
How to cope: Hum “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” whenever she’s around.
I’d worked in an office for a year and half at that point, so these jokes may be more borne out of a sitcom understanding of office culture. Is it any wonder that a year later I was working on television sitcoms?
5. CAROL O'CONNOR
Motivation: Likes to sing, sing a song, sing it strong, all night long.
Identifying characteristics: Knows all the words to every carol, no matter how obscure — including the complete German to “O Tannenbaum” and the outlawed sixth verse to “Jingle Bells.”
Overheard saying: “Ah-one, ah-two, ah-one-two-three-four — everybody! — DASHING THROUGH THE SNOW!”
Why she's annoying: The songs get stuck in your head until sometime around St. Patrick’s Day.
How to cope: Play Run-DMC’s "Christmas in Hollis."
Say, that was last week’s jam of the week! Hard to come by in 1998, especially if you had no use for the rest of A Very Special Christmas (raising hand). I eventually found it on a British greatest hits album at a used CD shop. File this under: Problems Solved by Spotify.
7. GEORGY PORGY
Motivation: Uses mistletoe as an excuse to get some.
Identifying characteristics: Crazed look in his eye, mistletoe hat, candy cane-flavored lip balm, libido so fiery he melts snowmen with a simple leer.
Overheard saying: “Hey, baby, is that mistletoe over your head or am I just sexually harassing you?”
Why he's annoying: Thinks everyone’s a ho ho ho.
How to cope: Who wants new garlic-flavored Trident? You do, you do.
I first heard the word “libido” when Young MC was asked to be Larry’s best man: “You say neato, check your libido, and roll to the church in your new tuxedo.” Using context clues, I assumed a libido was brand of day-planner. “Wow, I’m touched. Let me see… yup, according to my Libido I’m free that day. Neato.”
A lot of not great jokes, and I detect a strong MAD Magazine influence (didn’t I say I ended up working in sitcoms?). I’ll spare you the guy who thinks fruitcake jokes are funny and the holiday drunk I named Jack Frost-Daniels: “Dah, silver bells — hic — jingle bells — hic — dah, bell-bottom bells… I'm gonna be sick.” We’ll cut to my signature move: The self-deprecating finale.
12. CYNICAL SAM
Motivation: Complains about various holiday personalities.
Identifying characteristics: Writes long lists full of smarmy jokes at the expense of those with true holiday spirit.
Overheard saying: "Just use this simple guide to dealing with the 12 Pains of Christmas."
Why he's annoying: Mercilessly rips on semi-obvious stereotypes, thinks he's funnier than he really is.
How to cope: Read the Improper, baby.
The Improper Bostonian was the ostensible rival of the Boston Phoenix, both publications are long gone artifacts of another era. Oh, and that last illustration with the typewriter guy is for Cynical Sam, so when I met Tony Millionaire at a comic book signing, I had him sign my printout and he wrote, “I’m supposed to be me!” next to it. Hanging in my office/Dancave at home.
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