Thursday, August 03, 2006

The Man Who Invented the Protractor is Running for President



Here is his hot new video, "The Last Leaf: Director's Cut."

And here is his latest commercial, "A Dog Called Hope."

Here is his first campaign commercial.




Wednesday, August 25, 2004

I Love the Smell of Chalk Dust in the Morning. It Smells Like "I" Before "E" Except After "C"


I need a signature seasonal column, one that the fans start to anticipate weeks ahead of time and even build a special evening around, maybe inviting an exchange student or an estranged relative so all can bask in the glow of the computer screen as the link is clicked and once again it's:

Magic. Utter wonderful spell-checked magic.

Jon Carroll has his signature Thanksgiving column, which is essentially the same old column with a few names changed each year to show he's not just emailing it in. Herb Caen had that holiday column -- it was a poem, I think -- that suggested people will read the most awful drivel if it's stuffed with people's names because in Herb's case his faithful readers were twitching with the hope of someday having their names in the column.

Oh, I made Herb Caen's column once -- for misspelling the name of San Francisco's vice mayor in this huge story on the city's power brokers.

"That was about the time the drinking got out of control," I like to say. (Pause.) "Herb's, not mine!"

Of course, I felt like crying. He's dead, and now I tell lies.

Anyway anyway, it's a good thing to have a signature seasonal column since it saves wear and tear, and it reminds readers you have been around for a long time. ("Editor's Note: This column first ran in December 1973 during the dark days of the Macy's underwear riots, giving hope to....")

I shouldn't be too disdainful. Twenty years from now, a columnist will be reiterating for more than the 20th time a 9/11 column I'll hang my heart's hat on. But that gifted columnist will stand next to a mound of dreck regurgitated by lesser comrades.

Still, the seasonal contemplation is a legitimate subgenre. So I am going with:

Back to School!

Actually, I'm not going back to school this year. I am on sabbatical, which the top academic brains are granted to free them up to work on world peace or hydrogen fusion or whatever. And while I'm futzing with the Big Ideas and the Deep Truths, I don't have to gotoclass preparelectures gradestories advisestudents attendfacultymeetings for one whole year. Heck, I can even unsew my lips from the dean's butt if I feel like it.

Though that would be rash.

Point is that I miss going back to school. I have always liked going back to school. When you lump together public school and graduate school and the time I've taught -- which is now a longer run of years than the time I spent as a journalist -- good goddess! it's 35 years.

I always liked school.

If you were a bookish child, when they unlocked the school building at the end of August or the first of September and let you back in, you felt like George Bush in 1980 when Nader showed up with the coke: Bring it on!

I particularly remember buying the tools, the instruments, the basic equipment. I am not talking about buying clothes. My mother "took the boy shopping'" for school clothes, and she would not buy me cream-colored chinos because they would be too hard to keep clean. She always bought me two pairs of corduroy pants, one medium brown and one chocolate.

Didn't care about the clothes. Loved the zipper notebook, the best of which had slots for your protractor and your compass. Ah, little grasshoppers who read me now seeking guidance about what was and what, perchance, may be, there was a time when education consisted almost entirely of using a compass to draw circles on yellow paper and a protractor to draw 45 degree angles. Today people in India do this for us and do it better than us. But there was a time.

The zipper notebook had to be strong -- well-stitched, cover made of thick cardboard covered with fake leather -- because this was long long long long ago, and the only people who had backpacks were Boy Scouts. When you had homework, you crammed all your books inside your zipper notebook and zipped it up, crammed to bursting. Sooner or later it would burst, and making sure it did not burst too soon trained you in the appreciation of cause and effect when it came to the elasticity of cardboard covered in leatherette. But you did not need to be obsessive about the preservation of your zipper notebook, for you got a new one every year if you were an upwardly aspiring blue-collar child the heads of whose parents were filled with dreams, such dreams.

New shoes, too. I remember SnapJacks, which were shoes without shoelaces, but neither were they loafers. They were huge Frankenstein shoes, which closed about your foot like a trap around a small animal, using a metal device attached to the tongue of the shoe and to the shoe itself that levered the shoe closed once your tootsie was safe inside. SnapJacks, charcoal trousers and a pink shirt: You were to die for it would seem reasonable to conclude.

I am starting to remember other things now. I remember acne, for instance. Oh, there used to be a lot of acne. In some generations it was sprinkled lightly around, but in other generations it was concentrated on only a few, and very rarely one member of a particular population cohort got all of it.

And so it happened in the reign of Eisenhower Augustus I was that youth.

Acne ebbs and flows in its intensity, and all I prayed for as the first day of school approached was not its disappearance -- my faith was already itself ebbing -- but just please that I hit school that first day in kind of a trough of scarlet pimpleness. I had a special medicine I smeared on the zits that probably wasn't a medicine at all but brown makeup dignified and made acceptable by the name of medicine. On my best days I looked sort of ...

Splotched. Flakey. As if I had started to delaminate.

I remember Kay McDonald. She was -- my word, what was the nomenclature of the times? -- stacked. I'm almost sure.

Stacked.

First day of school, face with the topography of the far side of the moon, not exactly hiding from Kay McDonald, more like orbiting her the way Neptune orbits the sun, way out there out of sight but caught by the gravity, drawn, distant, invisible.

And nobody else is wearing SnapJacks.

I don't think I am going to make this an annual column after all.

Postscript/August 2006: Some of the links are dead, but I've let them be, since both the original post and the reprinting of it are exercises in nostalgia. It's like the Romantic preference for ruins, dwarfed and lonely in vast landscapes. Let us contemplate loss and absence and the inability of memory to fill the void:

"Fled is that music. Do I wake or sleep?"

3 comments:

cbs said...

To answer your question, I have nephew who is 11 years old studying proctators in school. I am trying to help him understand degrees and angles.

Anonymous said...

My 11 year old needs one for her homework tonight... she left her real one at school ... I was looking to print one for her to use!

ahmed said...

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