I just got done with my 7 year old son’s back-to-school shopping, which I did without him. He goes to a school that requires uniforms as well as standard school supplies, such as red folders, green folders, a white binder, etc. This is to avoid all the knife fights that erupt when kids start arguing over whether or not a LEGO folder is cooler than a Minecraft folder, and… Wait a minute. Do you have a Justin Bieber folder? You do, don’t you? GET HIM!
So maybe it’s a good idea that they only allow very specific school supplies. And since all the “cool” back to school gear is emblazoned with Transformers-porn, I decided to go shopping alone so that I wouldn’t be the bad guy for not buying a folder with cartoon characters on it. In years past, the kids always came along for the shopping, and it always ended badly. My daughter, for instance, would demand that she be given mechanical pencils. Regular, plain old #2 pencils were way too common for her royal self.
Daughter: I can’t use #2 pencils.
Me: What? Why not?
Daughter: I just… Ugh. I can’t use them. They’re so… Awful.
Me: So you want me to buy you two mechanical pencils for $20, which will immediately run out of lead and then you’ll lose them in two weeks like you did last year.
Daughter: Yes. Well, I won’t lose them, but I want you to buy them.
Me: And your list specifically calls for #2 pencils, and I can buy 40 of them for $4.00.
Daughter: I can substitute. A pencil is just a pencil.
Me: Agreed, a pencil is just a pencil. (Throws #2 pencils in the cart.)
Daughter: Daddy! (sulks for 4 months)
So I shopped alone this year, and it was a very pleasant experience. But I did notice that the list of supplies gets longer every year. When I was in elementary school, we needed notebooks, pencils, crayons, glue, scissors, and a few other things. Due to declining school budgets, the lists have now grown much longer and include supplies that used to be provided by the school. Also, I think my son’s new teacher is taking advantage of the situation.
- 2 boxes #2 pencils
- 2 glue sticks
- Wide-ruled notebook (red)
- Something light with chocolate in it
- A 30 day pass to Curves
- Health Insurance
I do remember that cool feeling on the first day of class when all of the school supplies were in a pristine state. I fucked that shit up in days. First of all, I was a pencil chewer. After a week or so, my pencils looked as if they’d been devoured by a family of deranged otters. Second of all, I was a little boy. Little boys would, if given the chance, live in an actual pig sty if they could. They just don’t give a fuck. The pigs would move out before the little boys would. So papers, folders, books, everything was jammed into a wad in the back of the desk. Homework was folded, torn, used for spitball-related research projects, etc. And everything had glue all over it because we didn’t have glue sticks, we just had those bottles of Elmer’s that never really shut all the way and would leak all over the place. My desk was like an elementary school version of the La Brea tar pits, snaring homework in its gluey grasp, never to be seen again.
I also remember the yearly drama over crayons. Instead of being specific (like my son’s school, which was very clear as far as what kind of crayons were allowed), my school just listed “crayons”. So on the first day of school I’d look over at the kid across the aisle from me, and he’d have one of those 24,000 crayon Crayola Color Wonder packs with a built-in crayon sharpener, and he’d say something like, “I hate that I can’t find Brick Red when I need it.”
I’d be thinking, “Oh, cry me a river, Little Lord Fauntleroy! I’ve got the Primary Color Crayola 8-Pack of Sadness going over here!”
I’d get neater and more studious as the years went by, until finally I was using my school supplies for their intended purpose: Writing the words “Led Zeppelin” a million times on the front of my folder, and using the pages inside to practice my signature. Did you ever practice your signature? God, I did that all the time.
In grade school, of course, they try to teach you good penmanship, so they’re kind of sticklers for having a legible name on your homework. As I started noticing that adults didn’t seem to have to play by these rules, I asked my mom what the deal was with adults signing their name. “You can’t even read the name! What kind of signature is that?”
“Well,” explained my mom, “a signature is more like your mark. A unique way you have of writing your name. Some people sign pretty legibly, and some people’s signatures are more like works of art.”
A work of art! My name could be a work of art! And so I put a lot of time, thought, and practice into my signature. For several years, I floundered because if the first letter in my name: G. A cursive G is easily the lamest looking capital letter. It looks so very fucking stupid and lame:
I remember being in shop class in 6th grade when the teacher wrote a capital G on the blackboard, and my eyes got as big as dinner plates. A new way to write a G!
From there, my signature began evolving into something I was happy with. I’d use the ending lower-case g to swoop across and underscore my name, and at one point even inserted a couple of vertical hash marks on it because I thought it looked cool. I don’t know why I spent so much time doing this. I mean, it wasn’t like someone was going to call on me to pen the Declaration of Independence 2.0 or anything. I had no real use for a Hancockian signature.
But I really worked on it, and all my hard work paid off one day when I handed my homework forward, and the Hispanic student in front of me turned to me and said, “Hey, cool signature.” He then turned to his friend, also Hispanic, and said something that probably translated to, “Hey, check out this cool signature!” or possibly, “Hey, look what this fucking retard spends all his time doing.” I’ll never know for sure, mainly because I spent all my time signing my name, not learning foreign languages.
As I got older, I had the need to evolve a unique way of initializing things, or at least I thought I did. I practiced that too, and it also drew praise for being “so very artistic,” although that praise was more of the sarcastic variety. (Danger: Major digression ahead!)
When I was saving up money to move to Arizona, I worked at an academic supply company. My job was to weed out orders that weren’t specific enough, call the school in question, and ask them to clarify something. So, for instance, I might see that a school in Texas had ordered an item but hadn’t noted what color they’d like the item to be. I’d have to call them up and get it all sorted out.
Me: Hi, this is Greg with Academic Supplies. I show here that in May you ordered an… Ass-Blaster 4000 Academic Learnin’ Paddle.
Superintendent Zeke: Yup.
Me: Great. I just need to know if you want it in birch, maple, or mahogany.
Superintendent Zeke: Oh, hell, boy. It don’t matter. I’m just gonna drill blister holes in it anyhow.
Me: Ok, but I can’t ship it without putting something down, so how about I put you down for a maple finish?
Superintendent Zeke: That’s fine, as long as I can hurt kids with it, it don’t worry me none.
Shit like that. One day, I fielded a call from an extremely irate sales-rep who started off his conversation by commenting on my “oh so very artistic” initials, which made it damn near impossible for him to figure out who had processed the paperwork. He then tore me a new one for contacting his customers without telling him about it, because then he looked like a fool.
He was a real dick about it, but I needed the job so I calmly replied that I was only following the process, but that I’d make sure to call him the next time something needed clarification, and he could let me know at his convenience how I should proceed.
I called that fucker about 20 times that summer, and not once did he ever return a call. His schools’ orders did not ship, but sat there, a bunch of aging purchase orders on the corner of my desk. On the last day of my job, I was discussing these orders with my boss when the phone rang. It was the dickhead salesman, enraged that none of the orders had shipped.
I listened as my boss tried reasoning with him for a while, but it was clear that the hothead just wanted to get me on the phone and yell at me to make himself feel better about things. I motioned to the boss to give me the phone, and he put the guy on hold.
“You sure you want to talk to him?”
“As long as I can go off on him, sure.”
“Yeah. But I mean, I’m going to go fucking nuclear on him. That ok?”
“He deserves it,” my boss said with a smile. “Go nuts.”
I’ll be honest with you. That phone call was the best professional phone call I’ve ever been involved in. It was beyond awesome.
Me: This is Greg.
Dickhead: Who? I don’t know you, you’re going to have to tell me who you are. I don’t have time to get to know all the minimum wage flunkies that work in the warehouse.
Me: My name is Greg. I’m the one who has been calling you about needing clarification on your orders. The guy you refuse to call back?
Dickhead: Oh yeah, the boy with the fancy schmancy initials. Well, listen here, boy…
Me: NO, YOU LISTEN HERE, ASSHOLE! YOU YELL AT ME FOR DOING YOUR FUCKING JOB, AND THEN YOU YELL AT ME BECAUSE YOU REFUSE TO DO YOUR FUCKING JOB. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, ASSHOLE, YOU CAN’T HAVE IT BOTH WAYS!
Me: YOU HEARD ME! OR ARE YOU HARD OF HEARING? MAYBE I SHOULD JUST WRITE IT ALL DOWN AND MAIL IT TO YOU. I’LL BE SURE TO INITIAL IT FOR YOU, YOU HARD-ON.
Dickhead: WHA… I’M… YOU ARE IN…
Me: Oh, fuck you. (hangs up phone)
That, by the way, is the best way to wind up your last day at a job. My now former boss gave me a high-five, and out the door I went.
So I don’t complain about the list of shit my kids need each year for school. I’m sure it will be put to good use, and maybe, with a little luck, my kids will also get to use their school experience to tell a complete stranger on the phone that he’s a hard-on.