Back to school junk, with a special emphasis on protractors

Suck it up, kids. It’s back to school time. Well, nearly. Television is now filled with advertising telling moms what is available for this September and while the kids are hanging on to the last vestiges of summer they face an onslaught of what is new and wonderful in ‘supplies’. I feel for the kids because looming Labor Day means that my summer is also coming to an end.

For crissake, summer is the season I live for all year so don’t be reminding me that we will soon be in the grip of grippe, wet gales, days that seem to offer about 40 minutes of light and all the Christmas crap that sneaks up on us much more quickly than summer ever does.

But, the damn school supplies merchandising racket makes it all go to hell. At least I don’t have to buy any of that junk that, of course, must be completely different from the previous year’s junk. Of course, if the junk offered any guarantees that the recipients might come out at the end actually capable of reading, writing and spelling I might be somewhat mollified.

In my day it was simpler. School supplies were pretty basic and fundamental and the same every year so there was little need for the parents to take out a 2nd mortgage to keep Hepsibah and Algernon up to the minute. Not so now.

When I began school — and I will confess I did start a little later than the slate and chalk days of Tom Sawyer. He was a smidgen older – we were required to have a couple of pencils, a ruler (in inches, not this newfangled centimeters crud), an eraser (Pink Pearl pref.), your basic Crayolas with about 8 colors (a lot of the other hues hadn’t been invented yet), maybe some pencil crayons, and after about 3rd grade a ‘straight’ or fountain pen, but none of those blotty ballpoint things. In fact, and I remember this, we were forbidden to use ballpoints. Laszlo Biro’s legacy had not yet made it to the Central Burnaby backwater. Oh, and a pencil box that you would relentlessly deface with words and pictures during the ensuing year.

Oh and so-called ‘library paste’ in a little jar. It had an aroma of peppermint and some of the more suggestible (notice I didn’t say ‘dumb’, which was the term used before ADHD gained panache) kids found it made a decent snack between recess and lunchtime.

Later we were also mandated to get a ‘geometry set’. Remember those?  They were in metal cases and contained a little 6” ruler, a coupe of triangular dealies, a compass (which you’d rarely use for its intended purpose, but speculated on its use as a weapon.) One psycho guy in my math class spent the entire year showing how tough he was by carving a tattoo of two crossed pistols on his forearm, using his compass as a needle. Nobody stopped him. There was something about his ‘eyes’ that made one hesitate. He finished off his tat by rubbing India ink into the wound. I admired it, but had no desire to emulate. 

The other thing in that geometry set was a semicircular chunk of plastic that was gradiated with certain angles. Did you ever use your protractor (which is what it was called?)? Did anyone ever use a protractor? Did Euclid use a protractor? I bet not.

We also, as we grew in our studies had to avail ourselves of ring-binders. They were kind of cool, especially the ones that zipped. And we had to get our own notebooks ultimately, and we could defile the crap out of them by drawing cartoons – usually of warplanes and girls with improbably huge tits – trying out 340 variations of your signature, and writing countless times the names of your crushee with whom you hoped to someday be intimate, thinking if you wrote her name it would bring her closer to you. It never worked.

Finally, near the end of school, for senior math and junk, we were require to get a slide rule – or ‘slipstick’, as popular parlance had it – so we could do big kid math. I did actually learn how to use it, though I wouldn’t have a clue now. I noted to a parental figure that I needed this item. My old man, who had a fair amount of education, said, “I have one. You can use that.” I wasn’t pleased at the idea of using his ‘old’ one. Damnit, I wanted a new one, a modern one.”

When did you last see anyone using a sliderule, by the way? Engineering students at my university would walk around with them stuck in the back pocket of their jeans. They thought it made them look cool. Nothing can make an engineer look cool.

“They don’t change, idiot,” is how he ended that conversation.

Today, of course, kids have to have all sorts of up-to-the-second electronic crap that is very costly and will be out of date part way through the term.

Glad I don’t have to buy that stuff for them, since I don’t even have it for myself.

I don’t suppose they still have to acquire protractors.


14 responses to “Back to school junk, with a special emphasis on protractors

  1. Um… Thanks for reminding me of my childhood nightmares… :/

    (Euclid -invented- the protractor. And I still use mine, tho’ it’s a little worse for the wear…)

    • So what do you use your protractor for? I never really found a use for one. So, did Euclid invent the protractor? I was just being flippant in dropping his name. I’m like that.

  2. I’m such a nerd I used to look forward to going back to school.

  3. Sliderules! The grade ahead of me got to have them ~ although I forget which year that was ~ but over the course of that year, they stopped requiring them for us, so I was right on the cusp of the sliderule generation (so to speak). Nice to know that the boys doodled names, too.

    • On the cusp of the sliderule generation — I like that. The name I doodled incessantly was ‘Sandy’. My first big unrequited love. I once got to kiss her on New Year’s eve and that was the extent of our amours.

  4. Ahhhh, the fond memories of the geometry set and the slide rule. If memory serves me correctly, I never learned how to use them properly. About the guy who made tattoos with the compass: he sounds really creepy! When I started elementary school, I recall that my teacher gave us a starter pack of supplies — pencil, paper, eight crayons. By the time my last-born went to school, I was accustomed to looking for a specific school’s back-to-school supply list at the local store. For some reason, finding that list was always a challenge to me. :/

    • I think the guy with the self-made tattoo was creepy too. I think he was destined to become a professional gambler because his name was (really) Jim Roulette. I did learn to use a sliderule briefly when it was needed, and then I forgot how. How nice to hear from you, Deb. I often miss our regular intechanges.

  5. And in France the dreaded Rentree has had mothers combing the supermarkets while on holiday in order to get the right notebook with the right sized little boxes….

  6. In Vancouver elementary schools back in the day, all school supplies were – uh – supplied by the school. We didn’t have to buy a thing until Grade 7 when we could finally purchase our very own duotangs, looseleaf paper, scissors, glue, pens, pencils, and pencil crayons. And a geometry set with a protractor. I very quickly fell in love with the whole ritual of buying school supplies – good thing I became a teacher, eh? 🙂

    • Yes, in Burnaby too all the stuff was provided mostly until grade 7, but I think we had to buy pencils and crayons, etc. I confess I liked having all the new stuff at the start of the term, but the charm quickly faded.

  7. I was talking about slide rules with a colleague just the other day. He said he probably still has his somewhere. I never used one of those things, they just make no sense to me.
    But! But I went into the app store on my iPad and guess what? Yes, there is a slide rule. But, why?

    • A sliderule app! The mind boggles. As I said, I did learn to use a sliderule but it’s sort of like understanding logarithms, unless you’re using them you don’t really give a shit anymore. It was like all the energy we devoted to learning algebra. Why? I’ve never used it since.

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