Friday, March 14, 2008

Clap On.

This is my final semester in college, and my English department advisor told me that I should get an internship, and countless real, live grownups have told me they’re useful. So I applied to a bunch, interviewed at a bunch, and liked Grub the best. I like the idea of “classes” being held there, so that if I ever decide to enroll, I can have new notebooks and hand in homework and stuff. It’s kind of like school, minus the lunch ladies and loudspeakers. Grub Street seems to encourage this nostalgia, because it has the one thing that I will miss most about being a kid- a real, live, dusty blackboard.

When I saw it, I was jolted back to the first grade, where my two favorite jobs were to empty the pencil sharpener and clap the blackboard erasers. The pencil sharpener was done on an as-needed basis; so careful monitoring and a little luck on my part were necessary. But the erasers, that was a job assigned to one incredibly lucky, enthusiastic student. Like the line-leader, hot-lunch counter and the gym class ball-gatherer, the eraser-clapper got a few moments to herself each Wednesday and Friday to consider the world without the interruption of the less fortunate first graders, who only had lunch and recess as time for themselves.

This job afforded me the opportunity to skip show and tell. I hated show and tell. I didn’t (and still do not) care about Caitlin’s Mickey ears or Dave’s new skateboard. So I got to skip out on that, leave through the side door of the classroom- a forbidden portal for anyone without my authority- and shook the chalk dust from the erasers. I always stole the show, coming back in during the middle of a showing and telling, covered in a fine white powder, like Tony Montana in a navy blue jumper.

It gave me a sense of purpose, this little job. I never missed school on Wednesdays or Fridays, and for special occasions, would wipe down the chalkboard with a blue sponge. I like to think of it as my first internship, really. While it didn’t necessarily give me “real-world” experience, I was earning my stripes through grunt work, toward the eventual goal of a great recommendation (hopefully to next year’s teacher, “Marie is a diligent clapper.”).

Unfortunately, this is no longer a classroom job. There are unemployed elementary schoolers, now, kids who do not know chalky snot, dusty corduroys, and the piece-of-chalk-in-the-eraser prank that I used to thwart! My job was outsourced to the low-dust dry-erase marker. Who wants their lessons in color? Black and white is as simple as it gets. There are no teachers with comical chalk lines on their butts from leaning on the ledge at the bottom of the blackboard anymore, either. There was nothing more endearing than that look, I’ll tell you. It said something about what you did, like the grease under the nails of a mechanic.

I loved clapping the erasers. I loved pounding my name out in eraser marks on the brick wall of the cafeteria. Tattooing the building was my way of staying there, giving next year’s students an idea to do the same. It gave us presence, a little bit of our energy left in the walls of the school, and now it’s washed away with the dust.

It’s a comforting feeling that, as I approach the final days of my formal education, there is that last vestige of my dusty childhood schoolhouse manifested in this hip, urban writer’s workshop. I like to think that it sort of represents where I’ve been and where I’m going.

-Marie McIntosh


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