The Boy in the Box

[This is the first episode of a multi-part post that will comprise a short story I wrote about a year and a half ago. It meant a lot to me at the time because it captures an era of history and, more specifically, of my life that is forever gone, except in faded recollections. If you are a child of the 60’s as I am, I hope some of it rings true and awakens pleasant memories. If not, accept it as a snapshot of a more innocent and less technological time.

Additionally, it has come to mean even more to me since the time I wrote it. I’ll explain why after the final post in the series. How long that series will be remains as much a mystery to me as it is to you.]

The Boy in the Box

Part I

The classroom was empty that Monday spring morning, as it always was when I got there. My badly-worn, too-small black patent leather shoes clicked on the bare vinyl floor in time with the oversized clock that ticked loudly on the wall.

I always tried to be the first one in class. I liked to watch other people enter almost as much as I hated others watching me. I tended to slouch. There was no way I’d be in the running for the 1963 Benjamin Thompson Elementary School 3rd Grade Good Posture Award. That ratfink Karen won the girls’ prize every year even though she picked her nose when no one was looking. No one except me.

Besides being a sloucher, I wasn’t a very good student. And I talked to myself a lot. Still do. When Mrs. Quigley wrote on the blackboard with her back to us and she heard talking, she didn’t know it was usually me. Without ever turning to face us, she always said the same thing. “I hear talking back there. I know no one is talking in class because that’s against my rules. I can only assume you’re talking to yourself. You know what they say about people who talk to themselves? They’re either crazy or they have money in the bank. Now, I know none of you has money in the bank, so…”

She probably thought the giggling she heard was the class reacting to her terribly clever remark. Actually, we were laughing at her big behind swinging back and forth in her flowery dress as she scratched the chalk across the blackboard. Behind her back—as we so often were—we called her “wiggly Quigley”.

She was right, though. I was talking to myself and I didn’t have money in the bank. Maybe I was crazy. But do crazy people know they’re crazy? It never occurred to me that simply having the presence of mind to consider my mental state was proof enough of my sanity.

Or was it?

Sitting in that third grade classroom, I listened to the chaos in the hall where confused and half-crazed kids raced to their rooms. Unlike me, most delayed their entrance as long as possible. Arriving, they wedged themselves into tiny chairs that were permanently attached to equally small desks. The legs of the chair-desks made jarring, unearthly sounds beneath us as they skidded across the floor, as they did whenever careless urchins threw themselves into their seats. Textbooks and workbooks were stuffed into all our desks. My desk also contained crushed copies of every test I’d taken all year. I never brought them home to my parents, as I was supposed to. I was in no hurry to reveal my lack of academic progress to them and they never asked. They’d find out later when my report card came home. If it came home.

My mind wandered back to my school day preparations at home. Every morning I closed my eyes and randomly selected one record from the little robin’s-egg-blue vinyl-covered cardboard box that contained my collection of 45’s. This morning it was Leslie Gore singing “It’s My Party”. It wouldn’t have been my first choice. It depressed me when it came out and it depressed me that morning. (Fortunately, Leslie came out with her revenge just a few months later in “Judy’s Turn to Cry” or I might have given up on romance for life.) No, I was hoping for something a little lighter, like “Tie Me Kangaroo Down” or some Beach Boys surfing tune, but fate would have none of that.

The song turned out to be appropriate; it was a depressing day. Rain fell like cats and dogs and ran down the school’s pastel-paneled exterior walls. (The building was only five years old but it already felt and looked out of date and in need of replacement.) There was a spelling quiz. I lost a barrette. I forgot my lunchbox.

And it was the first day Billy Almquist was absent.

[Part II can be found here. →]

Free screenwriting seminar

Everyone loves movies but how many people know what goes into a screenplay and what part it plays in the filmmaking process? If you’re interested in learning more about the answers to these questions, come to a free seminar I’m teaching on the basics of the craft of screenwriting. This seminar will be enough to get you started so you can study further on your own. Or, if you’d rather participate in a guided study, I’ll lead a longer class later in the year at the same location.

The free introductory seminar will be held Saturday, January 25, 2020 at 11 AM at The Artisans Exchange in Chelmsford, MA. If you’re in the area and this topic interests you, come by and learn more.

Satisfaction guaranteed or double your money back. 🙂

The Minor Nobel Award

There are awards galore out there, for every accomplishment under the sun. The most prestigious has got to be the Nobel Prize, whether for the sciences, the arts, or, best of all, promoting peace in our world.

But what about an award for the folks who make seemingly minor contributions that make a major difference in our day-to-day quality of life? These are things that fly under the radar. You might not even think of them because they’ve become mundane. If they were taken away one day, however, we’d probably all lose our sanity. I propose the “Minor Nobel Prize” awards to honor such genius.

Here’s my list of innovations that deserve more credit and thus a Minor Nobel Prize:

  • Velcro – Are you kidding me? How has this invention not been recognized by the Nobel committee? I don’t want to even think about where we’d be without Velcro. Kids’ garments, old peoples’ shoes, cheap wallets, high-tech gadget attachments, etc., etc. And, yeah, I love the sound.
  • Auto rear camera – How many parking lot collisions have been averted by the ability to see in back of you??? I want one of these for my body, too. (And how about the one that let’s you see behind a towed trailer? What kind of black magic is that?)
  • Vacuum in the van – Speaking of vehicles, how about the guy–“guy” in the generic sense; it was probably a Mom who came up with this–who thought of putting a vacuum cleaner in a minivan? Absolutely brilliant! Those things probably suck up ten pounds of Cheerios a month, not to mention Legos and goldfish crackers. And the gas savings for the lightened vehicle make this an environmental boon.
  • Sharpies – This might be the greatest invention known to man. For its beneficial purposes, it certainly beats the dickens out of Nobel’s dynamite. Maybe we should be giving out Sharpie prizes.
  • Duct tape – Don’t even get me started.
  • Needle threader – The quickest way I know to induce a nervous breakdown is attempting to thread a needle. The thread inevitably frays, giving you about sixteen microscopic baby threads all vying to get through the eye at the same time. Ain’t happening. The needle threader is an incredibly ingenious yet underappreciated invention.
  • Fingernail clipper – As much as I like to bite my fingernails–or have to in certain tense situations like driving or going to a mall–the clipper is the way to go to avoid injury. The best devices also collect the clippings so they don’t fly all over the room. Instead, you can mix them in with your shredded coconut flakes. No one will ever know the difference.
  • Chapstick – This is an essential quasi-medical advance on par with eyeglasses and nose hair trimmers. Little known Chapstick fact: Many children are alive today because cracked, bleeding lips were made kissable by Chapstick.

The final nominee for a Minor Nobel Prize is a classic example of an innovation that has saved money, sanity, and relationships. If it had never come about, the past month would have been a living nightmare for most people celebrating Christmas.

  • Lines on the back of wrapping paper – Before the guide lines on the back of wrapping paper were introduced, I spent half my December trying to divine straight paths through random arrangements of Santas, stars, and candy canes. It was all in vain. I invariably created odd origami-like shapes more often than usable paper.

That’s my list for now. There are doubtless many more, but I won’t know what they are until they’re taken away.

May that never happen.