January 28, 2005

For Crying Out Loud

When I was going through elementary school, my class took great pride in its ability to make teachers cry. Okay, we weren't necessarily proud of it, but we did acknowledge the fact that, for some reason, we made a lot of teachers cry.

I understand that teaching can be a stressful profession, particularly in elementary school, and that was before teachers started handing out Ritalin to any child that exhibits a hint of personality. So, it was easier for my generation to make teachers cry. Even so, we did have a remarkable track record.

One teacher in particular, our third grade teacher, Mrs. Rattering, was particularly liberal with the waterworks. If she couldn't get the class settled down within ten minutes or so, chances were good her voice would start to break and her eyes would moisten, and she'd try any number of standard pleas:

"Why can't you children please listen?!" Or, "You children are so difficult!" Or, "In the name of the Lord, I cast thee out, vile demons!!"

Now, most of the kids in my class were unaccustomed to seeing grown-ups cry, so most of us didn't know quite how to react when we ended up making Mrs. Rattering, or any other teacher, cry.

Some of us would sit quietly and observe the phenomenon, like scientists observing an important experiment. Other students would start to giggle, while still others would whimper along with the teacher. In retrospect, it was probably an excellent opportunity for social phychologists to study.

Typically, getting a teacher to cry required a concerted and prolonged effort on the part of the class, repeatedly ignoring requests and demands to sit down, or to be quiet, or to put those matches away, or to stop hiding that body.

Although it usually required the rambunctious chaos of the class, I once made Mrs. Rattering cry almost completely on my own. And the amazing thing was that I didn't even try to do it.

Back in my elementary school, they either had the hottest room heaters on the planet, or the boiler room was experimenting with nuclear technology. Whatever the case, the heaters in the classrooms shot forth air so hot, it could cauterize wounds. That hot air, in turn, transformed the metal heater shells, essentially, into hot plates.

My classmates and I played a game during which we'd try to see how long we could sit on a heater before we simply couldn't take it any more and hopped off, buns sizzling. Those heaters could burn you right through your jeans. Many was the day I went home with little red lines grilled into my butt cheeks. And we considered that FUN!

Well, one day, I came into the classroom and I, along with the rest of my classmates, became immediately aware that it smelled like smoke in there. In fact, it smelled like someone had recently blown out the biggest candle known to man.

You see, the day prior, during the last hour of the school day, the class was working on a coloring project. Which. . .

For some reason, upon entering that waxy, smoke-heavy room, I intuitively knew that I was responsible. I wasn't sure, but there was a faint recollection in my mind that, before I left school the day before, I had absent-mindedly placed my 54-set box of crayons on one of the heaters.

I looked over at my desk, which was next to one of the heaters, and then I looked on past the desk to the heater, on which sat my smoldering box of crayons. They weren't on fire, or anything like that, but they had most certainly melted down into the innards of the heater.

For her part, Mrs. Rattering took the whole thing pretty well, considering. And she only allowed her voice to crack just slightly as she admonished me for my carelessness. For my part, I was totally bummed out, because, man, I was out 54 crayons.

But then I inadvertently made a fantastic discovery.

I went to retrieve the sopping box of crayons from the heater, which I intended to throw away. Instead, however, I put the box on my desk while the class recited the pledge of allegiance and completed other such morning rituals.

When I returned to my desk, I discovered that the remnants of the crayons had solidified, so what I basically had was a honeycomb box of 54 wax-coated tubes which, to any elementary school student with half a functioning imagination, made perfect fake cigarettes.

Well, one student saw me fake smoking a fake Crayola cigarette and asked if he could have one, followed by another student, and another student, and kind of on and on like that. If R.J. Reynolds had been in the room that day, he would have been a proud, proud man.

So, when Mrs. Rattering stood up from her desk to begin the class, she was confronted by an entire classroom puffing on paraffin Lucky Strikes. It was more than poor Mrs. Rattering could handle, and she started crying almost immediately, so much so that she had to go into the hallway to collect herself.

We pondered the situation, my classmates and I, as we twirled our wax Winstons thoughtfully in our mouths, until Mrs. Rattering came back in and had everyone dispose of our fake cigarettes, one by one, in the trash can by her desk.

And, from that day on, until the day I graduated from sixth grade, and possibly even to this very day, that classroom smelled faintly of crayon wax whenever the heaters kicked in.

Posted by Ryan at January 28, 2005 04:23 PM

When you first mentioned hot heaters in elementary school the first thing I thought of was how we use to leave crayons on them to watch them melt, then you got to the crayon part.

Man I loved watching those things melt.

Posted by: Machelle at January 29, 2005 02:02 PM
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