Saturday, January 25, 2014

Call Me Ishmael. No, Call Me Ink Monitor

Your first ventures into the job world happened before you matured into double-digit ages, all of them having to do with the direct sale of newspapers or the delivery of them to regular subscribers.  Although you are well aware of having these jobs, you would not think to use them in any way to influence a potential employer to hire you.

Today, another such job came rushing into your mind, a dear enough discovery to cause you to think this job was something you'd be pleased to have known about you.

You have not thought of yourself as this person for some considerable time, and yet this job in its way, given you as an intended punishment or, giving the benefit of the doubt at this late remove, a wake-up call, has had a tangible influence on your life.

Looking back on the job and circumstances of it given you, you reckon there was little possibility it was meant as an intended humiliation. In the most direct terms possible, the job was the Ink Monitor of the fourth grade at Public School Number Ten, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, the small town on the eastern shore of Middlesex County, bordering on the Raritan River, over which a brief ferry would take you to Staten Island, New York, from which point, you could ride the Staten Island Rapid Transit, colloquially called the Rat Trap, from the western shore of Staten Island to its eastern shore, thereupon to board the Staten Island Ferry for lower Manhattan.

At the time of your assignment to ink monitor, the New Jersey modus operandi for teaching handwriting was called The Palmer Method, a legible, semi-ornate conflation of loops, sworls, and strokes often described as Spencerian.

In no uncertain terms, your handwriting was a matter of concern for Mrs. DeAngelo, your teacher, who wrote concerned notes to your parents, in a Spencerian hand, by the way, with green ink, by the way, informing them of her failure to see how a boy with your vocabulary and abilities at improvisation could, as she put it, write so slovenly a hand.  She went on to explain that every other member of the class had earned, via the Good Writers' Club,the right to use a special, red dip fountain pen, which the student would be allowed to keep at the close of the semester as a reminder of how penmanship was a vital part of individual character.

You, on the other hand, were still limited to using the mocha brown classroom issue dip pen, which you would have to return at the end of the semester since it was the property of the Perth Amboy Board of Education.

Each desk in your classroom had a metal recess for a glass inkwell, which fit snugly in place.  Your job was to secure the large bottle of black ink from the cloak room, then make sure each inkwell in each desk was filled with ink into which the student could then dip the bright red pen holder of The Good Writers' Club, blot off any excess with a scrap of cloth each of us was required to bring from home, then set forth to writing in the Palmer Method, with graceful, legible loops and sworls, indicative of our purpose as students.

Was it your mischievous nature, the fact of your California upbringing, pre-puberty rebelliousness, or some innate flaw in your personality that caused you to discover and demonstrate to the delight of all the male students in the class another use for the cloth intended for wiping excesses of ink?

From your point of view, the proximity of a piece of cloth more or less the size of a penny post card was just the thing to distract attention from your poor penmanship.

Girls in those distant days at Public School Number Ten wore dresses. Each time a girl stood to recite from a lesson or to use the pencil sharpener or in any way depart from sitting at her desk, she would hear the sound of ripping cloth.  What was she to think?  Perhaps a seam had given way.  Perhaps there was a more unfortunate rip.

One day, Sal Fado, a pretty good chum, saw you at work, shredding a length of your cloth.  Good old Sal; he caught on immediately.  In a matter of days, Mrs. De Angelo noted a distinct lack of interest in reciting lessons or venturing opinions from the girls.

This aspect of pens, ink monitoring, and penmanship in general influenced a lifelong fondness for fountain pens.  Someone may say of you that your fondness for and subsequent collection of pens was in response to you being the only one who did not get the red pen as a tangible demonstration of his loops and swirls, his lush ovals and straightforward push-pull strokes.  You will accept that judgment even though in the crucible of your own mind, the score was settled with the sound of tearing cloth which, you hasten to add, you also used when boys arose.

Over the course of your working life, you've been asked to provide a prospective employer with a resume or, if the prospective employer were a school of some sort, a curriculum vitae.  These two names are enough to convey the difference between schools and most other sorts of employment venues.

To their credit, some schools abbreviate curriculum vitae to a more agreeable-sounding "CV."  You've been asked to submit your CV in places where you were pretty sure you wouldn't mind working.  The one or two places asking for the more formal result were in effect confirming your suspicion that formality and serious lurked in the hallways.

Places where you were in consideration or hopeful of serious consideration and resumes were referred to as timelines also became places where you might not have minded working.  There were a few jobs in publishing you were emphatic about wanting, places where resumes were in one case called a resume and in yet another a curriculum vitae.  You got neither job.  Subsequent events led you to be pleased you didn't.  These events were directly related to the fate of individuals who did get the job and to the publishing house itself moreso than any rationalizations on your part minimizing your loss.

You mention these two aspects of being on the prowl for a particular job as backstory to what you were and were not comfortable with including in your own resume, your own curriculum vitae, and how you approach the character resume of fictional individuals you bring on stage.  You imagine them having quirks, but until this day, when you were for a time back in the homelands of your parents and some of your cousins, you had not thought of this job, this mischief, and these forgotten traits of a nine-year-old boy.

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