Read&Delete Report Card Day

March 2001

The Official Read & Delete Newsletter for April, 2001 (accept no substitutes)

Greetings, Daylight savers! 


One of the strange turnabouts that comes with middle-age and parenting is the mid-life change of the school report card. Report cards used to travel 'outbound' to our parents-- now they travel straight at us- from our children. Last month my boys, James and Peter, brought their grades home for me to see. 

Back in my formative years, I used to get a little nervous handling my report cards. My hands would tremble a little as I pulled the grade slip out of the envelope, and cold sweat would break forth upon my brow as I examined the marks on the paper. But I wasn't really worried about seeing my grades, only that somebody might catch me looking at them. 
Those who know me now say that they cannot believe that I could ever have had trouble in school, but those who went to high school with me find it extremely hard to believe that I am actually now a functional member of society. It is quite safe for me to say that I have failed more English classes than most students have taken in their entire lives. Most math was a mystery to me, as I was a mystery to most math teachers. And history? Faugh! For me there was no future in it. With this attitude, academia was a time waster, and my marks reflected it most accurately. 
Most of my classmates worried about getting their grade point average high enough to get into a top-notch university. With my GPA, I don't think I could have enrolled into another high school. In fact, were it not for certain skills that I acquired by judicious use of a paper clip, Bic pen cap and household blow drier, I doubt that I could have survived report card day-- let alone my academic career. 'Forewarned is forearmed' is a good axiom to live by, and it stood me well to know in advance the depths that my quarterly grades were sinking to, so I could be prepared for the resultant reaction from my parents. So a little postal abracadabra was devised. 
Any illusionist worth his magic wand will tell you that in sleight of hand, timing is everything. And timing is critical when one must know when the grades (or failure slips) are due to be mailed from the school. It is always nice to get some help in this area from some unsuspecting goody-goody working in the school office. (I never tried to bribe or coerce any student aide to spirit the deadly communiqué out of the stack before it was mailed, no true-to-the-cause toady could be approached that way- it goes against their boot-licker code of ethics.) My preferred method was to eavesdrop on those little brownnoses in study hall while they squawked about their 'difficult' office duties. Listen long enough and one is sure to hear one of them go on about having to put stamps on or 'metering' all the sealed grade envelopes. At the time this revelation is made one can be certain that the postal carrier that comes whistling up the walk two days hence will be laden with the message of imminent death-- a message that must be intercepted at any cost -- and its destructive payload neutralized -- before detonation can occur. 
There is no trick to opening an envelope. If you don't believe me, simply watch the televised Academy Awards. Top-name celebrities who have yet to demonstrate the talent necessary to act their way through a revolving door can at least break the seal and read the contents (they use small words at the Oscars). The trick is in opening and resealing the letter UNDETECTED in order to peruse and/or make slight modifications to the contents. (Thus the cap, clip and hot air. I forgot to mention the muslage glue-- it makes for a much more professional looking job -- a good seal of the finished product) A deft diversion, a little moist heat, two minutes with an eraser and a square of carbon paper-- and voila! The report card is disarmed! The sun peeks out once again from among the cluster of cumulonimbus clouds. 
But I hasten to add that even though technology may change--parents do not. Parents of teenagers seem to know by instinct when their own children are trying to 'gaslight' them. My parents knew what was going on. So, just as in any cheap melodrama, at the end the villain gets unmasked, and the evil plot exposed. So it was for me. I was tried and convicted for my espionage activities, sentenced to summer school, and justice was served. Thus ended my first attempt at writing fiction. 
Now that I am a parent, I am on the receiving end of the grading curve. The boys come to me, excitedly waving their report cards in the air, looking for my nod of approval at their scholastic efforts. I get excited too (they are both ranked in the top quarter of their classes) but I try not to act too excited. So I say, "Well done, gentlemen," and give each of them a big hug, (after I scrutinize the papers under a big magnifying glass and sniff them for the telltale aroma of chlorine bleach.) O.K. O.K -- I'm kidding about the bleach, O.K.? 
James (now nearly nine) is over a year ahead of his class in math, and Peter at age six is challenging me at the game of chess. So they are noticeably brighter than I was at their ages. So, after receiving such stellar marks on their report cards, I thought that I should reciprocate by offering the boys anything they wanted to eat for dinner. What did they ask for? Was it pizza? Hamburgers? Spaghetti? Not MY boys! I'm not kidding about this either. When offered the choice of any of their favorite restaurants or anything we could cook -- they chose-- I shudder at the thought----- they chose ------ SPAM! I'm totally serious here. Peter asked for spam. He wanted it sliced paper thin and fried up in a pan--just like bacon, just like the way we do it on our family camping trips. We take it with us because it can stored without refrigeration and it can be cooked up in a hurry by nearly anyone desperate enough to do it. Throw in a little seasoning, serve it up hot and juicy and the taste is -- well --- pretty awful, to be honest. Kind of like a pork flavored sponge. Spam is one of the few foods I know of that tastes better burnt. But spam *is* good nutritious food -- made from real pork shoulder, tongue, stomach, intestines and such -- and totally sawdust free. 
The boys wanted spam-- so they got spam. It was a treat for them. This in itself PROVES that times have changed. Years ago, if I were fed spam on report card day, I'd be citing the eighth amendment to my parents (for those of you who are constitutionally challenged, that's the part of the U.S. Constitution that forbids cruel and unusual punishment). But then again most of what I did as an adolescent likely violated the eighth amendment as far as my parents were concerned. With that in mind, I consider myself blessed that I wasn't fed spam or worse every day. What's worse than spam, you ask? Why the moon pie, of course! What's a moon pie? Ever had a little Debbie snack cake? The moon pie is little Debbie's evil twin-- made up of thousand year old marshmallow paste sandwiched between two indelectable wafers of chocolate coated drywall. But I digress....that story is for another time.
The interesting point is that I am more concerned about the grades I see now, than I ever was about the ones I got back when I was in school. You see, when James and Peter bring home their report cards-- in a way I am being graded --- this time as a parent. And I can't cheat on these marks. 


Gotta go....... I need to correct my bank statement before Wendy sees it. Just Kidding!

Neil