By Tim Hayes
At the age of nine, the lesson came home to me in a very real way. Courtesy of the Golden Ruler.
And that’s not a typo. Although I suppose the Golden Rule could factor into the story, if you really want to stretch things. No, I mean the Golden Ruler. As in a 12-inch instrument of measurement.
This thing showed up in our house by some unknown path, as so many items seem to do when you’re a kid. I guess my Dad brought it home from work maybe, or it came in the mail as a promotional gimmick of some sort. Who knows, but however it got into our kitchen “junk drawer,” I immediately called dibs and spirited the thing up to my room.
“Boy, wait ‘til they see this at school tomorrow,” cheered my subconscious. Little did I know how right I was about to be proven.
The new day dawned, and as our neighborhood cluster of guys began our 15-minute walk to school, I couldn’t wait any longer. Out from my bag came the Golden Ruler – a shiny, heavy, metallic 12-incher. I had leap-frogged way past those chintzy plastic jobs from the 5-and-10-cent store, baby. This ruler all but screamed, “Thou shalt respect yon owner.”
Suddenly, I knew how King Arthur felt. The Golden Ruler became my Excalibur.
The sight of it stopped my buddies in their tracks. They had never seen such magnificence. “You sure you want to take this to school?” asked one of them. “Why not?” I replied, a little too defensively, perhaps. A lot too naively, I would soon realize.
We got to school and took our seats in the classroom. We sat in ancient desks of wood and wrought iron, connected by slats along the base that made each row of desks a single unit. You had no control over your desk’s position, in other words. You couldn’t skooch in any direction. You – just like everybody else in the room – sat locked in place.
I pulled out my books, pencils, and other supplies, positioning them on my desk as always. Then came the big reveal, and the Golden Ruler appeared. It got the primo spot – right along the uppermost top of my desk surface, just above the indentation where my pencil rested. The oohs and aahs emanating from the contiguous desks washed over me like heavenly waters. I had finally broken through to quasi-stardom in Sister Joachim’s classroom.
We launched into arithmetic, and the Golden Ruler got placed into action, drawing straight lines on graph paper, measuring and plotting where data dots should go. A glorious performance, all around.
Next came a reading test. We each had to silently read a series of stories then answer questions following each one. The room fell into a cloud of intense, quiet concentration. Reading was my favorite subject, so I had fully entered the zone, ingesting each little vignette, thinking carefully about my responses. Nothing could distract me. I reveled in my element. Until, that is…
CLANG! PING! RATTTTTTTLE!
Half the class had fun-size coronaries, me included.
“What in the world was that?” cried Sister.
To my horror, I looked down to see the Golden Ruler – MY Golden Ruler – still clanging on the hardwood floor before it at last came to a stop. I picked it up, put it back in its place of honor, and said, “Sorry, Sister. My ruler fell off my desk.”
After a moment, everyone refocused on the test and a stillness again settled over the room. But you know what’s coming, right?
PLING! PLANG! CLANG! RATTTTTTTLE!
“Timothy Hayes, please put that ruler INSIDE your desk immediately!” “Yes, Sister.”
Only then did I hear the barely stifled laughter of the guys on either side of me. They’d taken turns shoving the ruler off my desk, for the fun of framing somebody and watching him get hollered at.
I had simply and unwittingly provided an irresistible opportunity, assisted by my laser-like focus on the reading test. My turn in the barrel, as it were. These two guys had well-earned reputations as jerks and troublemakers, and the day’s events only burnished those legacies further.
I had to admit, though, it was pretty funny. Who knew a metal ruler could make so much damn noise?
Excalibur came home with me that afternoon and stayed in my room for the next few years. Some treasures just aren’t meant to be shared, I guess.
Copyright 2019 Timothy P. Hayes