When I was growing up, there was the annual ritual of buying school supplies. They included the typical things such as pencils and papers. The big buy, however, was the binder. Each year we got one because they only lasted a year. They actually lasted less than a year, but we made do with the misaligned claws and torn pockets because we couldn’t convince our parents to buy a new one in March. And we didn’t want to. By that time we usually got attached to it. It was the one school supply that was also a fashion statement. I can’t remember what the girls got as they did not yet exist to me until about the fourth grade, but the boys would get He-Man or Thundercats or Batman or something like it and it defined us.

In the fourth grade, I had a teacher named Mrs. Nelson that I had such a crush on that I faked bad vision in order to get attention from her. Just about all the boys had crushes on her. Best. Behaved. Class. Ever.

Anyhow, that year my binder fell apart before the fall semester was even over. I probably could have convinced Mom to get me a new one, but either I feared I would get in trouble or I decided to get creative. So what I did was take all of the binders from years past, take some duct tape to them, and create the Mega-Binder. Actually, I created two because I had so many. I gave the second to my neighbor and periodic friend Toby Crowell. He was as excited as I was about having the two biggest binders in school.

We showed the binders to everybody in sight and they all thought it was pretty cool. At least the boys did, and their opinions were the one that counted. At some point a couple days in I showed Mrs. Nelson. Normally one of the nicest, kindest, warmest teachers I ever had… she blew a gasket. Before I knew it she was screaming at me in front of the whole class about how of course she had noticed it and had been biting her tongue but if I really wanted to know what she thought about it she thought that it was an absolutely grotesque example of our wasteful consumer society and of class inequality where some boys would buy five binders and tear them apart while there were young boys in this country that couldn’t even afford one good binder.

I didn’t really understand what the inequality between our elementary school classes had much to do with anything and as far as I knew everybody could afford school supplies. I didn’t really understand what she was talking about at all except for that she was obviously real mad about something some class was doing wrong. What I really didn’t understand was that she didn’t understand that they were used and otherwise discarded binders save for the fact that I couldn’t bear to throw anything away because it seemed so wasteful. Not able to understand much of anything, I just tried not to cry. I can’t recall how successful I was or was not.

The binder never saw the light of day again. Toby had heard what happened and he threw his out. I couldn’t, though. It seemed wasteful.

Category: Ghostland, School

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8 Responses to The Mega-Binder

  1. Kirk says:

    Sheesh…what a bitch.

  2. rob says:

    Yet again we see the conflict between innovation and social justice! And Trumwill’s first lesson that a pleasant personality and face don’t covary perfectly.

    Just about all the boys had crushes on her. Best. Behaved. Class. Ever.

    That happened to me in a high school math class. Teacher was a dude. About half-way through the semester, we got a student teacher from a college nearby. Looking at her was much more enjoyable than looking at teacher-dude. My grades went from F/D to A/B in a couple of weeks.

    As a result of changing schools fairly often, combined with a few idiot methods of teaching math/math teachers, my math education was pitifully bad.

  3. Sheila Tone says:

    I second Kirk. A lot of people become schoolteachers because they’re petty tyrants, and they like to single out unpopular kids to make their points. As one of the few white (but not rich) kids in my high school, I too suffered at the hands of smug white liberals looking for a convenient target to throw under a bus.

    Also, I remember binders being pretty fucking useless in grade school. I can’t envision the contraption you’re describing — did you just tape a bunch of binders together?

    We had a mean nun in 6th grade who liked to rant against consumerism. How convenient, that her words were used to stigmatize the trendy Jordache jacket of one of the least popular kids in class (me). That made it OK to throw dirt on it.

  4. trumwill says:

    I didn’t actually become unpopular until middle school. Even though I was overweight by the fourth grade, the social networks started before I’d put on the weight. New social networks are formed in intermediate school and those were pretty unfavorable (including among those that had been my friends in elementary school). Whether she could recognize that I was well-regarded at the time despite being overweight may be an open question, though.

    Yeah. Basically a handful of binders held together with duct tape. The pouches (which were always the first thing to go because they were held together with a cheap glue) had also been repaired using said duct tape. I had each of my classes in a separate binder. I had four or five binders in all (using scraps from mine and my brothers’). Toby only had three, but they were big binders.

    I actually wonder if Mrs. Nelson had some sort of psychological or emotional problem. She was really nice and sweet the vast majority of the time. That wasn’t her only outburst, though. One time she got onto a rant about how much Ronald Reagan hated us children. Another time how imminent nuclear war was and how we probably won’t live to be her age.

    The rest of the time, though, she was so nice and affable that she was popular among students and parents alike and they were sorry to see her go (Mom – who never heard this story – still cites her as one of the best teachers any of her sons had ever had). I don’t think I fully recognized the dichotomy at the time. It’s only now when I look back that I think “Man, that was weird.”

  5. Kirk says:

    She sounds like a manic-depressive. The wife of one of my brothers is like that. Very happy and positive for a few hours, then…not so much. (Her sister killed herself, so this isn’t something to play around with.)

    As for folders, am I the only one who has seen Up in the Air? George Clooney plays a guy whose job is to lay people off. I couldn’t help but notice that every person got a folder.

    We’ve had two layoffs at work…and every one of the people got a folder. So, movie was accurate that way.

    Anyone seen the inside of one of those folders? The innards of those are as mysterious as that book they gave all the girls in grade school.

  6. web says:

    One time she got onto a rant about how much Ronald Reagan hated us children. Another time how imminent nuclear war was and how we probably won’t live to be her age.

    Add in the “why did you do this to perfectly good binders when there are kids in the world who can’t even afford binders” rant, and she almost sounds like someone who went into teaching to push her own political views onto kids… we have a lot of those at SoTech. The “Social Justice” crowd are crazy some days.

  7. Sheila Tone says:

    “One time she got onto a rant about how much Ronald Reagan hated us children. Another time how imminent nuclear war was and how we probably won’t live to be her age.”

    That sounds like plenty of stuff I heard. Teachers love to ramble about their politics, personal lives, and worldviews. It’s probably tempting because they’ve got the stage all the time and many kids don’t listen or retain it. I think we’re both unusual in that we remember.

    Maybe teachers just lapse from time to time in weakness, sort of like parents do around kids, and sort of figure the kids won’t process it. My grade-school classmates are either lying, or really don’t remember much of the stuff that I do about our teachers.

  8. Peter says:

    One time she got onto a rant about how much Ronald Reagan hated us children.

    Well he did propose that ketchup should be classified as a vegetable for purposes of school lunch subsidies.

    Another time how imminent nuclear war was and how we probably won’t live to be her age.

    I certainly remember the nuclear war hysteria of the 1980’s, with The Day After and Testament. It seems pretty ludicrous from today’s perspective. Of course now everyone is terrified that Islam is going to Conquer the World, so it’s debatable whether we’ve made any progress.

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