Cleaning Erasers

I can’t recall what I did to draw the ire of Mr. Jones, my sixth grade teacher at Central School. Charlie must have been in on it, too, as we were both sentenced to the same fate – staying after school to clean the chalkboard erasers.

Once class was dismissed and all the other kids had gone home to enjoy their free time, Charlie and I were handed a box of erasers and sent out the back door of the building to begin. We might have been told how to clean them, but in our defense we might not have been.

Mr. Jones could have assumed that we would know to bang them together and let the chalk dust fly. We might even have started out that way, but if we did, we found it boring, and that led to a discovery.

I can’t take credit for it. It might have been Charlie’s idea, but one of us found that an eraser smacked against the blond brick of the school wall made a perfect rectangle-shaped impression of the eraser in white chalk dust.

Our punishment soon turned into fun as two young artists gleefully stamped out geometric designs and pictures on the school wall. We reveled in the activity, banging erasers with forethought, each proudly displaying our creations to the other, each responding with, “Oh yeah? Watch this.” as we set off to top each other’s masterpieces.

I don’t know if we were overdue to return to the classroom. Mr. Jones probably just wanted to go home. Whatever the reason, he stepped out of the back door and saw our artwork – flowers, buildings, cars, and animals all created with chalk dust, all adorning the brick wall.

He was not pleased.

Apparently there was a right way to clean erasers, and we had done it the wrong way.

He saw no art in our endeavors, but in his defense, he wasn’t an art teacher. We had special teachers for that.

He grabbed the erasers from our hands, his face red with anger as he searched for words to say to us. Fortunately, discretion held them back.

Instead, he drew his arm up like he was going to throw one of the erasers against the ground in front of him with all his might, then swung it down toward the ground without letting it go. With each simulated throw, he exhaled loudly through his nostrils like a bull that is scraping the ground with its hoof preparing to charge. I swear I almost saw his nostrils emit little puffs of smoke.

Our art careers over, Charlie and I were sent home without further consequence. We were never again told to clean erasers. All was good.
Years later, while visiting my old grade school as Officer Friendly, I stopped to chat with one of the custodians I knew and saw a strange looking machine. It had a motor, a brush, and a dust-bag.

“What’s that?”

“It’s an eraser cleaner.”

“You clean the erasers?”

“Yeah. It’s part of our job.”

It seems kids today have it easier than I did.

I like to think Charlie and I had a hand in that.