101 Observations of an Overhead Projector

by Mark on November 12, 2009

Overhead Projector 



 “It has a red ‘on’ button.”

“The ‘off’ button is also red.”

” On’ & off were the same button.”

“The projection lens is round . . ..”

This was science.  The Gemini Program was blasting pairs of astronauts into orbit.  Exciting technologies, like transistors and Tang Orange Drink, were being developed.  But we . . . the eighth grade class of Our Lady of Perpetual Help School . . . were making observations on an overhead projector.  One hundred and one of them to be exact.

“The projection lens is in a square box.”

“The square box is plastic . . ..”

Public school kids were probably dissecting frogs or concocting bubbling potions in a lab.  All we had been doing for the past two weeks was droning out insignificant details about a classroom fixture.  Since Vatican II, we couldn’t even get the satisfaction that those Protestants would be automatically going to hell.

“The square box with the lens is on top of a metal arm.”

“The metal arm is about two feet high . . ..”

Sister Clarice bounced up and down the aisles encouraging us.  She was a Dominican Nun — an order with black and white robes resembling penguins.  Most of their outfit was white . . . especially the starched diaper-like piece, that draped over their chests.  This was allegedly to hide any semblance of their bosoms from the seventh and eighth grade boys.  Our hormones may have been screaming at us, but no one was relating that noise to our nuns.  A white cardboard-like choker collar covered their necks.  A similar piece bridged their forehead with a black veil.  I used to imagine the inflamed circular indent that piece must have carved into their foreheads.  The veil flowed down their back all the way to the ankles.  The shoes, or should I say ‘boots,’ marked with combat scars, were obviously bought from an Army / Navy store.  Finally, wrapped around their waist was a large rosary with a huge wooden cross.  While the nuns used it for prayer and fidgeting, its shaking and rattling was our early warning system for their approach.

Sister Clarice didn’t waddle like the rest of the nuns.  In fact, we suspected she was young.  Her eyes were free of wrinkles.  She was quick to smile . . . even laugh.  One day Michael, (we were all named after saints and archangels), hit her in the back of the veil with a snowball.  Sister Clarice caught the falling veil before we could see whether they all shaved their heads.  Despite Michael’s speed, she ran him down.  Most nuns would have beaten him savagely with a triangle ruler.  Clarice tackled him and washed his face with the cold snow.  We observed her briefly laughing as she got up until she caught the cold stare of the Mother Superior.

“The metal arm is square.”

“The metal arm fits into the projector’s base.”

Sister Clarice had replaced Sister Beatrice, who had taken ill in the middle of the year.  Beatrice had been teaching science at our school for decades.  Unlike Clarice, she was wrinkled, puffy, and perpetually angry.  Beatrice actually taught science to my dad over thirty years earlier.  Dad said she looked the same then.  He claimed one of his friends was acting up in class when Beatrice caught him in the side of the head with a four-inch thick atlas from fifteen feet.  Dad swore her victim collapsed on the floor and Sister Beatrice continued to teach the class . . . occasionally stepping over his remains.

Sister Clarice inherited a controversy in our class.  Piled neatly in the corner were thirty-six brand new textbooks, unperturbed until early Spring.  Unlike public school kids, our parents paid for tuition and books.  They also paid public school taxes.  Sister Beatrice used old dilapidated textbooks which probably had some of Edison’s original lab notes scribbled in the margins.  We thought she forgot about the new books.  Sister Clarice would straighten it out.

“The projector base is square.”

“The projector base is about a foot wide.”

“The projector base is about a foot deep . . .”

It turned out that Clarice also ignored the new books.  Instead, she insisted we observe about a projector!  This was the space age!  America was aiming at the moon while we were recording the details of a piece of classroom furniture.  There was also the ‘fairness’ issue.  We never seemed to outgrow that.  Our parents used their hard-earned money to buy those textbooks.  These nuns were determined to deprive us of them.  They probably were going to resell them and adopt scores of pagan babies with them.  (I myself had saved enough to adopt eight of my own since the second grade.)

It was time to take matters into our own hands.  One evening after an Easter choir practices three of us snuck into the classroom.  Using the boldest blue pens we could find, each book was autographed with the name of one of our thirty-six classmates.  If the nuns tried to sell them, people would know it was a scam.

The next day we sat proudly sat in the long interconnected row of desks.  Sister Clarice was unusually late.  I fingered the empty ink well in the upper right corner of the desk trying to imagine how it had worked and the visions of the pigtails, which my dad claimed were dunked in it.  Suddenly the class door crashed open and the Mother Superior, followed closely by Sister Clarice, swooped in.  Clarice’s face was red and her eyes were puffy.  The Mother Superior glared at us and barked,

“Who were the vandals who desecrated these books?”

I gulped and thought, “How did they even know the books had been autographed?  Did they check their cache each day?”

“Come forward!” she commanded.  “God knows who did it and I soon shall.”

Within an hour the three of us were in the waiting room of the Mother Superior’s office.  She was on the phone with our parents.  God must have told her because none of us had squealed.  Sister Clarice sat beside us and asked, “Why on earth did you do this?”  We told her about the space ships, our parent’s money and pagan baby adoptions.  Clarice rolled her eyes and sighed.  “These were the wrong textbooks.  Sister Beatrice had not been able to get the Book Company to exchange them for the right ones.  All I had to do was pack them up and we would have received the correct textbooks within a week.”

There are times when the pain of embarrassment hurts the most.  Mother Superior added injury to insult by cracking our behinds with a well-worn paddle.  In the old days, parents applied the same punishment when we got home.  Thank God in my household that tradition had died with meatless Fridays.

The book company exchanged the textbooks anyway.  We couldn’t open them until our one hundred and first observation of the overhead projected was recorded.

“It projects the image clearly on the screen in the front of the room.”

I have wondered what ever happened to Mother Superior.  Was she a prison warden somewhere?  What about Clarice?  She was beautiful!  Did she stay with the convent or leave it with the thousands who exited the holy orders in the late sixties and seventies?  And for myself, I eventually dissected frogs and experimented in and outside of science.  A Protestant became my wife.  Balancing the quest for material possessions with the need to help starving ‘pagan’ children is still a challenge.  Ironically, I became involved in the printing industry.  Sister Clarice would have marveled at our ability to develop electronic textbooks and distribute them using satellites . . . even with a color signature.  Still today, I have to catch myself from being distracted while sitting through business presentations as charts and graphs project onto the screen.

“The projector base is square.”

“The projector base is about a foot wide.”

“The projector base is about a foot deep . . .”

The End

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