I’m a tough broad but… even now, as an experienced teacher… there are two tools I seriously hate: the industrial paper cutter and the industrial electric stapler.
Both can cause a chill of terror in even the most seasoned educator’s soul and we have, in our profession, become accustom to wearing our battle scars from each of these work weapons, as a right of passage: If you haven’t lost a thumb or almost lost a thumb in a paper cutter or a stapler accident… then you basically don’t know jack shit about teaching.
Now as a “scrub” in the first few years of my career, I had almost lost my thumb several times:
Of course… the paper cutter incident…
The X-acto knife fiasco…
The uncovered razor on the helium balloon tank episode.
Yeah… those were good times.
But they gave me a sort of notoriety… an O.G. quality with the more experienced teachers.
It was as if I had been jumped into a gang very early on…
You see that teacher over there?
They seemed to whisper in the staff lounge.
That’s Wood. She’s already lost that thumb almost three times. She’s got what it takes.
It was hard not to cross my arms, throw up my fingers and sign an M and a W for Ms. Wood, tip my chin up in a “What’s up?” manner and swagger my way out the door.
I had proven I was tough.
Now, it was an unwritten code that even if you were deathly afraid of the cutter or the stapler… you acted “cool” about it… yes “cool” if you had an incident.
That even when you told the story as a cautionary tale, or a fun anecdote over a tuna sandwich in the staff lounge, you made yourself look like you knew what you were doing all along.. that it was some simple malfunction or someone else’s fuck up that caused you to be maimed: You never let on that you lost your shit:
You locked that shit down.
Because it was very important to convey your mysterious authoritative exterior to the younger, newer baby teachers so that they would always be in awe of you and therefore, your little minions for years to come.
And so the years passed… many other incidents followed… until my reputation grew into one of legendary proportions and even the newest baby teachers would whisper:
See that teacher over there? That’s Wood. I heard she almost lost a whole hand in a paper cutter. Oh… and chased down and captured those two armed robbers who ripped off the credit union, by cornering them in the alley with her mini-van. I wouldn’t even try to talk to her until you have like five years under your belt.
It was beautiful until the industrial stapler incident: the day I almost lost my solid reputation as a bad-ass forever.
I was feeling good that day.
The state had given us money for a workroom and we had converted a bungalow into a staff area with the best of the new teacher technology:
The poster size paper cutter that dwarfed our standard sized one: where a thumb, index, and middle finger had all been hacked off simultaneously in a violent lunch time assault.
The laminating machine: a third degree burn always waiting to happen.
The 3635MPX Xerox machine… Oh yeah… class sets of collated documents in a matter of seconds but don’t catch your tie in that feed.
And of course: the new electric industrial strength stapler, with the heavy duty Stanley staples thick one-inch length, that could handle a 200-page packet and drive that staple in so hard it would never come out.
So I rolled on into the new workroom, to pick-up my class set of reading packets that Judy Hogan, our supply purchaser, had kindly xeroxed for me and at the break table, I saw two brand-new student teachers sitting there meekly eating their lunch and I wondered what the hell they were doing.
“Too scared to brave the staff lounge,” Judy whispered as she handed me my packets. “I took pity on them.”
I shook my head in disgust.
“These still need to be stapled,” she said before getting back to her own paperwork.
I carried the stack over to the counter and began to run the packets through the industrial stapler.
I fell into a steady rhythm: the electric staple hitting a hard THWACK each time a packet was completed.
I was moving fast… really flying.
The beat was so steady and so quick that I was actually singing “Baby Love” by the Supremes.
I was just about on my last packet, totally in the zone, happy that I would still have time for lunch, when I heard a, “What the heck is she singing” from one of the newbies at the table behind me.
I turned around to give her a snarky lecture on her lack of musical knowledge and what songs work best to keep a beat with the xerox machine and the electric stapler, so that you don’t lose your mind in monotony, when… there was a loud sickening SMACK, the stapler jammed, and my body was rocked by an excruciating pain.
Judy stopped, startled, and looked towards me.
“Oh my God,” I heard her whisper.
I was afraid to turn around.
I looked back slowly to find that I had just stapled my thumb all the way through the nail, out the other side, and that the staple: the thick one-inch industrial staple, had folded neatly on the fleshy side of my thumb and stapled it clean.
I held it up and stared at it in horror as the intense pain registered throughout my entire body.
“MOTHER FUCKER!” I screamed.
The newbies were beyond alarmed… terrified to move… they stared at me in horror.
MOTHER FUCKING SHIT! I screamed again.
Judy’s eyes grew large. She looked at the newbies: One now with her head folded down into her hands… her soup and crustless peanut butter sandwich left bare to the world. The other… her hands over her ears, her eyes focused on Judy, begging her silently to, Make that woman stop! As she winced at my use of profanity.
This infuriated me.
“FUCK!” I screamed right in her face, “FUCK!” I shrieked as I ran about the room.
Judy ran to her desk, always ready for a workroom emergency, and grabbed something from her drawer.
I stopped, looked at her with suspicion, and like a rabid animal, began to back into the corner.
“D.D.” she whispered. “Give me your hand.”
“BACK THE FUCK AWAY JUDY!” I snarled and hissed.
“D.D.” she whispered again as she crept quietly towards me. “Give me your God damn hand now.”
“No!” I shouted.
I heard one of the newbies whine.
“Shut the fuck up!” I screeched.
Judy’s mouth made a small shocked “Oooooh.”
I was breaking the cardinal rule of teaching: DON’T LOSE YOUR SHIT IN FRONT OF THE NEWBIES.
I looked at my thumb again.
I thought I was gonna be sick.
I felt the room swimming and my thumb throbbing.
“D.D.” she said sternly. “Now.”‘
I moaned as I laid my hand gingerly in Judy’s palm.
“This is gonna hurt,” she said as she held up a pair of pliers, and snatched my wrist tightly as she pried the ends of the staple to a straight up position before I had time to react.
My eyes welled up in tears.
“Judas!” I cried and then the pain registered and I howled loudly.
“Knock it off,” she said before putting the pliers back in her drawer.
I calmed down for a moment… gathered myself together… and looked at the staple with interest:
It now looked like my thumb had fangs.
I looked up again and saw Judy with a black staple remover in her hand.
She was chomping it at me… trying to be funny… like a mom trying to coerce her kid into trusting a doctor with a needle: It didn’t work.
NO! I shrieked again. “No JUDY! NO!”
I ran across the room, Judy laughing now, chasing me about with the staple remover clicking until she grew tired of the game and stopped.
“God damn it D.D.” she shouted. “Get it over with. Pull that fucker out.”
I gave her a dirty look, grabbed the staple remover from her hand, and dug it into the top of my nail fast, pushed it down, and pulled that staple out with a hard tug.
The pain was right up there with childbirth and divorce: physically excruciating while emotionally… I was ready to kill someone.
I screamed again: a guttural scream of anger, as I threw the staple remover and the offending staple hard against the counter, before picking up the electric industrial stapler, ripping it’s cord from the wall, and chucking it as hard as I could against the large purple recycling bin.
We all looked at it: lying on the ground broken and mute.
“Fucker,” I said to my electronic enemy. The newbies gasped behind me.
Judy and I both turned around and as I came to my senses, I realized I had just lost my cool points in front of these teaching neophytes.
I felt like a failure.
I felt like my O.G. status was about to be removed in a unanimous vote in the staff lounge later that afternoon.
But right them, Mr. Ferguson, my own junior high school teacher, now over forty years of experience in the business, walked into the room, saw all of us locked in pose, immediately assessed the situation after a glimpse of my bloody stump of a thumb, the expressions on the babies faces and the stapler lying broken on the floor.
“Jesus!” He screeched. He pointed at my thumb. “Is that from the stapler?”
“Yeah,” I said quietly.
“I knew something was wrong with that thing the other day. I knew it wasn’t working right.”
I looked at him in pleased shock. Even in my pain it was hard not to smile at his gift of camaraderie.
“Man,” He shook his head. “That must of hurt like hell. I wouldn’t have been able to lock that shit down. No way.”
He gave me a head nod of respect before turning to the newbies and saying, “You best not use that stapler. If that took Ms. Wood down, you’d never be able to handle the pain. That woman is tough.”
Judy put the tools back in her drawer and slammed it shut, went back to her paperwork and went back to ignoring the newbies.
Mr. Ferguson went about making his math packets for his Algebra class…
and I gave the student teachers a look like, That’s right… even Mr. F with forty-years in the system would have lost it to” before I grabbed my packets, in one arm, bloody stump of a thumb raised up in the air, and kicked the door open with my foot, reputation, Thank God, still intact.
Not so much.