Write About a Desk and/or a Job



In my elementary school our desks came with built-in chairs and a top that opened like a car hood. Inside the compartment - shaped like a swimming pool - we stored our textbooks and binders and pencils, our erasers, white reinforcing rings, rulers, compasses and the plastic cases our parents bought us at the beginning of each school year.

Gradually, over the weeks and months of, say, a fifth grade, our plastic cases deteriorated with fingerprints, ball point pen ink, pencil shavings, dirt, grime and crumbs of peanut butter sandwiches. The insides of our desks became that way too. The desk compartment lost the promise of the first few weeks of school, when our binders were clean and an astronaut on the cover of a social studies text suggested the book might actually be interesting.

After a few weeks, by say, early October, after we'd opened the lids of our desks hundreds of times, like service-station attendants checking oil, fatigue began to set in. The fatigue became conscious the moment we started to count the days until Christmas vacation. Then, one began to count the days unit summer vacation. This mental exercise made it hard to hear what the teacher was saying. One could miss whole sections of California history; as the teacher recounted how the Padres of Mission San Louis Obisbo taught the local Indians how to saw lumber, you were trying to calculate the days in March less weekends. When the teacher suddenly asked what year gold was discovered at Sutter's Fort, you had nothing to offer but embarassment.

This is probably what caused Greg Abbot to eat pencils. In Mr. Brock's fifth grade class, Greg Abbot's pencil eating was as remarkable as Ken Smith's perfect test scores. And Greg did eat the pencils, there was no doubt about that. He bit off big sections of brand new yellow HB American Standard pencils and started chewing, taking great delight as the girls stared at him, appalled, and cried, "You're sick!" Our teacher Mr. Brock knew Greg ate pencils but didn't do anything about it. Nor did Greg's pencil eating change the classroom. From day to day, we still had to open our desks the same amount of times. But we wondered what would happen to Greg, eating all those pencils.

Bill Scheffel


—From “A Squeeze of the Hand," Chapter 94 of Moby Dick

It had cooled and crystallized to such a degree, that when, with several others, I sat down before a large Constantine’s bath of it, I found it strangely concreted into lumps, here and there rolling about in the liquid part. It was our business to squeeze these lumps back into fluid. A sweet and unctuous duty! No wonder that in old times this sperm was such a favorite cosmetic. Such a clearer! such a sweetener! such a softener! such a delicious mollifier! After having my hands in it for only a few minutes, my fingers felt like eels, and began, as it were, to serpentine and spiralize.

As I sat there at my ease, cross-legged on the deck; after the bitter exertion at the windlass; under a blue tranquil sky; the ship under indolent sail, and gliding so serenely along; as I bathed my hands among those soft, gentle globules of infiltrated tissues, woven almost within the hour; as they richly broke to my fingers, and discharged all their opulence, like fully ripe grapes their wine; as I snuffed up that uncontaminated aroma,—literally and truly, like the smell of spring violets; I declare to you, that for the time I lived as in a musky meadow; I forgot all about our horrible oath; in that inexpressible sperm, I washed my hands and my heart of it; I almost began to credit the old Paracelsan superstition that sperm is of rare virtue in allaying the heat of anger: while bathing in that bath, I felt divinely free from all ill-will, or petulance, or malice, of any sort whatsoever.

Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed that sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers’ hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this avocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking up into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say,—Oh! my dear fellow beings, why should we longer cherish any social acerbities, or know the slightest ill-humor or envy! Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay, let us all squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.

Would that I could keep squeezing that sperm for ever! For now, since by many prolonged, repeated experiences, I have perceived that in all cases man must eventually lower, or at least shift, his conceit of attainable felicity; not placing it anywhere in the intellect or the fancy; but in the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country; now that I have perceived all this, I am ready to squeeze case eternally. In visions of the night, I saw long rows of angels in paradise, each with his hands in a jar of spermaceti.


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Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. ‘Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.