Dispatches | March 04, 2004

[By Anthony Varallo]

The books in my grade school library were so few, so dated, and so hopelessly awful, that it seemed impossible not to make fun of them. In fact, I remember their titles more than most of what I learned in school. It wasn’t my fault, really. Library hours, assigned once or twice a week, were a waste of time. For starters, we did our homework at home. Second, the rule against talking made everything that wasn’t normally funny—like rubbing up a really good static shock, then delivering it to someone’s ear—incredibly hilarious. Worse, our school library was barely larger than a classroom, with four or five “study tables,” a few shelves of crusty books, and a large window that looked out onto our new baseball diamond, still under construction. The baseball diamond was always still under construction. Seeing it, muddy and bulldozed, was like looking into the cage of a never-arrived panda.

Then, the books. Where did they come from? What led the library to purchase a book called Your Skin Holds You In, whose title alone could break us up into (silent) fits of laughter? Why a book called Disaster! whose cover showed the Hindenburg exploding into a cheery fireball? What was the lesson it held? A series of Time-Life books—or was it some Time-Life knock-off?—contained one book called Batteries CAN Explode.

My personal favorite was a book called Ready? Let’s Wrestle! because it proved beyond all reasonable doubt that anything involving the words Ready? Let’s Wrestle! is funny. Always. Example: a studious-type student is seated at study table #3 doing math homework, chewing a pencil, when you sit across from him with a copy of—what else?—and flip its pages, thoughtfully, holding the cover high, with a look of true concentration, almost awe, until the study-student looks up, sending the friend next to you into a silent convulsion. Better: take Ready? Let’s Wrestle! to the checkout counter and ask the librarian if this guy’s written anything else, because, frankly, you’re a fan. Even better: slip it into someone’s bookbag, for bus-ride laughs.

Our poor librarian. Early in our school careers she made a pretense of reading aloud to us from young adult books, but after all of our barely suppressed hysteria at words like “rubbers” finally left us to our own devices. Dumb us. Dumb me. I might have learned something from those books, from my classes, from my notes, if only I weren’t so busy anticipating the next time someone might ask, “Ready?” so that I might answer with the words that would bring us both to tears. What did I learn in grade school?

The Battle of Gettysburg lasted from July 1 to July 3, 1863.

JFK defeated Richard Nixon in part because he looked tan during televised debates.

Batteries can explode.