Thursday, September 13, 2007

Smeary Stinky Purple Ink: If You've Been Teaching For A While, You Know What I'm Talkin' About

How many of you are old enough to remember getting a test or quiz in school that had been run off on a mimeograph machine? Remember the smell? Sometimes, the odor was so strong it made us sick. We used to make jokes about getting high off a quiz that was 'hot off the press.' Remember that purple ink that was never quite dry, and often smeared so badly we couldn't even read the sentence?

"You might have to give your paper a blow, students. Go ahead and blow." Those were the days, all right.

When I first started teaching, back in the seventies, all we had was an old hand-cranked mimeograph machine, and I still have nightmares about trying to type stencils.

Remember those stencils, old readers? They had to be perfectly typed (on a typewriter!) because they couldn't be corrected. I can feel the frustration even yet.

In my second school, we had an ELECTRIC mimeograph machine in the office! I thought I'd died and gone to heaven; it was so FAST. We still had to type those letter-perfect stencils, but really, that mimeograph was so fast, we knew technology could never improve on it.

In my third school, I was responsible for making a series of worksheets for part of a grammar lab the freshman teachers were making as a team. I had my worksheets neatly typed and ready to be copied onto stencils, by which I mean, RE-typing each of them, flawlessly, on those smeary, inky stencils.

One of my co-teachers said, "Why don't you just run your master copies through the Thermofax machine?" I had never heard of such a thing. I didn't know what it was.

She took me down to the office and showed me this new miracle. I just placed my master copy between the stencil-makin' layers and slid it through the Thermofax machine and VOILA! A perfect stencil! We then clipped this stencil to the Mimeograph and ran it off as usual. Smeary stinky purple ink permeated our existence.
This is a Thermofax stencil. Put your master copy between the purple inky back and the brown tissue, then pull out the tissue. Slide the white-covered stencil into the Thermofax's horizontal slot and let it be pulled inside. Inside the machine, the letters will be burned onto the back of the white cover sheet, in purple ink, turning it into a stencil.

You would then put the stencil in the Mimeograph machine and hope it didn't wrinkle as the drum turned, because that would mean you had to start all over again.

The Thermofax machine was all we could have asked of technology. Nothing could have beaten it.

Then, the principal showed us a HUGE brand-new machine in his office: it would allow him to simply place his master copy under the lid and press a button. The ink was black, and the paper was thick and shiny, but it wasn't smeary and it would reproduce pictures as well as text. We weren't allowed to use it except in VERY special circumstances.

Now, when I need to do some dupin', as LL Cool J refers to it in Toys, I just put the master copy on the glass, close the lid, push a few buttons, and out comes perfectly printed, professional-looking copies, sorted, stapled, and FAST.

Younger people take the Xerox machines for granted. Older people remember when monks took many years to hand-script tests and quizzes in beautiful illustrated calligraphy students and teachers alike all went home with purple ink smeared all over their fingers and clothing.

On the bright side, we knew who the nose-pickers were.

Posted by Mamacita (The REAL one) @ 9:08 PM | |


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