The 4th Pip: The Whips* — Part IV
Freshman orientation, falling in love at the post office, perfect 500s on the SATs, the #2 Ticonderoga, and a trio struggles to settle on a name. ❤️
Storming, Norming & Forming
“One interesting thing about you, then a treasured possession, then your spirit animal.”
The Residential Advisor for the incoming Freshmen was holding a get to know your fellow students. “Storm ‘em, norm em, and form ‘em,” he joked. “We’ll go counter-clockwise. How about you start us off, David?”
David began. “When my mother was in high school, she went to the post office after school every day to tap dance.
“She brought her tap dancing shoes, a box of dancer's rosin for a smoother glide, and a straw broom to clean up after herself. She arrived at exactly 4:35.”
The first time the postmaster heard her dancing in front of her postbox, he came out and watched her in her rosin circle. I’m not a fan, he said, but he supposed she had a constitutional right to dance if she swept up after herself and was out before 5:00pm. I’m a stickler for the Constitution he said. Out by 5:00. No exceptions.
“Polished cement government floors are the ideal dancing surface,” interjected the girl that had been sitting to David’s right. She had oversized red knees and long legs that stuck straight up like a grasshopper. “Also, it was postbox #122. They’ll need to know that later.” Clearly, these two knew each other. And, hi-ho silver, she had a deep voice.
Someone chuckled, felt terrible about it, and the entire group fell awkwardly silent. Grasshopper legs completely ignored it, and her legs toppled in slow motion towards the neighbor on her right like collapsable tent poles. The boy had to clear out sideways like a small crab.
“Storming!” cried the R.A. before regretting it, but they’d barely given him any training other than the three questions, a spot to assemble on the quad lawn, and a warning to not run over into Registration.
“Then every day at 4:55 sharp my mom tucked her rosin box back into her postbox, swept up, and tapped her rosin into the paper wastebasket below the MOST WANTED signs.”
A Handsome, But Nosy Boy
“Then it all fell apart. A boy from school started to show up precisely at 4:42. At first he watched her through the window of the post office doorway, but then he sat down on the wooden slat chair below the MOST WANTED signs.
He was very handsome, but nosy.
He had a constitutional right to sit there, said the postman, but the boy’s staring left David’s mom with only had 4 minutes a day to practice without feeling self-conscious. Her embarrassment grew particularly strong when she practiced her hunched run in place windmill arms tap dance move.
“Can you please not watch me?” she said without looking at him. She had over-rosined the floor and was getting up from the ground. “Do your own dancing, why don’t you?”
“The next day the very handsome, but nosy student showed up with a small cigar box and sprinkled something in front of his own family postbox just down the wall in the low #200s. Then the boy started tap dancing.”
“You left out that he didn’t bring his own broom,” said the collapsed tent, who lifted up her red knees and leaned back on her arms like a suspension bridge. Her arms were so long, that her suspension towers were symmetrical.
David continued. “Well, it turned out that the very handsome, but extremely nosy boy was dancing on sand and kicking it everywhere, and now she had to sweep his sand up, too, and finish three to five minutes earlier to deal with his mess. It was outrageous. He was going to get them both kicked out.
“You're going to get me in trouble with the postmaster, Constitution or no Constitution.”
“It was Rosin versus Sand for weeks, and whenever the, come to think of it, very, very handsome, but nosy boy tap-drifted too close to #122, she would shoo him from her rosin circle with her broom.”
David demonstrated this like he was dribbling a hockey puck and taking a slap shot. “Eventually, though, she lost control of her emotions and pushed the, okay just say it, extremely handsome boy out with her broom on his backside, and he hopped up in the air like an Irish tap dancer.”
“She made the life-changing mistake of laughing,” interrupted the suspension bridge, but wistfully.
The suspension bridge said this with far more romance than anyone thought would come out of a woman with such a deep voice. “In the end, they couldn’t stop dancing on time and the postmaster had to unlock the front door to let them out.”
“Norming” sighed the RA, but now he was referring to David's mother and the very, very handsome boy.
Love & The Constitution
“He knew she’d fallen in love the day she forgot to bring her rosin, and he swept some of his sand over towards #122. He used his foot,” said the suspension bridge who had turned back into a grasshopper. The girl simply couldn’t keep still.
“We need to let a few others share as well,” said the residential advisor who’d raised his hand to be called on. “Registration is going to open shortly.”
David ignored him. “You know the two of us can never be together. It’s still 1957, my mother said.”
Suddenly, David started choking up.
“Can you tell the rest?” David asked the grasshopper. She nodded.
“It did not require a Kodakcolor picture of the two of them to understand the problem,” she whispered significantly in her deep voice.
Heads started to lift and mouths opened with understanding, and a flash of fury bordering on a civil right movement expressed itself in outraged grunts. It was 1983, everyone’s first day of college, and they’d come locked and loaded for exactly this.
David interrupted the telling of his own story and possibly wiped the corner of his eye.
“My dad laughed off the 1957 Constitution. You know we can be together. It’s 5:18 and my curfew doesn’t end for another two hours and forty-two minutes.”
The Midnight Train
“A trimester later, his mom took the midnight train out of Los Angeles headed for New Mexico, and nine months to the minute of the boy’s curfew, David was born in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.”
The Freshmen were so locked in now, they forgot the possessions and animals they’d been anxiously preparing for their own turns. College was everything they’d hoped.
“Before saying goodbye forever, my mom stuck an envelope into postbox #221. She bought him a $2 stamp of a migratory bird and tucked it inside the envelope itself.
“This is not a stamp. It is art, and it is forever. I am like the migratory blue-winged teal. Someday, I will fly back to you, and you’d better still have it. Also, I left my broom for you under the MOST WANTED sign. You need to start using it, Mr. Sandman.” She sprinkled rosin in the envelope. The postman unlocked the door to let her out.
“So then, those are David’s answers: his interesting thing, a treasured possession that he has no idea where it is located, and the migratory blue-winged teal. Can I say one more tiny thing for him?”
“No,” said all of the other Freshmen in the circle. If they didn’t get cracking through some more stories, they were all going to be late for registration.
“And Voila! Forming!” cried out the R.A. He was a psychology major.
“Once again: one interesting thing, then a treasured possession, then your animal.”
As counter-clockwise would have it, the suspension bridge was next. Her name turned out to be Carolyn.
Before moving to Truth or Consequences in her teens and becoming fast friends with David, she lived in Jersey City, New Jersey where her father invented the Ticonderoga Yellow #2 pencil.
Her dad was as determined an inventor as Thomas Edison of Menlo Park. He’d wracked his brains for months trying to figure out how to attach an eraser onto the end of a pencil. Then one evening at the kitchen table while chewing his way through the end of a #1 in frustration, he solved it.
A jagged ferule could encircle the shaft, and ‘bite’ into it with metal fasteners just like his teeth marks.
A lightbulb went off! The ferule! He felt very close to Edison and New Jersey’s proud history.
Nobody in the circle knew what a ferule was.
“A ferule is the cylindrical metal band that houses the vulcanized rubber,” she explained. “On the #2 Ticonderoga pencil the ferule is green with a yellow band.”
A Cease and Desist Letter
But that wasn't her interesting thing. That was the interesting thing that made her actual interesting thing possible.
The interesting thing was that the first time Carolyn took the SAT’s, she scored 800 on both her math and verbal. She finished up three hours on the nose. She used every second to check her answers.
Not satisfied with her 800s, she took the test four more times improving her average score to exactly 800, but each time finishing in less time. Reaching one hour and forty-five minutes was a huge personal victory, and she received a hand-written note from the Educational Testing Services of Princeton, New Jersey congratulating her on her exceptional, if highly unusual, track record.
“Dear 1600, we wished we had a new, higher number for you, but we’d like to assure you that you do not need to continue to take the test. Please send us your picture so we can put it in the lobby.”
Thrilled with their response, she took the test five more times, but each time going in the opposite direction, scoring perfect 200s.
This was much harder to do than it sounds, and the stakes are enormous. You can’t lose your concentration for a second and accidentally answer something correctly.
Her #2’s ferule and vulcanized rubber got a workout. It was neck-and-neck filling in bubbles and erasing correct answers, a pencil-chewing race right down to the ferule metal.
Then, after receiving her fifth and final set of 200s, the Educational Testing Service’s Legal Department sent her a cease and desist letter, threatening to take down her picture and send the average of her scores to her colleges.
She was over the moon.
She told David no one had ever scored perfect 500s. She sent the Educational Testing Service a second photograph. This one had her scowling. “Also for the lobby,” she wrote.
She was odd, to put it generously.
“Two 500s are almost impossible, David. You’d have to be perfectly average.” Average was conceptually impossible to Carolyn.
“No, it isn’t,” said David. “It more likely than any other outcome.” He was better at math than she was.
She framed her ten pencils with a background matte of bubble testing forms and the cease and desist letter taped to the back. The pencils were left unsharpened exactly as they were on Saturday Morning Testing Days. And so, to answer your second question, my pencils are my #1 favorite thing,” she concluded.
Carolyn’s Book of Moves, Volume #1
But really, to understand Carolyn and her connection to the family’s invention, you needed to know that really #2 was where she hid her favorite thing.
Apart from David she did not share her #2 favorite thing with anyone. Her #2 favorite thing was a book she’d written and illustrated herself. It was called Carolyn’s Book of Moves, Volume 1.
“And stork,” she concluded, fell onto her back dramatically, and collapsed her tent poles flat on the ground.
There was only time for one other student.
It was the student to her right who’d been helplessly steering and shifting away her from her knees for some time now like a featherweight boxer.
“You wrote your name tag in very small letters,” said the R.A. I’m sorry I can’t make it out, but will you say your name and then go next?”
“I shall,” he responded somewhat formally. Then he stood up and shook out his numb legs. His confidence seemed to grow as he pulled himself up to his full height of 5’4”.
“My name is Red. I am the 4th Pip. I own Merald “Bubba” Knight’s diamond encrusted walking cane.”
Then he leaned forward as if he was speaking into an imaginary microphone.
“And I am a lion.”
That was unexpected.
And without warning, he did an imaginary mic kick-down #8, toe bounce leverage pop, mic snap back, snap mic pass left, snap mic pass right, eyes stage right #2b, dead head down, and Elvis freeze.
In a dorm room that evening, after a series of votes that ran well past midnight and culminated in 2 1/2 to 1/2 vote, the three of them called themselves the Whips*.
There is no need to go into either the etymology or the asterisk.
Feel something. Twice a week.