Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mr. Long Island's humor column: Procrastination 101

BY MICHAEL WATT Ask Mr. Long Island

Is it possible for a plastic comb and a sheet of wax paper to change the course of one’s life?

It’s hard to fathom and somewhat humbling to admit this but as far as my life is concerned I believe the answer is yes. When I was in the third grade at St. Willy’s in Seaford each member of Sr. Cornelius’s class had to build a musical instrument as a project. I hated those class projects because I knew they would not go over too big at home. Let’s put it this way: if I was in third grade that meant my brother Dan was in fifth, Ed was in seventh, Ray was in first and my sister Joanie was in kindergarten. Jim and Peg were in high school. Joseph was a toddler and Mary Ann was maybe a year old and in diapers. (It would be a couple of years before Katie, Jon, Jeanne and Ann would make the scene). Get the picture? The last thing my mother wanted or needed to get involved with was school projects. So getting it done was up to me.

For whatever reason I put it off. And off. And off…until I found myself with the “it’s Monday morning and my project’s due” sweats. I did not know what to do but I did know enough not to tell my mother – doing so would have meant a fate far worse than anything this side of those old “Why kill yourself because you missed the last issue of Mad Magazine” subscription ads.” I shared my dilemma with brother, Jim. Being older and wiser and a high school sophomore he knew exactly what to do. “Not to worry,” he said, and with that he reached into a kitchen cabinet and pulled out a sheet of wax paper. Next, he took the plastic comb from his back pocket (what ever happened to carrying around a comb in your back pocket, anyway?), folded the wax paper over the comb, pressed it to his lips and hummed. Voila! My very own kazoo -- instant musical instrument.

Greatly relieved and rather excited I ran off to the school bus and entertained the masses for the mile-and-a-half ride to school. “Wow,” I thought. I am really on to something here. Sure enough, my homemade kazoo was the hit of the class, bigger even than John Hammer’s cigar-box-and-rubber-band guitar (what an amateur!) and Chris Eaton’s matchbox replica of Ben Franklin’s armonica, built to scale and complete with miniaturized spinning glasses and a brass crank (how crass). I played louder than everyone else, no doubt, and got an ‘A’ for my efforts, or lack thereof.

If the world were right and fair and just the teacher would have seen through my ruse and I would have gotten an ‘F’ for the project and learned my lesson accordingly. But no. I had tasted the sweet nectar of dodging a bullet and I was hooked. I was doomed to a lifetime of writing book reports based on the book jacket on the morning they were due while riding the bus to school and to improvising essays comparing and contrasting the ancient religions of Mesopotamia. Shovel please! (yes, I know – 30 years later and I am still stealing lines from Robert Klein). But she didn’t. Sr. Cornelius was just this side of insane and a few beads short of a Rosary, with all due respect, so I picked up a very bad habit at a very young age.

Now, there is no guarantee that if the teacher had seen through my indolence I would have spent the next 30 years of my life putting re-enforcements on my loose leaf (last Klein line, I promise). But you have to wonder sometimes. At least I do. How would my life have changed if I had not pulled off the Kazoo Caper? Who knows.

It does amaze me how one seemingly unpleasant task becomes so much more attractive when compared to another. My roommate in college said he could always tell when I had a paper due or a test coming up because that was the only time he ever saw me clean my room. Ah, college. It was so much easier to procrastinate in college as even the worst case of procrastination could be cured with a pot of coffee and an all-nighter. I think some schools nowadays expect it of you and build it into the program by prohibiting the professors from assigning anything to be due the last week of class. The next thing you know procrastination will be part of the curriculum. Now THERE’s a course I could teach: “Class, today we will discuss the merits of Starbucks versus Red Bull for that all night rush. And don’t forget your term paper: Fifteen pages on the theme, “Why take your time and do it now when you can rush through it 24 hours before it is due.” Now those topics are kazoo music to my ears.

Thank you for reading this column. [2005-10-13]

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