The Keisling ClockFebruary 21st, 2009 at 22:37
In Junior High and High School English classes I was introduced to the work of Ray Bradbury, including his magical summer experience of “Dandelion Wine”. But when I participated in a multiple reading of “The Innocents” as part of a High School district forensic competition, our well received reading was upstaged by a very provocative well wrought reading of Ray Bradbury’s quietly apocalyptic “2026: There Will Come Soft Rains”, about what we would now call “smart house”, which was going through the motions of its daily automated routine even though ironically all the humans were gone due to some sort of unnamed cataclysm.
High school English also exposed me to the dystopian novels “1984” and “Brave New World” and their rail against totalitarian liberty-free future societies. Though at much lower levels of magnitude, I was beginning to feel that sense of externally programmed life as I would often sleep-walk through my high school class day, particularly through some of my classes where it seemed we talked about the same boring thing every day. The pinnacle of this zombie thrall was my 11th grade chemistry class taught by Mr. Keisling. He was a tired old man with a slow deadpan delivery trying to teach us the periodic chart of elements in the most uninvolving, uninteresting instructional way, employing the strategy of repetition to burn the key chemical properties implied in the chart’s columns into our young brains, given that 90 percent did not give a flying fuck about it. A recipe for some dark humor perhaps?
In one of my more irreverent moods, and possibly to satisfy a composition assignment in one of my 11th grade English classes, that chemistry class inspired me to write a short-story piece called “The Keisling Clock”. My story chronicled me the student walking into my chemistry class, sitting down and preparing to witness the teacher, Mr. Keisling’s lecture on the periodic table of elements. I portrayed Keisling as the humanlike prop of a mechanized clock, like those complex animated clocks on the sides of pastoral Bavarian buildings.
He would move into class along his guide rail, spin to briefly acknowledge the students and chide them to quiet down, turn 180 degrees to face the blackboard and proceed to reproduce key aspects of the periodic chart on the blackboard while verbally emanating his inane deadpan patter. I went into great detail of the mechanisms of gears and rails that guided and circumcised his every action, with the implication that we the audience for this clock chiming the hour saw the same show every day.
My story’s final ironic kicker was that, as class ended, I revealed that I was also a mechanism attached to my rail with my gears causing me to rise, rotate and glide out of Keisling’s clock/class to my next period’s venue for what was now a much larger “clock”. Yeah a teenager’s heavy handed literary ironic sledge hammer perhaps, but at the time I thought I was very cleaver, and I probably got a good grade from my English teacher on the piece.
That was high school for me. Moments of profoundly provocative discovery, shear anarchic joy, blithe lemming-like ritualism, and mind-numbing déjà vu. The later two planted seeds in me that would not come to fruition until almost forty years later my son began to bear witness to his “boring and pointless” middle school experience