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Quiet desperation

Finding the point can be more complicated than it needs to be


"Have you ever heard of Rube Goldberg?" Jennifer said.

"Of course."

"Design one yourself. It might turn into a good column."

Goldberg (1882-1970) was known for depicting complicated gadgets that are sequenced to complete a very simple task.

They were the opposite of efficiency. I think we all have encountered the opposite of efficiency.

Variations of Goldberg's ingenious designs have appeared in a number of films. I recommend "The Way Things Go," but you will also find Goldberg variations in "Back to the Future" and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure,"

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a famous course, Design and Manufacturing, that requires students to create a robot that will complete a relatively simple task with disproportionate ingenuity.

Ultimately there is a competition, "an Olympics of engineering," in front of a cheering crowd.

I told Jennifer that I already had a good idea for a column.

"How to brighten up your spring patio with new and colorful furniture."

She pretended to yawn.

I sat down to work on the crossword puzzle with my favorite No. 2 pencil.

"One across," I said, "I know that one," and I was about to fill in the letters, when the point of my pencil broke.

I looked at Jennifer and Jennifer looked at me.

"How are you going to sharpen your pencil?" she said.

"OK, OK," I said.

I thought about how I could sharpen the pencil and make an adventure out of it.

How do we sharpen pencils?

When I was just a grade-school boy, I pointed pencils in manual sharpeners. The sharpeners were usually black, and stuck to a wall.

You can still find them.

When I was a college student, one of my drawing professors expected us to whittle our points, and then refine them on little wooden paddles that had small strips of sandpaper stapled to them.

He thought the pencil sharpeners were far too aggressive, and that too much pencil was wasted.

When I taught drawing, I had four electric pencil sharpeners stationed around the room. If it were not for the electric sharpeners, too much class time would have been spent pointing pencils.

We rely on convenience, unless we're cast away on an island like Tom Hanks.

I did think about the little sandpaper paddles, however. Could I make my own sanding surface and sharpen a pencil that way - if I were stranded somewhere?

I determined that I could. But I would need to have access to sand or grit and some glue.

Any island that calls itself an island has sand.

But I don't know what I would do about the glue.

I was never a Boy Scout. I have no survival skills. I have a refrigerator.

However, I know that some glues are nature-based, and that sap is very sticky.

I also know that starch is used in some adhesives, for corrugated board and wallpaper.

My island might have a potato tree.

Or I could loan the pencil to a gerbil. They gnaw, you know.

Ultimately, I gave up on it, walked to the studio, and let my electric Panasonic take care of it.

I sat down with my yellow, No. 2 pencil and looked at one across again.

Seven-letter word. Clue: "Follow a winding road."


Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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