Battlepanda: The Scratch Machine


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The Scratch Machine

(This is an excerpt from The Scratch Papers, my fifth-grade reading workbook, now out of print. A bit of navel-gazing follows.)

None of the other kids liked Wilbur, because he always won the spelling contest on Friday afternoons. Since he didn't have anybody to play with, he took long walks by himself.

One cold Friday afternoon, just for an adventure, Wilbur crawled through a hole in an old fence. Inside the fence were tall weeds. And on the other side of the weeds was a window from which an awful racket was coming.

When Wilbur peeked in, he saw a crazy professor. Wilbur could tell because the man looked like all the crazy professors on television. He was cranking away at a large machine that looked something like a big orange pumpkin. Standing beside the professor was a very handsome fellow with a lot of muscles.

"Blast and drat!" Wilbur heard the professor say. "I need to tighten that one little bolt down there, and both of us are too big to get at it."

Wilbur saw a chance to be helpful; so he tapped on the window. The men looked up. The handsome guy came over and opened the window and lifted Wilbur in. "Hi," Wilbur told them. "Can I help you?"

"Possibly," the crazy professor said. "My name is Scratch. This is my friend, Howling Jack Wolfbane."

"Why is his first name Howling?" Wilbur asked.

"More about that later," Howling Jack said vaguely. He pointed. "Can you crawl under there and tighten that bolt for us?"

Wilbur looked. There was just enough space under the big pumpkin for a kid. "Sure," he said, and once he was given a wrench, he did.

"Thanks for fixing my time machine," Professor Scratch said. "Get in, and I'll take you for a ride."

"It's very nice of you to invite me," Wilbur said, "But I have to be home in time for dinner."

"You will," Howling Jack said. "We always come back to exactly the same time and place we left."

So all three got into the time machine. You'll soon find out what happened next.
Reading over this now, 25 years later, it's obvious to me why I was so enamored of this book. I strongly identified with Wilbur, because I was the kid that always won the spelling contest, and I often took long walks by myself because I had no one to play with.

I doubt that my academic talents had anything to do with my childhood social problems. I usually played by myself because I was bad at the sort of games that other boys liked to play, viz. kickball and other sports. I wasn't the kid who was always picked last -- that was Bill, the fat kid -- but I was always picked second-to-last.

So I often played by myself, off in an imaginary world I constructed from various cartoons and science fiction TV shows. When I did play with other kids, it was usually with the girls. That was okay with me, because they played the sort of games of imagination that I did (although without the science fiction trappings). And besides, I always liked girls. But more on that next time, when we meet Wilbur's crush, Little Darla Wentworth.