Editor's Note: The following column was originally published in 2007.
When my son was in grade school, his favorite homework assignment was the research paper, because he enjoyed really digging into a subject and making things up about it.
Recently, I was searching for some vital documents that I knew I had carefully filed away under the heading "Important Stuff." Unfortunately, that's where I file everything, including old grocery lists (well, groceries are certainly important, aren't they?), so I was forced to sift through a lot of papers. Somewhere in the pile, I came across my son's report on France, titled:
A Written Research Report on Some of the Things About the Country of France.
His teacher required that all of their reports be at least 100 words long.
France is a country on the Planet Earth. People live there.
I think he felt he was on safe ground with both of these statements, though the second one is ambiguous enough — "there" could actually refer to the Earth, just in case France turned out to be currently unoccupied.
There are eight other planets in the solar system besides the Earth.
I suppose one could argue that this lends the report perspective. One could also argue that my son had a poster in his room titled, "Map of Our Solar System."
All of them could someday suffer from Global Warming.
My son's teacher, I recall ruefully, was a big fan of Al Gore. My boy had learned one of the most important skills needed for report writing: sucking up to the reader.
People often think of French for things like fries, toast and mustard.
At least my son did, at any rate.
But France is actually famous for a lot of things.
A whole series of dots litter the page around the end of this sentence, as if his pencil malfunctioned and began spraying periods. He was tapping the page, thinking, OK, France is famous for a lot of things ... like what?
Paris is a city in France.
I guess he couldn't think of anything famous.
At this point in the report, faintly written in the margins, there is a number: 74. It took me a minute to realize its significance — 74 words up to this point. Just 26 more to go.
A big city.
Make that 23 more words. He's getting desperate, though — I can tell by all the eraser marks rubbed into the paper. One deleted sentence is almost legible — by holding it up to the light, I can make out the information that "Denver has a new airport." He erased it, though, wisely deciding not to go down the logic trail of "Paris is a city. Denver is a city. Therefore, stuff about Denver is also about Paris." Too bad, though — he's a big Bronco fan and could have filled the rest of his word count with sports trivia.
In Paris there's a big tower, it is an eye full.
Oops. I suddenly remember my son coming up to me one afternoon and, an innocent expression on his face, asking what was the first thing I thought of when I thought of Paris. I naturally said the "Eiffel Tower," not realizing I should spell it for him. No matter, the tower is quite an "eye full," so the teacher probably felt forced to concede the point on a technicality.
Only 12 words to go! He can practically feel the winner's tape on his chest!
France is a very interesting place, and people should go there.
Gasp! Huge error! That's only 11 words. He's a word short of the finish line. My son must have been dumbfounded when he counted them all up — he has scribbled out the number "99" in the margins with a certain amount of vengeance.
Now what? Everything anyone would want to know about France is already in the report. To come up with something else would not only add fluff, it would require doing actual work, and he's already come dangerously close to that with his fascinating perspective on the Eiffel Tower. Oh, life can be so cruel!
Then, inspiration hits.
There. He even came in an entire word over the required 100.
Maybe he got extra credit.
To write Bruce Cameron, visit his website at www.wbrucecameron.com. To find out more about Bruce Cameron and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.