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Read Obie's Ransom Note!

Obie was never played out. Many years ago, my mother gave me a rubber toy whose eyes, ears, and nose popped out when his limbless body was squeezed. Five inches tall, he became a fixture on the front of my desk during tests. Since my vision was poor, I told my students, he became my eyes; he was my test monitor. I warned them that darting, cheating eyes disturbed him and would trigger an alarm. "He sees everything! You have forty minutes. Good luck."

"Will Rubber Boy take a bribe, Mr. Leonard?"
"My people don't take bribes."
"What about rubber candy?"
"No, he's not a cannibal."


Leaning against my filing cabinet that usually supported my lesson plan—and Obie—I taught and taunted confident students who enjoyed the game more than I did. While they were answering my review questions, for instance, I'd reach for Obie. If their answers were going in the wrong direction, I'd slowly raise him. If wrong, I'd squeeze. Therefore, once my hand began to move, hands rose and answers changed until I lowered Obie. Of course, students who just wanted to play became frustrated with the correct answers and shouted, "Squeeze 'im! Squeeze 'im!"
If there were remaining minutes at the end of class, we played "The Obie Challenge." I called for a volunteer and chose the most passionate hand. They understood the rules of the game: If they laughed, smiled, looked away, or closed their eyes, they lost the challenge. With their backs to the blackboard, they faced the class and waited for me to raise Obie. Shouts of support forced me to close the door.


"Are you ready?" After they blinked and smiled all the happiness from their faces, they solemnly nodded.

As Obie came closer and closer, I whispered, "Obie wishes you had a rubber nose," or "Obie wants to kiss you, but he can't rubber pucker up." Then, at eye level with the challenger, I squeezed. Very few students were able to resist laughing and running back to their desks. Just seeing the eyes, ears, and nose pop out within two inches of their faces was enough for a smiling surrender. Some students successfully resisted the urge to laugh or smile, but I denied their victory. They insisted on a rematch.

"No, Obie has to rest. He's had a long day." They begged to hold him, but I'd refuse.

"Squeeze 'im!" Before putting him in his "sacred chamber," I held him up one more time, and they cheered. Then, I locked him safely in the top drawer of my filing cabinet.
Sometimes, I forgot to lock the cabinet.



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