by Tom Garrison
The original hanging chads caper took place in a small southern California farming town.
|The Original Hanging Chads Caper
Most people never heard of a chad, or hanging chad, until the contentious 2000 presidential election. Remember the disputed results in Florida due to the use of punch card ballots in the Sunshine State? The winner in that state was not decided until the Supreme Court made a ruling. Hanging chads dominated the media for weeks.
A chad refers to paper fragments created when holes are punched in paper, cardstock, or similar materials and the material is not cleanly cut. The result is a “hanging chad”—a bit of paper linking the larger material to the punched-out part. Anyone using a hole punch has undoubtedly created a few hanging chads.
The original hanging chads escapade never received media attention. It took place in a small southern Central Valley (California) farming town in the early 1960s—decades before the disputed Florida vote.
Being a little town, about 4,500 population in 1960, Shafter had only one school district. The courageous teachers of Richland Elementary School taught all the local rug rats from kindergarten through eighth grade. Most kids bought the school lunch and ate in the cafeteria. In those days, the menu was determined by nutrition and taste. Most of the time it wasn’t bad.
Each week students purchased a school lunch card of fairly flimsy cardstock, printed with five squares for five meals. Five lunches cost three bucks or so. Exiting the food line with your nutritious meal, you handed your lunch card to the “lunch card lady” who punched out one of the squares with a hand-held hole punch, creating a chad.
Occasionally, just like in Florida in 2000, the hole was not cleanly punched and the circular dot of paper (the hanging chad) remained attached to the lunch card. A hanging chad was clearly an invitation to petty larceny. Well, it was for me.
Being an enterprising fellow even at a young age, I slightly moistened the hanging chad and did my best to reinsert it in its hole; smuched the chad around so it—kind of—appeared the square was not punched. Some of my attempts to reinsert the chad resembled a child’s effort (imagine that), while others were a work of art.
Holding my breath, I presented my modified lunch card the next day and hoped the lunch card lady would re-punch the altered square. Alas, her hawk eyes almost always recognized my repaired square for what it was, a fraud, and she moved to the next one. However, occasionally, to my delight, I snuck one past her.
If you can accomplish the “double punch” once every couple of weeks or so, at some point you collect five days of free lunches. When my parents gave me money to purchase the next weekly lunch card, I pocketed the cash instead. It was the original hanging chads caper.
[Author's note: It’s always nice to gain recognition for one’s work. The Washington County Fair just concluded (August 2019), and I won a 1st place for my essay, “The Original Hanging Chads Caper.” ]