There we were, four people and a dog, in a space not more than six feet square, surrounded by ravening teachers, when —

Wait, I’ll start at the beginning. Or near it, when #2 daughter strolled in with pizza for lunch. As we passed the laminator, I said, “The laminator looks a little off…. Maybe it’s my eyes.” I felt a little silly, and we went on to the breakroom.

The Empress thought she’d adjust the laminator cart, and pushed it a little, at which point the wheel broke and the cart began to topple. She caught the laminator, and called me, and That Man and I got the laminator down onto the floor. I went back to lunch. The Empress and That Man took the wheels off the cart and attempted to put the laminator back onto the once more stable cart.

The fools! They should have called me. Who lifts weights around here?

Anyway, the laminator slipped and part of it broke. I joined back in the fray at this point, and we got it back onto the cart and taped the broken bit onto it. It now makes a high-pitched squeal, a sort of eldritch shriek, whenever anyone uses it. It was in continuous use from 9:45 am to 2:58 pm, with no break except for its own breakage. And by then — but I am getting ahead of myself.

The keening of the laminator was an interesting counterpoint to the screaming of the children. There is a school of thought which holds that it was Mrs. H’s eldest pushing Mrs. P’s youngest around in her stroller at top speed while the baby screamed in terror, that it was this that really started off the mob screaming of the children. I think it may have been the laminator. I know that I was standing there at the computer checking people out, with the screaming of the children, the banshee-like wail of the laminator, and the twelfth repetition of “You Must Remember This” on the stereo, feeling as though I must be getting a little insight into what Hell sounds like.

The Princess and I were just keeping our heads down, scanning pile after pile of posters and trimmers and calendar pieces, when the UPS man came in. He was searching in vain for someone besides us to sign his forms, but had to give in and make his way through the clots of customers. He announced that he had brought Mavalus Tape.

“I know you ladies all want to kiss him,” I called out, “but I’m afraid he’s married!” I was of course referring to the global shortage of Mavalus Tape which has been plaguing us all during this Back to School.

I should have been quiet, though, and not let the word get out. We were inundated with people wanting Mavalus Tape. The lines grew longer. I was just keying in six rolls for Mrs. S when the South computer quit responding.

The Princess had stepped back from her computer for a breather, so I hopped across to the North machine and typed in the magic code MAV1001. Nothing. The screens of both machines remained frozen.

We restarted the computers. I tried to come up with snappy repartee to distract the customers from the ever-lengthening lines of teachers slavering over the prospect of Mavalus Tape at last. The machines got back up and running — and still did not work. The Empress and That Man fled to the back to check with the mothership. The Princess and I smiled inanely and shoved games at people in a further attempt to distract them. Then the word came from headquarters — the server had crashed.

The Princess and I started in with manual tickets. Most people had dozens of items, so we were writing it all and calculating and refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. The Empress and That Man were reinstalling the system in the back room.

At last the computers came back up. That Man and The Empress returned to the front lines, along with The Dog. The lines shrank. The marathon laminator left and took some of the children with her. The Princess, The Empress, and I repaired to the break room, leaving That Man and The Dog to hold off the hordes, and recruited our strength with slugs of iced tea.

By the time the Poster Queen arrived after her day at the school where she teaches, things were back to normal. Or what passes for normal in August.

Except for the high-pitched whine of the laminator.