The April Almanac

Q & A

Why do so many pencils have erasers that don’t work?

The natural rubber from which many pencil erasers are made degrades when exposed to ultraviolet light or ozone, both of which are virtually impossible to avoid. Even the small amounts of UV light emitted by fluorescent lights and of ozone found in the air we breathe can quickly take their toll, causing an eraser to form a hard skin so that it begins, maddeningly, to smudge rather than erase. An eraser left on a windowsill can lose its efficacy in two months; the high ozone levels produced by automobile exhaust in congested urban areas can also make an eraser especially short-lived. Still, there is reason for hope: some pencil manufacturers are switching to erasers made of synthetic butyl rubber, which, though perhaps less environmentally correct, is far less vulnerable to the ravages of time, and may continue to erase satisfactorily for several years. (Top-of-the-line erasers—unattached to pencils—are made not of rubber but of a plastic compound that does not deteriorate.)

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

April 12, opening day for Euro Disney, a 5,000-acre entertainment complex approximately 20 miles east of Paris, It will include six hotels (with a total of 5,200 rooms), a golf course, a wooded campground, and, of course, a theme park. Most Disney character names have been translated into French: the Seven Dwarfs, for example, will answer to Timide, Prof, Simplet, Grincheux, Joyeux, Dormeur, and Atchoum, and will call their matriarchal organizer Blanche-Neige. Donald Duck (who will be simply Donald) will address his nephews as Riri, Fifi, and Loulou. And Goofy, Tinkerbell, Cinderella, and Captain Hook will be known as Dingo, Clochette, Cendrillon, and Capitaine Crochet, respectively. In contrast, the attraction It’s a Small World will retain its English title. Also this month the outdoor-adventure-oriented Men’s Journal—the newest brainchild of Rolling Stone’s founder, Jann Wenner—joins the burgeoning ranks of publications specifically aimed at the aging men of the postwar generation. Other relative newcomers—most of a more spiritual nature—include Wingspan, The Talking Stick, Man!, Men’s Health, Thunder Stick, Dragonsmoke, and Journeymen. Together they constitute one more reason to be grateful that there are only two sexes.

FOOD

This month the egg-laying season begins in earnest on the nation’s ostrich ranches. If the hatchlings survive their first six months of life—during which time they grow to be about six feet tall—they are quite hardy. The U.S. herd, which has grown rapidly in the past several years to more than 10,000 birds, is found in states as climatically diverse as Minnesota and Texas. An average bird will yield a hundred pounds of meat that looks and tastes like beef but is lower in fat and cholesterol than chicken. By-products include boot leather and feathers for professional-quality dusters. The fledgling U.S. ostrich ranches won’t begin to slaughter their birds until they have much larger stocks, in five years or so. Ostrich meat is eaten as commonly as veal in many Western European countries. The world’s supply has thus far come primarily from South Africa, which has managed to keep the bulk of its ostrich-raising information top secret (the most recent genetic study was published in 1916). But zookeepers’ experience suggests that a hen is capable of producing 50 eggs a year for more than 40 years—which suggests why at the moment a pair of ostriches can cost up to $80,000.

THE SKIES

April 3, New Moon. 5, Daylight Saving Time begins at 2:00 A.M. Turn clocks ahead one hour. 16, Full Moon, also known this month as the Grass, Planting, and Little Frogs Croak Moon.

GOVERNMENT

April 1, as of today each of the nation’s four million truck drivers must have a license that meets federal standards; any of them pulled over by the police and found without one could lose the right to drive a truck. The new license was mandated by the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986, because of the large proportion of fatal accidents involving trailer trucks and the discovery that many truck drivers held licenses in several states: when a license from one state was suspended for violations, the driver could simply switch to one from another state. To obtain the new license, a driver must pass a driving exam, which can be waived for experienced drivers with clean records, and a test of driving knowledge, which is phrased in sixth-grade-level language and can be taken orally, in writing, or on a computer. 7, presidential primaries in Kansas, New York, and Wisconsin. 15, tax returns due. In Ohio up to 1.2 million taxpayers will be eligible to file by telephone. Single people with incomes under $50,000 can use a toll-free number to enter information by push button, and then mail in a five-line return along with their W-2 forms. 28, presidential primary in Pennsylvania.

125 YEARS AGO