PERRY -- For Jason Fuchs, the letter “X’’ has marked the spot where he once enjoyed his proverbial 15 minutes of fame.
That fame, however fleeting, still rears its head like a long-necked Xylopotamus at this time every year, like something right out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Jason will reach for the red, three-ring binder that serves as the scrapbook for his magical fifth-grade year of 30 years ago. There are photographs, newspaper clippings and the most prized page of all -- a hand-written proclamation from Dr. Seuss himself.
Theodor Seuss Geisel was born on March 2, 1904. The man better known as Dr. Seuss would be 110 years old if he was still alive. He remains one of the most beloved children’s authors and illustrators of all time.
For the past 17 years, his birthday has been celebrated by the National Education Association as part of national “Read Across America Day.’’ It will start on Monday this year, kicking off a week of reading by students, teachers, parents and community volunteers.
A generation has passed since Jason found himself in a parallel universe with the imaginative characters and metrical verse of Dr. Seuss. He is now 41 years old, with children of his own, and teaches sixth-grade science and social studies at Perry Middle School.
In May 1984, he was a fifth-grader at Clough Elementary in Rome, N.Y. His father, Bob, was stationed at Griffiss Air Force Base. (In 1985, the family was transferred to Warner Robins. His mother’s name is Claire, and he has an older brother, Michael.)
A reading class at his school had been assigned to find animals in Dr. Seuss books, starting with each letter of the alphabet. They searched every dog-eared page in the school library for the Horton the Elephants and Yertle the Turtles in the world of Seuss. They came up with something for every letter except “X.’’
Out of curiosity, a secretary at the school wrote Seuss through his publicist to inquire about the “X” exclusion. Much to the surprise and delight of the school, Seuss wrote back, apologizing for what he called an “X-asperating oversight.’’
Jason Fuchs created a creature beginning with "X" for Dr. Seuss as a kid in 1984.
“It’s about time I did something about it, and pretty soon I will,’’ he wrote.
The teachers at Clough decided to hold a contest to challenge the 440 students to use their creativity and come up with their own suggestions.
Jason took out his box of crayons and gave birth to what he called a “Xylopotamus’’ -- a hippopotamus with a xylophone on its back. The creature played the xylophone with its tail, and Jason gave it a long neck, like a giraffe, so it could turn its head to watch its own musical performance. It wore a red drum major’s hat. Jason said his musical theme probably was the result of learning to play the trumpet that year.
The school received about 100 entries, and Jason was selected as one of 11 finalists. Among the other animals were a Xaroo, Xaboo and Xerphadorious.
Seuss graciously agreed to judge the finals. Actually, he wrote back and said he had appointed the “Cat in the Hat” to be the official judge. Even his publicist was surprised he consented to judge the competition because of his busy schedule.
Seuss personally declared Jason as the winner with an “Official Proclamation.’’ It was free-handed in ink and crayon with a drawing of the “Cat in the Hat.’’
This is to announce to the City of Rome and the rest of the world that Jason Fuchs is the winner of the Animal X-ing Contest with his most amazing Xylopotamus. Signed, The Cat in the Hat and Dr. Seuss.
He included a separate note, congratulating the students on their “X-traordinary hunt for the X-traordinary X-ample of Dr. Xeuxx fauna.”
The contest brought a measure of notoriety to both Jason and the school. It was written up in local and state newspapers. The Syracuse Post-Standard cleverly reported the story in the form of a Dr. Seuss rhyme.
Jason’s last name, Fuchs, is pronounced “Fox.’’ Or, as the Dr. Seuss book might say, “Fox in Socks.” He is a 1991 graduate of Warner Robins High School, and has been a teacher at Perry Middle School since 1997. He spent a year in Afghanistan in 2002-03 with the Army Reserve, working with special forces.
Over the years, he has joyfully recounted the story to his wife, Beth, and children Spencer, 11, and Addison, 6. Spencer is in the sixth grade, only a year older than Jason was at the time. Addison is a first-grader at Kings Chapel Elementary, and Jason shared his Dr. Seuss story with her kindergarten class last year.
Jason considers “The Lorax” to be his favorite Dr. Seuss book, and he took his family to see the movie. (It was released two years ago today, on March 2, 2012.) As a science teacher, he appreciates the book’s message about taking care of the earth.
His children have grown up in an era of Xboxes and The X-Factor. But they can still appreciate their father’s own version of Generation X.
Dr. Seuss died in 1991 and, to Jason’s knowledge, never included the contributed Xylopotamus in any of his stories.
Jason once thought he spotted it, though. It was on a crowded, busy page filled with zany characters.
“I swear I saw it in the background,” he said, laughing. “I could have been imagining it, though. It might have been wishful thinking.”
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org