Our story begins with my high school Spanish teacher, who perpetuated a style of teaching that most students found grueling and abominable. Many an idle lunchtime was spend arguing over ways to deal with her, when one student (me) was heard to suggest:

"Why don't we just make a thousand paper cranes?"

A little background: Japanese legend would suggest that any poor soul who folds one thousand origami cranes would have a wish granted to him by the gods. This is exhibited in the book Sadako And The Thousand Paper Cranes, in which a girl who became afflicted with leukemia following the U.S. bombing of Japan tried to cure herself by following the legend.

Anyway, the suggestion quickly met with ridicule from those around me, but I persevered. Later that day, I walked to the school library and checked out a book on origami. By the end of the block, I had five cranes (each made out of the worksheets she'd given us that day), individually numbered.

My so-called friends expressed doubt that I would ever finish such a project. I became the focus of a lot of betting as people gambled as to when and if I would finish.

Weeks passed. All of my free time (and class time) was spent folding cranes -- out of Altoids wrappers, my homework, paperback books -- anything in sight. Soon enough, I had reached:

500 paper cranes! Wait... crud.

More weeks passed. Bets expired. Doubt reigned supreme. I continued my vigil quietly, hanging the cranes from my ceiling as I went. The quest had continued nearly two months. But one day in History class, one of my classmates noticed me folding a very large piece of paper.

"What's that?" she asked naively.

"Oh, it's a paper crane to wish away my Spanish teacher. I've made a thousand once I finish this one."

"Wow!", she said, altogether too loudly. "You made a thousand origami swans?"

Before I could correct her, those who had heard of my exploits were rushing across the room. I finished the thousandth crane moments later, about six inches across each way, and safety pinned it to my shirt, writing a triumphant "1000" across the top.

My Spanish teacher didn't even ask what it was for... sadly, she's still there. The hopes of a generation were dashed.

The moral of the story? Don't buy into ancient Japanese legend. I've learned from all this, as well -- now I trade old lamps for new on the street.

Post-script: Another unfortunate consequence of this adventure is that hanging the cranes from the ceiling is a mind-boggling task indeed, and about 750 still sit in a big, distinctly un-Japanese origami pile in the corner of my room.