Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tools of the Trade

The earliest toys you carried made no concessions to bulging pockets; at that age, who cared about such things.  Thus either a red spinning top with cord or a Duncan Yo-yo with a packet of extra strings (you could never tell), a plastic magnifying glass (a prize from Cracker-Jacks), a pen knife, a pack of bubble gum trading cards (not the ones of baseball players but rather scenes from adventure stories), at least one picture of an airplane (planes were to boys what horses were to girls), a carefully wrapped portion of an Abba-Zabba candy bar (you liked the name and the peanut butter filling), and a cardboard packet with a capacity of eight licorice cigarettes.  Possible add-ons:  a pencil stub, a Lone Ranger or Orphan Annie decoder badge, scraps of foolscap paper on which to write coded messages (never mind that there was no one to send them to or, indeed, things to write about that required encryption).  Only you knew of your unabashed love for a girl named Rena and whose last name, translated from Italian, means Walks by, singing; you'd have been foolish to write about that then because of the teasing you imagined would come were someone to discover and decode it.  

In those years, having access to a code device of any sort was the equivalent of the condom carried in every boy's wallet.  You never knew when the circumstances would arrive for the need, either of a coded message or the condom.  Ah, the dreaming years.  They did teach you of the values of an aching, tortured longing and of the urgent desire to have something to write of that needed the protection of code.  This was a great lesson to you, which you sought to pass along to students by urging them to think of embedding in their work the secrets of their characters to the point where the characters would fear embarrassment, were these secrets to be revealed.  "Let all your stories evoke the secrecy and intimacy that would make you record them in a locked diary," you would inveigh.  "Do they still make locked diaries?" smart ass students would ask, as is their nature.  "Never mind!  Write as though they did."  Also, at about that time, you began to realize that the contents of locked diaries were unnecessarily locked; they were, in fact, boring.  Thus more rhetoric from you to students:  "If your confessions are boring, you will never get laid."  (Some adults tried to reason with you about the need to understand and be patient with the War of Roses being waged within your endocrine system, by which they meant such things as waiting for marriage before indulging in your sexual nature, having hobbies to take your mind away from the aching, tortured longing, and not jumping at the first opportunities to come your way.  None of these things seemed to work, particularly the latter because of the innate fear that first opportunities would never come your way in the first place.)

The toys you carry with you now make some concession to bulging pockets and you now have the greater potential for neatness by virtue of a reversible vest given you by the newspaper for whom you review books, or with thanks to a jacket, which generally has enough pockets to accommodate reading glasses, sun glasses, an iPod Touch, a magnifying glass subscription gift from The New York Review of Books, a fountain pen, a pocket knife, and a breast wallet filled with 3 x 5 index cards (rather than condoms).  It has been a long time since you used the magnifying glass to magnify anything (you used to use it to focus the sun's rays on something you wished to char or burn entirely, perhaps another teaching metaphor in the sense of using a story to focus the emotions of a story on the reader's receptors, but equally possible--simply to see things burn), the pen knife is a reliable letter opener and handy to have along on a picnic where the lead foil on a bottle of wine requires being dealt with or a brick of cheese needs slicing, or a small salami needs help,or a sandwich needs to be cut in smaller portions.  Many of today's toys are every bit as much assurances as yesterday's toys were, contingencies in case some miracle or secret or adventure befalls.  You carry them as Swiss Army knives of dramatic metaphor, ready to help you embark on story, should you chance to meet it, and in spite of warnings from well-meaning adults, more than willing to jump at any opportunities that come your way.

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