Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Desk as Landscape for Adventure

 Your goal of a neat, orderly desktop is victim to the active part of you, depositing, piling, forgetting an assortment of things difficult to classify.

Every Monday, Lupe, the maid, seems to have an inkling of your desire for order and classification.  She not only dusts and cleans the desktop, she suggests in her arrangement of things possibilities for neatness you have never considered.

By Monday evening, your presence has made itself known again, a cautionary tale, reminding you of a sad truth:  if it is too neat, it is too serious.

In that spirit, you had some time ago placed an ancient tin (you believe time is the operant word for it) container that once held fifty Luck Strike cigarettes to the upper right corner, there to collect spare parts of fountain pens.

From your literary agent, the gift of two packets of Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice Tea, and a particular treasure, the party favor put at your place at the recent birthday celebration for a dear chum.

To be sure, there are any number of reading glasses purchased at various drugstores, often in the belief that you’d lost all in your possession.  There are note pads, three-by-five index cards, a tin of cinnamon mints, and a tin from a German manufacturer of fountain pens.

If you look closely at the photo of the wind-up robot party favor, which has some remarkable built-in quality that causes it to stop and change directions rather than plummet off the edge of the desk, you will see the bottom portion of an iPod Touch, which is, after all, in the toy class, which is at the heart of this essay.

No question about it, you have not outgrown a fondness for toys and things which may not be toys but nevertheless exude a toy-like confidence.  This also applies to the Big Little Books on the ledge of the kitchen window looking out upon the grand next-door garden.

Before romance with women, there was romance with toys, with the treasures to be found inboxes of Cracker-Jacks, such candies as the taffy Guess-What, cereal boxes, and those remarkable toys—Little Orphan Annie decoder ring—you got by sending proof of purchase of Ovaltine to some remote P.O.Box, then the agonizing wait until what you were sure would be the most remarkable thing ever would appear one day in a rumpled envelope, addressed to you.

These treasures informed such imagination as you had.  They were nearly as remarkable as books with their power to adventurous worlds well beyond your present scope.  With such toys and something so simple as a raincoat, you were The Shadow or The Green Hornet.  Better still, you were your own invention, disguised as a small boy with round, horn-rimmed glasses.

The accouterments of a writer or editor or professor are nothing in comparison to the tool kit of an emerging boy, who would settle for nothing les than adventure and, when there was none to be had, when there were no chums with whom to rouse up these adventures, there were the protagonists and antagonists (you did not know them by those terms) of books read to keep your sense of danger and mystery alive.

The iPod mentioned earlier and its mate, the iPhone, as well as some Italian and English fountain pens are grown-up toys.  The penknife you carry is excellent for opening a letter, cutting a string, rendering in sections the Super Deluxe Submarine Sandwich from the Italian Deli on De La Guerra and Laguna, but the pocket knife you carried as a boy was more business-like.  Adventures were riskier then, or so it seemed then.

Being a long-time devotee of the adventures of Dick Tracy, you are alert to the prescience of some of his gadgetry, some of which is with you as an iPhone with applications for music, picture taking, two flashlights, a QR scanner, a conventional scanner, a magnifying glass, and other such Swiss-Army-like applications, all of which make you more fit for the world about you.

At one point in your earlier years, your sister asked you for a favor; you were to accompany her to the toy department of a five and dime on Wilshire Boulevard, where you would pick things she’d planned to give the brother of her great girlfriend.  Since you knew the brother, you’d be a reliable index of things.  You were even to be paid for your services with a wind-up car of your choice.  You were in heaven then, browsing the toy counter at Woolworth as though it contained secrets of the universe.  There was one toy in particular that could not have cost more than twenty-five cents, but how wonderful it was.  A steep slide down which a tiny car ran, gathering speed to track through the loop at the end of the slide.  You tested it several times to make sure it fulfilled its promise.  If Gordon did not appreciate this, he was no longer worth knowing.

A week later, you saw Gordon at school.  When you asked him how he liked the death-defying car and other birthday presents, he punched your arm and told you his birthday was not for six months.

On the way home from school, your arm still hurt from where he’d punched you, but you were smiling to yourself because your birthday was next week and you knew your sister had set you up from a perfect understanding of her little brother.

Thus not only fond memories but the title for this venture:  The Desk as a Landscape for Adventure.

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