Friday, May 27, 2016

Face Value

When you were a young person, attending elementary school, you took most things at face value, regardless of their source. One of the few things you arrived at on your own then was the fact of your boredom, which led you to the seeming infinity of interesting possibilities available from reading.

Through dinnertime conversations involving your parents and, on occasion, your older sister, you learned of certain behavioral and physical defects among the children of your parents and the friends of your sister. From your own observation of a classmate named James, you witnessed his growing problems with gait and stride, then his appearing one day in a shoe with an enormous sole and his explanation of talipes equonovarius, or clubfoot, which required further growth from him before a surgical correction could rectify the problem.

From your parents, you learned that Buddy, the youngest son of one of their friends, needed to be sent to Black Fox Military School to correct what your mother called discipline problems, and from your sister, you learned that a friend of hers was "seeing" a psychiatrist because of some of the persistent dreams you were having.

There were other examples. The daughter of another of your parents' friends was overwrought with a condition known as being supercilious, which resulted in her having few or no friends, while Ronald, yet another son of yet another of your parents' friends, had been caught going into the bathroom to regurgitate meals rather than simply opt out of eating if he didn't like what was being served or had no appetite. You always had an appetite, but knew you could opt out of two things you particularly disliked--fried tomatoes and squash--without repercussions.

You were also aware of a neighbor's son who made a habit of what your mother called appropriating things from the homes of his playmates. The major effect this information had on you was to become curious about the onset of what your sister called traits and tendencies, even to the point of telling you that one of the earliest traits she observed in you was your tendency to carry a book around with you.

The switch from the single-teacher atmosphere of elementary school to the multi-teacher so-called period structure of middle school seemed to coincide with your growing socializing, where you would frequently go to a classmate's home after school was over, to hang out or engage in some particular activity. You'd also invite friends home, which seemed always to imply some lavish snack or equivalent of afternoon tea, provided by your classmates' mother or, when you were nominal host, your mother.

The most memorable of these came when you'd left junior high school with a chum named Jay, who led you to a large, Mediterranean-style single-dwelling stucco home on Highland Avenue. "Let's," Jay said, "go in for a snack, shall we?"

You were all too eager. You followed him into the kitchen.

"What'll it be," he said. "Sandwich or cake?" He opened the refrigerator, peeked inside, drew out a quart bottle of milk.

"Sandwich," you said.

"Coming right up," he said, which caused you to note the ease of his hosting and the relatively adult feeling of tending for one's self and one's guest.  "White," he said, poking about, "or wheat?"

"Any rye?"

"Matter of fact--" Jay located and opened a loaf of rye bread, removed four slices, then reached for mustard, mayonnaise, and catsup bottle, followed by half a large salami. "Thick or thin slices?"

"Thin," you said, "but lots."

"Yeah," Jay said. "Me, too."

He found a jar of pickles as well and a sprig of radishes. After a few moments, you were both munching contentedly, and as if in recognition, Jay recognized the transformation you'd achieved from the woes and rigors of middle school classes and into a step of the sort of sophisticated sang froid you'd begun to pick up from your reading. In this brief episode, you'd in a sense aged well into adult hood.

"This is the life," eh?" Jay said. "We need more stuff like this, right? Maybe next time some gravlax salmon. You good with that?"

You nodded hearty agreement over your salami sandwich.

"I know where we can get some," he said. "But for now--" he looked toward the kitchen clock. "I think we better move on."

"Not finished," you said. "Slow eater. Enjoying every bite."

"Take it with you, hey?  We need to be moving on."

"How come?"

"Somebody might be coming home."  He popped the remains of his sandwich into his mouth, then chewed rapidly. "Here," he said, pushing an oblong box of Cut-Rite wax paper at you. "Wrap up what you can't eat. He even pushed the remains of the salami at you. "Take this, too. Might as well."

"We should at least clean up," you said.

"Better we move on," Jay said. "Before anyone comes."

"Why would that matter?"

"They probably won't be too happy about our being here."

"Why would that matter?"

"You don't get it, do you? I don't live here."

Fourteen years later, Jay appeared on your doorstep in the Hollywood Hills one evening, with the story that he'd spent considerable time in Europe, where he'd seen the error of his youthful ways and wished for a better future. Meanwhile, could he spend a few days, a week at the most, on your living room sofa.

Two weeks later, a detective from the Hollywood burglary division, was at your door, wondering if the person in the picture he showed you was someone you knew.

Young persons begin their demonstrations of physical, sometimes emotional, and sometimes even combined tendencies that lead them toward a unique, often idiosyncratic path toward the person they will later become.

Through a series of apparent accidents, you digressed from the single path you'd thought to follow for the rest of your life, leaving footprints in a number of publishing companies and, at present count, six universities and colleges.

You seem to be drawn to persons who've stumbled or been drawn to some destination without giving the matter much of an opportunity to reverse itself, including one person who tended to get sick in single-engine airplanes and ask you to take care of things while he consulted the air-sickness beg, and another person who, for some years, was attempting to prevent an English sports car from being wrongfully repossessed.

You've come a long way from taking things at face value.

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