Saturday, April 12, 2008

A Boy's World

As a boy I treasured anything discarded. I took my education peculiarly and lived an entirely secret intellectual life. I had my eye on my father's World War II rucksack which he kept hidden away in the basement of our house but would not attempt to rifle through it unless my father was not around. In my mind the meaning of something was perceived through its neglect. When it was safe I looked through the rucksack, examining carefully the treasures it contained. I was alert not only to discarded materials but to unexpected events and coincidences. I learned nothing at school but I did well because nothing was demanded of me. My third-grade teacher was an iron-haired woman who trained her students in declamation and clapped her hands as they practiced in their notebooks the curved lines that were thought to encourage good penmanship. At home I showed a fondness for building model ships and airplanes and rarely missed reproductions of historical pictures in magazines and books which I would cut out and save, and for some reason these tastes, which the family found unexceptional, were a comfort to them. My mother suspected I was a strange child, although she shared this sense of me with no one, not even my father. Any indication that her son was ordinary heartened her. She wished I had friends. My mother and father were too preoccupied with their own concerns to be of use to me, so it was left to my sister, six years older than me, to cultivate what might be my oddity or merely my independence of spirit.

I thought of my father, forty-seven years old at my birth, as discarded treasure. I accepted the stories he told as images of truth, and therefore as propositions that could be tested. I found proof in my own experience of the instability of both things and people. I could look at the hairbrush on the bureau and it would sometimes slide off the edge and fall to the floor. If I raised the window in my room it might shut itself at the moment I thought the room was getting cold. I liked to go to the movies downtown with my father on Saturday afternoons. I knew the motion pictures depended on the capacity of humans, animals or objects to forfeit portions of themselves, residues of shadow and light which they left behind. Did my father not always tell me that his mother said that moving pictures were "just shadows, shadows on the wall?" I listened with fascination to the 45 rpm record player we owned and played the same records over and over, as if to test the endurance of a duplicated event. My favorite recordings were Sigmond Romberg's The Student Prince and a brief excerpt from the second act of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

No comments: