Monday, September 19, 2005

Losers weepers, part two

When I awoke from a long nap after my bike ride yesterday afternoon, I noticed that a pin Hilary had bought me at a junk shop in New Hampshire had fallen off my backpack. The ring-and-stickpin configuration was still stuck into the nylon, but the button part was gone. Now, while I’ve never been a great wearer of pins, this particular one—on which a sleepy-eyed cat sits comfortably atop a rainbow whose spectrum shifts from cool to warm colors as it crosses into the cat’s body—had meant a good deal to me, as I considered it a portal to an image-world familiar from childhood, in which benevolent, nameless cartoon animals might emerge in any domestic, commercial, or educational scene—in cross-stitch bestiaries, pillowcase jungles and deserts, sticker albums, greeting cards, place mats, book orders, filmstrips—indolent, harmless rhinos and crocodiles lumbering across the pages of math workbooks where pencils and jacks and sacks of marbles wore tags marking prices in cents. These raccoons and lions and laughably angry-eyed birds were singular, unbranded individuals, repeated across a bedsheet pattern, perhaps, but otherwise confined to a unique domain, never to appear on television, never to be mentioned or imitated at recess, private animals of uncertain authorship, whose tongues, paws, tails, teeth, and eyes signified deeply but outside of the grid of names and products and programs that would allow you and me, as adults, to determine whether we knew the same image-animals as children.

So the pin was gone, sitting in the gravel of a bike lane in Portland, Falmouth, Cumberland, or Yarmouth, resting in the grass amid McDonald’s bags and Mountain Dew cans and Bud Light cans and Coors Light cans, or irradiating some lucky finder’s eyes with spectra 25 years old. It was possible, though, that on a second pass I’d find the pin. Moreover, I remembered the exact location where, while riding, I had unzipped the flap onto which the pin was fastened; no doubt it was this activity that either knocked the pin off or made its connection tenuous and unsustainable. Besides, the mere rehearsal of the search would exorcize my regret—I knew this from the great feeling of satisfaction I enjoyed when, after attending Brenda Wineapple’s talk on Hawthorne at the public library earlier this summer, I retraced my path as exactly as possible in order to look for a strap that had apparently unclipped from my backpack—a favorite backpack from junior high—during my walk downtown, which strap I was unable to find.

As a segue to my asking Hilary to drive me to this location—it was too near dark and I was too tired to go out on my bike again—I asked if she remembered a certain animated segment from Sesame Street in which a boy gets lost while riding his tricycle through a strange, kaleidoscopic town and is told by some wise man or machine simply to go back the way he came. Hilary did remember this segment, and she sang, pitch-perfectly, the song that accompanied it:
Behind your face there is a place
They call it your brain and your mind
If you succeed to look inside
O! what wonderful things you’ll find
As she remembers it, the town was a fountain-world of spinning parts, rendered in bold, black outlines on a white background and colored in pastel oranges, pinks, and yellows. The man who sang the song was a sort of whirly-gig man, who may have been the same as a certain clock mounted on a color-surface of cascading bands.

So Hilary drove out, as slowly as socially possible, and I scanned the bike lane for anything round, white, or colored. Since we were already out that way, I had Hilary pull over to look at the tiara wrapped around the disused lamppost, the sight of which she found squalid and shocking. The item was, of course, dead to me, having burned through whatever ancient neural constellation had briefly constituted its preternatural symbolic familiarity like a hole whose flaming radius expands to engulf the entire image as the celluloid melts in the projector. We turned around at this point, though on the return trip I searched as vigilantly as before, undeterred by the recognition of the crass idolatry of my devotion to the cat-rainbow image complex, whose manifest sense at best distorts and generalizes what can be grasped only accidentally or partially, on the fringe of sight or thought or dreams, or not at all.



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