The stuffiness in my throat, a sore head that would result from twisting my neck like a crane just to read a few blurry names on spines, these are the results of visiting the library or bookstore with my friend, Graham. He was so cultured, so aware of what things were, what good clothes were and where to buy them, what the good bands to listen to were (and he’d have the newest tape), and most importantly, he read. His mother a nurse, his father a lawyer, he was living a Cosby show life in a Crayola crayon “flesh” coloured mirror.
The frustration of not being able to decipher what to pick up, and the resulting “hrumph” response from my friend didn’t push me away from those scores of books. Something strange was happening; I was wanting an insight I didn’t have, a skill I needed. It wasn’t like being in the school baseball game and not being able to throw the hit even halfway in from outfield (that was, if I tracked down the fly ball before all three bases were rounded). This was different. This was something I couldn’t do, but this was something I cared about and I couldn’t do. I cared in the soft pillow-like caring that we care for our niece’s tears on the morning her pet gerbil passed into caged-pet heaven. It was not exactly “passion.” This was a deep but sharp niggle that wasn’t going to go away. I didn’t have the stamina nor the training to participate in something I knew was crucial. Precious world of words.
See, I read. It’s not like I was an illiterate unfortunate child. I read, and read quite a lot. My mom, bless her, she would allow me to choose a couple books to order when those funny thin 8.5×11 two-page elementary school book order forms came out sporadically. It was great. This delivery from the school introduced me to Bunnicula. I just looked at that book, salvaged from mom’s crawl-space basement, the other day, and the drawings are fantastic. Simple, almost sketchy line drawings that pulled me into those days twenty or so years ago, following that vampire rabbit. Shit. Makes me laugh just to say “vampire rabbit.”
The difference between Graham and I was that I had thin two-page school order forms, he had a city of stores to reference, and he knew what a zucchini was. Well, this sums Graham up. He lived in the city, I in a little town, we ate basic, when I ate at his, the range of veggies and such was so overwhelming I exclaimed, when finishing a meal, in my most elegant of dinner-voices, “I’m famished!” Thinking this to be a great addition to my very few shy, carefully chosen words while in the presence of the parents, my .001 seconds of pride were swallowed in my tight throat with the arrival of stifled, if polite, laughter from everyone present.
Shyness begets shyness because of scenarios like this one. Thank god for the printed page. I retreated into the worlds of other writers, with no concern for who that writer was. When new friends ask, “Who’s your favorite ______ (add “writer,” “singer,” etc here)?” I’ve never given an acceptable answer. Probably because it’s usually, “I don’t know.” I’ve never cared too much for who does what. It’s only recently that the amount of uninspired attempts at art has become evident that I now attach an official “I like” to a few writers, musicians, actors and artists. How terribly few the good ones are, the ones who keep my toes tapping, my hands writing, my head up in the face of falling heavy grey clouds. Then, though, in the days of Graham and his posh family, I read and I deserted everything around me. I found this as well in drawing. But I didn’t care so much who did what. It was the retreat, the smiles or concern or shock that a precise combination of letters could do to me that kept me reading. I never aspired to be an E.B. White or Tolkien or whoever wrote Bunnicula.