Monday, April 14, 2014
As the parent of two-under-ten, one of the complaints I hear most often from them is that they’re BORED. But they’re decent kids and don’t really complain much; they’re good at entertaining themselves and finding silver linings. Often they show me how to have a good time with little more than curiosity and a smile. Also, they’ve got damn scant cause for claiming boredom, because of all the cool boards I have given them to play with.
That’s not a figure of speech, either, much less pun or snark. I’m talking about actual boards that I’ve actually owned since I was knee high, boards of wood, boards that have gained, over a lifetime of use, a special importance to me, and that I truly think now have a special importance to my sons. Lemme break it down:
Monkeyboard is the really old one. I remember playing with it from earliest childhood, even when it first showed up as the top to a toy cabinet or feeding table or something. (Actually, my mom wonders if it came to our house before I did myself, as part of a promotional giveaway from a photographer who would ultimately capture the least photogenic moments of my first several months.) It’s about twenty inches square, and only about 1/6” thick - but for all that, it’s proven strong enough to withstand all the silly crap I ever did with it. Usually it was just a surface for writing or drawing, especially when I was abed. But sometimes it was a crafting board or a piece of a larger construction project or a sickbed breakfast table or any number of things. It was in pretty steady use till I went to college.
One side of the monkeyboard bears remnants of a
chalkboard surface, or two, really - the original green slate, over which my mom painted a black replacement surface once I’d worn out the green. But the black paint - which never really worked as a chalkboard but that’s no nevermind - wore out and wore off, leaving odd, murky coloration. Also, the black surface was carefully painted so as not to obscure the letters of an alphabet and the primary digits, which were inscribed up the sides and across the top of the board in chunky, easily imitated letters.
And in the middle of this alphabetic listing, right at the center of the top of the board between M and N, standeth
the monkey. Proud and festive, he’s depicted in a line drawing that will live with me forever: standing erect and facing left but glancing slyly right at me, he waves a large baton in one hand and wears an elaborate drum major’s costume, right down (up) to the jaunty kepi on his prognathic head. With his prehensile lips and the big simian grin he’s tossing my way, it’s never been clear to me exactly what he has in mind - but after half a century I think its safe to say I’m not expecting him to try anything anytime soon.
Over the many years I’ve aged with Major Monkey, our relationship has gone through certain evolutions. He scared me. I loved him. He bored me. He was my closest friend. He was a minion of Hades. He was a painted anthropomorphic monkey (or “anthropomorphunky"). But through all of that and, believe me, more, he has always been there, peering out of the sliver of green background reserved form the black as if he were peeking from behind some inky scrim. Yup, Major Monkey and me go way, way back.
The other side of monkeyboard was once just the unpainted reverse of the top of whatever it once was the top of. At some point we painted it a sickly yellow, and I got used to that. Shortly after college, I glued large sheets of drawing paper to this surface, traced out one-centimeter squares over the whole thing, and called it a pente board. It actually got a fair bit of use in that manner, most recently just a few months ago when Z and I played for the first time. I enjoyed the game and the company but particularly I enjoyed the continuity. It was nice to be back in front of the monkeyboard again.
Meantime, the boys use the monkeyboard even today as a play surface, a lego center, a ramp for toy monster trucks, a ludicrously stubby slide. That board is getting a lot of action these days. Judging from his grin, I think Major Monkey likes it.
There’s another board, too, that I’m seeing around semi-regularly these days after a long low-profie period. Last time it was out and about, some years back, it was resting across two cinderblocks with two more atop it and a cubic crapload of paperbacks between them. That’s right, this one was a bookshelf - about four feet by ten inches by half an inch thick. This is a regular old unfinished solid pine board, cut around 1972 when my pappy and me had gone to the ol’ neighborhood lumber yard to equip my boyhood room with a set of bracket shelves. Handicraft projects involving my dad could be a hit-or-miss affair but he nailed this one, by which I mean, he screwed the rails competently to the wall and successfully hung the brackets therefrom. After that, even I could set the boards in place. And so I did. Then I laid a buncha boox on’em and never looked back.
Looking forward, however, I can report that the shelves stayed where they were, full of favorite old friends who waited for me patiently, all through my salad days and into the soup course. But eventually Kel and I moved into our own place a couple years after graduating college. That new place needed bookshelves so we brought our boards and got some cinderblocks to lay them on. Those boards held books, tchochkes, stereo components, and the occasional red solo cup. To coin a phrase, they abided.
We moved to Frisco and the boards came too. We got bookshelves - real ones - but when our roomies moved out and left us the place to ourselves it was time to call out the boards again. And then, indignity of indignities, kids started living with us - our children, as matters turned out. Space returned to a premium as lots of new furniture and associated chazzerai appeared in our midst. We jettisoned our “filler” books and filled our “real” bookshelves instead with toys and games. The cinderblock shelves were broken down and put away, so no toddler would accidentally pull them down and prove us unfit parents. The blocks went to the garage and, ultimately, the dump. The boards… well, by now time’s vagaries had reduced our stock to just one board, an oldie but a goodie. We slipped it into a closet and it hid there very quietly indeed.
That closet became a black hole, attracting every household object that wasn’t nailed down elsewhere. Eventually I had to excavate it, pull out everything and reorganize it so it only contained useful stuff. It was during this process that the old bookshelf board came once again to light. I set it atop the pile of crap I’d pulled from that closet, crap I’d concluded was superfluous, crap I was ready to eliminate from my life. With no blocks or brackets to sustain it, that old board had clearly reached the end of its line. It no longer served any purpose at all, nor could I reasonably expect it ever to do so again.
Anyway that’s what I was thinking as I set it aside. Then I returned to my labors, with which I occupied myself happily until distracted by the sound of Hot Wheels on pinewood. Z had propped up the board and was using it as a racetrack for toy cars. Then it became a bridge, and then a lever for catapulting other toys around the room. He cycled through a couple more creative uses for that piece of pineboard before I roused my paternal mojo and informed him that we’d be taking it to the dump. He turned moist sad eyes on me and I couldn’t possibly follow through on my board-disposal threat.
For years I’d looked at that board and only saw a stranded bookshelf, bookless and unshelved. Z took mere moments to see its true utility, which began with “fun” and has yet to find a final endpoint. The bookshelf board, like the mokeyboard, keeps lending itself to untried purposes. I don’t know how much longer the boys will keep discovering new ways to play with old lumber, but they’re starting to inspire me a little.
Let us not also forget: the pressboard shelf I found abandoned in a West Philly street, that became the 4008 sign that distinguished our stately abode from the other abodes on our block of equal or greater statlitude. I painted it glossy black with a broad up-pointing arrow outlined in red, inside of which were inscribed the numbers of our address in a diamond format over a series of vivid chevrons. It hung on a column by our brick footpath, visible from the street, pointing the way to the entry door. That it came out totally cool and not like some shoddy found-object craft project (which in fact it was) is evidenced by it still having been on display last time I visited Dr Andy’s garage, in in a place of honor in a house full of beautiful things. (Sorry folks, couldn’t find the right photo of it.)
And around the front of that old house where hung that sign, at a grand double door with large mullioned crystal panes, hung one last board of note: We’d reorganized the space of this gracious home by converting every room except the bathrooms and kitchen into a bedroom. As a result, the side door was being used as the primary entryway, and the big, obvious, original main door was now nothing more than a wall of windows in the marble foyer of my ludicrously opulent bedroom. But I didn’t expect folk to know that on their own. Rather, I expected them to apepar at my transparent foyer uninvited at naked o’clock on a Sunday morning. To preclude this likelihood, I decorated up another piece of board I’d found - a flat panel, like the bottom of a drawer, on which I painted an informative message in multiple vibrant colors and friendly fonts, the purpose of which was to make people go around to the other damn door and let me sleep in peace. Then I shellacked the whole damn thing for luster and posterity. As I am now at the posterior of that posterity, I can report with confidence that it looks as good today as it ever did.
Moral: Two-dimensionality has gotten a bad rap.