Monday, September 08, 2008

Colour me resentful

I was in a line at the store today behind a woman buying school supplies for her kid, and I was suddenly reminded of the first time in my (then) young life I came to realize that parents were not to be counted on 100% of the time, either to be infallible or sympathetic.

It happened when I started kindergarten. This was at the very butt end of the Psychedelic Sixties, carried over into the early 70s. In keeping with the times, Crayola had released a little carton of eight "fluorescent" crayons (for the record, and to aid your imagination, these were: Chartreuse, Ultra Blue, Ultra Orange, Ultra Red, Hot Magenta, Ultra Green, Ultra Pink, and Ultra Yellow). They were in a package that was easily mistaken for the traditional pack of eight average, boring, WASP crayons... the ones on the list of required supplies I brought home from school that first week. My mother picked up the fluorescent variety.

Making new friends, on my own for the first time, trying to fit in, and there I was, the only kid in 25 with the wrong crayons (that, and plaid pants, which my mother assures me were in style at the time). And this was when having the right equipment mattered: there were no flights of fancy. Colours were regimented! "Colour the sun yellow." No problem; I had a yellow crayon that whose brilliance would bore though the back of your skull if you beheld it too long. I had an orange crayon that looked like it could be used to coat pills; a blue one that could have been used to paint the line they want half-dead people to be able to follow in hospital corridors. But "colour the wood brown" presented me with an insurmountable problem: there was no such thing as day-glo brown. I had no analog, no matter how psychedelic, and little drug experience (beyond pilfered morning-after beer) to fall back on for alternative suggestions. Such obstacles would set me to tears until the teacher would let me off the hook and allow me to do the next best thing: colour the wood radioactive blood "Ultra" red. Other kids had landscapes of glorious blandness and breathtaking conventionality that I could only dream of. Mine looked like Puff, the Magic Dragon frolicked in the autumn mist a little too much and blew lunch all over Honahlee. You should have seen the angels I had to colour for our Christmas decorations. There was no mistaking mine. It was a vision, alright. One that would send you to Lourdes.

So parents weren't infallible. Okay. But what about sympathetic?

Our school actually ordered in supplies. You would take the class's order to the office, where you could buy pencils, erasers, pens (though we weren't allowed to use ink yet), notebooks (the paper kind; the computerized sort were as yet still Twilight Zonesque visions of the future), and crayons. Yes, the officially-approved, politically correct, does-not-cause-retinal-cancer-in-laboratory-rats, guaranteed not to make baby Jesus cry (not to mention me) set of eight traditional colours. As memory serves me... and it's been a while... they were 15¢... which, tangentially, never made sense to me before fractions. Why were seven crayons worth 2¢ each, but one was worth only 1¢? And which one? I decided it was black, because some know-it-all in class with an older sibling insisted that black wasn't really a colour, it was "no colour"... another great philosophical conundrum. So conforming to the demands of my society, such as they were when I was five, merely required the donation of a nickel and a dime from my parents. Could I get the 15¢? Could I, hell. I had perfectly good crayons, I was told, and I was to use them. Perfectly good? For what? Triggering seizures in epileptics? I cried, I begged repeatedly over the months as one yech-nicolor humiliation piled on top of another... but no use. I forget now just how it happened, but I eventually did wind up with a set of the right crayons before the end of the year, and I remember how relieved I felt to have colouring projects that looked just like everyone else's. (By the way, are you getting the impression that, well over a quarter of a century later, I still vaguely resent my parents for this? Yeah, me too.) I have the vague impression, though, that I got them by agency of an older friend who took pity on me, because I seem to recall hiding them, and anything I coloured with them, from my folks. So if they ever had cause to consider me a devious little shit growing up, clearly, they had only themselves to blame.

1 comment:

jim said...

I had the plaid pants and the fluourescent crayons, too. My fluorescents were the extra-fat ones for little fingers.