reality is bullshit
The neighbor kids wouldn’t shut up about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’? I thought but did not say. That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I’d rather die than become a pleb like you, watching that crap.
The same thing happened later on with Batman: The Animated Series. That time, though, the franchise was harder for me to dismiss right away.
I eventually realized that it was my ego preventing me from taking suggestions. (“If someone else is already watching it, then it’s not for me.”)
Kids were asking me to go out on a limb, assuming my patrician taste would align with theirs—and—on top of that!—to accept that, by sharing their experience, I would become like them.
And anyway, I already had Tiny Toons—the show for cultured people.
a neighbor kid and i had a lego battle.
i cobbled together a big tank and fired at him with it. “mine is more powerful than yours!”
he responded with an even larger tank.
i could not stomach being defeated by the likes of him, so i built an enormous warship that was impervious to his tank fire.
he built a submarine.
this one-upmanship continued until i came upon my ultimate design.
its size was only about 5x5x5 (lego units). the entire design was symmetrical. on the bottom were two miniature red nacelles, undoubtedly influenced by tng-era starships. the front had two small cannons that looked like eyes, and there was a flexible “tail,” itself likewise armed. the top section rotated. i portrayed the little weapon as too fast to be hit. i called it “the bug.”
perhaps because he was impressed by the design, my opponent admitted defeat.
i didn’t say as much, but i was also impressed with my design. my earlier monstrosities and this little beauty did not seem to share the same creator.
for much of my life, i thought that a good artist decides on a subject, then paints it. the purpose of art was to make visions real. i didn’t realize until later that great art is larger than we are. if you set out to make something, it’s not new. is that what people mean when they say it’s about the journey, not the destination? i’ve always hated that trope. of course it’s about the destination. real artists win the war.
i permanently enthroned “the bug” atop the bookcase that housed my dad’s star trek vhs collection. for the next ten years or so, i would walk by it, thinking, “how did that happen?”
luckily, knowing is not essential.
i was probably 4 or 5 when my parents got me my red tricycle. i was allowed to ride it up and down the street in front of the house. any farther and i had to be accompanied.
i liked it when mom or dad would push me. i could never reach speeds like that by myself.
one day, cycling through meadowgreen with mom, i heard thunder and noticed storm clouds quickly moving in. i imagined something out of a movie—i would pedal as hard as i could to beat the rain, a dark wall closing in behind me at breakneck speed. i probably asked mom, “do you think i could pedal faster than the rain?”
i don’t remember how she answered, but it didn’t matter. as i was beginning to learn, a thrill like that would never come my way in real life.
except that day, it did.
i was pedaling as fast as i could. i turned to see the dark wall of rain closing in behind me. mom yelped as it reached her. then she started pushing me.
with her help, i stayed in front of the rain until i had nearly reached home. as we hurried inside, i asked myself: did that happen just now because i’d wanted it to?
was i god after all?
but, if i was, then why didn’t i always get what i wanted?
i didn’t understand, but there had to be meaning behind it.
there had to be.
when i was a little boy, i would make shapes with my hand and talk through them, like a cross between puppetry and sign language. different signs were different characters. dad called them “bugs,” and the name stuck.
kids have to learn to be ashamed of who they are. on the first day of first grade, i rode the bus to school for the first time. the older boys sitting next to me saw me talking through my hand and did not approve. i tried to placate my critics by putting the bug in a “cage” made from the fingers of my other hand.
it was very important that others approve of me and what i was doing. i was delighted to change the show to suit the audience—if i possibly could.
i must have said something to my parents about what happened, because both mom and dad accompanied me to the bus stop the next morning. dad had a word with the bus driver, then turned and told me to let him know if i had any more “bus trouble.”
i was shocked. they hadn’t notified me that they were going to intervene in my life. it was as though god himself had vaporized someone i didn’t like right in front of me. surely this wasn’t fair. what would happen to my identity if other people took care of everything for me? was it really that simple—just sit back and let problems resolve themselves?
it was certainly easier.
in elementary school, i sometimes bought a little cup of ice cream in the lunch line. then, after i’d taken my seat at the long table in the cafeteria, i’d peel off the lid, and underneath there was a face staring back at me.
i’m sure the factory had a kind of super precise ice cream gun that squirted at high speed and stopped on a dime. but this modern marvel finished off each cup a little differently, and the ridge of cream pressed against the condensation under the lid formed a unique pattern.
i remember the first time i considered the possibility that the faces weren’t intentional. out of the blue, the uncomfortable truth had arrived to crash the party. like many people, i often try to save face and ignore the truth as long as possible. that time, i think i might have held out for nearly an entire lunch period.
while driving today i saw one of those ice cream cup lids by the side of the road and wondered how many faces people have seen since then.