My Magic Office

-Do you like my office?
-I *love* your office!
-What do you love about it?
Everything!

From my own perspective, my office is a rathole. It’s windowless, and so I am tempted to call it a cave, but that makes it sound either cozy or mysterious and it is neither of those things. It is a small dark room that can either be over-lit with florescent lights or under-lit with a couple dim lamps. Most of the time I opt for under-lit until a student shows up, and I say “Let’s get some light in here,” as I scramble for the light switch. I don’t want them to think that I’m secretly a troll.

office

But Smoke loves my office, and every time he comes to visit I’m reminded of the days when I was his age and I would visit my own parents at work. It was like being a celebrity and visiting a small but exotic town. There were endless smiling people to greet, and though I had no idea who they were, they often knew my name. There were new things to eat—like cracker cheese sandwiches from the vending machines, or clam chowder from the cafeteria—and I always left with souvenirs. I remember leaving my father’s office once with a small book printed on special paper. The contents featured illustrations of pansies that also looked like monkeys. I had seen it on his desk, and held it like a sacred object. When he asked if I wanted to bring it home, I could barely believe my good fortune.

Wow. I searched monkey pansy and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html  I love you internet.
Wow. I searched “monkey pansy” and found it exactly. The whole book is here: http://lanny-yap.blogspot.com/2010/08/project-gutenberg-how-to-tell-birds.html
I love you, internet.

This morning Smoke woke up with a touch of pink eye. I had no meetings to attend or classes to teach, just a mountain of grading that needed my attention and so I packed the iPad and some headphones and brought my son to work with me. It seemed the whole day was a treat to him. It was a treat for him to draw at my desk with special pens while I sat at my computer. It was a treat that I let him watch a movie on the iPad and eat the stale snacks in my desk drawer. At one point I turned around and saw him crunching. “What are you eating?” I asked, and he held up a box of chocolate nonpareils that had been empty for months. He was eating the tiny candy dots that had fallen off the chocolates.

For Smoke, I imagine, sitting in my hole of an office is less like visiting an exotic town with friendly locals, and more like resting your head in a loved one’s armpit. It may be a little funky, but it’s also intimate, special and safe.

And then we went to lunch.
And then we went to lunch.

Teddy Ruxpin, my would-be savior

Does anyone remember this?

I do. I might have seen this commercial at least a hundred times when I was a child. I would have been just beginning second grade when it came out, toting my brand new Trapper-Keeper folders and wondering who would be my friend that year. The product spoke to me. I dreamed of owning a Teddy Ruxpin; I thought that if I had one it was possible I would never have to be lonely again.

To begin with, the commercial itself closely resembles fantasies I entertained as a child. At night if I couldn’t sleep I’d fantasize about things like learning to do a perfect back handspring and then one day at recess, out of the blue, casually, I’d do a series of back handsprings across the field. I’d be unstoppable. One person would catch sight of me and point. Slowly, all the other students out at recess would gaze on my awesome-ness. Within minutes, I’d be transformed from class nerd to school hero.

But in reality I could barely cartwheel, and no one longed for my friendship. Every year I somehow managed to earn one best friend. Normally she’d last until the school year ended and then she’d move away, or we’d be assigned to separate classrooms the following year. To the rest of the grade, I was something of a pariah. I had eczema, which meant that I was constantly itching. I didn’t know the rules to even simple games like kickball, and if I joined a game I found that my legs froze when anyone was watching me. If I ever managed to kick the ball, it simply rolled a few inches and then petered out. Also: I had crooked teeth and wore sweater vests. Sometimes I cut my own bangs.

But in my dreams I had blond ringlets and excellent hand-eye coordination. In my dreams, I looked a little like Gidget, whose movies I had seen rebroadcast on TV.

ImageThough it closely resembled my fantasies—to the point my eight-year-old self could have written it—the commercial itself didn’t figure heavily into my thoughts about Teddy Ruxpin. I didn’t think that I would win any friends by bringing him to school. I wanted him because he could talk. More importantly, he would talk to me. I imagined him occupying a spot next to the pillow on my bed, reciting his pre-recorded stories. Somehow I thought his voice–which would be at my beckon call whenever I needed it–would act as a salve for all of the things that ached me: the loneliness of grade school, the realities of growing toward puberty and away from cuteness.

Strangely, I don’t think I ever asked my parents for a Teddy Ruxpin. Though my parents were resistant to buy any mass marketed toy, it’s conceivable that during the Christmas season I could have worn them down with some persistence. It seems likely that I never asked because a part of me recognized my fantasy as a pipe dream, and a weak one at that. Teddy Ruxpin could not save me from loneliness. I knew, just as my parents would have known, that we would install the four double-A batteries, I’d listen to each side of the cassette three times, maybe five, and then he’d sit in some forgotten corner of my room, his eyes perpetually wide with eagerness.

Image credit, Gidget: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gidget