please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Friday, February 18, 2005

Get your adverbs here

I have a friend who works at a lonesome barbecue joint in the daytimes, when he is not the karaoke jockey at night. He often asks me to come down and visit him, when things are slow. We talked about a lot of things, yesterday, including the rarely used positive form of a lot of commonly spoken words ('evitably', anyone? 'Couth'?). We then somehow got onto the topic of imaginary friends. My sister, jealous about my rich inner life, which I often talked about, once looked at me and said, "Well, I've got an imaginary friend, too."
What's her name?, I wanted to know. "Lolly," she said, and elaborated no further. I then noted that the newspaper on the table had been open to the comics page, which in those faraway days featured a comic by the same name. It was sort of like if she had looked at me and said, "Shirt. I dunno. Leave me alone." I was kind enough not to ask any follow up questions about Lolly.
Then I crack open the Harper's magazine today, only to find all these case studies of actual six and seven year olds, and their imaginary friends ('Skateboard Guy: invisible eleven year old boy who lives in child's pocket...', 'Fake Rachel: lives under child's bed...', 'Simpy: blue skin and black eyes, wears funny clothes...', 'The Good Indian, a.k.a Don Vont: appeared when child spent a lot of time in the woods...', 'Sergeant Savage: G.I. Joe doll who is sometimes an invisible person, 100 years old...Child likes his shotgun, dislikes his face...', 'Elephant: invisible five-year-old female elephant, seven inches tall, gray color, black eyes, wears tank top and shorts. Child likes that she plays with child, dislikes that sometimes she is mean."). When we get that specific, I start to recall the outlines of my own phantom friends. Sometimes they were transmutations of favorite toys, or more specifically, the odd items (interestingly shaped sticks, pieces of engines, melted bits of plastic) that I would drag home, name and give characteristics to. But frankly, I've always been a writer (first novel; "The Exorcist Omen", age five), and I never really had imaginary friends (my actual friends are enough, and have always been, thanks); I made up characters.
My daughter used to have this sort of weird worship thing going on with these two water bottles when she was four. The bottles apparently represented two imaginary fish named Thlith and Glichh. I liked them so damn much, I put them in one of my novels. Can you see the scenario?
"To get through the mountain pass, we're gonna have to make a deal with Thlith and Glichh."
"Who's that?"
"They're two imaginary fish..." But the two characters in question are in a realm only somewhat like our own, and despite the fact that they know that the people they are about to parley with, to escape serious peril, are strictly speaking, 'imaginary', they have been manifested by the belief of a small being in another realm, and they'd better take this one seriously.
I grew up next to a family of evangelical Christians. They weren't the most liberal sorts in the world, but their son was my age, and we were natural friends. (I'll tell you the story of how they forced me to accept Jesus into my heart, causing me to miss the reruns of "M.A.S.H." I really wanted to watch, some other time.) I spent a lot of time over there, and though I thought their house smelled icky (too clean. I associate that smell with religion to this day), I became immersed in some aspects of their culture. And again, liberal they weren't, but this was the '70's, and liberal the world largely was. They had an album called "The Music Machine" for the kids. It's a fantastic piece of your ecumenical Jesus hippie material-I own a copy of it now, in fact, and see nothing at all shitty about it. It pushes such controversial concepts as Tolerance and Patience.
The song "Patience", in fact, is where this one gets weird. Its chorus goes as follows:
"Have pa-tience
have pa-tience
Don't be in su-uch a hurry..."
But I heard the song in the background of conversation so many times, I only resolved the chorus into this wordless rhythmic humping:
"Nk nk nk.
nk nk nk.
Nk nk nk Niiik nuh nk nk..."
Which eventually resolved itself into a name:
"Lloyd Ink-strom
Lloyd Ink-strom..."
Strange, but I was a kid, you know? Why question it? Perfectly good name. I developed him into a character. He was the richest man in Bubble City (don't ask); sometimes a bad man, as the richest man often becomes, but generally a thoroughgoing good egg, ready to lend a hand. The strangeness of how I acquired the name did come to sort of haunt me, a bit, and I took to looking through phone books for the nearest Lloyd Inkstrom. Never found one. By the time Lloyd found his way into my earliest sexual fantasies, it became clear that his days were numbered.
Now, flash forward to my seventeenth birthday. I receive a birthday card in the mail. The text, poorly penned, addressed me in the diminutive form of my name, and assured me that though the author of the missive had been 'away in the merchant marines', he had been keeping track of my progress, and thought that I was doing just fine. "Best regards...Lloyd Inkstrom".
Oh. Well, lessee...My mind struggled to find any sort of rational answer. The crap handwriting did, in fact, look like something I might have written to myself in the single digits...But I have no recollection of doing so, and I remember things pretty damn clearly all the way back to my first year of life. I asked everyone who would have known about Lloyd if they had done this (and how weird would that have been, ten years hence?), and to a person, they all denied it. To this day, it remains a mystery.
If someone sent that to me, just when the pudding started to get a little too thick, they had tremendous insight into how I really work: my best friends have always lived up there in my head, and I hardly think that I'm the only one for whom that is true. And it also brings up another angle. Does it mean then, if no one I know was truly responsible for this, doesn't that suggest that maybe the act of creating a character means something a great deal more concrete than we 're willing to credit? That maybe I actually brought Something into the world, and he's out there wandering around?
This opens the door to all kinds of shit, if so.



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