Topical Guide 52
Parallel Passages; Parallel Experiences
THE DAY WAS FINE and clear. I dressed and left the house before my mother and father were stirring. I packed my old red wagon with the food and equipment for the trip and tied it behind my bicycle. I set off for Raskol’s, weaving and struggling along the street, with the wagon wandering this way and that, independent of my steering, like a curious child holding his mother’s hand. The part of Babbington where I lived, outside the center of things, was still quiet, and I didn’t see another person until I was downtown, riding on Main Street. There excitement was in the air. At street corners, high-spirited auxiliary policemen stood eating doughnuts, drinking coffee from paper cups, and poking at one another’s bellies. I saluted these fellows as I rode past.
“Nice morning!” I sang out to some. “Great day for traveling!” I called to others. I pedaled past them, and behind me I could hear some references to me that I couldn’t quite make out, perhaps praise for my pluck, perhaps expressions of envy, of nostalgia for lost youth, for its discoveries and adventures, who can say?
Little Follies, “Life on the Bolotomy”
Years later, when Peter is fifteen:
MY DEPARTURE from Babbington was everything that I could have wished it to be. As I rolled southward from my house in Babbington Heights, I saw, here and there, people standing at the curbside, waving. Now and then a parent would bend to a child and point at me and say something that I couldn’t hear. Of course, I allowed myself to think that the words I wasn’t hearing were words of praise for me, for my pluck and enterprise and ingenuity. …
The mayor intercepted me, putting a firm hand on my shoulder, turning me toward the crowd, and announcing, “Citizens of Babbington, here is your Birdboy, Peter—ah—Lee-roy.”
The applause was friendly, but light. …
He paused. He gripped my shoulder more tightly. He set his jaw.
“Our hopes ride with him,” he said. …
In something of a daze, I made my way through a phalanx of cops to the aerocycle. The applause now was really something, loud and genuine. I had become the teenage hero of my cozy bayside community. I felt ad- mired, and I felt that I deserved admiration. I felt capable and strong and daring.
I mounted the aerocycle, came down hard on the kick-starter, and rode off into the sunset, or into the direction of the place where sunset would oc- cur later that evening, with the Kap’n Klam banner clattering behind me.
Flying, “Taking Off”
Embarrassment: Feeling, Fearing, Avoiding; Self-Image, Self-Respect, Self-Esteem: Nurturing; Reputation, Status, Dignity: Attempting to Enhance
I thought for a moment of going over to them to try walking from clamboat to clamboat, which looked like fun, but I pushed on instead, because Raskol and I had decided that if we weren’t in the water early enough, people were likely to see us wobbling under the weight of the boat when we carried it to the water, and the photographer from the paper was sure to consider that a cute shot, take it, and use it on the front page, making both of us look like idiots. We had decided that we, and the boat, would look much better in the water than on our way to it . . .
Little Follies, “Life on the Bolotomy”
Lorna was surprised to find that the thought that [Herb] was going to leave in a minute or two made her feel colder suddenly, as if a breeze had come up, though the air was still. Something told her to hide the feeling from Herb. That something, that damned something, was the sense of personal dignity that is one of our most civilized attributes, the source of so many of our discontents, the cause of so many missed opportunities. I make that judgment nearly seventy years after the fact, but I have support for it from May Castle:
Oh, you know it’s just the damnedest thing, isn’t it, the way we hold ourselves back! Of course, in the long run it’s probably for the best that we do, or we’d be throwing ourselves at half the people we meet and throwing stones at the others. But how many times have I said to myself, “Oh, damn! Why didn’t I let myself go and try dancing the tango?” Well, that may not be the best example—I always do try dancing the tango whenever the opportunity presents itself, and I’ve gotten quite good at it over the years—which is just my point, isn’t it? But I’ve never gone into one of those saunas, you see. There I’ve held myself back, because I’ve thought I’d look foolish. Well, that’s just the way Lorna felt, I’m sure.
It’s a negative desire: not to lose one’s dignity, not to look foolish. It may be love’s worst enemy.
Herb ’n’ Lorna
Note to self: “Embarrassment” is a must for the Topical Autobiography of Mark Dorset.
[more to come on Monday, July 26, 2021]
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