Sunday, January 30, 2011

LIFE APPROACHES: A LOVE STORY (HARDY BOYS EDITION)

Oh, allow me to dwell for a time in that book's brittle pages. I recently found it jammed in a box here in Baguio, stuffed far down below, a reprinted small replica of my own self's treasured start. Of the story itself, I could recollect not a word, but that cover! Young Joe Hardy, brown brushcut clipped tight, bends down on one knee to stare with concern at the dark footprints beneath him on the airport hangar's dirt floor. Older sibling brave Frank, black-haired and akin to Beaver Cleaver's big brother good Wally, frowns with confusion, while a policeman kneels on one knee far off in the corner, a piece of stray driftwood clutched tight, this enigma's stray heart. In the doorway behind them, a radio tower off in the distance waves its red flag, while the rear of a plane behind Frank lets us know where we are. I could, and I have, stared at that cover for hours, for who says that one's greatest awe must be found only in sunsets, or a nipple's small suckle?



Suddenly coming in contact with the physical presence of books that I've read as a child always fires me straight back to my first years on earth. This one volume right here, Hardy Boys Number Nine, The Great Airport Mystery so poignant, smacks me head-on with a blunt psychic slap. I feel almost physically stung, as if I should rush to a mirror and search for red cheeks. I don't remember the first Oh Henry! I ate, nor the first Tab cola I slurped, but Hardy Boys Number Nine -- what a raw scab I still scratch! (If it was another book altogether that still makes me so hard from the thrill of one word kissing another, a sensual string of illicit language liasons -- so be it. A false romantic view of one's past is hardly a sin to be scorned.)



Like Joe Hardy, I too, have an older brother, and I'm quite sure that this book was his before mine, but after me, let me state: no else stroked its firm spine, unless they silently scrounged my own bookshelf while I slept late at night. Something about that cover. Perhaps it was the sight of the two brothers themselves, our own doppelgangers (I wished!), intent and determined to solve this odd crime, despite their young age; or the soft silver glow of that police officer's badge; or the strange looming sight of that immense plane in the background, the painted blue wing on its side outlined in red trim -- all, in some manner, mysteries I might unravel, if only given a chance.



We all invent our own memories. Sometimes we're not sure what was actual, or merely an old photo's transmission. Yet that rising, tickling sensation returns when I stare at this book; images, arising. Myself at age six, tracing its cover, scenting its pages. (If you do not instinctively smell the whole breadth of a book before flipping it open, I'm not truly sure you can understand my obsession; if you neglect such a sniff, in truth, I feel pity.)



And a hardcover! These books were designed for my own meagre age and poor reading ability, but its binding bespoke an adult's large world and obsessions. If I might read such a tome, could I step any closer to Carson, that late-night treat for grown-ups? Dare I enter these pages, and possibly discover those secrets that lay just beyond nine-thirty at night? Only hardbound books might offer a look at a life that was more than mere noisy cartoons, or connect-the-dot outlines of vague shapes in blue crayon.



Before the orgasm erupts with all its new frantic shivers, what's the closest cousin we have to such spasms within? Whatever life force it is, I'm sure that I nudged it awake upon cracking that cover and finding a page near the front listing more excitement to come: What Happened At Midnight, While The Clock Ticked, The Witchmaster's Key and The Sting Of The Scorpion. Holy smokes, what a find! Such a future to follow! Not to mention the charcoal-style drawings beside the title page's bold print, offering a hint of adventures immense and unlikely, but present, right here between this back cover and front stacked so solid and firm. All I need do was open up.



So, that was some kind of a start. I soon read Hardy Boys books with abandon, in a literal sense -- all of real life as I lived it soon became a quaint backdrop to tales of domestic excitement, tarted with danger. Each story concluded with a foreshadow and tease -- the name of the next book in the series, embedded within the current adventure's last page, a crafty publisher's trick, not that I cared. Another, another, another. Give me more, again, better. The desperate lover's sad plea.



How long did it last? A year, probably less. A short, intense affair, myself submerged in another's embrace. After I devoured all those Hardy Boys stories --ignoring Nancy Drew's similar series with a quiet resolve -- I felt a great guilt descend, and I relapsed back to my first love of comics, and stayed loyal to them, more or less, stoned and drunk with their undemanding old magic, for a good four or five years.



I betrayed this vow only the once, and my heart still hangs low, drooping. For it involved Nancy Drew, and her escapades were for girls, end of story, enough. Please don't give them as gifts, I silently pleaded to unsuspecting grandparents and friends. One afternoon yard sale at the end of Grade Three, I rummaged through paperback stacks on somebody's front lawn until I found a new find: a tattered TV-Movie tie-in, a late Seventies relic, both Hardy Boys and young Nancy Drew teaming up to fight crime, with eight pages of dumb heartthrob photos stuck square in the middle, glued to the spine. Should I allow Nancy Drew to enter my world? Was the potential reward enough of a lure? Tormented, I finally decided to give it a go. After all, the Hardy Boys were her friends. Perhaps she had more grit than I could know or suspect. Begrudingly, I decided to accept her role in this tale, but it felt forced and unwanted, a betrayal of self. My first glimpse of compromise.

This, on the same day as my school's annual spring Fun Fair, Pine Grove Public's hurrah, not the summer itself but that courtship's first dance. Wandering around the transformed parking lot, a makeshift carnival on tarmac. Blue cotton candy inhaled straight from tiny white sticks, each lick and quick chew staining my tongue shades of sky. (Why do we eat other foods, yet inhale cotton candy?) The spring afternoon fading quickly to dusk, me walking home under shy purple skies, my face painted clown-white, crimson lips as an add-on, and that Hardy Boys find clutched between sticky fingers, skeptical, but excited, too. In Nancy Drew's own brave decisions alongside Joe and Frank, I might discover I'd been wrong, and this was enticing, a thought adults might consider.



A 1993 reissue, this current edition of The Great Airport Mystery's copyright states. 1965, 1957, and 1930 are the other reprint years duly dated, an entire century's vast sprawl reduced to small type, the years themselves slinking backwards in reverse incremental incarnations. Were we to somehow enlarge that white space between those four bloodless dates, a magic glass magnifying, our old house might arise from those random blank gaps, 10 Bayshore Crescent returned, restored and in full.



The year, 1980 -- or '81, at the latest. An ordinary evening, distilled. The family room is downstairs, just below old-fashioned doors saloon-style in design. Next to the fireplace squats our black-and-white television, just turned on and still warming, its small silver dot growing wide and inclusive, the CFTO news jingle announcing the hour; my father sits leans back on the couch with the paper all spread, as his pipe smoke slowly slinks through the room's cosy charm; my brother beside him, holding his small plastic glass of ginger-ale mixed with grape, an evening's great treat after street hockey's demands; the warm scent of roast chicken slowly cooked in the oven drifts down from the kitchen above, as my mother hums softly to the radio's tune, puttering and putting our whole lives in their place. I wander in from the toyroom, restless and bored, the Silly Putty's soft squish in my palm my lame attempt at delight. On the corner of our small oak coffee table, a new hardcover book made for children sits near its edge, forgotten, almost falling. Intrigued, I move forward. From now, life approaches.

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