Concentrate and ask again later

The layout of the side-by-side stores at the Coronado Shopping Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico resembles a large pizza slice; the anchor stores, like the grocery and the drug store toward the crust end, and the entertainment like the bowling alley and the movie theaters up toward the tip of the slice. The parking lot adjusts accordingly with less space by the tip and more by the crust.

            In the early 1980’s, the grocery was once a Safeway, then it became Furr’s, then Lowe’s, and now a Trader Joe’s. In the middle of the mall was and still is a cafeteria, also called Furr’s. There used to be a bookstore, Books West, a Hallmark shop, a bank,  a discount clothing store called Anthony’s, and at the tip end, a bowling alley known as the Coronado Lanes and a twin movie theater. The bowling alley is now a Fleishman’s furniture store next to a restaurant bakery and the twin theater is a resale boutique. 

            Back then, there used to be a TG&Y closer to the movie theater. TG&Y was one of the five-and-dime stores in fashion years ago. In Santa Fe at the time, there was also Skaggs and Woolworth’s. Santa Fe also had a K-Mart and a Grand Central; much larger stores and further across town compared to Skaggs’ and TG&Y’s just-down-the-streetness. TG&Y carried household goods, clothes, books, sundry items, some food stuffs, and toys. As a kid, I was most interested in the toys.

            TG&Y’s toys weren’t the best toys. You weren’t going to find a top-of-the-line Lego set there, for example. Puzzles and jacks and water guns, yes. One time, I came across a Lego knock off there. It was a fire truck with what I believe was the upper half of Lego men, the fire men, glued onto a non-Lego looking truck. I was so furious I tried to pull the Lego men off the truck, half to verify if indeed they were the real thing just stolen and glued to the truck, and the other half to free them from that awful, imposter toy.

            TG&Y was where I got the plastic Fisher-Price picnic set. The picnic set was a yellow basket with a picture of a boy and girl hand-in-hand on it walking out to have a picnic. The basket contained a set of small plastic plates, small plastic forks and knives, plastic cups and two napkins. I don’t think you could actually have a picnic with this set; that is, eat off and with these utensils, so the toy was created purely for imaginational purposes, and a very active imagination resided in my little head at the time. Still does.

            The picnic basket was around kindergarten and the fake Lego after that, so before both of those, I must have found the Magic 8-Ball at TG&Y.. It might have been the first toy I remember playing with at TG&Y. The Magic 8-Ball doesn’t need much explaining. It’s a prognostication device in the shape of black number-8 pool ball with a small window at the bottom where an icosahedron embossed with answers rests in a dark purple liquid. You ask a question, shake the ball, and up pops an answer. Like the Lego fire truck, it’s an imposter. It can’t really tell the future. Or maybe it can. Maybe if you really believe and trust in it, it can. Maybe if you have a really active imagination and are a kid who needs some advice, it can.

            My questions for the 8-ball had to be asked one at time since I never actually got to take it from TG&Y. I wonder about this. I wonder if my parents or family didn’t want me to have it because they didn’t want the thing around. I wonder if they knew of its mysterious power and its ability to give answers so easily and shockingly straightforward.

            About the pronoun they: my Dad often used they to describe the people in my house who he was most against at a given moment. I remember him using it mostly when he had a lot to drink and would pass out in the bed next to mine in the basement and say things like “They don’t do a fuckin’ thing around here,” or “They don’t appreciate a fuckin’ thing I do.” To me, they referred to my mom, mostly, but I had a sense he was also referring to my oldest sister, as though my mom and my oldest sister were a duo, the they he was referring to.

            On visits to TG&Y, I’d go find the Magic 8-Ball to ask it a question. One of my first questions was about the toys at home, mostly the collection of dolls like Raggedy Ann and Andy and all the other little kid things we had a home. I asked the 8-ball if it was really true that the toys came to life when we where away. The Magic 8-ball said: “It is certain.”
            I got the notion that the toys and dolls at home came to life from movies. There was another movie theater near our house, this one a tiny one-auditorium, and they showed kids movies and I think maybe the occasional adult film there. I know we saw Benji there, one of the Muppet movies, and definitely an animated Raggedy Ann and Andy movie. In the Raggedy Ann and Andy movies, the toys came to life when the kids weren’t around and got into all kinds of adventures. This fascinated me because at home, there waited Raggedy Ann and Andy lifeless and still and probably tired from all their shenanigans while we were not a home.

            Raggedy Ann and Andy were rocks for me. My mom had sewn some almost life-sized versions of the pair and they sat sentry-like on my small bed in her bedroom. When I was sad, I’d go onto the little bed and hug them. One time, when it was real bad, after I had just gotten a haircut at another shopping center across from the Coronado and was crying because of the fighting, they set me up, I think it was my dad, with some Blake’s Lota-burger and a Raggedy Ann and Andy coloring book in front of the TV to calm me down. I had fries and a hot dog.

            My questions for the Magic 8-ball went from the simple to the complex very quickly. The question I needed an answer for was: “Will my parents get a divorce?” Magic 8-ball always said things like: “Better not tell you now,” or “Ask again later.” I kept going back. I kept asking. Eventually I got the ball.

            I’m not sure when I stopped asking that same question. I think maybe it was when I didn’t need to know the answer anymore, probably because I had known it all along. If the Magic 8-Ball were able to answer more specifically, beyond yes or no questions, I might have started asking “When will my parents get divorced?” “How long are they going to keep up with this charade?” “Who are they doing this for because it’s certainly not a benefit for them or us.”

            The Magic 8-Ball I brought home might have eventually stopped working. The liquid inside, which I found out is simply purple-dyed alcohol, might have kept the icosohedron locked on one or two answers. Concentrate and ask again later. Don’t count on it. The ball itself probably landed up in a box somewhere at the house in Santa Fe. Or it may have been sold at a garage sale, or picked up and shaken by the grandkids in the garage turned playroom. They might have picked it up and asked it a question, and who knows, maybe even now, after my parents have still made no moves to close the books on their sham of a marriage, the Magic 8-Ball might have been stuck at a different angle and given another answer, affording the children a bit of hope: Outlook good.

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