Look at my desk.
Look at my desk again.
Yes, I am obsessed with toys.
I ask my wife, “When can I buy another toy?”
“When you clean your office.”
“There must be another way.”
I told my son about this difficulty, and he said, “Clean your office.”
“Impossible,” I said. “I don’t want to.”
“But listen,” he whispered. “Clean it and get a toy. Then make it messy again, then clean it again, and get another toy. See?”
But it’s difficult to clean my office. I’m defeated by the thought of doing it. Every piece of trash I put in the trashcan mocks me: “That’s cute,” says the trash. “How long before I’m back? Honey, it won’t be long.”
And I believe the trash. The mess in my office is like a field of weeds. The reason I don’t clean is the same reason I’m not a farmer. Why farm when the moment you turn around, you have to farm again tomorrow? I want a farm you farm once and it stays farmed forever.
Anyways, defeated by the logic of my trash, I’m stuck with waiting for birthdays and Christmas and for times when I just buy toys online and wound my marriage.
But if the promise was Star Wars toys, originals, I would clean every room in town, go to prison for breaking and entering, and then clean my prison cell, all the cells, earning the love of the warden, who would liberate me for good behavior and then send me home to a house full of Star Wars toys, originals, one toy for every room I cleaned.
I Dream A Dream: Specifically, This Dream
It’s summer. My wife says, “Let’s go yard-sailing.”
“No thank you,” I say. I imagine the milling yard-sale thugs, the men in sweatpants-shorts and tucked in t-shirts, the t-shirts with the pocket over the nipple, and the pocket full of car keys, so it looks like one of the nipples is a nipple-cluster and huge; the men and women walking around with their hands behind their backs like dictators and wearing fanny-packs around their waists, the bulge defiantly in front, these belts looking like sad action hero utility belts that have developed a clog, a blockage, resulting in that distended bag. It isn’t the bag I fear, but the thought of becoming like these men and women, of one day looking down and seeing that I’ve developed a bulge of my own, and how did I catch it? I wasn’t promiscuous. I didn’t lie on my stomach, nude on public toilet seats. It was the yard sales that did it to me. Again, no thank you.
“There might be Star Wars toys there,” my wife says. “Originals.”
We get to the yard sale. It’s run by a sweet-talking, elderly woman named Mrs. Penny Eldridge. She wears two fanny packs. She must have been very promiscuous. She’s selling salt and pepper shakers that look like pilgrims; shot glasses with southwestern scenes painted on them; a box full of board-games, weathered by years of use (which I call child abuse); and underneath a table standing shyly at the edge of her lawn, the grass of which is clipped as neatly as the silver crew-cut of her husband who stands in the window, eating cereal out of a bowl so small it looks like he’s spooning cereal out of his hand, I see it: the box under the table, a big, time-softened box which is as full as a pilgrim’s gluttonous cornucopia, full of gray plastic the color of United States Navy battleships, the color of Star Wars space vehicles. Originals.
Jesus loves me, this I know. For I have proof. It’s in that box.
I move quickly to the box, but not so quickly as to draw the attention of the man in sweatpants shorts that are pulled so high I see the contours of his maleness. I move only relatively quickly because I know how professional yard-sailors work: like sharks. They are drawn to disturbances in the water. If you gasp, they’re at your side, eager to gasp too, to reach in with their slick, hairless arms, pale and boneless as worms, and steal your birthright.
So I move deceptively fast to the box, which carries all my hopes.
I peer inside…
The Force leaps in my womb.
A-Wings. B-Wings. X-Wings. Y-Wings.
I’m prematurely giving birth to joy.
I am pushing, dammit!
Imperial Star Destroyers. A GR-75 Medium Transport. A Mon Calamari Star Cruiser! AT-ST Walkers. AT-AT Walkers.
I can’t take it. The bliss is too great. We need a cesarean. ST-AT!
Speeders. Snowspeeders. A Landspeeder. Speeder Bikes. Imperial Shuttles. A Sandcrawler. Jabba’s Sail Barge! TIE Fighters. TIE Interceptors. The Millennium Falcon.
The Death Star. The Death Star! THE DEATH STAR!
You are now the proud father of—
Shut up and give me my baby.
I hold my globular son. His umbilical glows green. Cut it, but let me keep it. They say you can eat it. I just did.
Now, my beloved boy. I will name you:
Death Star Williams.
D.S. Williams. You’re going to be a planet-killer, my son.
But I have a momentary fear. A gundark just walked over my grave.
Are these all originals or were some of them made in the 2000s, clones of the originals, the bastard children of abominations I, II, and III?
I frantically hunt over the ships’ dusty bodies for the little dates printed on the plastic. I see them: 1985; ’84; ’83; ’82; 1981 (Chills. The year of my birth); 1980; ’79; ’78!
There is a God in Pennsylvania.
“Found something you like?”
This is Mrs. Eldridge talking. I’m cradling the box, and her sudden voice startles me, makes me spin around, aiming my back at her as if we’re playing basketball and I’m defending the ball, my boy. I will put my elbow in her eye if I have to, both eyes.
When I realize it’s her, though, and not someone I have to blind, I say, “Yes!” with too much force (I shouted in her face) catching the attention of her husband in the window. He leaves the window. He’s coming outside, drawn by the aroma of a sucker.
Before he gets here, I modify my answer: “Yes,” I say, calmly, noncommittally. “Yeah, a little bit. Maybe. Not really, but sure. I guess.” But I’m still clutching the box as if it’s my treasured child and Mrs. Eldridge is a demon with a sweet tooth for treasured children.
My wife touches my shoulder. I spin, elbow up. I almost blind her.
Old Man Eldridge is on the porch. He stands there a moment with his fists on his hips, surveying his domain like a mid-level manager, like he forgot why he came out here, but then he spots me, remembers, comes down the steps.
I have to hurry and buy this box, everything in this box, before he recognizes the fever in my eyes, the froth of ecstasy, a look that says, “Sir, I will now sell my car, my house, my son, my soul for the contents of this box, please. And I’ll mow your lawn forever. I’ll kill for you if you want. Who? Just point. Even a child.”
“I’m not crying,” I say to Mrs. Penny Eldridge, making small talk to get things going.
“He has allergies,” my wife says, baking me up.
I look at my wife and propose marriage again to her in my heart.
Mrs. Eldridge leans forward and looks into the box. “Ah,” she says, as if she forgot what she put in there, revealing herself to be unworthy of these Holy Grails, vessels of my oldest fantasies. Either that, or she’s playing a game, her game, patron Goddess of the yard sale, pretending she doesn’t know what she has.
Her husband walks up, but then glides by, just as lost-looking as he appeared on the porch. He strolls past, revealing that he isn’t the yard-sale powerhouse I took him to be. He’s a pawn in Penny’s hands, a mere tool.
This crew-cut lummox continues on his way, wandering to a patch of crabgrass, which he attacks.
So, he’s a ruse, a trick.
They probably have a signal, these two. She flexes her buttocks and he emerges from the house to utilize the assumptions of the young, the belief that our elders all worship a patriarchal God. We’ll think the husband has the power in this relationship, and we’ll rush into quick deals (bad deals for us) before he gets there, but she’s the one pulling the strings, the one working the levers of the world.
“Those belonged to my son,” she says.
And I cast a frenzied eye around, trying to locate this so-called son. Is he here? It’s likely he doesn’t know his mother is about to sell his reason to live.
On the other side of the yard, I see a child fondling a pogo stick he doesn’t intend to buy. He’s way too young to be her son, but he’s someone’s son, and therefore a risk. Or maybe he has a strange disease. He’s fifty, but looks ten. His disease is also a trick used by Goddess Eldridge on yard-sale days. His mother orders him to play with items she’s trying to sell, things like salty pilgrims and pogo sticks. He’s Tom Sawyer with his fence, skillfully making what he’s doing look desirable to others, and he’s so good at it that I want the pogo stick.
But the second this little conman realizes his mother has stolen all the gods from the temple of his room and shoved them in this one, spongy box, he will howl with the might of his many years, decades trapped inside the chubby prison of a cherub’s body, and he will wrench from my hands my gods.
My God, why have I been made to suffer so?
My wife notices that I’m a little stuck by my paranoia (I’m hissing at the child). She nudges the conversation forward.
“We didn’t find a price on the box,” she says.
“Oh,” Mrs. Eldridge says, and I fear she’s going to call her husband over, or her mutant boy, but she doesn’t. This is my mistake again. Mrs. Eldridge may have grown up in the mighty patriarchy, in the shadow of the phallic religion, but she proves herself stronger than those old, cylindrical prison bars. “Name your price,” she says.
I’m about to say, “Is my freedom enough?” but my wife cuts me off.
This makes Mrs. Eldridge laugh.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says.
But I can’t tell what kind of ridiculous my wife has just been in Mrs. Eldridge’s eyes. Is fifty too much? God, please. Or is it far, far too little? God hates me. Of course it’s too little.
These aren’t for sale, she’ll say, and How did these get out here? Then she’ll look reprovingly at her crab-grass-snatching husband and shake her head. Then she’ll look to her deformed man-boy, and say, Charlie, get over here. Take these up to your room. Your father’s trying to ruin your life.
But what about my life?
“Ten dollars,” Mrs. Eldridge says.
I almost screech, “You fool!” I want to tell her what she’s just done wrong, explain what is about to happen to her. She’s about to be swindled by me. I, a stranger, a man like her son, only in reverse: a child trapped in a man’s body. “I am about to screw you over,” I will say, morality giving me no choice. “Do you understand?”
My wife, sensing my confusion, steps in front of me. She and Mrs. Eldridge lock eyes and I see in Mrs. Eldridge’s eyes the calm and cool look of command, of wisdom, and there’s a little smile on her mouth. She knows exactly what she’s doing. She isn’t fooled. She isn’t anyone’s fool and has never been.
But what is she?
She’s a powerhouse, a woman who has lived and loved, and lives and loves still, a woman free enough in her head and heart to know and appreciate a child when she sees one, no matter how old and pathetic he looks. A woman who loves to give good gifts to children.
My wife and I walk away with the priceless treasure, and on the drive home, she says, “Maybe one day, you’ll have the fun of passing these on to someone else.”
I know she’s thinking of our son, Sawyer. Involuntarily, I hiss.
“What was that?” she said.
I hold the box tighter and say, “Maybe,” and then imagine myself in many years, standing in a big window, eating cereal out of the box by handfuls, looking out on a lawn, my lawn. It’s covered in tables, which are covered in objects from my family’s personal history: salt and pepper shakers that look like face-hugger eggs; shot glasses with Indiana Jones and E.T. scenes painted on them; a box with “Board Games” written on it in huge letters, but the box is intentionally empty (this being my gift to shoppers, and a strong statement about how to love your family); and underneath a table standing shyly at the edge of my lawn, the grass of which is meadow-long, because it’s my job to cut it, I see it, and I have a bad feeling about this: the box, a big, time-softened box, which is full to overflowing with my dreams. Originals.
I watch my wife’s yoga-empowered buttocks, waiting for a Morse-code signal, telling me, “How did that box get out here? Come save it!” But she doesn’t flex. This yard sale is her province and I am not needed, not wanted.
I see a boy wandering around from table to table. Now I see my wife’s wisdom. Because I could not, she is passing my treasures on to a new generation of dreamers. The boy reminds me of my son, who is far away in Washington being the best president America ever had. And the yard-sailing boy reminds me of me when I was a boy, and also of me now.
I see something else: suddenly, an old man is running out of my house, running across the lawn, jumping over tables, falling down, getting up, screaming, hissing. I see the old man chasing the stupid boy away then taking up my box of dreams and running, running.
Now, this old man is in a casket. He is dead. He is smiling. Star Wars toys pile all around him. I see the lid closing, locking, and the casket sinking underground, and down there in the dark, which is on the very dark side of things, I see the old man’s body disappear, his clothes dropping as gently as falling leaves to the cushioned casket-floor, and I see all the darling toys vanishing with him.
My wife is alone, standing in the window and sunken in a bottomless hell of grief. She’s gazing out across our lawn, which is cut once a week and looks great because she’s the one who cuts it now, and she gasps, for a ghostly figure appears, a beautiful old man in a cloak, a man who looks like me if I was old and in a cloak and glowing blue and smiling, and all around him, floating and standing, there’s a blue-glowing fleet of rebel and imperial friends, my beloved Star Wars toys, my first loves, my originals.
Tears come to my wife’s eyes, and now she knows where I hid those toys.
She laughs and shakes her head and then endearingly says, “That son of a bitch.”