Suburban Soliloquy


112. Toys

There came a time when I felt the urge to again play with my big mace. I asked my mother where was it? She didn't know what I was referring to. You know, I told her, the club; it has a long handle and at the end was a large ball with spikes for bludgeoning one's enemies. You can't be serious, she replied, we threw that out thirty years ago. Threw it out! I was aghast. It was my favorite toy.

That toy, made of wood and rubber, was kept in the bottom of the linen closet, which was across the hall from my parents' bedroom in our Bronx apartment. We moved from that apartment when I was five, yet I thought for sure my favorite toy would have joined us through our several changes of address. So when I was thirty-five a score of years ago, I wanted to play with it again. Was it not still stored in the attic? All that was precious and couldn't be parted with went into the attic; Persian rugs, Satsuma bowls, a hand-carved Italian cabinet, a Turkish brass tray, my sister's scrapbooks from grade school with her record collection of forty-fives, and my tin Roman helmet with its immense plume. Why was that silly helmet saved and not my precious mace?

Well, I'm over it. The toys of my youth have all be trashed or dispersed. In the last twenty years, I have not asked my mother about any of the other toys. I have not given toys much thought until the other day when Ms Keogh, my more significant other, Mr Beckles, our grandson, and myself went shopping at a local Marshalls, a small off-price retailer with a chain of stores across the U.S. We all came away with something. I found a pair of Timberland black boots, Ms Keogh added to her lingerie, and Mr Beckles selected some toys that came in two big boxes. As we departed the store, I found myself carrying everything. I turned to Mr Beckles and remarked, aren't you man enough to carry your own toys? I was immediately struck with the phrase and savored it - man enough to carry your own toys.

Men never do outgrow toys. As we get older, we get much better at not breaking our toys or losing them. Perhaps that's because they cost us more. Also, we acquire them from hard work and not merely by whining to our parents. The Matchbox Jaguar car that we got down on our knees to push across the floor has given way to the Miata in the driveway. (I've since sold my Miata. I've grown more sedate and now drive a Honda Accord sedan. However, my thirty-four-year-old son now drives a Miata identical to the one I once owned.) We men must have our toys.

For some their tools are their toys - double-entendre aside. Toys can be those tools that evoke pleasure. We men disdain work, but not labor. What to some seems like work is another man's hobby. Ms Keogh complains that I am not one of those men who has a diverse collection of tools hanging in an organized manner across the garage wall with which I can replace the sink's washer, spackle the hole in a wall, or replace the lock on a bathroom door. I am also not one of those men with a shed full of implements for seeding and weeding the lawn, plus a clean riding mower. Indeed not! Ms Keogh just took our old grass encrusted lawnmower, which I have not pushed in more than a dozen years, and left it by the curbside to be adopted. It disappeared the afternoon of the same day and good riddance. And while I'm not much for working around the house, crafting bookshelves or repairing antique lamps, she is nevertheless grateful I'm not one of those men who likes to play with guns or still rides a motorcycle.

It is not to say I am without my toys. There used to be an adorable little HO steam engine (missing its required coal carriage) on the windowsill in my study. I went looking for it to inspire me in the writing of this essay, but it was gone. Ms Keogh had to remind me that I had given it away a half-dozen years ago to a retiring colleague who still played with model trains. However, on top of the bookshelf overlooking my desk remains a die-cast model of the 1932 Northrop Gamma plane with Texaco decals which I am not giving away anytime soon. And yes, every once in a while, in a rare moment, when no one who could possibly see, I might take it down and fly it about the study while making the appropriate engine noises - an embarrassing admittance for a fellow in his fifty-sixth year. Still, the toys I play with most often, the toys I'm most fond of, are my fountain pens.

How is it that men never outgrow toys, but women do, or so it seems to me? I cannot think of anything among Ms Keogh's possessions that I could call a toy. I put this very question to her at dinner this evening. She explained to me that girls play with dolls and doll houses, but when they grow up they play with the real things. She further explained how this persistence at playing with dolls can be the seed of a dysfunctional relationship when one's child displays an independent personality and no longer wants to be their mother's doll to dress and command.

Plenty of men would look upon my pen collection with astonishment. Why would I want so many pens? Why such expensive pens? A ballpoint would do the job! At my desk I keep seventeen fountain pens inked and at the ready. Another sixteen reside in my desk drawer. Only two of those are inked, the others are patiently waiting to be rotated into service. Two more fountain pens are in my shirt pocket, and the irony here is that I'm composing the bulk of this essay at a keyboard. Still, some of it was born of thoughts first expressed with a fountain pen in letters to friends. Many men would disdain the labor of writing as unappealing work and would only do it for money, if even then. I regard my collection of pens and think how they are the tools of my playfulness. Writing for me, while it is a labor, isn't exactly work. This is play.

Bruce Bentzman

This essay is the most recent in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
Mr Bentzman's collection of poems, "Atheist Grace" is available from Amazon, as are "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman"