Mr. Plasticky (Part Two)

by Cynthia Kazandjian

Don’t be concerned about being disloyal to your pain by being joyous. Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan

Peaches and Nancy Drew were my first hot air balloons. On days when I wasn’t in school I established a couple of steadfast routines. Latchkey on a cord around my neck, I’d set off for my two favourite spots, never deterring from a fixed route. If my neighbour Emily’s door was ajar, I knew I was welcome to knock and expect her to summon me inside for some cookies, apple juice, and fun conversation. Emily’s trusting and elegant nature made her somewhat of an oddity in our rough neighbourhood.

Emily was in her 90’s and the first nonagenarian I’d ever met. Her white hair was always in a bun. And I never saw her wear anything other than what looked like the adult version of Dorothy’s blue-and-white checkered dress in The Wizard of Oz.

Emily’s small home was filled with crocheted marvels. Patterned doilies in various sizes and colors adorned most of her furniture. Emily made every single one of these countless doilies and proudly reminded me of the fact each and every visit. As with most of the South Floridian characters I would meet, Emily fascinated me.

Unfortunately, I always left Emily’s with considerable trepidation at the possibility of encountering another armadillo. The one and only armadillo I have ever seen up close was once dawdling around Emily’s door after one of our visits. At the unexpected sight of this preternaturally ugly creature, I screamed and hurried back inside Emily’s with a door slam. For a while I was convinced that the eerie experience was in fact an alien sighting as well as a harbinger of bad things to come.

Because my mother’s level of paranoia was problematic, I held back from sharing my armadillo incident with her. The event was traumatic enough without me having to endure her habitual reliance on conspiracy theories to explain everything. And what if she invoked the help of Jesus? Did I really want to put myself in this situation if I could avoid it? I think you know the answer to this.

I did share my armadillo run in with a teacher who was kind enough to show me pictures of this hideous mammal. I was assured that no, this was not an alien, but a fellow being from planet earth.

After Emily’s I walked several blocks up my street to where it intersected with the bustling Sunrise Boulevard. I was always eager to behold what I viewed as the jewel of the boulevard. A bewitching exotic car dealership with floor to ceiling windows faced the corner where I invariably stopped and stared. The dealership’s showroom showcased slick and colourful cars with glittering wheel caps and the sight always made me smile. I am not a car person, and nor was I then, but the spectacular beauty of these ergonomic spectacles invigorated me with wonderment. These luxury cars were a different universe from the rustbuckets driven by my mother and Gus. Speaking of Gus, I am happy to report that I never rode in his car and he never tried anything sexual with me.

And I’d really like to thank Kenny Rogers (albeit belatedly) for his song She Believes in Me. I sang it constantly. Every time it came on the car radio, suffocatingly hot rustbucket rides with my mother became bearable.

Back to the boulevard. Every now and then some garishly attired man behind the wheel of a fabulous car would pull into the dealership. Most of the time these men sported oversized sunglasses and dark honey suntans. Some had perms. How could I tell? Whenever my mother spotted a man with a perm, she would point him out to me. I developed a knack for categorizing perms. The kind of perms that most would confuse with real deal curls didn’t fool me for a second. Hey, this was South Florida in the late 70s folks. What better terrain on which to develop weird skills?

I didn’t know it then but these sleazy looking men were 70s era incarnations of Mr. Plasticky. I would go on to meet these types by the dozen. One in particular would stand out from the rest.

As I continued along my route I walked past several vacant lots, a 7-Eleven, and an impressive cascade of bleachers on a giant sports field. I grew accustomed to the intense heat emitted by the pavement during the daytime. How could I not? I walked everywhere. Soon enough, I reached destination number one, the public library. It was a grand building, beautifully showcased with artful landscaping. The smooth walkways that led to its front and side doors were lined with hibiscus bushes, dwarf majesty palms and more variations of South Floridian foliage that I wouldn’t be able to name, then, or now.

In I went. I headed to the water fountain, then the public restroom, and finally bee-lined to my favourite bookshelf. I installed myself in a corner and read for hours.

But first this:

An unwholesome childhood doesn’t have to have the last word. A toy deficit is no big deal if you know how to make cool Kleenex dolls. Like it or not, reckless parenting enables you to experience dangerous thrills. Thrills that you will always cherish. I roller-skated on low rooftops and swam in pools immersed with pool furniture while mild hurricanes made their way through South Florida. I can’t deny my luck for living through these fun but greatly dangerous activities. I wouldn’t want any child to do these things but, because I survived, I get to determine my perspective and attitude about it today.

My ability to find beauty was never diminished by undesirable circumstances. Like all children, I was into all sorts of things. Florida’s brackish waters and pink jellyfish (I was stung by my fair share) aroused my deepest curiosity about the universe. I liked tortoise shell barrettes, jean skirts, denim covered school binders, pumpkin pie, beach driftwood, palm trees, and the ocean. I still do. I got through rough days by focusing on a wide range of things from simple everyday objects to abstract concepts and ideas. My imagination kept me strong and resilient.

However, the unfortunate happenings of my childhood years were not confined to Floridian soil. Life is much messier than for that to have been the case. Yet, throughout the decades of my life, I have always felt a mystical pull to Florida. Florida has always been my go to place to sort out the business of my soul.

Back to the public library:

At last I was weightless and safe. I started to drift upwards. The day belonged to me now. I knew what it must have felt like to soar in a hot air balloon.

I loved working my way through the library’s collection of Nancy Drew books. The second I laid eyes on the signature yellow bindings, I knew I was free. Typically, the first page was a full-page illustration with an intriguing caption at the bottom. The second page was a brief description of a new mystery that “America’s favourite teen-age detective” would have to solve. Lines like, “The thrilling hunt for Nixon and the heiress takes Nancy in and out of many perilous situations,” immediately drew you in.

The Mystery of Crocodile Island was published in 1978, the year before I arrived in Florida. In it, Nancy also had to go to Florida and avert dangers and struggle through many obstacles. Sure, her struggles were of a different nature than mine. But her tenacious spirit inspired me no less powerfully. Her victories became my victories and I was soothed by her presence in my life, even if it was through the parallel universe of fiction.

To be continued…

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