I always wanted to work with my hands. Maybe that’s why I buy so many art supplies. I have a Pentel paint set I once bought in the Tokyo airport. The paints are like pastel sticks that you use to draw on paper. Also in the set are brushes on the ends of plastic tubes. You put water into the tubes, the water flows to the brushes, you use the brushes to smear the stick paint you’ve drawn onto the paper. It’s watercoloring for people who have a hard time letting go.
I’m sitting in my writing room looking at a big plastic tub, the kind you get to store stuff. In it I see a small peanut butter jar, Skippy, the kind with the red cap. The jar is filled with buttons. Buttons. Now, many years since the buttons collection was started, I can’t recollect what I planned to use them for.
For a short while, in the late 1980s, I worked for a silkscreener who let me use her sewing machine any time I wanted. I once sewed a pink penis head, stuffed it with batting and drew a face on it. I stuck a branch from a tree into the bottom, so the head looked like a puppet on a stick. The branch had a smaller branch emanating from it, like an erect penis. I made a tag for the puppet; it said “My doll, Dick.”
Jim’s dad picked up the puppet one day when he came to visit us. It had been lying on my work table, and it was the kind of slow motion event that you can’t stop from happening. Me on one side of the room, suddenly notice Jim’s dad, his hand going for My Doll, Dick. Me rushing to him, realizing as I approach that once I get there I’ll only be more conspicuous, less able to pretend I know nothing about the doll. Jim’s dad reads the tag, looks at me looking at him, puts the doll down and thankfully says nothing.
The buttons in my Skippy peanut butter jar are, I think, from that era. Dolls made of fabric and found materials. I might have had a plan for the buttons, but if so, it’s since gone the way of My Doll, Dick. An interesting idea at the time but nothing lasting.
Also in the plastic tub are styrofoam forms, balls and triangles, a cube. Those from the time I wanted to make paper mache but never did. I have other things in there, too, things I can’t see but recall picking up from hobby shops. Shadow boxes and sandpaper, picture hanging hooks, photo corners, and blank notecards.
My tools of the trade have come down to a few pens and notebooks, and I’m relieved to no longer have those other materials weighing on me. All the things I wanted someday to use, except I was always better at fantasizing than I was producing.
I’m using a red fine-point Sharpie now, but this morning I had a purple Uniball gel pen. Over on my work table is a Pentel metal tip, .7 mm ball. All of the pens roll fast.
I remember the moment I became fascinated with tools. I was in the garage at home and came across a yellow plastic case. Inside were drill bits of all sizes, tiny ones and long ones. They were perfectly laid out, each snapped into place. I fell in love with that case, not even knowing what it was used for, only that something about it made me feel like the world was ordered and safe.
I wanted to keep it, have it be mine, and later that evening when I asked my dad if I could have it, he told me No, that it was his for his new power drill. I asked, then, if I could play with it, and again he said No.
The next day I got a big block of wood that he kept to place behind the back tire of the car any time he worked on it. I took the drill bit case and set it beside me, pretended it was a super-powerful set of tools, needed only when my regular tools didn’t work. The “regular tools” were nails of all sizes that Dad kept in an old coffee can. One by one I took them out and nailed them into the wood block, opening and inspecting periodically the drill bits, taking one out for measurement purposes, but never putting a hammer to them the way I did with the nails.
I got into trouble that night when Dad got home. Got in trouble for messing up his wood block, for wasting good nails, and for playing with his drill bits even though I was told not to.
-related to Topic post, WRITING TOPIC – TOOLS OF THE TRADE