December 7, 2009

The Great Wall

I did extra chores that week. Trash, folding, scrubbing, whatever necessary to earn enough allowance to make a trip to the mall -- a trip to Prints Plus, the holy land for all things over-sized and printed. I was a young man on a mission. Not one ordered to me by a superior, but one with an importance manifested by my heart and an urgency created in my soul. I remember the smell of the paper and the feel of the cold metal racks under my fingers as I flip through the giant plastic and steel pages. Each creaky turn revealing a pristine colorful image. Flip -- the anticipation. Flip -- the excitement. Flip -- I PAUSE.

My eyes dance across the image caged behind the scratched, protective plexi-glass. Like a predatory animal captured in the wild, the black and white hues stare back at me as if I were the only one who could understand it and speak its language. I reach out, my palm spread open on the plastic as if to reach through it and comfort the lost soul on the other side. I am a broken-hearted brother saying goodbye to his incarcerated twin looking at 25 to life. I close my eyes, it silently whispers, "take me home, brother. Take me home." I opened them -- there it was -- THE KEY. The two digit number on the corner of the giant page. My heart quickens and thoughts of liberation send me into a trance-like state of purpose. I fall to my knees, frantically fumbling the boxes below the display. 34 -- NO. 48 -- NO.

Then I see them, the two digits of freedom scribbled in Sharpie across a 2 inch orange sticker on the side of a box. Fears race through my mind at Millennium Falcon speeds. "Will they be out? If so, will they get more today? Tomorrow? God forbid next week." I have done everything asked of me. I have made the pilgrimage and now kneel mercifully at the altar and leave my fate to the Gods. My breath leaves me, my thoughts escape with it. I am left with nothing but a single strobing image projected on the back of my mind as I clinch my eyes and reach into the depths of the box. My fingers shake as they extend. Once an organized unit, my hand is now five solitary appendages cautiously scouting the cardboard cave by themselves like grunts searching a foreign jungle foliage for a hidden enemy. A prayer.

The crinkled plastic edge at the end of a shrink wrapped cylinder tickles my pinky. It halts and calls for reinforcements. My hand grasps the glossy baton and I carefully slide it out of the hole. I open my eyes to the darkness of the box giving birth to the beautiful sliver of visible paper wrapped tight. Like Excalibur breaking free of the stone -- I am king. I study the tube, feel the weight of it in my hands as if to confirm its existence. It is mine. I whisper, "Just hold on, Mr. Jackson. I'm here to free you. I'll get you home, sir."

I enter my room later that night and stare at the empty spot on my wall. It is there, between Air Simpson and Karl "Mailman" Malone, which shall be the resting place of my prize. Four pins and a level eye complete the ritual, the homecoming. I step back and gaze upon the trophy of my journey. My room -- my life -- now complete. I flip the light off and pull the covers close. "Goodnight, BALLPLAYER. Goodnight."

Or maybe somebody gave it to me. Yes, before Beastie Boys and Tarantino covered the walls of my early teens, there were these gems. Icons of my love and badges of honor amongst my friends. What else was there back then besides sports and cars? What were on your walls?