“Grandpa…I want to play with you.” This sound drifted up to me from the smiling face of my granddaughter, her deep brown eyes shining expectantly, her head tilted up optimistically and her arms thrust forward beckoningly, yet in the full anticipation that my acquiescence was a foregone conclusion.
“Play with me? What do you think I am…a toy?” I teased.
“Nooo grandpa…I just want you to play with me”
“What would we play?” I asked, knowing full well that this request would be like those before, and tipped off by the lasso made out of ribbon and rubber band I had a hunch just what game she had in mind.
“Oh, Just jail” she replied.
The prospect of incarceration had never been so sweetly implied, nor had it ever seemed so unavoidable.
I had lived a law abiding life for the most part so I should have resented my fate, but strangely I did not.
Normally before a person is presented with the accommodations she was suggesting there was the compulsory formality of participating in some illegality, but this was a child’s world I was hazarding my way into, and these particulars did not hold the weight there that I was accustomed to. I decided to not belabor the point and not disturb the flow of things with some such minor triviality.
“How do we play jail” I inquired innocently, as if this were the first time this particular reenactment had taken place. The frayed ribbon and decidedly un-fresh look of the rubber bank said otherwise. Yet the game was forever new, and like a dog retrieving a chew toy, each iteration was marked with the same anticipation and eager zeal of the last, a concept that seems foreign to those of us who have the benefit of having enjoyed the effects of years of mind-numbing redundancy in our lives.
“Come on grandpa, I’ll show you” she rejoined helpfully, and taking my hand led me to the spot where the imaginary penal institution stood in the shadow of the floor lamp, nestled between the brown faux suede curtains and the highboy, a site chosen without the need to obtain approval by zoning and planning or other regulatory bodies, but one that suited its purpose perfectly despite that lack of official oversight.
I had done time here before, often, in fact, but each new sentence had brought subtle changes to my environment with which I was unequipped to deal and which had more than once proved to be my undoing. So it was not without considerable uneasiness that I contemplated my fate. I chose in this instance to go on the offensive, hoping to catch my keeper unprepared.
Standing in my carefully prepared cell, dressed in my usual prison garb, blue jeans and a white T shirt…although mine said “many a child has been ruined because grandpas can’t be spanked” on it…and come to think of it her guard uniform was less formal then I would have expected due to the cute little owls saying “ whooo loves me? Grandma loves me, that’s whoo”, I commenced my attack.
“Well, seeing as you have me all locked up here and all, and seeing as how I won’t be able to go out to lunch or anything, I am going to need a few things.”
“Ahhh…like what?” queried my host, her voice showing the uneasiness I had hoped to cause.
Triumphantly I replied “Well, for starters I am going to need a bed, and don’t bring me any lumpy old bed, I want a comfy bed and fluffy pillows and a blanket…with pictures of horses on it if you have one, in brown to match the curtains if you please.”
I saw her pause in her mind a second and so I pressed the attack before she had a chance to recover.
“And I’m already getting a little hungry and you know it is your job now to feed me three hot meals a day, and I will need a newspaper…can’t be in jail without at least a newspaper to read. Oh, yeah, and I’m gonna need a lawyer”
“That should do it”, I thought. .But I had underestimated my opponent.
With a quick wave of her hand and a pounding of an imaginary hammer she fashioned a bed suitable for the purpose and remarkably free of lumps by her own admission, though without a hint of bragging. She then took a brief fieldtrip to her plastic kitchen, leaving me unattended but securely confined, and returned with food and beverage, including the required utensils, and graciously bestowed them upon me, treating me with dignity and respect despite my seedy past and recent transgressions for which I was now paying.
But I could not let her kind generosities throw me off my game. “And my newspaper?” I asked curtly.
“Oh yeah” she replied, a little flustered, but quickly recovered and ran to the living room and returned with a smallish book entitled “Fluffy and Friends. Now You Can Read”.
“Here you go grandpa…here’s your newspaper” said the tinkley voice.
“And what about my lawyer?” I inquired hoping that this would be her undoing.
“Oh, we are out of lawyers”
“You don’t have any lawyers at all hiding around some place?”
“No, we are completely out of lawyers.”
So there it was. I was in an unfamiliar world where the lack of lawyers did not seem important enough to even justify an apology. Without the constricting influence of lawyers, rules here could be introduced or rescinded at whim as the need arose, without penalty or delay. Jarring yet liberating. I was beginning to like it here. As I reflected upon this new facet of my current existence it slowly began to seem less odd. In this, a child’s world, disputes would arise to be sure. These generated their share of disappointment and even emotional volatility. But never did they require the services of a lawyer. Nor did they deteriorate to the point that reconciliation without litigation was impossible. There was an underlying desire to keep the game going that made compromise mandatory and mutual respect essential. Absent of the twin fuels of greed and vengeance, solutions could spring up unhampered and the smooth fabric of childhood could be restored.
But here there was no dispute that needed lawyering, so the game continued.
“Well if I can’t have a lawyer I am just going to have to escape…haha I’m escaping you can’t stop me”
“Nope…I push a button and now you have those long metal things so you can’t get out.” And she made a motion with her hands and a sound that implied “Tah Dah”.
“Bars?” I asked.
“Well then I eat my spinach and I get real strong and I bend the bars and I get out”.
“Uhuh grandpa…I push the RED button and the bars get super duper strong and you can’t bend them and you can’t get out”
“Then I will just jump over them…hahahahaha…I’m gonna escape”.
“Oh no you don’t” I push the GREEN button and now there is sticky stuff on the floor so you stick fast and now you can’t jump”
So RED mean stop, GREEN means goo.
And that was that. I was stuck. And out of ideas.
But that is the thing about childhood. It comes with a spirit of fair play.
Sensing my defeat, my jailer paused for a minute and then said “OK, I will let you out now”
“How can you do that?” I asked. “I have these bars in front of me and this sticky stuff all over the bottom of my feet so I can’t move”.
“Oh, I just press this super magic button here”, she said, pressing this new here-to-fore unrevealed button as she spoke.
“Hey you mean I could have pressed that button and got out all along?”
“Nah…you can only push the buttons when you are outside.”
So at last I was free.
“My turn now” she said, without leaving any room for discussion. And I was directed as to the manner in which I was to apprehend her using the requisite lasso because as it turns out you can’t just catch a wily criminal by grabbing them by the arm, picking them up, tickling them and then putting them in jail. There is a process that must be followed and a mixture of condescending patience and poorly-concealed scorn to endure in order to obtain the requisite education in these matters.
And so it went. An uninterrupted hour re-exploring the magical world of childhood…drifting from game to game…always in the hands of a competent guide…eager to teach…insistent upon my learning…patient with my bumbling…but irked whenever my enthusiasm flagged.
At length this world came to a crashing end. Destroyed from without by a force too great to escape. The force of motherhood, bringing with it the buzz kill of realities with which no magic within this magical world could cope. It was brush your teeth time, and say your prayers and off to bed time, with only the brief interlude of a pair of personally selected stories and the promise of multiple expertly executed butterfly kisses. Last ditch attempts to extract additional drinks of water or the third bathroom trip were of no use. Fate was now in control, and a new world awaited. A world of dreams where anything could happen, over which there was no control, but where, happily there were never any lawyers…ever.