Thursday, July 26, 2007

Not Just My Imagination

It’s a little late for a contemporary memoirist to be asking this, but it vexed me when I was 9: what should actually be considered as imaginative, anyway? Were the contents of memory allowed to contain the fictions of one’s imagination? Is any part of the imagination inherently true? I wasn’t exactly studying Deconstruction in grammar school, but these questions were unavoidable for me even in the third grade.

Mrs. Fulgham had asked us to create our own “books” with text and illustrations, and she brought in her pretty high school-age daughter to hear us recite our books. Mine was picked to be read: Super Bowl III - The Greatest Upset of All Time. Once again, the class rolled its collective eye. This shit again.

I drew Joe Namath accurately, paying close attention to the placement of his sweatbands, the green stripes on his signature white shoes, and the tan that he had picked up in Florida during Super Bowl week, 1969. I offered accurate statistics - the yardage of Jim Turner’s three field goals against the Colts; Namath’s weight compared with the bigger Lou Michaels of the Colts, the Baltimore player whom he heckled beforehand. I wrote down the correct attendance at the Orange Bowl. Illustrations, text, evidence. The Punt, Pass and Kick Library should have been so thorough.

After I was done reading it aloud, Mrs. Fulgham turned to her daughter and said, “What an imagination he has!”

I sat down, disappointed. Imagination? What? Did they think I was just making this up?

Then, on the first day of fourth grade, we were asked to draw what we did on our summer vacations. Amid a summer trip with my family to Maine, visits to Jones Beach and a week in Illinois visiting my uncle, I chose Wesley Walker’s season-opening touchdown catch in the far corner of our end zone, signaling the beginning of a new era of domination over the Miami Dolphins.
I paid close attention to rendering the Jets’ new uniforms. What could have been more important than that? On Back-to-School night, Mom came over to see my artwork, and immediately looked aghast at my drawing of the Todd-to-Walker pass. “We paid all that good money to stay at a motel in Bar Harbor,” Mom said, tsking with embarrassment, “and this is what’s important to you? People are going to think your father and I lack imagination when it comes to summer vacations, Martin.”

Imagination again. It wasn’t as if she had just met me. If this weren’t important to me, then what the hell was? “Oh, God, Teddy. Of all the…,” she continued, trailing off.

And sure enough, Mrs. Ronato peeked over to see Mom’s reaction to my artwork. “He clearly has quite an imagination, doesn’t he, Mrs. Connelly?” she asked.

“He certainly has,” Mom said. “We actually went on vacation, I’ll have you know. Twice. Not just to football games.” She looked at me. “He went one football game.”

“Yes,” Mrs. Ronato said politely.

“Football season isn’t even summer vacation.” Mom looked at me.

“Right,” said my teacher.

I lamely added, “Summer ends in September.”

“Such imagination,” Mrs. Ronato repeated. “Such creativity.” Mrs. Ronato walked away. So there I was, still misunderstood by all.

“How could you?” Mom asked me.

Apparently I was supposed to be careful not to reveal our household’s hidden unimaginative streak. But as the 1978 season wore on, the Jets won more than ever before. I look back on that entire season, and I can recollect what I was doing and where I was with each weekend. We are supposed to only retain a photographic memory only of cathartic times or times of great epiphany. The 1978 season provided both.

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