Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Shadow Government of Country Village Lane

My friends and I formed endless secret clubs.  They usually excluded one kid or another, probably never lasted longer than a meeting or two, and had no other reason other than to be secretive and James Bond-like (well, that was more my reason, most likely). I suppose there's nothing as exciting to a boy as the phrase, "top secret," other than being in on the secret itself.

The clubs each had to have their own rules, of course, which were likely as random at the reasons for starting them in the first place. I remember once creating a set of rules and regulations recorded on numerous sheets of notebook paper.  Each was taped to the next, so that eventually we had an official scroll - sort of like our club Torah (the Jewish religious text).   When we were finished reading or writing in it, we'd roll it up until next time.

Perhaps my most exciting contribution, however, was the creation of my very own secret language.  I called it "Lastarm" (for reasons now lost in time).  It was, more accurately, a secret code, but I couldn't have made the distinction then.  Each letter of the alphabet was replaced with an entirely new symbol, with its own pronunciation.  After I created Lastarm, we not only recorded our club documents in my new "language," but we practiced speaking it as well.   We had serious meetings to discuss the serious matters at hand.

The members were usually the same - the kids on my block - Larry, Chris, Eric, Charlie (actually, he lived down the street and up a hill (impossibly far away, but we made an exception) and myself.  Sometimes one kid or another was excluded, and the stability of the club was always shaky at best, as our shifting kid allegiances invariably caused conflict and confrontation.  A few weeks would pass, and we'd try again with a whole new set of rules, title, missions and dares to complete.  

It was, I guess you could say, a shadow government of third and fourth graders, operating right under the noses of the ruling elite (our parents).

Carpe Diem!

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Model Magic

When I was about seven years old, my father went to Europe on a business trip, taking my mother along as they visited several major cities from London to Paris, Rome and Berlin.  Courtesy of 20th Century Fox, it was a first-class trip all the way, as they visited Fox offices and film labs in each city.

Of course, my perception of these cities was vague at best.  They took hundreds of Kodachrome slides, of course, but the single most valuable connection I would absorb from their trip was a plastic model - a 1/87 scale German hotel they bought for my fledgling train layout.  That little building, which my father and I built together, became representative of the far-off lands across the city, where things looked kind of familiar, but were a little different, and the signs were in languages I didn't understand. 

I looked endlessly at that model, which was a vintage three or four story building, with a cafe on the ground floor that included an outdoor patio. It featured a somewhat alpine architecture rarely seen in the USA.  It transported me in a way that simple photographs or a traditional souvenir couldn't.  Not only was it a miniature slice-of-life, but it was a 3D passage to that strange world. 

I still have that model.  Though I've traveled widely since then, it still retains some of the magic. Now, though, it not only transports me to another place, but to a magical time.