Wednesday, March 16, 2005

I used to think 'Magenta' was pronounced like magnetta

t’s amazing all the things you can draw with a box of crayons that consists of nothing but the browns. Sepia. Burnt Umber and Raw Umber. Tan. Basic Brown. Burnt Sienna.

I’m sure there were a few others left – there were always a few purples (Plum, namely) that weren’t worth taking, and it’s practically proven fact that no one’s ever done anything notable with White – but the browns stood out because they were all there, sharp, waxy-smelling, utterly unused, toppled almost deliberately against the sides of otherwise empty cardboard separators.

All I can say is, Thank God it was Thanksgiving. Turns out you can draw a mean ear of Indian corn with just the browns.

I had to have a new box of Crayolas – the biggest box on the market – at the start of each school year. I was convinced I needed the 64-packs with built-in sharpeners, or the 92-packs with bonus clumps of neons or metallics or flesh tones.

My mom supported my addiction partly because I was spoiled, and partly because she liked the new-crayon smell. Crayons were kind of an old-school fascination for both of us, so I’m sure she was relieved when I grew out of the crayon-hording phase just when colors with names like Macaroni and Cheese and Timberwolf replaced classic Yellow Orange and standard standby Gray.

But that didn’t happen until the early ‘90s. When I was in second grade, a 64-pack of Crayolas – arranged by color family, strategically stuffed into cardboard clusters – was the pinnacle of primary school cool. My gold-and-green box lasted a whole two and a half months before the big fall-out.

I don’t remember what girls bickered about in second grade. I recall a big to-do about who possessed the best New Kids on the Block lunch box. I was at a disadvantage here – my lunch box was a particularly heinous shade of fluorescent tangerine, while second-grade tastes leaned toward the more obvious flamingo pink – so I avoided the lunch box-based arguments altogether. I pretty much avoided all arguments, though, because, as an only child, I never really learned how to fight.

Staying out of it, however, is apparently the biggest sin imaginable in second-grade Girl World. In the fiasco aftermath, a friend told me I was a target simply because I was the only girl in class who hadn’t been in a fight yet (the nerve!)

We broke into reading groups every day (I was in “Red,” the most advanced, natch) and one day I came back to find Magenta missing from it’s space amongst the reds and pinks in my box of Crayolas. The next day, a few more were absent – Violet and Evergreen and Peach (not a great color, taken alone, but a vital one) and Turquoise. On the third day, Cerulean, my favorite, and Black, without which trying to color is futile, were gone, and soon only the oranges and browns, Cadet Blue, Plum, and Cornflower (which had a different, more translucent consistency than the other blues, rendering it near unusable) remained. Eventually, even the only-used-once Red Orange and the only-good-for-coloring-Barbie’s-hair Lemon had been taken.

Little waxy flecks of the colors that had been pulled out, used, peeled, sharpened and reorganized stuck to the exposed wax of the browns, reminders of the remaining crayons’ stagnancy.

I said nothing. I drew turkeys and brunette pilgrims in drab dresses and scenes from Little House on the Prairie. I drew outlines of faces in Tan, but didn’t color the faces in.

I tried to be discreet, asked casually for a new box of crayons. The box from the beginning of the year doesn’t have a single sharp crayon left. The Black is worn down to a nub. They don’t smell like new anymore.

No such luck.

I should have learned how to fight then and there. I knew who was taking my crayons – the box was left opened, turned toward the desk of the perpetrator, for whom being found out was obviously not an issue – so confrontation should have naturally ensued.

Not so, though. I stayed out of it once again. I borrowed Cerulean and Black and Magenta from friends, hoping they’d notice my deliberate sullenness. Cue the beginnings of an Erin trademark move: sulking not because of emotional distress but because I had what I wanted, then had it taken away.

What got me was not, as it turns out, the cruel Girl World emotional politics... you know, the ones that inspired a plot designed to stir me up and make me admit I - gasp! - have feelings. In the end, it was simply the not-having that made me jut out my lower lip in a defiant pout.

My mom finally caved (I think it was the lost-scent argument that eventually got to her), not knowing that she was enabling a long tradition of confrontation-avoidance, and spoiled-brattiness.

Even though it contained a much-coveted cluster of special-edition fluorescents, the new box went untouched. I kept it in a pencil box strategically wedged at the very back of my desk.