Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Car Games

When I was a kid, I played lots of games with cars.

One game was played somewhere with a clear view of a busy street, preferably a donut shop.  Every player chose a color and counted how many cars of that color passed.  First one to 10, or 18, or 71, or whenever the donuts run out, wins.  The name of this game was "car-car color," and it's a fair sight more complicated than it sounds.  Car colors are not always immediately identifiable, leading to points being contested rather frequently, and for good reason.  The blue people were notoriously shady.

Another game was played in your imagination on a freeway at night.  The red guys (taillights) were the bad guys.  The white guys (headlights) were the good guys.  You're at the front of the column, chasing down the bad guys.  (I didn't know why all the good guys were heading the opposite direction on the other side of the road.  Neither did I know why when you passed someone they turned into a bad guy and when someone passed you they turned into a good guy.  I was only six, okay?)

(This game also worked the other way around, with the red guys as the good guys and the white guys as the bad guys.  In this scenario you're at the rear of a contingent of cohorts, struggling to escape.  All of the same plot problems of the first scenario still exist, only in reverse.)

While we're talking about imagination games, I might as well mention the invisible runner game, which is also played in the car.  First, look out a side window so the landscape is rushing past you horizontally.  Next, place your finger on the window.  This represents the invisible runner.  It's your job to help the invisible runner leap puddles, vault fences, get up and down hills and cliffs and generally stay alive.  This game is significantly more fun in mountainous California than, say, Nevada, but variations can be added as necessary (what about leaping telephone poles?).

(Do I use parentheses too much?  I'm sorry.)

I have no idea why I'm writing about this.  I guess I've been thinking a lot about childhood lately, and about how little we pay attention to - much less understand - the simple things that make us who we are.  This is more than mere nostalgia.  It's a way of trying to gain a clearer picture of how we view the world - some chunk that is buried deep in our subconscious, influenced by scores of experiences that we scarcely noticed.  It is complex, aromatic, personal.  It shows up in unexpected sights, familiar tastes, particular temperatures.

I remember very specifically the smell inside a small wooden box I had with a yellow metal rabbit affixed to the top.  The box had a sliding cover and was lined inside with green felt.  It wasn't any sort of spectacular smell and yet it was memorable somehow.  Like certain library books.  Whew!

Our senses and our knowledge keep piling up over our memories, obscuring our faces.  Time, meanwhile, is spinning down.  (I heard yesterday about a man who thought of his lifespan in terms of growing seasons.  There's some perspective.)  Most of us are on a long trek to find ourselves.  But identity is not something you will finally uncover if you search long enough and hard enough; identity is something that sneaks up on you.  The paradox is that you still have to go on the search.  Otherwise, when it does sneak up on you, you won't recognize it.