Tuesday, August 19, 2008

To Change the World with a Rubber Band

Children rarely feel like possessors of real power. I am not talking about the power to make someone else cry. I am talking about real power, the power to effect change and to alter the course of the future. Once, my brothers and I possessed this power, or at least we thought we did. The feeling of being a kid of consequence in a grown-up world was intoxicating.

My dad used to work as a rural carrier for the United States Post Office. Because rural carriers had to use their own vehicles, he had his Blazer converted so that there was another steering wheel put on the right side, connected to the main steering wheel by a belt which would cause the wheels to turn in unison. Brake and gas pedals on the right side were installed that mechanically connected and depressed the actual pedals on left side. The driver seat was removed and instead my dad put in a wooden bin to hold the mail.

So as kids, we could see the full operations of the car as passengers. The wheel would turn and the pedals pop up and down, as though they were driven by a ghost. Also, since my dad dealt with stacks of envelopes, he also had a lot of rubber bands laying around, the semi-thick tan ones.

And therein resided our power. My dad told us that he didn't mind us playing with the rubber bands and that we could shoot them around the car as much as we wanted to while he was driving. Thinking about that now, it doesn't sound too safe to have rubber bands flying around while operating a car, but he really had nothing to worry about. One objective obscured all others, to alter the operation of the car through well-placed rubber band shots.

What did we want to do? Anything. We would have been happy with switching the headlights on, pressing the trip odometer, or changing the air conditioning flow pattern. The real gold mine, however, were the pedals. We tried to make elementary calculations of how many bands would need to be shot and with what force in order to change the braking or acceleration of the car. We greatly over-estimated the momentum carried by a rubber band, because I remember being consumed with this objective.

I remember thinking my dad was crazy for allowing us free reign with these bands. Didn't he know what we were capable of? Theoretically we could flash the high-beams at someone, change the air settings in the car, or depress the brake pedal, ever so slightly, altering our movement and possibly leading to a large scale accident with unforeseen consequences.

This theoretical power was like a drug. I remember the persistent dream that with just the right shot, we would be co-partners in driving this car. And it was with this dream that we were intent on trip after trip shooting band after band at the pedals, just hoping that the next direct hit would carry just enough 'ooomph' to have consequences.

They never did. But even to this day, I have never felt a more tangible potential for power than I did sitting in the back of our Blazer, armed with a rubber band.

1 comment:

Suzie said...

I bet you could win a scholarship with a personal essay that began like that. Really.