Monday, January 26, 2009



Near the top of the list of Worst Phrases in the English Language, ahead of "Eat Less and Exercise" and "Batteries Not Included," and running nearly parallel with "He Thinks We're Dating Exclusively, But We're Not" is the beastly phrase "Over-Active Imagination."
This is the phrase that gets kids thrown outside for an entire Saturday, that drives the Christmas video game industry, that keeps Ritalin manufacturers in Porsches.
Scientists should be working harder to find a way to harness the raw energy lying dormant inside the brain of the 9-year old boy. Anyone who can prod for four hours straight under the same rock must know something the rest of us don't. And the knock-knock jokes! Oh, the knock-knock jokes. Nonsensical punchlines turn crystalline in pure hilarity.
Nothing is as cliched as a child's boundless imagination, but heck, nothing is as boundless as a child's imagination. Sadly, though, one day, I found my fairyland's iron gates. And they were wired with 20,000 volts.
I was, I guess, bright for a growing boy, though this is not saying much; various documented scientific studies show that boys ages 6-24 are ranked on an intellectual scale somewhere between "dryer lint" and "t.v. blender salesmen." Tests were done comparing a group of fifth-grade males to a random selection of border collies, but the tests had to be cancelled due to "...our dignity being severely wounded in the comparison," said the spokesman for the border collie group, Patches (lawsuits are pending).
My point is, for a male child, I was sailing fairly smoothly. I could make it through an entire day without getting an object lodged in any of my facial orifices, which is more than I could say for some of my friends. I remember pulling half a pencil out of my friend Richard's nose. I assumed, of course, that only half of the pencil was originally inserted into his nostril. Even now, he could still be walking around, smelling rubber eraser everywhere he goes.
Richard Ellis had maybe 15 brothers. No one has documented the exact number, since they are all born at the same height and all wore the same buzzed hair cut. Expeditions of biologists have been sent in to classify their species, and not one has come out, though one Dr. Stimpson was last seen streaking down their road, screaming in fear and covered in a thick layer of spitballs and spaghettios. Though fierce and untamed, this Ellis clan was a creative bunch. Invention's overflow spilled copiously from their ears. They could be entertained for years with the same 2-foot square of plywood, with a sack of pipe cleaners, with a roll of masking tape.
One thing they all had were imaginary friends. The number of fantasy buddies this family employed exceeded the known number of Gods in all combined Eastern religions. Richard's best "friend" was this hep cat named Leo. Leo was the Fonz's cooler older brother. Leo taught Jerry Seinfeld how to be funny, and gave Brad Pitt fashion tips. Leo was also completely bogus.
I, of course, knew this, and pointed it out frequently and eloquently to my friend. "You're faking it, stupid!"
"Nuh uh! No I'm not. Leo's standing right here, and he's totally making fun of you right now."
"No, he's not!" And I would jump liberally on the area that was Leo, punching wildly. "I.....DON'T.......FEEL.......ANYTHING! He's not here! There is no Leo!"
"He doesn't get hurt by people like us. He doesn't have a body. You just can't see him, because he only appears to people he likes who are cool."
Well, I didn't buy it, but I had to admire Richard's stoic dedication to this charade. He would hold lengthy conversations with him in my presence when I became tiresome, and would even elect to pass me over for an afternoon just with Leo. I would watch him, my face pushed up against the cold metal of the chain links separating our backyards, talking to his fake, not real, he's-a-big-dumb-liar friend which I didn't believe in at all. Obviously, Leo was made up as a way for Richard to have something that I didn't. There was no way he could be real. Things like imaginary friends just didn't exist. Right? Obviously?
But I began to become jealous. I didn't know why. How could I be jealous of an IMAGINARY friend? I could walk up to Richard and do the exact same thing, and it would make just as much sense. I could pretend to talk to my doppelganger and share cookies with him and dissect bugs with him just like Richard did with Leo.
That's when I decided I would play his little game. I could make up the best playmate ever. Way better than stupid diaper-head Richard's. So, slamming the fence with my palms, I sprinted away, the clanging chain links beating a cadence to my exit. I had decided to fake it.
Now, this lack of sincerity can be seen in most situations as an adult. The man who comes to church every week and professes faith, but never makes time to read his scriptures. The basketball player who tells reporters that he's working hard to just give his all, but hasn't shot a free throw in practice since he was 12.
I discovered quickly that sincerity is a hard thing to replicate, and that it was far more difficult than anticipated to fudge a friend.
"Hey, Richard. Guess who I brought with me?"
"Who? Is it yo momma? Ha ha chortle ha ha SNORT ha ha ha."
".........No, it...... It's my friend.....Leo.....Le.....Leon....Yeah, Leon! He's really cool. And he has a motorcycle, and, eh, he is a doctor already. And he can jump over buildings."
"Awesome! He seems cool. Do you wanna go dig in the compost heap?"
"Cool. C'mon, Leo. You too, Leon. You can operate on any bugs we find. Let's go dig out some potato bugs, and we can sacrifice them on that anthill over by the basketball hoop."
As his stubbly head bounced off between the two transparent figures, I stood shocked. I don't believe it! He bought it! He thought I had an actual imaginary friend! Not only that, he was embracing the idea. What a sap. This was too easy.
It was a hard act to keep up, though. While Richard and Leo's conversation flowed effortlessly, I felt that Leon's silence made for an awful, one-sided prattling that I just couldn't fully invest in. It was like the three of them had been handed a script, and I never got one. I eventually gave up trying to plumb the depths of Leon's character and focused more on the maggots I had found in a blackened banana peel.
"Hey, do you mind if Leon comes over and stays the night with me and Leo?"
The question caught me off guard, and I had to say I was a little worried for the sanity of my friend. I mean, it was fun, but he knew that this was a game, right? I didn't believe for a second that Leon was sitting at my side, moping and ignored, drawing circles in the muck with a discarded spade. He was not a real person.
"I mean," said Richard, "I figured you probably get to talk to him all the time, so he could come play with us tonight. Is that ok?"
"I....yeah, sure! That'd be great! I'll tell you what, Leon makes a German chocolate cake that will make your head melt, it's so good. kids have fun, I guess." And I hopped the fence and went home.
From my window, I continued to watch as my creation was poached. Their conversation appeared to be quite stimulating. Richard started laughing raucously at one point, rolling back and forth on the ground, unknowingly monitored and, again, envied.
The next day, I went back to reclaim my brainchild.
"OK, Leon needs to come home, now. He, eh, has to do a transplant today, or something."
"Leon doesn't want to come home. He thinks you're boring."
"............My.........imaginary friend..........that I made up yesterday...thinks.......I'm boring......."
"Hey, I'm not saying it, ok? He was just saying that last night, and I figured I'd say something for him."
"I.....why doesn't he tell me himself?" I stared blankly. "Huh? Leon? Go ahead, tell me you want to stay here."
Richard looked at me suspiciously. "Uh......He's not out here. Can't you tell that? He's inside playing chutes and ladders with Leo."
I stood there, flabbergasted. My imaginary friend, the seed of my gray matter, thought I was annoying. And my friend Richard had stolen him from me.
This was to begin a pattern of rejection in my life with which I would soon become accustomed.
I found myself that night in my room, staring blankly at the patterns on my ceiling.
I bored things that didn't exist. I bored things that not only didn't exist, but that I had control over.
I realized that day that I lacked sincerity. I lacked the key component in the normal fantasies of a child.
I did not believe them.
All those times I had dressed up in superhero outfits and set up chairs in the backyard and run around with my brothers, kicking the be-whats'-it out of those chairs, my brothers had truly been masked crusaders exacting justice on a crime-ridden backyard. I had been a boy with a two-holed piece of Styrofoam taped to my face and a cape made out of a ratty beach towel adorning my weak shoulders, and I was running around punting lawn chairs and yelling.
Every time I had thrown a G.I. Joe off the deck in my back yard, I was not actually executing an evil foreign spy. I was throwing a G.I. Joe off a deck in my back yard.
I'd like to say that I was re-born that day, but I wasn't. My childlike Belief had been dragged into the alley by Cynicism and Disappointment and Evidence and they had broken his kneecaps.
So, now I'm making up for lost time. I'm trying to be as illogically happy as I can everyday. I try to find the humor in everyday things. I laugh when someone says "poop." I tell stories about my bike. I believe most things that people tell me have been scientifically proven, because a) like it matters if they actually have, and b) I wouldn't know it if they hadn't.
To date, I have never had another imaginary friend, though sometimes I wish I did, because when you forget their birthdays you can just tell them they have a different one and they have to accept it.
Remember to go ahead and believe in stupid things. Introduce a little childlike sincerity into your life. Make a stupid joke. The best part about and imaginary friend is that they think everything you say is funny.


Mike said...

amazing! Wait, so are you real?

Malisa Twelves said...

this made my day! You are a very talented writer. I laughed so hard I almost cried!

Dani Marie said...

You are awesome, Kory. Even if you can't hold onto imaginary friends, at least you keep your real ones pretty well. I wish Leon the best.

Anonymous said...

Wow, you're so unpopular! What a loser! NEENER NEENER NEENER!

Anonymous said...

By the way, that was me, Micah. I chose to be anonymous 'cause I don't know how to put in the e-mail thing.