I’ve been hearing a lot of people talk about the Etch A Sketch lately. What a fantastic toy. A plastic rectangle and knobs for kids who couldn’t deal with crayons and paint. I loved how the advertisements for the Etch A Sketch always showed works of art that could hang in the Louvre next to the Caravaggios. All I ever drew were clusters of curved lines that looked like something prison psychologists ask serial killers to look at and interpret.
My parents arms’ came directly out of their heads in the family portraits I drew as a child, and my hand at the Etch A Sketch was not any more deft. So I had to resort to drawings that could be made by repeating a few simple maneuvers with the magnetic stylus. The best sketch I etched I named, simply, “The Spiral.” I created it by taking the stylus around the perimeter of the screen, and when I reached the starting point, I moved it towards the center just a tad and repeated the perimeter, going around and around, getting closer to the center until I had a rectangular spiral just perfect for making adults seasick. It was Thanksgiving Day that I finished “The Spiral,” and I staged an impromptu showing for my captive relatives.
“Oh, uh, that’s really wonderful, Mark,” said one uncle. “Wow, I think I’m getting a headache.”
So proud was I of my gritty lithograph that I couldn’t bear to shake it up and lose it forever. So I placed it on a table and announced that no one could touch it for the rest of eternity. About ten seconds later my mother started to move it to make room for the stuffing.
“My work!” I shouted. “What are you doing?”
“Honey, your work is in dinner’s way,” she said.
I took the Etch A Sketch up to my room where it could be cloistered in a corner. The cretins to whom I was related just didn’t appreciate great art. Perhaps I would have better luck amongst my peers at school.
“What are you doing?” I shouted to a “friend” of mine who was trying to pry the Etch A Sketch from my hands as we waited for the bus on Cyber Monday before it got the Cyber. “You’re going to shake it up!”
“Isn’t that the point?” he asked.
“I just wanted to show you my work.”
“It’s stupid,” he said. “My six year old sister could have done that.”
I kept the Etch A Sketch in my school bag, which I carried flat, in my arms, so as not to disturb the delicate arrangement of aluminum filings. While the teacher tortured us with sums or yet another project involving construction paper and glue, I would periodically peek at the plastic mural in my bag.
“Mark, I don’t see enough glitter on your Santa,” the teacher said. “I think you need to focus.”
At lunch time I had to be extra vigilant. By now everyone knew I was guarding a secret in my bag, and I couldn’t just leave it in the classroom. I would be so nervous that my magnum opus would be defaced by some juice-box-drinking bandit. So I took the bag with me, and set it on the cafeteria table, and balanced the Styrofoam tray on top of it with my square pizza, pretzel rod, and milk.
“Mark, why are you eating your lunch on top of your school bag?” everyone asked me.
“Um, the Surgeon General says it prevents rickets,” I said. “Didn’t you hear?”
Like any kid who walks around school guarding something in a bag, I became a minor celebrity. As we lined up for the buses at the end of the day, some classmates encircled me, their intentions not completely benign.
“All right,” the ringleader said. “What do you have in that bag?”
Perhaps I had misjudged them. Perhaps they would be as entranced by the beauty of “The Spiral” as I was. So I took it out and showed them.
“That’s it?” they said. “An Etch A Sketch?”
“Not just any Etch A Sketch,” I said. “I call it ‘The Spiral.’ Isn’t it grand?”
“I could do better than that,” he said. And before I could stop him he snatched the Etch A Sketch from my hands and shook it up. Before I knew what I was doing I was at his throat. A teacher had to separate us, and of course the thug who ruined my work said that I started the whole thing. Then I had a chance to explain what happened. At last, someone would understand what I had gone through the whole day.
“And then he just shook it up, erasing my drawing,” I said. “It’s like the drawing never happened.”
The teacher looked at me, and looked at the Etch A Sketch, its red plastic chassis glowing in the afternoon sun, and said, “But isn’t that the point?”