Thursday, December 16, 2010

She Gave Me a Pen

Growing up, I was largely broke as a joke. I got a small allowance about which I got quite squirrelly at spreading very thin, and had brief, sporadic seasonal jobs with the local jeweler and florist. One of my other small enterprises occurred every year around Christmas: the Annual Selling of the Parasitic Plant.

That's right, kids, I'd go mistletoe-spotting and then drag my father out into the woods to shoot it down out of trees for me.

Given that the little packets of mistletoe that the local dimestore sold ran about a dollar a pop, by underselling them at fifty cents for a bigger clump, I could make a right tidy profit. (I guess I'm lucky that my father didn't make me pay him back for the ammunition it took to get it harvested.) I'd learned in junior high that if I personally stood under a clump of mistletoe the size of, say, a head of broccoli, it wouldn't do any good- but that didn't stop my profiting from others' belief in its properties.

For those who got the small, inexpensive gifts I gave at Christmas in high school, well, that's how I paid for them. I was hoofing it especially hard at Christmas in 1985, because I had several graduation presents to purchase the following spring and one of them cost more than others (the engraved Cross pen that went to Hopkins).

During late November, after marching band competition season concluded and when I had more time on Saturdays, I'd sit at the kitchen table, carefully cutting off little pieces of mistletoe and tying them with red, green, and silver ribbons. As December approached, I'd bag up my efforts and haul them off to school to sell to anyone willing to part with two quarters.

I was making a neat profit in '85, with only one minor setback: that's the year I was shacked up with Hopkins, i.e., we were sharing a locker. This had already led to some rather embarrassing moments, like the day he accidentally dumped out my band practice clothes in the floor during a class change, or the afternoon that a compass fell out and almost skewered my foot- but none quite so awkward as the bag of mistletoe. I'd been careful to conceal my little enterprise, lest he think the presence of the offending plant be directed toward the sixteen year-old approximation of seduction- but, as luck would have it, a strong yank on our somewhat stubborn locker door dumped a paper-sackful of mistletoe on the hallway carpet.

I was probably ten feet away when it rolled out, in all its glory.

If you've never seen somebody go from blanched to flaming blush in under three seconds, it's scary. I also don't know who was actually more mortified, him or me- I think this one was pretty much a dead heat.

Since things like this generally left me tongue-tied and miserable, I didn't even try to explain; I just dropped to the floor and began sweeping the tiny bundles into the sack. I rolled the top down tightly, tossed it back into the locker, jammed my books into my designated space (the locker floor), and walked away very quickly.

I managed to eventually compose myself enough to retrieve the mistletoe without further incident, although it did put a bit of a damper on my sales since I didn't dare store the inventory there after that. Between that, my jobs, and the bare scrapings of my allowance left over after I paid for dance or movie tickets, I did manage a few sort of okay graduation gifts. As I said, the greatest fruit of this labor was the pen.

A couple of years later, I was mortified when I finally saw the movie "Say Anything" and heard the line everyone remembers from it: I gave her my heart, and she gave me...a pen.

I promise I've become more adept at gift-giving since then, and none of my current efforts are funded by the sale of mistletoe.

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