The Aroma of Crayola
The Aroma of Crayola By Frank Vespe I could’ve drove the handful of miles to the auto dealer on Old Country Road in Riverhead to buy my new pearl white Honda CRV with the rear view camera and cool looking dorsal fin-like antennae on its roof, but the thought of returning to a town I called home for seventeen years and haven’t visited in six made me smile, so I jumped in my four door gray Civic, threw on Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell, pressed repeat, repeat, repeat and danced by myself the eighty-five mile trip west to Levittown, NY, never imagining my sojourn would hurl me back to 1964 when an innocent, very blond haired boy known as Frankie day-dreamed of wearing #7 on his back and owning a 64-count orange and green box of perfectly aligned crayons with a built-in sharpener. Last Tuesday, one of those dreams finally came true. The sales person I’ve known since 1990, Debbie, an attractive Suzanne Summers look-a-like, was running late, so when I tried to fill my third bag of their freshly air popped movie-theater popcorn, the receptionist squawked, “Looks like we’re out,” turning off the machine. Returning to my seat, a huge red bulls-eye abruptly beckoned me from the south side of Hempstead Turnpike, a road notoriously known for many an accident, rather many a deadly accident, so I gracefully placed my empty popcorn bag with a few unpopped kernels in Debbie’s peace-and-love sticker decorated trash pail and skipped through their sparkling Windex glass doors, continuing my best Mark Sanchez scramble between screeching Camaros, Firebirds and a very old lopsided Oldsmobile to enter a store filled with more red shirts than the China Army. Not certain which direction to take, I took Lee Strasberg’s method-acting advice and placed myself in the Labyrinth Metal Ball Maze game and started rolling through aisle after aisle after aisle, hoping something, anything, would catch my eye, not even the Mossimo Women’s mix and match multi-colored floral striped string bandeau swim top at $17.99 one week only didn’t make me stop, knowing my wife would never wear one, but then I saw it, an entire shelf filled with Crayola products; glue, window crayons, colored pencils, sidewalk paint, paint brushes, and the item I wanted more than anything else in the world, a 64-count box of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener. The car can wait. Staring at the box on the third shelf from the bottom threw me straight back to Miss Allen’s second grade class in PS 122, where my classmates flaunted their neatly positioned 64-count perfectly aligned rows and columns of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener while I cowered with an eight pack of John’s Bargain Store brand wanna-be crayons. I envied them all as they proudly resharpened their maroon, teal and forrest green crayons while I struggled piecing together with clear tape my red, blue and black broken crayons praying one day to be the owner of a 64-count Crayola crayon box with the built-in sharpener. Sitting to my left was Doreen, my first crush really, a girl always with a smile on her face and a pink bow forever in her long brown Shirley Temple curly parted-in-the-middle hair, but she liked my best friend Dan, the most handsome and most likely pitcher in all of Queens to make the New York Mets starting rotation alongside Seaver and Koosman. “Would you like some of my crayons Frankie?” she said with a bigger-than-her-entire face smile, as she delicately placed three colored crayons with names I couldn’t pronounce on my Bic blue ink engraved desk. “I’m trying to invent new colors using only these eight,” I said as I picked up one of her’s, took a deep whiff of its scent, and placed them back on her desk. I’ll never forget the aroma of Crayola. Doreen and I went separate directions after 6th grade, sadly, never to be seen again, while me and Dan played baseball together, he the pitcher and I his catcher, on many winning Championship baseball teams all over Queens and Brooklyn, he having an amazing deuce, curveball that is, dropping off a table from twelve o’clock straight down to six o’clock, mixed in with a fastball untouchable by hundreds of batters. We continued running the wood courts on our Junior High School basketball team, he always being the best player in any sport he participated in. Our friendship grew, as long as we were teammates, until one day at age fifteen I ran into him in a candy store after a travel baseball game he surprisingly didn’t attend, him stinking of model airplane glue, perhaps it was the brown paper bag filled with a tube of the stuff pushed in his rear pants pocket. We lost contact after that, he was picked up for armed robbery, spent time in Rikers, and later learned he passed away from a drug-buy gone bad in Brooklyn. I’ll never forget the stench of model airplane glue. With no red shirts in sight, I peeled open the box I cradled ever so close, leaned over and took a whiff, a deep whiff, and savored the moment, like freshly cut grass, the spinning pink cotton candy at the circus, the English Leather cologne you wore your first date, the aroma of Crayola is a scent you will never, and should never forget, like the red sled Citizen Kane longed for, it reminds us all of our youth, when wearing #7 on your back and owning perfectly aligned colored wax crayons with peculiar names meant everything. With my trip back to 1964 complete, I placed the box back in its rightful spot, smiled, and exited the sliding glass doors of the red bulls-eye, turning back once with a nod. And for those who travel to that Goliath store along Hempstead Turnpike and search the third row from the bottom for the opened 64-count orange and green box of perfectly aligned rows and columns of Crayola crayons with the built-in sharpener, feel free to take a deep whiff, but please leave the memories inside…they belong to me.