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Al Martinez

Tunes on A Little Toy Drum

July 24, 1986|AL MARTINEZ

It was a little red snare drum with silver trim, maybe eight inches in diameter, half-hidden among the discarded artifacts of a thrift shop bin with the mismatched glasses, the hot pot holders and the onion choppers.

I picked it out and tapped my fingers on the drum head, listening to memories the riff evoked, because I had a toy drum once, too. We all did, in the years before time and maturity sent us marching to more strident cadences.

I wondered who had owned this drum, the red and silver one, and was half-tempted to buy it myself, but didn't. A kid might come along and want it with all his heart, so I left the drum where it was, among the hot pot holders and the onion choppers.

It was my day to wander thrift shops. St. Vincent De Paul. Salvation Army. City of Hope.

L. A. sizzled in mid-afternoon, and I was in a drifting kind of mood, not quite sure where the drift would lead, meandering in a summer daze.

Where you been , man? No place. Where you going? Nowhere.

So I dug into the catchall bins and began buying.

It's a compulsion I have. I can't resist . . . things. I buy what others pass up: A small aluminum dishwasher pump, a rusted soup ladle, a used toilet seat.

My wife wondered the same thing.

"What in God's name are you going to do with a used toilet seat?"

Oddly, she could accept the dishwasher pump and the rusted soup ladle. They could become paper weights. But the toilet seat worried her.

"I'm going to use it as a picture frame," I said. "You put it on the wall, lift the seat and there, in full color, the 40th President of the United States."

She stared at me, stunned.

I have only seen that look once before, when I accidentally put toothpaste instead of diaper rash ointment on the baby's behind.

"You what? " I remember her finally saying.

"It was an honest mistake," I assured her. "But look how bright and shiny his behind is now!"

She never let me change the baby's diapers again.

"I'm a patriot," I explained, regarding the President's picture.

She finally found words.

"You are not," she said, "going to toilet-frame Ronald Reagan or anyone else in this house for whatever years remain of our marriage."

"What is it you object to," I asked, "the toilet seat or the President?"

"Don't push me, Elmer."

The toilet seat remains in my den. I do as I please in the den, where I have other photographs: Richard Nixon, wearing his famous "I Am Not a Crook" expression; Jerry Brown, eyes cast beatifically upward, adrift in Zen and planetary politics.

I haven't decided who is going to be framed and lidded, Tricky Dick or Gov. Moonbeam. It's a tossup.

I brought home no toilet seat this time. Instead I had a red, satin-covered, heart-shaped pillow with the name "Anna" on it. I don't know anyone named Anna. It's the kind of pillow sailors send to their girls back home.

In Japan, after a tour of duty in Korea, I bought a satin pillow that said "Hoem." You know, Home. It's my most memorable souvenir from the Korean War.

Skis, lamps, books, jars, home-made hanging lamps, wigs, stuffed toys, candy tins, clothes, chairs and row on row of National Geographics.

I gather Geographics by the hundred. They stack up in my den, under rusted ice tongs that hang on the wall.

I also bought a purple hand.

It's a hand from a mannequin. I don't know why it's purple. I tied some fishing line to it and hung it from the ceiling over my word processor.

A purple finger now points downward at my wooden swivel chair. Sit! Write! We all need incentive.

Onward.

At the Salvation Army thrift shop, there's a sign that says, "A Place Where Good Neighbors Shop With Dignity." I like that.

In the early days of our marriage, we bought half our furniture at thrift shops, especially places run by the Salvation Army. They never made me feel like a bum. I've never forgotten that.

I rummaged among the memories. A record album. Shaun Cassidy singing "Da Doo Ron Ron." So help me. "Da Doo Ron Ron" and other hits. Circa 1977.

A yellow-framed cloth plaque. Crocheted on the front, "Congratulations on Your Retirement, Andy." A cluster of plastic roses stitched to the cloth.

You making it OK, Andy? You still runnin' with the gang? Or are you gone with the memories? Rest easy. Plastic roses bloom forever.

Then I found the toy drum. I touched it. I tapped my fingers on the drum-head. I saw the summers of my boyhood. I felt the wind in my face. I heard challenges roared, dares taken.

When I returned later, the drum was gone.

I went on home and piled the new stuff I'd gotten on the floor of my den, under the purple finger that points downward.

Hoem Sweet Hoem.

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