A box full of cringe

Isaac, magpie that he is, came downstairs with this the other day: "What's in here?" he asked, making a Pandora-like move to undo the heart-shaped plastic latch on my youthful memory box, right before I swooped in and relieved him of it.

Because some things — like taking a little tour of what you found important between the ages of 11 and 15 — you just have to do by yourself.

On the Internet.

Without further ado:

An announcement of my Grade 7 musical production of Free to Be You and Me. (I’m in the far right of the right-hand photo, one down from the top, if that makes any sense.) As I wrote in a different blog post, "It was 1983. I was in a class of ten girls, with my first teacher who went by 'Ms.' and didn’t shave her armpits. You could say it was my feminist awakening.”


The thing is, about stickers, is that when I was eight and nine and ten (and, fine, I admit it, 18 and 19 and 20) is that they weren't just everywhere, all the time, like they are today. When I was a kid, stickers actually were a treat, not something that people just handed out willy-nilly every time you went to the doctor's office or a birthday party or woke up in the morning or got your hair cut. You stood, at the sticker store, with your entire eighty-five cents' worth of allowance, in front of the racks that held the spools of hope, and you added up all the different possible permutations of the offerings on the five- and 10- and 25-cent racks, and you carefully cut away what you wanted and brought it to the cash register. Stickers were an exercise in math literacy, people, not just something that toddlers paste to airplane windows.

Stickers were currency: you traded them, yes, ad nauseam, but they were also a form of cultural literacy. I remember when smelly stickers appeared on the scene: I was in third grade, and my teacher, Mrs. Iron (Mrs. Gilda Iron, whom I would run into 25 years later the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, and who would say to me, "Weren't you going to be a writer?" Yes, Mrs. Iron, I was. And I am, and how cool it was that I knew and you knew even then?), put chocolate smelly stickers on our perfect spelling tests, and it was mayhem. Mayhem. And we waited weeks before the powers that be in the sticker world came out with strawberry, and then — hold me — root beer. ROOT BEER! Cinnamon!

Stickers were more fun then. They really were. Somewhere, somewhere, there must exist my fourth-grade sticker album, so carefully curated, stickers trimmed carefully of their excess backing, arranged artfully by category and theme. I took that album to every sleepover, along with the gum wrapper chain, of course, looked forward to forays to the United States of America, where the stickers, like the chocolate bars, and the pop cans and the clothes, were way better.

But now it's all the same.

The birth documentation of my Cabbage Patch Kid, Vanessa Carmel.

Ah, Vanessa. You were a good kid. I bought you at Consumers Distributing (remember them?) and you came in a standard-issue corrugated cardboard box, but I loved you anyway. I’m sorry that I briefly thought about changing your name to Renée Alexandera, complete with the second E in both names , but then I realized that that would be to somehow change your very essence. You know, you had your quirks:

“I’m a little bit clumsy sometimes, and I can hardly wait until you and I can share each others’ little secrets!”

(In Canada, the Cabbage Patch Kids were bilingual. And they had free health care.)

Little kits filled with tiny stationery. So that you could send "friendly messages" to your friends. Except that I could never really bear to deplete the tiny plastic folders of their tiny little envelopes and so I kept them mostly intact.

I bought these at a store called Something Nice at the Richmond Centre shopping mall, which I passed through after school several days a week on my way to swimming practice. Something Nice was chockablock full of Hello Kitty and Little Twin Stars and My Melody and Moly & Moko all sorts of related Sanrio paraphernalia. I would have lived there if I could have, among all pencils and scented erasers and notepads and pillows and shower caps and all the other truly ridiculous things they thought up that I craved, craved like some orderly, pink, straight-haired life. When I wasn't buying stickers, I saved up for overpriced Hello Kitty nesting dolls, which I planned to keep intact and later sell on eBay once the Internet was invented.

A real note from a real boy,  on a real-life Gestetner form, no less:

Sent to me via balloon-o-gram in grade 10 homeroom on Valentine’s Day. I was overwhelmingly embarrassed and a little bit flattered.

“How’s it going, give me a call at [number blocked out just in case his parents still live there, or, worse, he still does] maybe we'll get together sometime.


J— C—”

I forgave the comma splice. I called. We chatted. It never went anywhere. But that’s okay — it was a nice gesture that filled me up a little bit in the way that I needed to be filled up in Grade 10.

Silly notes from my fifth-grade best friend. Do you see — do you see — the one to the far left, sealed with the strawberry scratch-and-sniff sticker? I won't tell you what the notes say because they are silly in ways that only fifth-graders can be silly.

A Hello Kitty sticker, because obviously.

This guy.

I had half a dozen or so these guys, the little pom-poms with googly eyes on sticky vinyl feet. They all had individual names, like Fuzzy and Jezebel, but collectively I referred to them as "Creatures." I made little houses for them out of the bottoms of stationery boxes, made them little beds with little bedspreads and pillows. I made them dolls and jigsaw puzzles. I wrote school report cards for them, and I made little tiny boxes of stationery for them, with little tiny envelopes (you are picking up on a theme here, aren't you?). And I wrote them little teeny tiny books.

Like these.

Let's read one together, shall we? Maybe we can read How Things Feel. it's awesome; you'll see:


How does leather feel? ROUGH.

How does foil feel? SMOOTH.

How does wool feel? SOFT.

How does cloth feel? BUMPY. How does metal feel? HARD.

How does tissue feel? NICE. (I'm sensing a slight desperation at this juncture.

This is what Mrs. Iron saw, all those years ago. THIS.