Man in the Ceilingby Jules Feiffer
He's bad at sports and not much better at school, but Jimmy sure can draw terrific cartoons. And his dream, like that of his Uncle Lester, who writes flop Broadway musicals'is to be recognized for what he loves doing most.
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Sometimes Jimmy imagined his father carrying a canoe on his shoulder and sometimes not. The trouble Jimmy had with the canoe idea was that, if they were trekking through these thick woods, wasn't the canoe likely to bang into trees, knocking his father off balance, possibly into a swamp with live alligators? Actually, not a bad idea. Or this: What if the canoe got tangled in the branches of a tree, high off the ground, and just hung there? Jimmy liked that even better than the alligator idea. He had to laugh as he drew it.
Jimmy's father called him "kiddo" in the stories that Jimmy made up. Jimmy didn't entirely mind that his actual father didn't call him "kiddo" or take him camping in the woods. First of all, it wouldn't have been as much fun, and second, his father was too busy and overworked to take him camping in the woods. The word Jimmy heard most about his father was "overworked". The way his mother said it, "overworked" sounded important, even a little mysterious, something that perhaps Jimmy should grow up to be.
Father always brought home a pile of papers from the aircraft plant where he overworked, not far from where Jimmy and his family lived in Upper Montclair. "Don't touch my papers," Father said every time, although neither Jimmy nor his mother or sisters ever dreamed of going near his papers. just to look at them was enough to know that these were papers not meant to be touched. They had equations. Father might just as well have said, "Don't touch my atom bomb". Why in the world did he think that Jimmy would be tempted?
At times, Jimmy drew on the floor just behind the metal desk where Father worked on his papers. It madehim feel that they were colleagues of sorts, two men-the only two in the family-busily making mysterious marks on sheets of paper. I say "mysterious" because Father no more understood Jimmy's drawings than Jimmy understood Father's equations. Jimmy felt self-conscious drawing with Father nearby. He pretended that Father was not really working on his equations but watching Jimmy out of the corner of his eye. So every line Jimmy drew was a line for Father. Not that Father got it. Mother sometimes got it, but she was an artist herself, so it was to be expected. His older sister, Lisi, got it, but she was Jimmy's biggest fan, so big deal! But Father? Father never got it.
The effort it took to make a good Indiana Jones drawing made Jimmy grunt. The grunts were for Father's benefit. Jimmy hoped that just once Father would look up and say, "Not as easy as it looks, right, kiddo?" But Father didn't hear Jimmy's grunts. He was lost in thought over his equations. Sometimes Jimmy invented things to say to get his attention. Like one time he asked, "If you love, I mean really love your job, isn't it fair that you should be paid less?"
This was on his mind because, while he intended to grow up to draw cartoons (which he loved), still and all, he had to make money to support a family. So the question was not frivolous. Jimmy continued: "If a job is fun, maybe you shouldn't get paid-or O.K., paid, but food and carfare and something for the movies. I mean, shouldn't you get paid more for a job you hate?"
Father's pen hand stopped jotting down numbers. His eyes lost focus and his face took on a funny, pinched look. It was as if he were trying to translate Jimmy's words into his own native tongue. But that couldn't be, because Father was born in Columbus, Ohio.
"Don't bother your father, he's busy," said Jimmy's mother, who seemed never to be there except to stop Jimmy from bothering his father. At other times she said, "Don't bother your father, he's resting," which simply wasn't true. Jimmy never saw Father rest. Even asleep, he looked like it was a job.
So, between a busy father and a resting father (as if!), Jimmy chose to create a father he could bother. And this father-his Indiana Jones of a father-was so ideal that Jimmy wouldn't have wanted his actual father to be like that. It would confuse things. He didn't mind sharing his actual father with his two sisters, Lisi and Susu, but his Indiana Jones of a father? No way!
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