Me and a few friends tried to score tickets to some frou-frou independent film a couple of days ago at EDSA Shangri-La when we came across the woman herself, my own personal writing idol, Miss Jessica Zafra. I tried writing like JZ at one point in my life and realized I can’t do it. I still respect and “idolize” her very much in the way she uses the English language. I was about three feet away from bowing at her feet, or at least stealing her glasses.
One of the most memorable essays I loved from the Twisted series was her series on wrapping books in plastic covers. Since tomorrow marks the beginning of the school year, I’m reminded all of a sudden about plastic school supplies, and books and notebooks wrapped in plastic.
I never really did master the art of wrapping anything in plastic covers; Mother and my cousins did all the wrapping work for us. The first day of school greeted you with a schoolbag with plastic-wrapped everything: books, notebooks, plastic envelopes with the multiplication tables and spelling booklets wrapped in plastic, your plastic pencil case with your plastic pens and plasticine erasers still in the plastic packaging, the crayons still wrapped in tamper-proof plastic. If it rains, Mother packs everything up in plastic bags before packing them up into our school bags.
Every parent in elementary school pretty much did the same thing Mother did, and that had interesting consequences at the classroom. When we took out a notebook, the plastic covers were stuck to each other, and we ended up taking out three or five notebooks at once. We all took out ballpens from their plastic packaging, and the garbage bin eventually gets filled up with plastic rubbish.
Mother always took the time to bring us lunch, until we were old enough to go home for the lunch break. The rest of our classmates had lunchboxes. The days of Army-style tin lunchboxes weren’t hip back in the early 1990s. Only thumb-sucking baby-types came with those Panini Disney Princesses or Lion King lunchboxes that were effective containers for Tupperware.
Everyone was (literally) saddled with a giant hulking schoolbag, so the in thing were those all-in-one lunchboxes complete with juice container and plastic forks. White-and-red Coleman containers were made of awesome, but the black ones with small containers for viands and rice and cupcakes were the standard for us. If you didn’t like the corned-beef-and-eggs or luncheon-meat-with-eggs or hotdogs-and-eggs your mom spent around ten minutes cooking for you.
That didn’t do much for eating habits that meant using up more plastic. Lunches were usually left uneaten or thrown away, so almost every kid made a beeline for sidewalk snackage. Or Trump cards and goma for sipa or Chinese garter. Zoom Zoom cheese snacks were cool, because of the plastic soldiers – or if you’re lucky, dodecahedral two-peso coins – that you get for the fifty-centavo snacks. Snow cream was popular although it did taste like plastic (and led to mild cholera), but the highlight of everyone’s day was cotton candy spun from converted Singer sewing machines. Iced Gem Cookies were cool and all, but I’ve always had a soft spot for strawberry-flavored Yan-Yan.
These days, the backpack is now a convenient container for non-school-y stuff; a laptop, some pens, a portable ashtray, some knick-knacks here and there, and bus and train tickets that remind me that my innocent childhood – spent ostracized from playgrounds and playing around with Legos – has come and gone. No more plastic covered stuff, no more plastic stuff. Kids are off to their Neverland of learning and building up their memories tomorrow. For us, who wax (rant) lyrically and nostalgically about days gone by, those memories will stay just as they are: days gone by, wrapped in the plastic of time itself.
Bollocks on that, but yeah, “starstruck” was a good way to describe being just a few feet away from Jessica Zafra.