An early influence?
When children express their boundless imagination in writing, the results can be bizarre. I am regularly reminded of this as a teacher of elementary-age students. It is my privilege to observe their literary development at a formative stage, when their novice attempts to emulate various styles sometimes merge with their limited background knowledge to surreal and unintentionally humorous effect.
What I try to remember when evaluating student narratives is how incredibly strange my own attempts at storytelling were at that age. As unusual as some of the student work I've encountered has been, none of it has surpassed some of my juvenile efforts in their breadth and depth of sheer weirdness. Take, for example, The Glass Eye, a macabre stab at humor that I wrote circa second or third grade. Its off-kilter flavor is apparent even in its byline, as I attributed the work to Edward Cramer.
Whatever compelled me to adopt a pseudonym is now beyond my ken. All I can say is that I'm certain the moniker had almost no significance to me other than having the vague authorial ring I thought my own name lacked. Did I think a pen name would increase the likelihood of readers taking my work seriously? Who can say? As evident in the following paragraphs, it's hard to get inside the head of Edward Cramer.
The Glass Eye
By Edward Cramer
One day a man was fixing some pipes. He was a plumber. Suddenly, he heard something rolling down a pipe. He picked it up and saw that it was a glass eye. “Now how did that get there?” he said, puzzled. He finished his work and asked everyone if they had lost a glass eye. They all said no.
I love that second sentence. There's nothing more endearing in a child's writing than totally unnecessary exposition. Incidentally, this mysterious setup is about as realistic as the story gets. It's all high-concept from here on out.
“I feel like a stupid Cyclops!” he said to himself. The plumber didn’t know what to do. He put the glass eye in his pocket.
I'm sure I must have felt quite clever inserting this mythological reference. A youthful fascination with monocular creatures and prosthetic eyes was probably the kernel from which the entire story grew.
The next day he was fixing some pipes when he heard something rolling down a pipe. He picked it up. It was a glass eye. Now he had two glass eyes. He asked everyone if they had lost a glass eye. They all said no. He put the glass eye in his pocket and forgot about it.
Just what might the plumber place in his pocket that he would not forget? It would have to be something pretty weird...
Now the same thing happened over and over again, day after day, week after week. The plumber had forty-eight glass eyes. The plumber finally took up collecting glass eyes.
Well, why not?
The next day he was fixing a sink and he heard something rolling down a pipe. The plumber picked it up and saw that it was a head with no eyes, ears, teeth, hair, or nose. He took the head home and put two eyes inside.
Good heavens. I don't think a human head could make it down one of our heating ducts, let alone clear the water pipes. Must have been an industrial-grade utility sink.
Now each day he worked, he got more heads rolling down pipes. Finally, the plumber had twenty-four heads. He put the forty-eight eyes in the twenty-four heads.
It's a bit like Sesame Street, no?
Two days later, he was working on a sink, heard something rolling down a pipe, and picked it up. He had one hundred teeth. This happened for four more days, and the plumber had five-hundred teeth. He put the five-hundred teeth in the twenty-four heads with the forty-eight glass eyes.
Apparently I had no idea how many teeth are in a typical human head. The average number is 32, and if we multiply that by 24, we produce a product of 768. A collection of 500 teeth, assuming sufficient variety, would provide only 15 complete dental sets. Now you know.
Now the plumber decided to start collecting body parts. So, as he collected body parts, he got more excited. Two month later, he had twenty-four heads with twenty-four noses, forty-eight ears, five-hundred teeth, one million hairs, and forty-eight glass eyes.
That second sentence is particularly disturbing, isn't it? It's the sort of thing you can get away with writing when you're under ten years old, but after that, beware the men in the white coats. By the way, the hair estimate is also grossly insufficient. With an average of 100,000 individual hairs on your garden-variety human head, a million strands would cover a mere ten heads. Rather ruins the story.
Now he wanted to get rid of the heads, so he flushed them down the toilet. Two months later, the plumber was fixing his own sewage pipes when they suddenly broke in half. All the heads he had flushed down the toilet came tumbling down. The plumber was stuck with twenty-four heads. He was really mad.
I don't know, if I were trying to get rid of two dozen heads, I certainly wouldn't want to take the risk of creating impenetrable blockages in my sewer line. Still, you have to admire my childlike faith in the power of toilets to rid us of all problems.
The plumber took the twenty-four heads, put them in a large box, and buried them under the ground. The plumber was happy now. He finally got rid of the heads.
Two months later, the plumber had flowers in his back yard. He went back to look at them and he could hardly believe what he saw. The flowers had blossoming heads!
Now the plumber was as mad as he could get. He took his grass trimmers out and chopped the heads off the flowers. He took the heads and put them in another box.
I don't think I was sophisticated enough to pun with the word head. More likely I had seen a picture or cartoon of flowers with anthropomorphic heads.
The plumber went to the airport and ordered the plane to be flown from the airport in New York to the tropics in Brazil. Though for some reason, Georgia was in the way of the flight pattern. The plumber lived in Georgia and this is what happened.
Oh yes, did I forget to mention that the plumber lived in Georgia?
The plane lifted off and was in the air. It went over Georgia when half of the plane crumbled. The half that crumbled had the heads in it. The heads dropped in the plumber’s back yard.
Oh, the irony! The irony!
There was nothing the plumber could do. He was stuck with twenty-four heads with twenty-four noses, forty-eight ears, five hundred teeth, one million hairs (not rabbits but hairs) and forty-eight glass eyes.
Now the plumber was piping (HA, HA!) mad. He put the twenty-four heads that had twenty…Oh, I’m not going through that again!
Now we seem to have taken a break from narrative in favor of experimenting with homophonic and occupational puns, as well as a dose of comically exasperated meta-commentary.
Anyway, he put the heads in a new box and put the box in the trunk of his car. He was driving his car when all the sudden (he timed it just right) a dead cow fell on his car and crushed it.
And while we're at it, why not throw in a wacky non-sequitur? Probably inspired by Monty Python.
The next thing the plumber knew, he was in heaven. He looked around. In one corner was a box. The plumber went over to the box and opened it. Inside were the heads.
“Damn those heads!” said the plumber. Right then the plumber saw God.
A shocking use of profanity from a tender mind, decades before South Park.
“You shall pay for that,” said God.
“How?” questioned the plumber.
“Sell your soul to the devil,” replied God. So the plumber did that and paid God forty thousand dollars. “You forgot,” said God, “you’re already dead!”
One can only hope that the author's take on the monetary value of one's soul is at least as woeful an underestimation as his guesses regarding human teeth and hair. And what's up with God in the role of trickster? An odd theological stance from a young Catholic.
“Oh, no!” cried the plumber.
Cue the muted wah-wah-wah horns here.
At last our storytelling train chugs into the station, and what a long, strange trip it's been. As I consider the twisted tale penned in my own small hand, I am reminded of the adage, "The child is the father of the man." Now all these years later, it's clear to me that I must have been adopted.