The Idol

Forsaking the East required me to pare possessions. Fortunately or unfortunately, I lack a lot of sentimental feeling so few precious heirlooms weighted my way West. Instead, I brought along plenty of memories. All of which bear greater substance than most of the dustcatchers dispersed or abandoned in Quarropas.

One item borne along means absolutely nothing to me. It had been father’s. Looking at it now foments all sorts of questions because having observed him the thing is inconsistent with who he was. Or at least the man he presented.

Somewhere during his 87 years he bought, found, won, or was presented a Ganesh. Let’s discount the first choice. He wasn’t a Hindu nor did he find any succor in Hinduism.

The Ganesh is an elephant-headed, pot-bellied, four-armed deity symbolizing success. According to his lore, he’s also empowered to remove obstacles. Which goes hand in hand with achievement, no?

Forged from brass, father’s Ganesh stands about 11 inches tall and weighs nearly two pounds. Unlike the Maltese Falcon, it is the stuff which may realize dreams, not from which they’re made of.

Until I cleaned it weeks ago, the dingus wore decades of dust. Oh, no, the Ganesh hadn’t been squirreled away. Fact is he occupied a prominent spot in our daily lives. And being so obvious we’d just become so accustomed to his presence we gradually overlooked him.

By the time he must’ve acquired the figurine, father had endured the Jim Crow South and the Depression, and survived World War II. All that before he’d turned 26. There’s nothing my generation and our successors to compare against.

Anyway, wouldn’t a Ganesh have been a devotional object before and during his trials rather than long past them?

Perhaps I ought have asked while father still walked among us but then the curio held scant importance and garnered even less interest. So what remains, what’s produced, derives from curious germinating whimsy. Mine.

Frankly given the imposed space and weight limitations behind my westward migration, I don’t know why the Ganesh doesn’t reside elsewhere today.

Objectively regarded, the Ganesh is the sort of thing one should’ve given away. Somehow I don’t see father bequeathing it as a personal treasure. One must wonder whether he ever knew what the thing was and represented. After all he was of those people from that time who displayed items through simple visual appeal, e.g., “It looks nice.”

One might consider it a knickknack but the thing weighs too much to be taken so slightly.

How to interpret the Ganesh’s backstory? How does this object arrive in Quarropas during an era when the only known Indians are redskins or West? A black and white bedroom community of New York City, the Quarropas of father’s burgeoning fullness looked upon Chinese as “exotics.”

This amuses. The Chinese had landed in America long before other later arriving ethnics who ultimately saw Asians as misplaced here. Before the ubiquitous chop suey joints, Chinese immigrants helped build the rail lines which bound our nation. That alone earned them places at the table.

Anyway, the Ganesh.

Like Hammett’s black bird, had it traversed the globe, slipping and sliding from hand to hand, ownership becoming more dubious with every exchange? Or had one of the last Ellis Island arrivals lugged the Ganesh along to our New World, hoping its charms produced hoped-for fortune, but instead gained immediate redemption through necessary pawn?

That’s so likely an explanation it should stop this post right here. But that’s so rational it offends my sense of the fanciful. Rather, let’s envision events like this:

Post-war, father returned to Quarropas. Now in his mid-20s he’s experienced a lifetime of living common to his generation. He’s returned to an America of 48 states unscathed by conflict, whose civilian population will never know depravity or depravations he’s seen (or may’ve contributed to under orders) yet despite the rush to resume the placidity December 7th disrupted, the changes fermenting beneath readjusting society’s smooth surface will erupt with greater force, profundity and depth than the Jazz Age which resulted from World War I.

Until recently, well, somewhat recently, Quarropas used to be a destination on traveling carnival circuits. Back when the city sat distinct from Gotham. Less so now, though, since it’s been all but absorbed into the metropolis.

Carnivals in the sense of ears being assailed by hurdy-gurdies, propriety being tickled with scantily-dressed female assistants, and the notion of entertainment being provided through barely safe amusement rides and chiseling distractions along the arcades of wheezing third-rate dog & pony shows.

These were Nightmare Alleys but relief of seeing 1929 end in 1945 engendered a happiness ours and successor generations will never know. Those people then probably knew they were being had, but were likely quite happy to have been in such positions. The past 16 years thoroughly informed them how much worse life might’ve and could’ve developed.

Let’s say years before meeting mother, father is enjoying his respite with a date. A carnival has come to the city. Not only a diversion from the quotidian but a cheap night out besides.

Perhaps this pair or group of friends the duo have hitched along are enticed by some game of skill. Okay. The prizes lure them. Gee-gaws as they knew them.

Initially I would’ve thought the allure marksmanship. But then I fully considered father and his times.
Growing up, wasn’t his the last era when the overwhelming majority of American hunters tracked game in order to provide sustenance rather than bag trophies? That family then only sought food, not wall-mounted conversation pieces. Of those times, father nor his brothers bragged. Nonetheless each proudly recalled those occasions when his stalking bore success.

Consequently those who went off to war seldom mentioned any enemy killed. Not even obliquely. At least father, his brothers, and those within their cohort never did within earshot.

So instead of demonstrating marksmanship with a .22 after years of handling an M1, I prefer imagining a slender father finding challenge in winning prizes by knocking over stacked weighted milk bottles with baseballs.

He played baseball as a boy but only became a fan when Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers. The Brooklyn Dodgers. Loquacious though rarely demonstrative, father’s description of those Ebbets Field afternoons put a listener born after the Dodgers’ desertion in catbird seats.

Therefore, baseballs and not .22 slugs it is.

Recognizable as he is, I see a much younger, just as father winding up before pitching. To baseball fans today that wind up must seem exaggerated and wasted motion. But that’s how they pitched then. Arms stretched above head, an extended leg or big kick before driving to the plate.

That’s the motion father used during our driveway sessions. In youth league I donned the tools of ignorance and served as our team’s catcher. Father coming over the top helped break in mitts and accustomed me to squatting.

Alas, I never became a Roy Campanella. Nor even a John Roseboro.

Father winds up and knocks over the requisite number of rigged bottles. Having done so expeditiously, he gets to choose from the top shelf prizes. Shining brightly ought have been the Ganesh.

The figurine would’ve caught his eye. Whose eye wouldn’t it have caught?

Homogenized as America was then, the Ganesh must’ve appeared otherworldly. How it wound up on the top shelf of a carnival attraction is easy.

Some dogface having served in the China-Burma-India Theater likely brought it back as a war souvenir. Demobbed, he needed folding cash. He found a pawn shop or an antiques store willing to give a returning vet a few bucks for a “genuine Hindoo artifact.”

Who can’t see that thing catching dust until some carnival sharpie spies it? Strangeness alone makes it attractive. Slap an “object from the mysterious East rumored to possess mysterious powers” pitch on it and a public susceptible to fantasy after years of inhumanity gazes upon and may desire the relic.

How easy will it be to possess only after upending three lead bottles. How easy was it? That is if that’s the story.

Attain it as he did, father captured an idol of multitudes. Not many can be said to have accomplished that.

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