Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Fiction/Non-Fiction Divide, Part I: This Film is Based on a True-ish Story

Sebastian (age 5) and Kevin
by Sebastian Faust

For Part One of this two-part post, I'd just like to tell you a story from my childhood. It's a true story; it's not factual, but it's true. What I mean is, the story sort of happened; all the constituent parts did. But if a fact checker with a time machine were set loose on it, she'd have a field day.  
Nevertheless, I maintain that it is true... perhaps truer than a strictly factual rendering would be. It may include things that, if they didn't happen on that given day, nevertheless give better insight into the character actions or perceptions than would come from a strict and tenacious dogging of the facts. And though this story isn't so much an example of it, some of these stories, these nonfactual-yet-true stories, work to shape us in a way more profound and fundamental than anything that lands too near objective truth. But more on that tomorrow; in the meantime... 
There was a day - it was the middle of summer, and my best friend Kevin and I were packing up my suitcase with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches... and copper wire. I’d had enough of life under a repressive power and I was ready to wriggle out from beneath its thumb. 
I was heading off; I was starting fresh; I was striking out on my own; I was five. 
It was tyranny that I was fleeing, and chief among my grievances were the nigh daily spankings to which I was subjected. I could concede that they were not entirely capricious... it was true that I could be a holy terror: there had been the incident of “X Marks the Spot”, wherein I’d used a can of spray paint to turn our living room (and our dog) into a map to buried treasure; and no, I wasn’t entirely innocent in the “Kitchen Campfire Experiment” that left a spot of scorched and bubbled linoleum which had to be replaced. 
But the punishments had grown tiresome, and as the number of wooden spoons that had been broken over my tender behind surpassed that of the candles on my birthday cake, I resolved that I had an inalienable right no longer to suffer such despotism. And so, I was running away, with my best friend Kevin, some tasty provisions, and a little red suitcase full of wire.
The wire, so my thinking went, was made of copper. Something else that’s made of copper, and much more useful in everyday exchanges, are pennies. Pennies are money, and so, copper wire (which is ever so much brighter than a penny’s copper), must be worth a considerable sum. And money, especially a considerable sum of money, would be useful as one began one’s trek out into the great, wild world. 
The masterful plan included visiting the houses in our neighborhood, seeing if housewives and retirees might be interested in buying these beautiful, shining, slender metal rods, and thus providing Kevin and me with a cozy little nest egg, just enough to get our feet under us - maybe bus fare to Milwaukee, or a down payment on a house in the Hampshires. 
Suitcase Full of Copper, Value: ???
The trouble was, these were my neighbors; they knew me. And likely, they could see my brilliant plan revolving above my head in midair, like a thought bubble in the Sunday comics. And, if I knew anything, I knew they would use any means available to grown-ups in order to thwart it – grown-ups don’t think very highly of five-year-olds buying houses in the Hampshires… it just isn’t done.  
Obviously, I couldn’t risk discovery - Kevin would have to be the face of the operation until we made it out of my neighborhood and out across Remington Avenue, onto the streets of strangers. 
Five houses down, we chose our first mark: Mrs. Standish. Hiding behind her shrubbery, we held a quick consultation and pep talk - we would remove the sandwiches from the suitcase for the sake of better presentation; I’d keep them in a pile at my feet, remaining behind cover, concealed from view; Kevin would knock at the door, give the sales pitch I’d taught him, all about the usefulness and obvious value of copper wire, and when he opened the case and held it up like a platter, offering Mrs. Standish an array of semiprecious metal for her own personal pleasure, she was certain to buy at least half a pound of the stuff. 
I peered through the shrubs as he approached the door and rang the bell. All seemed to be going well, until suddenly, in the midst of his spiel, I saw him turn toward my hiding spot and gesture; Mrs. Standish looked as he pointed and gave me a little wave. I ducked back into the greenery and waited for Kevin to return. 
When he did, I learned there had been no sale, and so he had thought she might be more receptive if she knew he was affiliated with me, not just another five-year-old making the rounds in her neighborhood selling copper wire. 
She wasn't.
We soldiered on... two more houses, two more hiding spots, two more rejections. During our fourth attempt, it happened; not a sale, no… something awful had come for us. Kevin stood on the porch waving at my hiding place out by the street; I was crouching lower when I heard it: my name (first, middle, and last) shouted from just a few feet behind me. 
I turned around, very slowly, and there was my mom sitting in the car, come to detain us and carry us off for extraordinary rendition. Mrs. Standish had called once we left her house; she just said, "Your son's in my yard; he's trying to run away again." 
Back we rode and into the house we went; Kevin claimed diplomatic immunity and soon enough his dad came and whisked him away. I didn't have that luxury, so instead, as the latest wooden spoon snapped against my backside, I focused with a laser's intensity on that house in the Hampshires. Maybe I was too young to be running away for good?  

Maybe… maybe when I was six.

Sebastian Faust is an avowed heretic, armchair theologian, and a self-styled canary in the coal mine of pop culture. He lives in Nashville with his dog Watson, a service dog trained in growling at hipsters. You can't follow Sebastian on Twitter because he doesn't understand technology.

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