“We Can Still Have It Even If It Is Broken”
Candy helicopter, gift from the bodega guy, still twirls on table
A few months ago, Kina established a relationship with a local bodega guy who, whenever she stopped in, would give her little candy gifts. This is, as I see it, a major selling point for independently-owned convenience stores. It is also a testament to the sway Kina has over small businesses on our block. She is on her way to becoming the mayor of all local businesses within two city blocks. All politics is local.
Anyhow, the point: This bodega guy, a couple months back, gave her a little spinny toy helicopter thing that is full of pellet candy. We’re not talking Skittles here—this is a candy Happy Meal, a true high-end sugar experience. You have probably played with something like it before: The base contains a spring-loaded trigger, to which you attach a lightweight winged disc and twist five or six times; when you press the trigger, the disc launches off the base and spins wildly across the room, hitting your father in the forehead and knocking over precious heirlooms. (Because I have big-person-sized hands, I am the person who does both the twisty part and the clean-up part. )
As you can imagine, the candy really plays second fiddle to the danger machine, to the point where it’s not clear to me that Kina even knows there’s a treat inside. For weeks, we have played with this thing, sending her plastic disc rocketing into the ceiling, careening into the bookshelf, and—finally—crashing into a chair, where one of its blades cracked (again, this is Happy Meal plastic we’re talking about) and disabled any semblance of a guidance system. Now, whenever she launches the thing, it just flies off sideways and into the floor. Even for an admirer of chaos like Kina, this is not particularly fun. What to do?
I explained to her that the wing had broken, and she fiddled with it for a few minutes, trying to figure out what “broken” meant in this case—and whether or not she could mend it with her tiny fingers and sheer force of will. When it was clear that her flying days were over, she brought it over to the coffee table and flipped the disc over, on the bulbous cap at its center point. Spinning it like a top, she declared the toy still useful, a broken thing to keep and treasure. Bonus: she can spin it with her own fingers when there’s no spring to wind it against. She might even like it more, now that it’s damaged.
What are the broken things we can still have? The other day, Kina’s Lala marveled that the pandemic had taught her that she’d always had everything she needed inside the house—we have all we need, if we’re willing to tend to it. All of us have had to make do this year, cleaning and repairing the things we need to be comfortable in our solitude. I’ve been sitting in the same dining chair at my makeshift bedroom desk for ten months now, and there’s a screw holding the arms in place that has been slowly loosening under a wood cap in the frame; the chair gives a little clunk when I lean on it now. I spent half an hour watching how-to videos for removing and replacing wood caps in furniture before realizing that I kind of like the chair the way it is—its slow collapse both mirrors and (for now) eclipses my own. I can sympathize with my broken chair, and I know how to fix it if it gets really bad. It’s not that bad.
It’s good to remember that we still get to keep a few larger broken things: our health, the news, democracy. The bodega guy probably doesn’t care what Kina does with her broken spinny toy, and he has no stake in my decrepit chair, but he and I owe it to each other (and to Kina) to reckon with the broken things we share. We have to keep them, to fix them up or flip them on their heads and spin them around. Some things you can’t just sit on while they’re broken—we’re lucky to have them at all, and nobody else is going to come by and fix them for you. Not in 2020, no way. Time to roll up the sleeves, get this spinny toy flying again. There’s candy inside, when we’re done.