Like the frosted-pink balloon of Bazooka bubblegum that billowed out of Kateri’s 9-year-old mouth at a recent workshop, the cast of characters here at 826 Michigan is swelling. The scrubbed faces of our brave young students are becoming more familiar with every workshop. Sometimes, we know their names now without even glancing at their neon nametags. They know our names, too, although they have in some cases deemed them unfit. A certain Wendy L. has a particular penchant for giving gender-bending — though always affectionate — nicknames to our volunteers. Steve R., for instance, will henceforth be known as Gertrude. There is nothing he can do about this.
Five workshops through, we are almost fanatical in our love for the kids who keep coming back. We are fervent in our adoration of the tiny jaws that drop as they walk into our color-drenched basement cavern for the first time. We clamor to take small hands and lead them through our labyrinthine corridors on the master tour. We threw open our doors only two months ago, and already we feel flush with happiness, because: it’s working.
Do you know how Jiaao described a photograph of a sky charged with furious lightning? A river map without the words, she said. Andy saw the spaces between lightning spikes and decided that they were ghosts. Mohan whispered to me with all his might,“I know what it looks like,” and then scrawled the sentence fragment on his paper in ballpoint pen. “Crossed lines,” he’d written, and I asked him where he’d seen scribbled lines like that before. He smiled mischievously. “On my little sister’s homework.” I did not know how to respond. All of them were enormously right, and it is hard to believe that this is only just the start.
(All right. We will admit that we are including some individuals of questionable authenticity in the alleged headcount of our “swelling” ranks. We apologize if you feel you have been misled, but we feel that this liberty was entirely justified. Take the case of Thaddeus R. Blotch, our mysterious, demanding, hermitlike — and/or potentially invisible — publisher. He is very sensitive, and easily offended. (We think this is because he had a rather nasty case of garlicky body odor as an adolescent, but we cannot be sure.) And the six-foot-tall glow-in-the-dark monster whom we are trying to convince to take up residence in our supply closet? Well, alienating him wouldn’t help matters, now would it? Finally, we would just like to defend our inclusion of wombats and all other Australian mammals. They have been pulling their weight and more around here, and I think it is safe to say that they deserve some recognition.)