This story is a prime example of my Problem Child tendencies that followed me into adulthood. On my April Fool’s birthday in 1977 my children Joy and Bob gave me a special gift that I kept in my office for several years. It was a dark red foam brick. Some might consider this a gag gift, but for me it brought new opportunities for “entertaining” friends and family, a new item in my bag of tricks. While I kept it on display in my office, when friends or relatives came to visit I brought it home to “entertain” them.
My particular foam brick was the standard 2-by-4-by-8 inches with several holes in it, looking just like a real brick. The holes reduce the materials needed to make it, minimizing its weight. A standard construction brick of these dimensions weighs about five pounds, but my foam brick weighed only about three or four ounces, if that, and it was soft.
Visitors to my office normally talked about business or other things before getting around to asking about that brick on my bookcase. Usually these visitors sat a few feet away and I said something like,
“Well, this brick has a lot of special significance to me. My two children gave me this brick and . . .”
While starting this explanation I reached for the brick, faking a look that made it appear that the brick was heavy, as one would normally expect. Then I stood, held the brick in both hands, and heaved it in a spinning fashion toward my visitor while letting out a little groan like I was straining a bit. This “entertainment” of my visitors resulted in an instantaneous reaction of raised arms, hands, legs and feet, along with ducking the head, all in a defensive posture to protect against the sharp edges of the hurled brick. As soon as the foam brick made contact and fell to the floor, raucous laughter normally followed, thus the “entertainment” I mentioned.
After word of this unusual little gag got around the office, some of my friends occasionally brought visitors of theirs to my office, ostensibly to meet me for some concocted reason. They got around to asking me to tell the visitors about the brick as I toss it at them. This required an ability to immediately “size up” visitors in an effort to judge whether they could take such a joke. They almost always did.
Others with less of a sense of humor occasionally looked at me slack-jawed like I was some sort of clown out of costume, some unrefined hick with a warped personality, some oddity passing as a university researcher-pinhead type. Such reactions were indeed rare, but it only takes one or two of them to stick in the mind and leave a clear impression about a person.
This foam brick was just one of those indicators in my adulthood that those early Problem Child tendencies—coupled in my mind with my April Fool’s Day birth—remained with me. Within the decade that I kept this foam brick on display and moved to another leading university in a mostly teaching position, I realized that its use was tapering off, that I displayed it less prominently, that I had somehow managed to outgrow it. Another of my rough edges was getting rounded off a bit as I made my way farther up the academic ladder.
Now over a quarter century and a different life later, I no longer have that dark red foam brick that Joy and Bob gave me. I wish I had kept it. That foam brick would be a perfect accompaniment to the rubber chicken I now keep on the wall in my study, hanging about six feet from the keyboard I used to write this sentence.
In some ways I suppose my rubber chicken is a replacement for the red foam brick. This no doubt means I still have Problem Child tendencies. Readers, beware!