One of my fondest memories from my graduate school years is of a crisp autumn afternoon, spent with a friend in the hunt for a plastic gorilla. The gorilla was a necessary prop for a gag—a restaging of King Kong in our laboratory chemical safety hood. But where to find such a thing?
Our search led us to a tiny five-and-dime store in our campus town, run by two elderly ladies in hairnets. We wandered in, the sunlight drifting through the glass front door receding as we entered the catacombs of store shelves.
“Can I help you?” one of the ladies called from behind the counter.
“Um, would you happen to have something like…a plastic gorilla?” my friend asked. I could tell by the tone of his voice that he didn’t hold out a chance in hell of finding such a thing, let alone in this store.
The lady frowned. “Solid or Inflatable?” she asked.
“Solid,” he replied.
She turned to call out to her co-proprietress. “Ethel, what do we have in the way of plastic gorillas?”
Ethel soon emerged from the back, toting a cardboard box filled to the brim. “Black or russet?” she asked. “Small or large? You want it standing, or hunched down on all fours?”
Combing through the box, we came up with a mid-sized black specimen, standing menacingly with its arms upstretched. It was perfect.
Why do I remember this? It’s because two twenty-somethings spent a lazy Saturday afternoon together, on a quest for the whimsical. We were supposed to be finishing our research, writing our theses, and getting the hell out of Dodge. But for one afternoon, we forgot about all of that. We were able to just be, to enjoy two ladies who saw fit to stock an entire box of novelty gorillas and use the word “russet.”
And this is why I love it when a reader reads something I’ve written and tells me they were swept away: when an agent says she asked her own kids to stop bothering her, because in my story there were two desperate children searching for a motor bike and she needed to see how it turned out; when a friend tells me she turned down a movie date with her husband so she could finish my book; when a reviewer says that she read my book until four in the morning because she just had to finish it.
Reading takes time. And I’m overwhelmed when people see fit to spend that precious commodity with something I’ve written. It makes the time I spend writing, all the more worth it.