The 96-Box Obsession
I think I was 8 years old when I got the 96-count box of Crayola crayons. I was a massive fan of coloring, and I was enraptured by it. I memorized the names of each and every color in the box, and I compulsively arranged, then rearranged them in rainbow order. If someone else used them (ahem, my big sister) and put one of the crayons in the wrong spot, I became resentful.
The box was so fancy, it even had a sharpener built into the back. But I tried to avoid sharpening the crayons too often. The height discrepancy between sharpened crayons and their neighbors bothered me to no end.
However, as an avid colorer, I eventually had to start making difficult decisions about sharpening. And then, of course, about the attendant wrapper-peeling that had to come along with it.
There simply was no way to peel back a crayon wrapper in an aesthetically pleasing way. They tore raggedly, or separated into layers, so you’d end up with that fuzzy under-paper jagging downward at an unappealing angle every time. Putting a peeled oft-used crayon back into the box next to a pristine one made me grind my teeth.
Something about the indignity of the peeling process piqued my young mind. It drew a series of unpleasant connections between the pristine and well-ordered environs of the inside of my Crayola box…and the scuffed, discolored, chaotic interior of the dingy yellow plastic bucket that my family kept old, cast-off crayons in.
The Crayon Bucket
I don’t know where all those crayons came from, or how a family with just two children—only one of whom was really into coloring—could amass such a collection. Perhaps the bucket was a hand-me-down or a thrift store purchase.
Whatever the case, this gigantic yellow bucket came with me nearly everywhere for years, and most of the crayons inside were in bad shape. Many didn’t even have wrappers, and one could easily be hoodwinked into using a purple when you’d been going for black . The wrappers that still clung to their crayons inside the bucket were mostly torn, illegible, marked with other colors they’d knocked against when I went trudging off to a gymnastics meet to studiously not watch my sister do her floor routine for the hundredth time.
The difference between the ignoble bucket and the immaculate Crayola box started to bother me.
I felt bad for the bucket crayons, but I couldn’t help preferring the clean lines of those inside the box. Still, as time went on and my angst over the sharpening and peeling situation deepened, I reverted to the bucket, feeling that those old crayons didn’t need to be held to the same standards. I could peel their wrappers with impunity. But, without labels on some of the colors, I frequently ended up with not exactly the right color combinations. And worse, I felt terrible that I was, deep down, okay with treating the bucket crayons poorly.
And so, my sun and moon in Aquarius were activated, along with my identity as a writer.
The Crayon Story
It was on the topic of crayon inequality that I wrote my first short story.
It starred Salmon, a crayon from the Box who ran with the popular crowd of female and femme-leaning friends (reds, pinks, purples; I seem to recall a bit of gender variation in the greens and light blues…not sure about the oranges; the dark blues, greens, browns, and grays were male—sigh). She was stuck up, like the other crayons in her clique. Obsessed with cleanly wrappers, social order, popularity. She wasn’t as bad as Carnation Pink, the Queen Bitch of the Box, or her sycophants White, Lavendar, and probably Razzmatazz. She thought for herself. Still, she was part of the in crowd.
One day (probably at a gymnastics meet) Salmon was tossed into the Bucket by an unwitting adult who didn’t understand the order of things.
The Bucket was a whole other way of living that she’d never even imagined—a jumble where colors consorted in ways she’d been taught were irredeemable. No separation between hues or genders; wrappers an afterthought if they were even present; blunted, un-sharpened tips everywhere; everyone writing on everyone else.
It was, to Salmon’s sheltered upbringing, utter chaos.
Salmon was frightened and very much alone. It’s likely that, if Little Lynsey had any idea how to write a good story, Salmon was bullied or at least mocked by some denizens of the Bucket, to whom she appeared a mewling, pathetic snob. And to Salmon, they would have seemed unruly, threatening, wholly Other.
Until she met (okay, I was 8, and I had no clue about the racial implications of this…but the omnipresent racism of American life clearly had already gotten to me by then…we change…we grow) Black. He was born and raised in (or maybe discarded into? I don’t know if I gave him a back story) the Bucket. He wore no wrapper, and he was proud of who he was without it. He wasn’t well sharpened.
He had a good heart, a generous soul. And he came to Salmon’s aid.
I don’t remember the details of their meeting or their conversation. All I remember is that, naturally enough, they fell in love. (Again: I was 8.)
But I’m sure that he showed her around the Bucket, introduced her to his friends. She learned that they were good people…or crayons…who had simply lived different lives than she had. They didn’t have things as easy as her friends in the Box, but they loved one another and made a good life for themselves in the Bucket.
I remember that, eventually, Salmon and Black went to the Box together, along with some of Black’s friends.
In the Box, of course, Black’s nakedness caused a huge stir. But Salmon and Black, with eloquence and a certainty in the fundamental goodness of the crayon heart, convinced everyone in the Box to relax and start treating everyone the same, whether they wore wrappers or not, whether they came from the Bucket or the Box.
I’m pretty sure that Lavender ended up hooking up with a dark blue, and I have a very strong feeling that there was a pairing between gender-neutral green and orange, but perhaps I’m giving myself too much credit.
At any rate, they all lived happily ever after, freely traveling between Bucket and Box and learning from one another, the end.
I truly wish I had a copy of the crayon story, because I’d very much like to remember more of the details. But if it still exists, the Crayon Story is nowhere I can find it. Then again, it may be better this way—as I said parenthetically above, I’m rather certain that there’s some truly cringe-worthy gender- and race-related faux pas within the pages. But I’m also pretty sure that, given my age when I wrote it in the early 90s, my attempts at progressivism, social justice, and gender-critical fiction is worth a nod here on the blog.
Like I said—Aquarius. Sun and moon.
I don’t recall if writing this story did anything to ease my neuroticism about the upkeep of the Crayola box. But I do have, for some reason, a clear vision of the metallic gold crayon from the box—complete with the tip worn down to a nub and the marks of a thumbnail pushing the wrapper down until it tore.
Anyway, so, if you made it this far, I have a question:
Cute idea for a comic? Or nah?
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4 thoughts on “The Crayon Story”
That picture of lil Lynsey really is gold!
I like the idea! Reminds me a few things… the discussions about color on Doug, where Skeeter was Blue-skinned, and my own bucket of crayons. Sadly, I was not much of a colorer, but I had an obsession in grade school you would have hated: I was attempting to break all my crayons into the smallest pieces I could by putting them between my finger joints and snapping them. Then I’d put them all in a huge container. I think some part of me was multiplying the number of crayons I had, because if I could snap one 3x, I’d have 4 little crayons. Mostly I was procrastinating and doing something other than what I was told to do.
Back to the question at hand, I think a comic strip about crayon-world would be fascinating for talking about social issues.Could even dip into the “non-crayola” world of illegitimate crayons?
On a side note, there is a photo floating around this week of the old Gold and Copper crayons which have now oxidized into Green, much like lady liberty.
Okay, I don’t love the idea of breaking crayons into tiny pieces, but I do get the appeal. They’re really satisfying to break…