How many things do you really need dangling from your neck?
By Brian Doyle
July 25, 2014
Just the word lanyard this morning sends me into summer camp reverie, and I hear the gawky young crows of July moaning piteously for their mothers, and hear a blizzard of cicadas, and smell the dusty dry withered grass of the outfield during the desultory softball game in which the only real interest is in which group’s brawny counselor will jack a home run over the cottonwood tree deep in left field by the highway fence, and holy moly their counselor actually does it—that ball will bounce onto the highway and then probably into the Atlantic Ocean!
And the ashtrays made of fired clay with glazes of psychedelic colors; and the birdhouses made of ice-cream sticks and tongue-depressors; and the ashtrays hammered from malleable copper probably stolen from construction sites by enterprising counselors; and the lanyards, o my gawd, miles of lanyards, vast ropes and cables of lanyards—what did our parents and uncles and aunts do with all those lanyards? How many lanyards can you actually use for key-chains? Are there attics today with whole bursting boxes of lanyards beautifully braided in the colors of our favorite sports teams? Do lanyards have expiration dates, and after 30 years suddenly they dissolve with a sigh into tiny particles of gleaming plastic dust? Or do lanyards last forever, and many thousands of years from now when crickets run the world, a brilliant cricket archaeologist and his team of earnest energetic young archaeology students will unearth lanyards every other week, and ponder their religious and sacramental significance among the cultures that once herded their children together into camps every July, in sprawling fields of dry grass along the shores of oceans?
Even now, occasionally, I will spot a lanyard, almost always around an officious neck, and if it is summer when I spot this lanyard, I will look very closely at it, even as the official person is sternly lecturing me about the tech department’s policy about people who collect thumb drives and build little rickety birdhouses from them, which is conscious and deliberate flouting of departmental policy, which will almost certainly earn me an official notice to my supervisor, and for a long moment, as I stare at the lanyard, which is hardly ever woven by hand from long bright plastic threads, I will be back at summer camp, with young crows gibbering for their mothers, and softballs floating over cottonwood trees, and bug juice to drink, and all afternoon out here in center field to examine the grass carefully for praying mantises, which are tall thin insects that look just like Joey Ramone, without his leather jacket.
Brian Doyle is the editor of the University of Portland’s Portland magazine and the author of many books, most recently the novel Chicago.