When I was six or seven, maybe eight, my mother had a boyfriend named Jim (this Jim was actually the second of two my mother dated in a row). Jim was a brilliant finish carpenter and a talented jazz saxophonist, but what impressed me about him was that he had cool toys.
Jim was the person who first introduced me to the hacky-sack; in fact I was a much better hacky-sacker when I was eight than I was a few years later when the little footbags became the coolest thing to happen to potheads since hash.
In addition to the hacky-sack, Jim was fond of setting off bottle rockets in our front yard–what eight year old wouldn’t love that?!
But the coolest toy Jim had was boomerangs, and he had lots of them. He had a whole box, collected himself and by friends over the course of several years and at least two continents. There were small, fast ones, some with curved ends and some without. There were medium-sized, traditional-looking ones, and there were larger, slower ones. There were yellow ones, black ones, brown ones, neon yellow and orange ones–as an eight year old, I was impressed just by the colors of them.
The biggest of all was an Australian “throwing stick,” which Jim told me would not return when thrown.
Its angle was far wider than those of the smaller boomerangs, and it was made of heavy, dense wood. It was twice the length of the average boomerang in Jim’s collection. Both the boomerang and the throwing stick were used for hunting, Jim told me –the returning boomerang would be thrown first, to distract the hunter’s prey, then the throwing stick would be thrown to kill the animal. The boomerang, if thrown right, would return to the hunter, and he would go get his kill. I was fascinated by the boomerang, and australia, and everything that came along with them (kangaroos? wallabies? wombats? of course!)
Sometimes on Saturdays, Jim would take me to the high school football field (when there wasn’t a game) to throw the boomerangs. He had specific ones that only he could throw–I think those were most likely the expensive and rare ones. He showed me how to hold the boomerang–perpendicular to the ground, not parallel as we’re led to believe by the movies– and how to throw it hard enough that it would keep going up and circle around, and not plummet awkwardly to the ground. I wasn’t very good at boomeranging, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Jim and I remained friends after he split up with my mother. At one point, Jim decided that he wanted to make boomerangs. He studied weights, angles, shapes– and he cut them and shaped them out of plywood after hours in the woodworking shop where he worked. A time or two, I went and sat in the shop with him while he made them–I think I helped by sanding the routed edges of a few blanks he’d cut.
When he’d finished the boomerangs, he gave one to me; I think it was one I helped to make. It was a light honey color, varnished so it shined. In the middle of the top side, right where the bend was, he’d taken a heating element and burned the wood to form a big black tick and a poison ivy sprig.
“It’s the Martha’s Vineyard boomerang,” he said.
The Vineyard boomerang went with me wherever I went. It moved from house to house whenever I moved, all the way across the country and back several times. Ultimately, it ended up (in storage) right back where it started — in the laundry room of my mother’s house, which was my room when I was nine and Jim gave me the boomerang.
Tonight, my roommate told me that he’d recently had a very weird dream, involving a giant tattoo on his chest of a tick and poison ivy. I laughed. “Have I ever told you about the Vineyard boomerang?” I said.
Apparently I hadn’t. Now I have.