in praise of pockets

I’ve been told by sev­er­al friends that this par­tic­u­lar rant of mine is get­ting tedious and I should drop it, so con­sid­er this post a kind of purg­ing.  I promise not to bring it up again.  Unless you do first.

When we first start­ed buy­ing clothes for our daugh­ter, Eliot– she’s four now– I noticed that many of them lacked pock­ets.  I don’t think our eight year old son, Anselm, has ever owned pock­et­less clothes.  (If any­thing, it’s chal­leng­ing to find boy shorts that don’t sub­scribe to the eight-pock­et “car­go pant cult”.)  I assume this is because tod­dler fash­ion is designed to pre­pare the sub­ject psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly and eth­i­cal­ly for adult fash­ion, which if you’re a girl means avoid­ing at all costs adding padding to the hips, waist or arse.  (Patent idea: breast-shaped wal­let?)  Of course if you’re a boy, func­tion­al­i­ty trumps style.

But why is this impor­tant? Let’s begin with the role of pock­ets in child­hood.  Down­load­ing Tom Sawyer from Project Guten­berg and doing a search for “pock­et” turns up quite a few ref­er­ences, like:

The new boy took two broad cop­pers out of his pock­et and held them out with deri­sion.

[...] so he returned his strait­ened means to his pock­et, and gave up the idea of try­ing to buy the boys.

His hand wan­dered into his pock­et and his face lit up with a glow of grat­i­tude that was prayer, though he did not know it.  Then furtive­ly the per­cus­sion-cap box came out.

[...] he took anoth­er mar­ble from his pock­et and tossed it in the same way.

He picked up a clean pine shin­gle that lay in the moon­light, took a lit­tle frag­ment of “red keel” out of his pock­et, got the moon on his work, and painful­ly scrawled these lines [...]

He put his hand on his jack­et pock­et, found his piece of bark safe, and then struck through the woods [...]

She knew that Tom had a whole can­dle and three or four pieces in his pock­ets– yet he must econ­o­mize.

Tom took some­thing out of his pock­et.  “Do you remem­ber this?” said he.  Becky almost smiled.  “It’s our wed­ding-cake, Tom.”

He took a kite-line from his pock­et, tied it to a pro­jec­tion, and he and Becky start­ed, Tom in the lead, unwind­ing the line as he groped along.

A glow of grat­i­tude that was prayer” is strong praise indeed for a square of fab­ric sewn into pants or a jack­et on three sides.  The pock­et might be the old­est form of per­son­al aug­men­ta­tion, a sim­ple and pow­er­ful way of extend­ing your capac­i­ty as a human.  It’s the “gath­er” part of “hunter-gath­er­er”.  It’s cut-and-paste for the phys­i­cal world.  You take a small piece of the envi­ron­ment, store it, and retrieve it some­time lat­er in a new con­text, where it might take on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing or sat­is­fy a need, fore­seen or unfore­seen.

When I’m turn­ing Anselm’s pants right­side-out I find stones, seeds, bark, scraps of paper, and so on, pret­ty much like what Tom would have kept in his pock­ets at eight.  As a boy grows, his pock­et inven­to­ry acquires greater poten­cy– can­dles, string, cop­pers.  Driver’s licens­es, keys, cred­it cards, phones.  If you hap­pen to be male, imag­ine for a moment liv­ing with none of these powerups on your per­son.  Imag­ine instead need­ing to car­ry them around in a dec­o­ra­tive bag, if you car­ry them at all.  You leave the bag lying here or there, hang­ing on the back of the chair, in a coat-check room, under a bar stool, and if you’re human you for­get it some­times.  That’s okay, you’re not expect­ed to pay, or dri­ve the car, or open the front door.  Real­ly, you shouldn’t be in the bar at all, unescort­ed.  See what I mean?

Grand­ma helps Eliot stuff a horse into her pock­et before going out.

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