There was an inventor named Cal in my hometown who projected 16mm movies on a sheet stretched between trees in his back yard, for neighborhood kids on summer nights. He knew about all sorts of stuff, like how to draw cartoons, how to make things, how to be funny, and how to go right to the source to figure something out. To me, Cal was a wizard.
He had wire-rimmed glasses when they were for wizards, not hippies. He wore a fedora hat, even in hot weather. He was a little oldish guy with a pot belly. I wanted to be like Cal, except I didn’t want to look like him. I wanted to look like Superman, and be more powerful than a speeding locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.
I had the inside track with Cal because he and my Dad were friends. When I was little, Cal gave me a set of wooden building blocks he had made. When I was in the hospital with a broken leg Cal brought me mechanical drawing materials. When I got home from the hospital, he brought me Speedball pens and India ink to draw cartoons and make signs. Cal was better than Santa Claus.
When they were younger, Dad had worked for Cal on the first heat sealer for plastic bags. One morning Dad showed up at work but no Cal. He got a phone call several hours later. Cal was in St. Louis because there was something there he wanted to see. Dad never was sure if the trip was pertinent to the sealer or not. Dad marveled how Cal would drive a thousand miles on an impulse like that. Cal was a free spirit.
The other thing I remember about Cal was his mantra. It was only two words but it apparently served him well. Can Do. There is a solution. This can be done. That was all he needed to live a life full of challenges, excitement, wonder and fun.
It’s true that Cal lived in a simpler time, no computers, no cell phones, no cable TV. And it’s true that now we live in a world of complicated limitations to what we want to do. It’s easy to develop a no-can-do philosophy, but if he was alive now, I’m sure Cal would use the same old mantra to make life interesting.
It proved impossible for me to leap tall buildings at a single bound. Really, who would want to? I never out-raced a speeding locomotive, even though I tried. But in this world, I’d like to think that a little bit of Cal’s wizardry rubbed off on me, at least this much: Can Do.