The train that isn’t there

I had planned to go a model train exhibition in January—nostalgia left over from Christmas time—but I had the date wrong and when I showed up at the Library Volunteer Fire Company and Social Hall, the exhibit had been packed up and put away for another year, another place. Somewhere in my part of the world are people who arrange these trains into model environments urban or rural, assemble the tracks, do the miniature landscaping, maintain and run the transformers that made them run. Clean and polish them, too. Model trains are a type of world-building.

The last model train setup I saw was at, of all places, a plant nursery. The trains must have been put up as a draw to customers, and on that day they were doing their job. Families were all over the place, two and three deep at the display. They were buying plants, too.

Why would anyone build a model train exhibit? For the pleasure of working on something that absorbs one’s whole attention. for the pleasures of world-building, and for the satisfaction of sharing the finished product. At least I suppose those are the reasons why. I build stories, which unfortunately do not have the same immediate, colorful, and concrete satisfaction, though they take up far less storage space.

The model train above really exists somewhere. But not here. The image is only a cipher for the real thing.

A model train exhibit is carefully crafted fiction. But an image of a model train exhibit is fiction times two. That image is at a cool remove from the world where the locomotive actually runs and children can stand close.

I think about that cool remove sometimes when I do something that used to be routine and now is rare, such as write a paper check.

I pay most bills online, but last week I needed the checkbook. How strange to write the words and letters, and sign my name. I was conscious of the flow of the ink, the weight and balance of the pen (PaperMate InkJoy black, medium), and the way my penmanship has gone south since I started using the computer for so much.

Handwriting is brainwriting; it is individual, and signatures used to matter, but as anyone knows who has signed electronically for a credit card purchase, that jaggedly scrawl on the LCD screen is not yours. Your brain controls your hand but not the process by which a signature is recorded in such a transaction.