But as it happens, they can be useful.
My good friend Jo has two. Well, she has about four thousand, because she's that dedicated. But that's another story. There are only two that stand out.
One is a blue Pepsi cap, and the other is a green Sprite cap, and they're in a cheap-ass wire frame, and she has them on a necklace of cooking string around her neck whenever we go out.
It was a bright winter morning, a few months ago, that I was in her room, at her at her place in the Boerum neighborhood. A nice, bright, Wednesday mid-morning in a nice row house.
"Pat", said Jo, "I'm not going to to do this for you very often."
"That's okay," I said, "I understand that it's not possible very often. And I am extremely grateful."
She got off the bed, and rummaged in her desk. "Well, we wouldn't even be ABLE to get away with skipping school if I couldn't make a perfect simulacrum of us. And why, exactly, do you always pick a weekday mid-morning to come here and study my magic?"
"Neither of us allows ourselves to do work on Saturday. It's work for you, and it's a hell of a lot of work for me."
"And here I thought you weren't observant. But what about Sunday?"
"Sunday is when Grandma King drags me to the Methodist church and loudly hints about conversion in my ear all through the service. I'm too revved up on anger for the rest of the day to concentrate on Wizardry."
"So you pick a school day instead of learning how to calm down and focus."
"Focus!" I said, falopping over the bedside. "Ha! As if that was easy at any time. Actually, that's why I like weekday mornings. Think about it. A weekday mid-morning. A time we're supposed to be in school. But we're not. We're free. There's nothing we're required to do right now, and the sun is shining bright, and...and I could just stare out the window until the sun goes down. We never get this in school. You know? For once, just for a day, we have the chance to let our poor brains relax. No homework, no after-school stuff, nada. It's like showing up to school two hours before it opens. Nobody is there and your time is your own. It's a moment of perfect freedom. And I need to tap into that kind of energy if I want to be able to focus on your Wizard Magic, because it's so..."
"Arcane." She drew out a broken-off car antenna, then placed it back. "That's the point, to be Arcane. Not just Anybody is permitted to know the ways and means of the fabric of the universe. Only the most dedicated, the most professional, the most Worthy." She gave me a sharp glance. "And skipping school is extremely unprofessional."
"And there are things School teaches you that this city cannot."
"And you know full well that dropping out of school is going to have everyone say "well, what did you expect of Her Kind of People, they're all a lot of -- "
I glared at her. "Don't go there."
"Then be sure to do your homework tonight once your doppleganger brings it! And be early to school tomorrow. And don't ask for a day off from me until the next school year."
"UGH. Fine." I slid off the bed to the floor, head first. "I'll be sure to go to school, MOM."
"I imagine your mother wouldn't be nearly as calm as I am, if she knew what we were up to. I'm giving you slack because I'm in on this. But remember -- I'm also the girl who got the apprenticeship by collecting bottlecaps, so don't push me anywhere near lollygagger territory." She drew out her bottle-cap glasses, and closed the drawer. "The only reason I'd even think of letting you skip school is that you come here to study magic with me. A noble goal, really." She slipped off her prescription glasses and put the bottle-cap ones on. "I'd never even considered interdisciplinary studies in the field of magic, yet here we are."
I sat upright. "It's my city," I said, "And it's important for me to know what goes on here. And what powers people may have that could pose a threat. And stuff like that."
"How very Mayoral of you," she said, not tilting her head down at me. "Why, I daresay those weeknight Shaman classes of yours are working. You could succeed Big Chief, the way you're talking. Now, attend. What do you notice about my posture?"
"You're standing ramrod-straight," I said, "and you haven't turned your head to face me. What on earth are you looking at?"
"Listen," said Jo. "What do you hear?"
A weekday mid-morning in a 3rd-story bedroom is about as quiet as it gets in New York City. I stood up, put a hand behind my ear, and listened with all my might to the bottle caps.
A tiny, tinny sound was coming from them. A sound broken in the patterns of human speech. but I couldn't make anything out.
"Sounds like you're playing a movie in there," I said.
"Hah!" She slipped off the glasses. "I can do that with my own glasses when Mr. Gorsky gives one of his lectures about how children should be less smart and more obedient. You've never had him, have you? The guy who only gives Bs and Cs?"
"Short, receding hair, permanent frown. Yes, I remember, he's the reason Martin dropped out and went to a trade school. Anyway, we were talking about your glasses."
Jo shook her head. "Right, sorry." She placed the glasses in my hand. They tingled, slightly. "Now I want you to try to look into them. Not through, into. it gets easier if you have practice like me, but you've never done it before. Clear your mind of all thought."
All my thoughts. I closed my eyes, and put the glasses on, and gathered all my thoughts. Memory of the police last night. The sound of the city. The weekend I was looking forward to. The smell of Jo's hair. Hard to ignore any of these. But I gathered up my thoughts into a bubble, and let it float away.
"Now," said Jo, "you must be willing to see and hear things as they truly are. You must focus on this desire. Concentrate."
Things as they are.
Not as I would have them.
No wishful thinking.
No turning away from the truth.
I opened my eyes.
I saw the room. It was the same room, or at least, the same shape. But everything was grey. White light shone out of the closed drawer of Jo's desk, and one of the pens pulsed with light, in the pattern of a heartbeat. I turned to Jo. She, too, was all over grey, but there shone a light at her forehead which beat to the same rhthym as the pen. Her eyes glowed steadily.
I looked out the window. Though the city was as grey as the room, it was cloaked with shadows. And shadows were not sunlight shadows, but moving, crawling along streets. coming up from behind people and enveloping them in darkness. They kept walking, but more stooped, slower.
I looked to the blocks east. The whole neighborhood was wrapped in darkness, which pulsed, like a heartbeat.
Great pools of shadow covered this neighborhood and that neighborhood, all the way to the horizon.
And on the horizon, bright red fires burned.
I whipped off the glasses. "Good glory!" I said. "I expected a realm of otherworldly weirdness, not symbolism!"
"And that," said Jo, "is the source of your lesson for today. You wanted to see reality, but even when you tried, it was still filtered through your perspective. In other words, what you saw was the truth about your perspective. Wizards can only work with the fabric if the universe of they can see it, and they can only see it if they can get over their own minds. It takes a lot of training and meditation to achieve such a state. I spent nearly a year trying, and failing...until I finally looked through these things and saw a mass of tangled glowing strings. That was the first step on my way to seeing reality itself. I can't expect you to understand any level of reality deeper than that yet...but you're welcome to give these things a go any weekend you like."
"You didn't even ask me what I saw." I pouted.
"Oh," said Jo, "I'm guessing you saw the butterflies and the cloud-horses galloping through the sky?"
"No," I said, "I saw a lot of shadows and I saw flames on the horizon. So that wasn't really reality...was it? Just my perspective, filtered out of the mass of incoming reality. But I'm talking about what i saw in THIS room! Don't you want to know what I saw of you?"
"Was I glowing with a pulsing light at my breastbone and my fingertips?"
"I...no, it was at your forehead. And in your desk drawer. Why would you think that...oh. I didn't ask what you saw of me, did I?"
"Every time I put these glasses on and look at you, there's a light shining in your core, and at your feet, and in your eyes, and right in the center of your forehead."
I blushed. "So we...have a similar perspective regarding each other?"
"You could put it that way." She put her hands on my shoulders, and looked into my eyes. "Pat, you know wny else I don't want you to drop out of school?"
"Because you want me to go to college and grad school and all that?"
"More important than that, school is where we met. Where we meet, usually. You're from a brick-tenement neighbordhood and I live in an entire Row House in a rapidly gentrifying city. How would we have met if not for school? How would I be able to keep meeting you, if I was in school and you were out and working a crappy job? Our schedules would be completely different. See, there's intangible benefits to the place besides stuffing knowledge into your head. Do you understand? I told you I didn't want to lose you, remember?"
"I...understand. But Jo, no matter what happens, you'll never lose me. I promise you that. Unless, some day, you change your mind..."
"And lose my magical study buddy? Never." She lowered her hands, and walked to the desk, pulling out a pair of clipboards. "Now, let's get to the Basquiat exhibit before my parents come home. We'll pose as students out on assignment. Nobody ever questions someone holding a clipboard."
"Even when they wear a green cloak?"
"Cloaks are cool. Well, warm. Cloaks look good."
"Cloaks get caught in doors. Can't you wear a jacket for once?"
"But Moooooommmmmmm! This is what all the cool kids are wearing!"
We giggled, and headed down the stairs to the rest of the unfettered morning.