Cut something, usually a flat piece of cardboard with a picture on it, into a bunch of pieces. You have a jigsaw puzzle. You usually purchase a package with these pieces in it, and try to assemble the original image. Recently has been expanded to include 3-D puzzles.

Can purchase ones for children, with 25 pieces or less, to the common ones with 500-2000 pieces. They also have giant ones with as many as 10,000 pieces.

The first jigsaw puzzle was made around 1760 by John Spilsbury, a London mapmaker and printshop owner. He mounted a map on a thin piece of mahogany, cut out the countries, and taught children geography. Perhaps the first time the idea of letting children play their way to knowledge.

At first the game was cut out of a wooden picture, first with a knife, later with a handheld saw, and was therefore called a dissection. The name became slightly less ennerving in the 1880s with the invention of the treadle, or jigsaw, which was a much faster means of cutting the pieces from cardboard. After they ceased being individual, handcut masterpieces, puzzles became more affordable, so that even common people could enjoy them.

Jigsaw puzzles continued development as a learning-through-play device for children, hand in hand with amusing and intriguing older people. In 1907 a veritable jigsaw craze swept the United States. Puzzling became a fashionable thing to do at parties as well as a family activity that didn't cost a lot of money. During the Depression, jigsaw puzzles reached their peak of popularity with 10 million sold every week in 1933.

Although today their status is much lower, jigsaws are still fun and are as suitable for a friend or family group as for the meticulous lone geek. The original map puzzles exist in many varieties, but even more common are beautiful pictures that grow beneath your fingers.

Today both kinds exist, from simple 5-piece puzzles to seemingly endless amount of parts. I spent most of last year's Christmas break "helping" my cousin assembling his 3D castle puzzle. Yup, still captivating in the extreme.

I wanted to try. I really did. All the sorrow just became so cumbersome after a while so I let it down for a spell. I laid it on the side of the road like a bag of kittens. Thankfully, a kind family of suburbanites strolling through the country picked them up in their station wagon. Happy endings always last this way.

Sometimes, I dump my psyche out like jigsaw puzzle on a counter top. I pay more attention to the cardboard dust left in the box. The colorful pieces laying in their own shadows meander a glimpse. I make the border first.

Then, I find the similar pieces. I look at the box. I see a barn and sunflowers and the sky. I see an abandoned mill near a railroad track inside, but I won’t utter a word of any of it on account of all the grasshoppers that no one ever flushed into the wind. They are the dots in the puzzle of my.

I hear clocks tick and accordion measures like my father used to play.

My Godmother, Aunt Dorothy told me this story about three years after my father died. She told me a story about taking my father, her younger brother by six years, to accordion lessons on the North Side from their South West bungalow in Summit. They had to take three buses. Every week for no reason at all except for this story, and all the songs my father never played on the accordion.

As the puzzle snaps together, I realize that far too many pieces are missing. The middle of the barn is there, but all the scaffolding we forgot lies in the middle of the reeds that done overgrown the ravine out back. I’ve always lived in a city, so I don’t know much about all of this.

Instead, I pretend that everything is all right. I act like my heart doesn’t ache and that I don’t wait every day until night. Night, when I can drink and forget about waning the day away. I roll like the cork of an empty bottle of wine.

Instead, consider the alternative: Waiting until the end and breaking into the afterlife like a hero. Standing around with all the other poor slobs that never finished their puzzle either. Getting a chance to meet an employee of the maker. Pleading your case. Not getting into heaven, but getting another go round of life. Another go round at life.

Ask the employee of the maker of your past life,

”Was I meant to save the world?”

”I’ll tell you what I tell every body else, “ Says the employee,

“All of you were meant to save the world, just everyone thinks it’s not them.”

I wonder if animals categorize things, or even if they categorize food they store, food that can be stored in any way, or if there is any need for this. I am pretty sure that they don't ask for permission to move into another animal's home when they want to. I wiped my fingers under my arms and, moist with the slept-in sweat of a day absent of washing, I thought about pheromones and how they leak out of our sweat, and how, while we find the smell of stale sweat unappealing, it is still a signature for each person.

Everything in our world has categories. Forget the world outside; in our house they're everywhere (for most people): books go on bookshelves, usually with the spines facing outward and upright, bathroom accessories go in the bathroom, cleaning products under the kitchen sink, trash can usually in the crook of floorspace by the fridge or in a pantry closet. Things are not typically organized by color, but by commonality of shape and usage. That is what connect them.

I wonder if, when people approach a jigsaw puzzle, as I have recently, start in any particularly unified spot, such as the top left corner, as I did. Most people will, for sake of sanity, find all the edge pieces and build a frame into which many loose pieces are corralled. Do they pick a corner after this, a spot with the most variety of designs? Do they shoot for the area of all-black first, to get it out of the way? The one I am doing I intended for the children to help with, only to find that once the edge pieces were all accounted for, they were no longer interested and I was no longer willing to share. It is called Ebony and Ivory and is a scene of various animals that are black and white in color: a zebra, panda, killer whale, snakes, butterflies, a penguin, and an eagle. Throughout there are spots of color: the ocean spray around the whale, giving a soap bubble oily texture to his rising head, tropical flowers, deep sunsets and darkening underwater life.

I brought the small table we used to eat on into the living room. It's barely bigger than the frame of the puzzle, so I have to keep most of the pieces in box halves. I got out some folding chairs and set a lamp up there, and now I spend a few hours a day, slowly building an image, when I already know what it looks like. Sometimes I joke with Jake in an old-lady voice, since it seems only children and old people do puzzles. Oh yeah, and people in the mental institution scenes in movies.

I did what we all do; I tried to get one area done whose pattern and color scheme would pare down the big pile of 1500 pieces I had in the box halves. Like a gold miner, I shimmied and flipped pieces over in the box half without the picture of the finished work on the front like so many tiny omelettes, their bland blue cardboard backs taunting me. And damn if they didn't put those little black, red, and white butterflies everywhere. I have to analyze every angle the buggers were fluttering in. Every animal has a different hair structure, every flower slightly different. I started with the eagle and starry sky that bled into an unrealistic sunset, then on the whale, then down to the porpoise and zebra, and now I am on the tiger, which is the hardest, since its striped vary so much across its body. I am avoiding the ground like the plague, with all it's twigs and bramble.

There is some small accomplishment when you snap a piece into place, or when your fingers find a piece that you know goes right into an empty space in the middle of an area almost done. It's a strategy I can handle these days, slowly building a picture from a picture. I got the puzzle from Value Village, the only place, these days, where I can afford to buy anything. I got the kids the Jumanji game from there for less than a dollar. I just hope this thing has all its pieces, because if it doesn't, I'm throwing the fucker away.

Its the solving that is the most fun, and once you've solved a thing, it's only fun when you can show off to others what you've done. Being an only child, I was given my share of Lite Brites and Simon and Rubrik's Cubes, things that didn't require a playmate. I got a few ring puzzles and one puzzle shaped like an apple, but after a while they either stayed on the shelves, solved and on display, or were thrown away.

Not so with puzzles. You can't break one out when a friend is over and think you are going to finish any sooner than the first time you took it out of the box. Our memories, I think, don't work that way. So I am enjoying the sort of puzzles I can solve lately, where you categorize, snap together, and wait for the image to come to you.

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