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The Burden of Things | The Bleat.

My wife had Bunco tonight, so it was me and child, and . . . that’s it; no Chuck E. Cheese, as was the case in years past. I asked her tonight why she didn’t want to go there anymore, even though they had video games and pizza, and she said it just seemed like something for younger kids. This is parenthood: I gritted my teeth every time we went there, and now I miss it. I miss her running off to the Spider Stomp, feeding the tickets into the machine, playing Skee-ball, eating that ghastly pizza, trying to decide which worthless trinket to get. I miss going hand-in-hand up the steps to the car when it was done. I miss coming home and putting in a VCR tape of Kipper, and saying okay, one more, before putting her down at a decent hour after the story and the chat and the tucking in, then going downstairs with great care, so I didn’t make a tell-tale creak on the steps that would signal the boogieman. Sigh.

But: to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than growing up is not growing up.

Spent some time backing stuff up tonight – a chore that must be done, because I have to presume 100% failure of the primary drives and the backups, and heaven forbid I lose something I scanned in 1998. I have the most ridiculous redundancy redundancy system you’ve ever seen. But every time I do this I remember Anthony Burgess telling a story in an interview: he had finished a book and was heading off to the post office to mail it to his publisher, and a scooter sped by – the fellow on the back grabbed his satchel and they sped off through the Roman traffic. You might doubt the story, since it contains the phrase “sped off through the Roman traffic,” but a scooter can fit between the cars. That was the only copy of his book. So he went home and wrote it again.

If you know Burgess’ work, and his frightening, chastening productivity in the 60s, you have no doubt he could sit down and write the book again. But it reminds you how people lived before the era of photocopiers. Sure, he could have pounded out a carbon copy, but how many people did that? What fear there must have been when you put the book in a slot. No wonder so many writers moved to New York; you’d want to hand-deliver the manuscript. Otherwise it’s like pinning a bus ticket to a newborn and putting it on the first Greyhound that shows up.

Me, I’d like to get rid of every single book I have, except for twenty or so. I would like them all scanned and digitized and accessible via iPad, thank you. Yes, yes, the argument about the love of books; I love them too. The love of being surrounded by your library? Yes yes. But. I would be more likely to dip into something if it was incorporeal. On the shelf, they all seem to reproach me: you don’t remember me, do you? All that time we spent together. But I remember the good times; isn’t that enough? Really: if I could, I’d reduce everything to a big desk in a white room with a shelf holding just a few books. The obligations of possessions, the accretion of things: it’s enough to make a Buddhist of me.

But I don’t trust the incorporeal, either. One bad block does spoil the whole bunch, baby: I had a drive go south on me tonight in the course of backing up, which is why I have quadruple redundancy in magnetic media and triple redundancy in optical media. Ideally it would all be off-loaded to some server farm with stone-faced techs in white coats making sure your data is secure. Seriously: the ultimate in security now seems to be defined as not possessing a thing at all.

Ah, but what of the objects? You know, the things to which you apply Meaning simply by owning them for a while? That’s another issue. You have to realize that the meaning changes when you no long own them, which is a kind way of saying “it’s wiped clean when you die, mate.” There are some things whose previous meaning I can infer; my Grandma had a little metal container for pins, with 1893 Columbian Exposition engraved on the cover. It was regarded as junk, I guess, but my mom kept it, and then it passed to me. It’s possible my great-grandfather went. He got out of town from time to time. The fact that it sat on her dresser for seven decades was enough to infuse it with meaning, but that’ll be lost after me; daughter didn’t know her, never saw the farm, never saw the sleek 30s Sears bedroom-set dresser on which it sat. Daughter may see a corner of that dresser in an old photo, because I inherited it. But that’s the end of the chain – after that, it’s a series of facts, not a sequence of memories and emotions.

So. One of the things I’m going to do next year is a video narration of my Things. I started the other day with a little video intro for the upcoming overhauled Grandma’s Camera site. As I may have noted, I found an old manual for her Brownie, and figured out how to open it. Looking through the lensfinder gave me chills – I pointed it at the computer screen, where there was a big scan of a picture she’d taken. I saw what she saw how she saw it.

These things matter. In the end they don’t, but for a while, they do. It’s the stories you give to objects that makes them important beyond their actual utility, but this also makes them a burden for people who are expected to hang on to them.

This is why I will make it very clear that the collection of Tiger Beat magazines someone gave me can do to the antique store. Really. It’s okay.

You know, I just remembered that I had Grandma’s bedroom set. Had it when I got my apartment by the lakes – nothing special, except for the dresser. Big round mirror. Very 30s. Took it to DC, after which it passed from our hands. She would have never thought, as a woman in her 30s, that her grandson would look in the same glass in Washington DC and adjust his tie and head off to the White House.

I don’t feel bad that the mirror ended up somewhere, and I lost the trail – every Etch-A-Sketch has been upended and given a good shake. Memory is always the adversary of tomorrow, and sometimes tomorrow deserves to win.

Just in case you thought I was a hopeless nostalgist walking around the house knee-deep in old magazines, lamenting the fact that cars don’t have fins.

It’s really late - after I got EVERYTHING backed up and got the kid in bed, I sat down to watch some TV. I’d been watching “The Graduate,” but it annoys me; never did, and really cannot now, identify with Dustin Hoffman. Plus, “Plastics” is excellent career advice, at least at the time. They laughed about it at the time because they weren’t used to getting glass shards in their feet because they dropped a shampoo bottle. I switched to “My Dear Miss Aldrich,” a 1937 movie about a Nebraska schoolteacher who inherits a New York newspaper. I’m sure she gives it all up at the end for Love, but it’s quite funny and “modern” and fresh and subversive, at least to modern eyes who think women didn’t get the vote until 1968. To my astonishment, it also echoes a few themes in the end-of-newspapers novel I’m writing now. The more things change, the more they stay dismaying.

Today’s update: The Gallery brings back part two of the Knudsen pamphlets, resized for modern monitors.

Oh: across the street today, the Pointy Building. Just so the thumbnail above has a picture.

 

54 Responses to The Burden of Things

  1. Josh says:

    I saw The Graduate right after I graduated from college. I always thought that the movie was winking at us, agreeing that Benjamin’s a milquetoast tool. Oh poor baby, my privileged life is boring and unfulfilling. The only overt sign is the lingering bus scene, but the underwater scuba scene, not to mention Mrs. Robinson’s demeanor towards him (she doesn’t want him to marry her daughter because he’s worthless, not because she’s all that jealous), suggest to me that the filmmakers don’t particular like their protagonist either.

  2. browniejr says:

    @grs- great catch- need to let the coffee kick in first before I post next time…

  3. MikeH says:

    Will a fedora go with jeans and a t-shirt? (My preferred method of daily clothes wear)

    If I ever get employed again and it’s a job where you have to dress up nice, I will wear my fedora everyday. I thought “but I’m bald, will it go with my head?” Then I remember William Frawley, and I feel better!!

  4. MattT says:

    Every time one of kids asks me to do something yet again that I can’t believe they haven’t grown tired of because I sure have…I remind myself that a day will come when they don’t ask me and I’ll miss it terribly.

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