Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Zucchini as Metaphor

The Past arrives in many guises and in myriad circumstances.  Like distant relatives and lonely high school friends who have Googled out your existence, the Past is often an outright bother, something to be dealt with out of, ironically, a forward thrust of guilt, its origins in the pang by which you project yourself needy at some future moment, with no one to turn to, no one to listen to.  And so, unless you are under enough pressures of your own to cause you to be rude, you greet The Past with some apprehension, ease your conscience in advance, and agree to make eye contact with it for five minutes or so.

This time, The Past arrived in a tan manuscript-sized envelope, making you jump to a conclusion of a project you much favored being dismissed as of no use.  The return address on the envelope was Inverness, FL, which you know to be on the west coast, perhaps a hundred miles ssw of Jacksonville, likely home to Republicans but not to anything related to a publication or publishing.

The salutation immediately drew the sort of fond squirt of affection you get when The Past serves up an unanticipated banquet of memories that span some considerable variety of experiences, as it did, for instance, earlier this year, with an envelope from Vermont, relative to times a tad shy of the events discussed in what you will now call The Florida Document.  You could have guessed the author of the contents of The Florida Document after the first paragraph.  Hefting the document itself, taking a kind of Dr. House diagnosis of the amount of time you'd be spending in making eye contact with the past, you knew with a certainty who the author was, then spoke his name with amused affection; it was good to see that his generosity to words remained undiminished.

Note carefully the preposition "to" relative to his generosity.  "To" instead of "for," because it quickly became apparent that The Past to which the sender referred was a Past some considerable distance to The Past you had brought forth in memory, causing you once again to wonder about the drama built into perception, say the different visions of the current proposals for health care as expressed by adherents of the two major political factions in the U.S.  You would not expect, say, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) to describe it as you would.

Fear not, this is not a trip down the rabbit hole of politics nor is it to be a point-by-point answer to the eight pages of single-space narrative hot off the presses from Inverness, Florida.  On investigation, I did discover I had in a 2007 blog entry, mentioned the sender in connection with King City, CA, some twenty five miles south of Salinas in the long, languid Central Valley of California and, to give it a historical anchor, home of John Steinbeck's father.   About halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, King City made itself known to me because it seemed to be the default place where automobiles owned by friends in Los Angeles or San Francisco would experience mechanical failures of some sort, either northbound or southbound.

The one-sentence mention of the author inspired a barrage of events so circuitous, prolix, digressive, and possibly accusatory that you still despair of understanding their true intent.  This was a segment of The Past you had more or less agreed to make eye contact with and as such it is a valuable document, particularly since it does call into additional memory specific contacts you had with the author.

Perhaps he will be dealt with, his complaint or summons or screed accorded the courtesy it deserves of a response of some sort, but note the passive voice in this sentence, creeping in like a commando in World War II propaganda dramas.  Will be dealt with...

The larger question to be dealt with is the one that asks, What are we to make of our past?  Shall we try to approach it as though there were several versions of it, some without you as the protagonist, some without you even a significant part of it?  That surely lets the genie out of the bottle.  How could one's own past not have oneself in it as a character?  How much of your own past was the segment alleged by your mother's older sister, that you had made off with her checkbook, and where was it?  True enough, she also accused you of sneaking into her Santa Monica condo and making off with several Eskimo Pies from her freezer.  Equally true, although your Past has no such activity in it, her Past does.  Easy for you to say she was, by the time of the checkbook and missing Eskimo Pies, several ants short of a picnic.

What is not easy for you to say or deal with is the concept of versions of an event or, for that matter, of events that did not appear in the theater of your mind.  Is it all a matter of booking and dates?

In your part of the world, late August and into September are the zucchini months, days when the zucchini vines yield their own gifts in such abundance that zucchini bread, zucchini quiche, zucchini pickles,and even shaved shards of zucchini as pasta become a kind of currency.  As you are off carting zucchini artifacts to the doorsteps of friends and, yes, admit it, strangers as well, other friends and other strangers are leaving you shall we call them objet d'zucchini.

It is lovely, zucchini as a metaphor for The Past.

There are also times when The Past presents you via memory or some unanticipated associative device of an event you thought was cheerful enough or even clever, perhaps wonderful.  And now, years later, you realize--again with the metaphor--you had the associative equivalent of your zipper open, or you had completely misread what you deemed quite a nice triumph, you had made--will there be no end to the metaphor--a sow's ear of a silk purse.

Ah, Past, what are we to do with you?

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