Saturday, December 10, 2011

Just Things

By most standards for what constitutes a small town, you live in one, not the least of these standards being the number of time a week someone with whom you are in some form of conversation refers to it as a small town.

A significant consequence of living in a small town is your awareness of the degrees-of-separation phenomenon, by which you are socially linked to the equivalent of a Tupperware or Mary Kaye kind of tree.

Common among the humorous references to this sense of small-town awareness is the observation that even if one were to forget what he’d eaten for breakfast on a given morning, he’d soon come in contact with someone who would know and tell without being asked.

As so many things do, this degree-of-separation condition has led you to consider that people are not the only entities linked; inanimate objects are linked, ideas are linked; they are linked in some way you are certain has nothing to do with Eastern religions or Transcendental philosophy.

Thinking back, you remember being aware of this when you were eight years old, although you had no perspective or vocabulary with which to articulate the belief then.  When you left school for the day, you were close to the intersection of north-south Fairfax Avenue and west-east Third Street, mid town Los Angeles.  The most direct way home at the time would have been to remain on Fairfax Avenue, heading due south until Sixth Street, at which point a quick right turn would have you on an alleyway on which you turned left (south) for a block until you reached Orange Street, whereupon you turned right for about a half block.

There was a connection in place between the way you read this route, which did not hold too many distractions for you, and other routes which you associated with potential adventures as opposed to being home as quickly as possible for anticipated snacks.  Other, longer routes took you down streets with one-story garages directly adjacent patches of grass, making it more of a romp to climb to the roof of said garages with the intent of jumping from them to the grass below.  There were empty lots where weeds and grass grew tall enough to hide you, making for opportunities of pretending you were searching your way through various jungles you’d read about.

Yet another route home led you past a golf driving range where, on occasion, you found stray balls which you knew the owner would pay some small token, between a nickel and ten cents, once or twice as much as twenty-five cents, Miller’s Drugs at Sixth and Fairfax had a lively display of candy bars.  Two doors down, Weiner’s Market sold graham crackers dipped in chocolate.  A nickel was enough to sate your boyish hunger, although there were times when one of the Weiner owners directed you to the washroom where, after a thorough rinsing of your hands, you were allowed to explore the depths of the commodious pickle barrel for the same five cents.

Thus routes taken had associations with tangible goals or imaginary ones or the completely sensual one of leaping from the roof of a garage to the loamy richness of the grass below.

That was then.  With few exceptions, your desk is littered with objects that remind you of other objects, of people, of tasks, of places you have been.  The windowsill directly behind the kitchen sink has bottles you find attractive, each of whom you associate with a particular person or an event.  Next to the bottles are small vases, small enough for one or two tiny flowers say a pansy, or perhaps not a flower but an attractive leaf from a weed.  There are ceramic images of animals, each of which had been purchased at a different Native American reservation or pueblo.

On one windowsill is, of all things, an unused eraser, a souvenir of an archaeological site in central England.

Such objects are everywhere, reminders of persons and places, of course, but also of the minor miracles of them arriving at their destinations.  You are weeks short of having been in this venue for a year.  You’d think you’d remember the deliberation with which you set things out, but you have no such memory; you confront these and other similar objects as discoveries.

Ancient homes and living arrangements had shelves or altars for household gods, the lares and penates set forth as reminders of the cosmic forces they represent but also as objects to remind individuals they were protected, somewhere familiar.

There is something protective and reassuring about the scatter of objects within your line of sight.  From time to time, you discover something you’d thought to have lost.  There is a moment of warmth as you re-welcome it to this place you have made your home.

Sometimes when you are in the kitchen, doing dishes, one or more of these items or photos claims your attention.  There is among them a small plate, purchased by your late wife at a sidewalk sale.  You recall her pleasure at having purchased it for ten cents.  Although it scarcely constitutes a match, it is sometimes used as a transportation for a bowl with a gripping handle, a relic from a long since defunct North Beach restaurant, secured for you by a then girlfriend.  There is some potential for all these things about you to find new homes one day, when you no longer need them and they are no longer able to serve you.  You try to imbue them with the pleasure you feel from your associations with them over the years, hopeful your enthusiasms and pleasures add some patina to them that will catch the proper glint of light and reflect to whoever shall see them next the pleasure you experience having them at close hand.


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