There should probably be a companion post entitled “Here are some things that I’ve misplaced.” I can think of a few things.
I moved house two days ago (entering the world of property-owning capitalist running dogs. I am trying to adjust). And even though I was living in a one-room apartment with so little space that I had to give something away or throw something out every time I got something new, I have a truly staggering amount of stuff. Most of it is paper and books and a lot of unframed photographs that I have stored in small boxes because I never get around to framing them. Some CDs but not a lot, and a long, wide shelf’s worth of records. Three guitars (two electric, one classical), a Peavey practice amp, and a tiny Casio keyboard from 1983 that I bought from my music teacher and that never really amused me as much as I thought it might.
Although I had months to get ready for this, I was paralyzed by the task of sorting all that damn paper. Mostly I just dumped it into boxes and brought it to the new place. Some of it is personal letters and cards, all of which I toss into a bag and keep because no one really writes letters anymore, and I’m suddenly desperate to hang on to every last post-it note my father sends me, attached to a magazine article he thinks I’d like, because I’m not sure how much time I have left with him. Some of it is crud I’ve been dragging behind me for fifteen years, across cities, states and a time-zone or two. I know I don’t need utility bills from 1996, or a canceled check for about seven dollars that I wrote to my best friend in 1997 when I was living in England and she had performed some – apparently very trivial – task for me back in Connecticut, or the copies of bills that I paid when I was in school that confirm that yes, I actually was fully paid up and registered and they couldn’t kick me out. I have ten year-old bank statements for an account that I don’t have anymore from a bank that doesn’t exist anymore. I saved all the paper advent calendars my parents still send me every December and every letter my French pen-pal sent me through high school into college, when we gave up writing because it was a struggle for me to write in French and I would get so overwhelmed with guilt that I couldn’t answer her very thoughtful letters (written in French, about “everyday” life in Paris, which was unimaginably more interesting that the life of a semi-depressive shut-in in Connecticut). I found a little book that an English friend of mine gave to me before my first trip to Brussels to interview members of the Flemish extreme-right, entitled “Xenophobes’ Guide to the Belgians.” I found a map of Turin in Italian, even though I’ve never been there, because I was doing a scavenger hunt while taking a foreign language class in Edinburgh and I misunderstood the directions to “find a map of the city in Italian” as “find a map of a city in Italy.”
In the cabinet under my tv, I found a little box containing some of the buttons I used to wear on my denim vest when I started out as a punk and kids did that sort of thing: two Clash buttons (where did I get them?), a button that says “US out of North America,” and a button that someone made for me that reads, in stark black letters on a white background, “Frankie say ARM the unemployed.” I like to think that I was cool enough that I never wore that one. I found keys on a key ring that go to something, but I’m not sure what, so I can’t get rid of them. I found the copy of my eighth-grade class photograph, showing about a hundred and twenty kids standing on the school blacktop on a California spring day in 1982, all gamely squinting into the sun with frozen postures and feathered hair, with the aging of the photograph now serving to fade us all into the yellowy background of pavement and dried grass. I have very long, brown hair in that picture, held back on one side with a big pink plastic clip: I’m wearing a blue striped tracksuit jacket over a brown and white plaid cotton shirt, and I’m trying to smile without opening my mouth so that no one can see the metal and plastic orthodontist contraption that has been reconfiguring my jawline for the past year. About three months after that picture was taken, I gave up the hair, the tracksuit and the effort to smile and became a punk.
I found a series of glossy, beautifully photographed paperback books published by New Musical Express in the 1980s called “The Rock Yearbook,” which served as part of my introduction to music that seemed to only exist in this mythical world called the United Kingdom. My older brother gave me the yearbooks from 1980, 1981 and 1982 because he worked at a bookstore and got all this stuff at a massive discount. At about the time that junior high photograph was taken, I was already staring at those amazing photographs of outrageous-looking people and trying to find out what, exactly, they were singing about.
And I found my real high school yearbooks, too. Actually, I knew where they were, but while taking a break from a packing frenzy I sat down and started to read some of the comments that people had written to me in the back pages, back in 1983. I had forgotten that that June, only a little bit before he and two of his friends would turn against me and bully me in ways that messed me up for a very long time, my friend Paul had written me a long note. He was anxious about his band’s first gig the following night even though he was pretending that he was fine about it. He wrote that if I hadn’t been assigned to sit, in my afternoon class, at the same desk that he had been assigned to in his morning class, I never would have seen the Clash lyrics he’d penciled on the armrest of the desk and we never would have met. Nearly thirty years later, I constantly find myself thinking about how that tiny little twist of fate changed my life. But I also don’t feel angry with him; I just have weirdly mixed emotions. It reminded me that he was a pretty young kid, too, and probably had no idea about the consequences of his actions, and that he was probably as insecure as I was and just wanted to fit in, regardless of what that entailed.
Now everything is piled in mountain of boxes in a corner and I have to unpack all of it, one object at a time.