28/07/11

NOTHING TO DECLARE

What was it? A No Parking sign? Part of a car? A cleaver? A map of the great lakes? I found it in the street while running over piles of dead fishflies in 95-degree suburban Detroit heat. Then I carried it like the Olympic torch in my sweaty palm for another 4 miles and collapsed in my father’s kitchen. I suppose we have to take it home with us, said M. It was added to the stockpile of miscellaneous debris I had collected so far for the annual import: baking powder, vanilla, various bottles of vitamins, some old aprons, a stray baseball, 9 pairs of new underpants, a souvenir plastic replica of the 1952 Wienermobile in the Henry Ford Museum, an advertisement for the long defunct boat to Bob-Lo. 3 weeks later I surreptitiously wheeled our bulging suitcases under the Nothing to Declare sign, expecting the bored German customs guy to pull me aside and demand a cut of my treasure. He didn’t even say welcome home.

12/03/10

DOG SHIT AND REGRET

Ah, Berlin in March. Now that the glacial covering has receded, vast swathes of slushy dog shit and piles of crushed gravel (strewn by the city in an ineffectual effort to keep us all from slipping) create an interesting obstacle course for the average pedestrian. If you lost your keys in November, now’s the time to search for them. And if you’re me and have a fetish for select kinds of garbage, it’s like Christmas. Alone on a block long walk to the mailbox I found these three treasures from the thaw.

But everytime I see a soggy rocket I’m a little sad. Berlin on New Year’s Eve is a war zone. New Year’s Day the streets are filled with the strange burnt out remains. I collected these for years in a large cracker tin when I first moved here. Then I needed the tin for something else and saved only a choice few, throwing out the bulk of the collection. So my instinct when I see a rocket is to pick it up. But I don’t. Because now, like clothes I once loved to wear but are no longer fashionable, they’ve just become something from another time and only serve to remind me that I can’t go back.

08/01/10

COLLECTIONS OF NOTHING

Give me your broken, your useless, your rusty refuse yearning to be saved… I lost a new cashmere sweater before Christmas, which was kind of annoying, but if the wire thingy with the two red plastic discs were to disappear it would be a real tragedy. Where did it come from and when did it mutate from junk to talisman? William Davies King answers my questions in his book Collections of Nothing, which intersperses a poignant chronicle of lonely childhood to midlife crisis with lists such as Here are all the varieties of tuna fish for which I have labels. Wise man. And I thought I was the only one collecting the patterns on the insides of envelopes.stuff

09/11/09

NOT SURE YET

This summer at a farewell picknic in the park with R’s Kindergarten the kids ran wild while the grown-ups hovered by the food in various clusters. Men with hands in pockets talked about old punk bands. Women with folded arms whispered about schools and doctors. The quiet ones just sat next to each other in the dark under a tree. A soccer game started, chairs for goal-posts. Fathers peeled off layers, sweating and shouting as they tried to pass the ball to 4 year-olds who were running in the wrong direction. As usual, I couldn’t really make the commitment to join any one of these groups and spent the afternoon milling around between them. Finally I took off my shoes and did cartwheels on the grass, where I found another ice cream stick for the collection. Best thing that happened all day.
Lately, I’ve been started picking things up on my runs. I used to feel a jolt of recognition at seeing some sidewalk specimen and then run heartlessly over it. But one day the pull was too great and I turned back to retrieve a rusty paper clip. Now, as well as aerobic exercize and meditational zone, running has the added dimension of scavenger hunt. Finally I know what those silly little spandex pockets are for. But I sense a new collection starting: Things I Collect and find later in the Washing Machine in an Altered State. (Not to be confused with the already existant Kleenexes Washed in Pockets).
Which brings me to lint. After hanging the laundry on a rack and folding it into crispy rectangles all summer long, I will soon make the seasonal switch. It’s fine to air-dry when it only takes half a day (as part of the good German I’ve become, I now actually prefer the crispy rectangles over fluffy bundles, just as I do duvets to tucked-in sheets and room-temperature to freezing cold drinks), but when it takes a week for the towels to dry, I stop caring about the environment and start using the dryer. Which is where the lint comes in. My need to collect lint (as with all the other collections) crept up on me until it could no longer be ignored. I would empty out the catch and think: this is too special to throw away. But then I would throw it away. Until I stoped throwing it away and started putting it in a jar. Which is almost full. Personality Disorder? Wierd hobby? Lack of other creative outlets? Not sure yet.

This summer at a farewell picknic with R’s Kindergarten the kids ran wild while the grown-ups hovered by the food in various clusters. Men with hands in pockets talked about old punk bands. Women with folded arms whispered about schools and doctors. The quiet ones just sat next to each other in the dark under a tree. A soccer game started, chairs for goal-posts. Fathers peeled off layers, sweating and shouting as they tried to pass the ball to 4 year-olds who were running in the wrong direction. As usual, I couldn’t really make the commitment to join any one of these groups and spent the afternoon milling around between them. Finally I took off my shoes and did cartwheels on the grass, where I found another popsicle stick for the collection. Best thing that happened all day.

Lately, I’ve been picking things up on my runs. I used to feel a jolt of recognition at seeing some sidewalk specimen. And then just run heartlessly over it. But one day the pull was too great and I turned back to retrieve a rusty paper clip. Now, as well as exercize and meditation, running has the added dimension of scavenger hunt. Finally I know what those silly little spandex pockets are for. (I sense a new collection starting: Things I find in the Washing Machine in an Altered State, not to be confused with the existing collection, Kleenexes Washed in Pockets.)

Which brings me to lint. After hanging the laundry on a rack and folding it into crispy rectangles all summer long, I will soon make the seasonal switch. It’s fine to air-dry when it only takes half a day (as part of the good German I’ve become, I now actually prefer the crispy rectangles to fluffy bundles, duvets to tucked-in sheets and room-temperature to freezing cold drinks), but when it takes a week for the towels to dry, I stop caring about the environment and start using the dryer. My need to collect lint – as with all the other stuff – crept up on me until it could no longer be ignored. I would empty out the catch and think: this is too special to throw away. But then I would throw it away. Until I stoped throwing it away and started putting it in a jar. Which is almost full. Pathological behavior? Wierd hobby? Creative outlet?

jar_o_lint

16/10/09

ALTER EGO

On a gray morning, there’s beauty right at my feet when I step out into the street. A bundle of rusty wire: nearly come undone, somewhat damaged, past its prime, still useful, if not exactly as originally intended. I can identify.

rusty_wire