Monday, March 9, 2015

Clutching at the Bits

I wish there were pictures and recordings and ticket stubs and liner notes still smelling of vinyl.   I wish there were love notes and scented envelopes and diaries and term papers and essays.  I wish there were recipes and poems and the words to every damn song I've ever written - and the chords, too.

There aren't.

Usually, I don't envy my boys their childhood but I do envy how so much will be available to them to remember.  I liked mine, childhood that is, it was textured, even, pastoral, sweet - but it was not well-documented.  Not to say there aren't photo albums and such, no, not that at all.

The fault is mine.  I neglected to document my life as I blustered and crashed through it.  I was at a famous Who concert, I saw The Dead more than once in small venues.  I served Jimmy Buffet a cheeseburger in a restaurant in the early nineties in downtown Cincinnati, in a restaurant that I have no evidence ever existed.  I'd served a lot of celebrities and he was pleased to just chat with another good ole boy.  He gave me a note and told me to take it to will-call out at Riverbend the next night.  "Bring three of your friends, too," I remember him saying in those long vowels and twangy pitch.  They were third row center seats and he said hello to us and shouted-out our restaurant.

I lost the note for the tickets.  He signed a menu that was framed in that restaurant for years afterwards, a note that began "Hey, Bill, it sure was nice to meetcha..."  It was probably thrown in a dumpster when the building was gutted for a new set of occupants.  Sad.

I didn't save the ticket stubs.  Box of love letters? - misplaced in a move, thrown out in tears, I don't know.  I've forgotten more songs than I probably play now.  I long ago was unburdened the weight of a couple hundred long-playing records.

And, and... There's not a damn picture of any of this.

You see, there wasn't a camera in everyone's pocket.  There was a lighter, some loose change, a telephone number with an illegible name scribbled below it and some lint with seeds in it - but no phone with a lens.

I guess that seems impossible now.  I see folks taking pictures as they go through life.  Often daily.

I envy them those memories, especially when they are younger.  Nick and Zack will have a richer history of their life than I mine... or will they.

I am not bound by the limits and details in a picture or in a recording, I am free to remember differently, sort of sideways I think. 

I don't really remember what was in it.  Trinkets - a piece of chalcopyrite, a marble or two, some rose quartz, a non-working Zippo lighter, feathers, a fragmented robin's egg.  I could be making some or all of this up... or none of it.  I remember all those things.  I remember the cigar box, still slightly scented of tobacco and somewhere else, somewhere exotic.  I had the box into college where it held other things, things still exotic, still scented but the lighter worked.

It's funny to think back on it, it seems like all the boys I knew had a "treasure box" of some sort.  They were different sizes and shapes but they all contains the little bits and pieces that seemed important to an eight, ten, twelve, sixteen, twenty year old boy - for we are always boys.

The other night Nick decided to get out a box of these little yarn poofs he likes to make and in it was a Crown Royal bag, the nice tan one with a golden crown on it.  He snatched the bag out from among the googly-eyed yarnballs and dumped it in delight.  This is what spilled out:

Bits and pieces of a little boys mind.

"Oh, I've been missing this stuff..." he said.

It made him happy to see the junk spread on the table.  He wasn't happy to have these pieces of junk - arguably - to play with, though he did make some sort of MacGyver device featuring mainly the broken red heart, the plastic fork and the yo-yo, I think it was some sort of memory inducer... or not.

I don't think he was even so pleased because these things had come back to him.  No.  I think deep down he felt that surge we all get when lost ideas, notions, loves, hopes and fears come down on us out of the magical blue.

Like the way I felt as these things splashed out on the table and the green ball looked like an aggie I had once, the same tone of green.  His squirt gun became my cap gun, his glow light parts were my flashlight parts - bulbs and leaky batteries in a tarnished tube.  His Pokemon coin morphed in my mind into a triangle Fender guitar pick I had for years in various boxes but never used because it was so thick.  And, somehow, his little blue box became my little transistor radio - nine volt, FM/AM - I had for so many years.  Blue plastic with clear acrylic dials.

So we both sat and laughed at the arbitrariness of it all.  I told him about my own boxes and Crown Royal bags and guitar picks and the future that was a transistor radio in nineteen-seventy.

"Do you ever wish you had that stuff, Dad," Zack asked from across the room where he'd been engrossed in a game on his tablet, and listening apparently.

I suddenly imagined a room full of all the stuff, all the bits and pieces out of every box I'd ever owned, and it was too much.  I shut the room's door afraid to go in but glad to know it was there.

I think that may be what it is all about.  We can only hold so much dear at one time.  A box of treasures isn't so much about the trinkets and stubs and pebbles and batteries.  More, it is the acknowledgement that there exists a need to treasure things.  A need to hold on to an arbitrary thing as the thoughts gets wilder, up and down, sideways.  We are left clutching at the bits as they fall away but also we are left embraced by the notion of hope that is inherent when we hold something dear.

Cherish is the word that comes to mind.

(Sometimes, life tells better stories than we would ever even attempt.)

I got to thinking a little more about this and it occurred to me that I still do have a place where I keep a few bits of my heart.  It is ostensibly my tie and belt drawer, but I put cards and thises and thats in it.  But there, in the very back is a red box nestled in with the braces and bowties, Father's Day cards and handmade beaded necklaces and watches I can't quit.

It's funny, I thought I'd just get a picture of it, so I opened it and was engulfed by the rush of memory that came at me.  I just couldn't go in and look at everything in it, I knew that would overwhelm me.  I just wanted to show you that even quickly aging men still harbor in their hearts the relentless hope that we can clutch at the bits and maybe hold on to the moments in so doing.

I laughed aloud at the lighter in there, and old butane Colibri given to me as a gift.  I was going to label more stuff but once again got overwhelmed so I won't.

Is there more to this story?  Yes, I'm afraid there is, bear with me.

Do you see what I've done there in that picture above?  I balanced that box right there on the side of the drawer... what's the word?  Precariously.  Truthfully, I was trying to get a picture but I didn't want to go through the box figuring that was a story for another time, a time when there is more time, a time I can reflect and wallow in the old bits and pieces...

Yes, it fell.  Hard.  And those memories and ghosts and bits and pieces flew out and slapped at me as I gasped at it all.  Strewn like Nick's treasures on the floor of the bedroom I was struck with how similar it all seemed.  Oh, my very soul said, I've been missing this stuff.

It was too much.  I sat and looked through it, handling each talisman, letting the hope or sadness it held envelope me briefly as I placed each back in that old beat up red box.  I thought, briefly, I should tell each of their stories, that piece of paper, that coin, those beads.  I cannot.  I will not.

I am not ready, yet... But I smiled as I realized how rich is our journey, how sweet the past that builds to the now, how good it is to clutch at the bits and realize they are enough - the stories lie between them.

Finally, I grabbed the lighter, there was a receipt from nineteen-seventy-nine, the year I graduated high school, there clipped in the top of the box.  I don't remember all of its story, I am sad to say.  I can, however, remember the faces it shone on over the years - Kirby's, Kevin's, Mark's... my Dad's - and I clutched it in my hand and let the tears come.

I hope you are not sorry you stopped by today.  I tend to ramble on and I know that you are busy.  I appreciate your support and kindness, now, and perhaps some time yet to come, a time when there is more time.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

"Interfere like you mean it."

And I'm the one supposedly offering them advice...


  1. Sorry? Hardly. Reminded me that I've got a box somewhere and that it's probably time I go and find it. I like the way you've taken us a bit further into your world with this post. Seems like a nice place…let's hear some more!

  2. Sve your stuff and your pictures carefully. Especially the pictures they will trigger so many memories as you look at them. Label the stuff you may get to a point where you forget before you think it is time to label. This was good for me to read. I too have a box but i didn't label it and can't remember why I saved most of it.

  3. I think I'm like you. There are things I would love to save - just doesn't seem to happen. I also wish we took more pictures but then I don't like posing and the boys are always fidgety.
    My mom used to have these envelopes and such with stuff from each of her 4 children. My stuff ended up at my brother's house when my mom moved. I was living in a small apartment. He ended up having a flood and some of my stuff was destroyed. I was so saddened. I felt a piece of my history had been taken away.