Tuesday, October 13, 2009

homo sum

I was just reading FOUND Magazine, Issue #1 (reprinted with 15 new pages!) It's a collection of found notes, random signage, poignant letters, amateur fiction, and xeroxed pages from various works of fiction that celebrate the fascinating impulse to pick things up off the ground and wonder about them. Steinbeck, Lynda Barry, etc. Hilarious, ridiculous, often baffling, the content of the magazine (and the purpose of the organization) brings us around to a simple thought: homo sum; humani nil a me alienum puto. "I am human; nothing human is alien to me."

As someone who once obsessively collected found notes, lists etc (someone who still regularly picks up and pockets fascinating bits of trash), I groove on this magazine. And yet...there's a reprint of an article in the back, one that originally appeared in the New York Times Magazine shortly after 9-11. In this piece the author considers the volumes, the three-inch layered accumulations, of paper that floated miles from the wreckage of the towers and came to rest in drifts all over New York. He detailed various types of documents, from inscrutible numerical printouts to hand-written memos; he explained how he took the time to track down some of the people to whom memos had been written, finding most of them alive and well, and a few with full voicemail boxes but no return call. I in turn thought about all that paper -- damp wads of it by the hundreds of thousands of pounds. I thought that, if one were in the habit of picking up loose, random notes and such, the sheer weight and tragedy of such a volume of ephemera could effectively cure one forever of the impulse. But I'm projecting, since I had sort of curative experience along those lines that put paid to my tendency, pretty much, some years back. I tried to turn my rather large collection into an art installation, sort of an exhibit, that I installed in a large display window in downtown Athens years ago. I wanted there to be an overwhelming sense that this stuff was everywhere, treasures for the amateur archeologist. I copied my letters and other originals over and over, I crumpled and folded and heaped them. I tried to age them. I taped them to the glass so they could be read, and I left this mess on view for several days (I have no idea why my boss indulged this, it was his business that had the display window, a large fish-bowl that several people could comfortably stand in.) The installation was crap, it didn't come off. I was discouraged, and in the end I recycled it all, including the originals. Never took a photo or kept a copy. I've come to regret it -- some of those pieces were real gems, especially the first letter, the piece that sort of set me off. A crumpled love note, found outside a bar in Uptown Minneapolis. A sad, sad note from someone on medication for mental illness, who had probably been drinking; writing to a girl who was apparently also on medication, and not being faithful to her man. It was a plea, the hope not just for love but a better life, written poorly and nearly illegibly by a man desperate for a chance. I don't think he ever gave it to her; or maybe he did, and she read it at the bar, and crumpled it angrily as she left, tossing it in the gutter where I later retrieved it.

Anyway, it was disturbing to once again think of the towers, and all that loss, all those obliterated individuals. It wasn't that long ago. And in a way, this disturbed feeling fit with the rest of my crappy evening -- unease, the disquiet after a sudden, unexpected blowup. My husband and I had a loud fight, in front of the kid, which was bad. The kid had a bad evening too, with us fighting and his knee acting up (I think he's having joint trouble in one knee due to a growth spurt.) The nature of the fight was both ludicrous and troubling, and while it could have blown over quickly, it accessed for my husband the constant chunk of bitterness and anger he seems to carry around -- a depth of anger that is all out of proportion to the banality of our conflicts. But I helped set it off, by raising my voice in protest, by not keeping myself in check. One of us has to.
In brief, they picked me up from work tonight, and on my way to the car I noticed someone had left abn empty booze bottle and some other trash on the church steps. I tossed my purse and tote bag in the car, and said I'd be right back -- I just wanted to throw the stuff away inside. Re-entering the church, I glanced around and saw that none of the food shelf carts had been put away for the night -- my responsibility. So in 3 or 5 minutes I quickly put away the produce and stashed the carts. I knew I had to hurry, since I was keeping them waiting. And when I went outside --- he had driven away. He wasn't there.

He's done it before, and typically he just drives around the block and comes back. He does this to make a point. He HATES waiting for me. Even if I know he's coming, when he doesn't see me standing right by the door waiting for him when he arrives, he will call my cell and tell me to come down. He has no tolerance for waiting on me. It's been so long like this that I can't even remember whether I had some bad habit years ago that earned me this hassle.

Anyway, I wait a couple of minutes, and he pulls around the corner. I walk up to the car, and I see that my kid is crying. This pisses me off. I know why -- it's because I made them wait, Ron got mad and left, and the kid got really nervous about that. It's the sort of thing that sets the kid off. So when I got in the car, I made a remark -- it was a pissy remark. Not loud, but pissy. Why is my son crying? My husband says it's because I made them wait, but I know that's indirectly a lot of bullshit -- what made the kid cry was his old man getting mad and driving off, on top of wondering what was keeping his mother. For the whole five minutes I was inside. This blame, this accusation seems so unreasonable to me and so unfair that I just go off on the husband. He interrupts and makes some (seemingly) hyperbolic statements about how I didn't tell him what was going on, I just expected him to "heel" and wait like he was "told" to do. And soforth. Next thing I know, I'm yelling about how unreasonable and somewhat dishonest he's being. And it becomes one of these things where he is just violently angry, pounding on the steering wheel and clenching his teeth and daring me to say "just one more word" while he berates and insults me. And my poor kid is in the back, sniffling, imprisoned in this shitty scenario with his stupid parents.

Ron and I didn't really speak to each other the rest of the night. As usual, he took several opportunities to talk a little smack about me to the kid, within earshot, which he knows infuriates me for how destructive and juvenile and unfair to the kid this is. As usual, he saw nothing of his own behavior, only that I was wrong. And I was, for yelling. But the five minutes shouldn't have cost us so much.

So -- a good magazine, and a crappy night. Another beer is in order. I suppose we've all been there -- homo sum.

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