Monday, May 28, 2007

archaeology iv: cryptography

My job was to walk and look. We were looking for remnants of whatever had once been alive in this desert, reduced to a polished trace of what it had been: an edge of an old mud wall, flakes of bones that had risen to the air after three or four thousand years and made a shining scatter on the surface of the sand like snow.
--Susan Brind Morrow, The Names of Things

I had mentioned the burdens. And so I arrived to claim mine from the most baffling of American traditions, the storage unit--a sea of anonymous cubes in which god-only-knows what mysterious items are secreted away into blind oblivion that we either have no room for, or are ashamed to keep in our homes, or are simply the by-products of the thing disease. It would be an interesting investigation to one day order them all to be opened, and the contents catalogued, and an entire exhibit opened for the world to see.

The contents of mine were as follows (* indicates these were childhood belongings):

one doll house*
one metal rickshaw*
one box of several old lamps
one wicker basket of stuffed animals*
a trunk-sized Rubbermade tub of ancient recordings (including Glenn Miller, Uncle Remus, and and Aunt Pat's RCA record-your-own entitled Christmas 1947 and various piano sonatas)
one leather and cherrywood coffee table with brass feet
one pie safe, green, without doors, painted over with white acrylic paint
several plastic bags of stuffed animals
one child-sized teepee
two end tables (one pillar shaped one where my grandmother hid her erotic novels)
Christmas decorations
one musty suitcase
one large chair with a high back and blue floral upholstery
a 1939 Royal typewriter

The typewriter was the first thing I saw. It bears the label “Kemper Military School--Booneville Missouri” and is blood red metal in a musty black case. The keys are still luminous, like small lacquered stones. It was, of course, my grandfather’s, and it evokes memories of his furious typing away the hours in his room on Lipscomb street. He had an obsession with writing implements, and I remember the first electric typewriter he bought for my sister, and the lengthy hours of explanation for its use. Every Christmas he would buy her a lovely set of Cross pen and pencil. He wanted writing to be hers, the way it was his.

What was he typing? My grandmother did not clean out his room for many years after he died, and so I slept there when visiting, so I could look through everything. His pipe collection, his reams of paper in the closet and drawers and stuffed under the bed. They were mainly legal briefs. He might have been tinged with a slight case of graphomania, I do not know, but he seemed to always be tapping away as if life depended on it.

As I sit here awake at 3AM, I somehow know the familiar comfort of just laying down word after word, the letters falling in like little pebbles from your hand in some possibly vain hope of forming something beyond a mere scattering of syllables. Or maybe for the sole reason of the tapping on the keys, the looking for some polished trace of what has been, or what might or never be.