There are gaps in my personal biography, some of which could be filled by the contents of two cardboard boxes I impulsively let slip away.
When I first moved to California, a friend was kind enough to let me store those two boxes, plus a Chinese rug that had belonged to my grandmother, in the basement of her condominium. My future was up in the air at the time, and there was no place to leave them. I asked if she’d be willing to hold on to them for me, and she graciously said yes.
Years later – ten, maybe fifteen – Dr. M and I, now a couple, are visiting Toronto, to see my family. Now, Dr. M, well, let’s say our artistic tastes in certain areas do not exactly match. I’m not talking about movies and stuff, where we generally agree. I am referring primarily to decorating choices.
I have written about how I came home from work one night, and I found all the art that had adorned the walls of my bachelor condo now adorning the walls of our garage, more specifically one wall – the one beside where I park my car. One piece of sculpture had made the cut. Everything else was “house adjacent.”
Okay, so we’re in Toronto, and I decide to take a chance. I say, “I don’t know if you’ll like it or not – you’ll probably think it’s horrible – but I have a rug that belonged to my grandmother. A friend of mine has been keeping it for me. Maybe you’d like to take a look at it.”
I remember the sigh. And then she agreed.
After calling ahead, we arrive at my (now married) friend’s condominium. We go inside, where I discover my grandmother’s rug covering the floor of my friend’s living room.
An unexpected turn in the story – Dr. M adores the rug; her eyes literally light up when she sees it. I claim no expertise concerning Chinese rugs. Dr. M has innate good taste. Plus, she’s made a study of such things. Apparently, it was a really good rug.
I thank my friend for keeping it for so long. Then I inform her – a little embarrassed, because they had apparently made it their own – that I would now like to have my grandmother’s rug…
Meaning, it would be rolled up off their living room floor, a moving truck would arrive, and it would be transported to our home in California.
My friend’s face said, “I’m really not happy about this.” But it was my rug after all, so what could she do?
What she could do was cop an attitude. An attitude that was sharp and confrontational, and came out in precisely this form:
“Do you want the two boxes too?”
At this point, I did not say what a normal person would say, which is,
“Sure, I’ll take them off your hands."
Instead I replied,
Not wanting to make the situation more burdensome than it already was.
I don’t know what I was thinking. The discomfort of making the rug request had frozen up my brain. It’s like, I heard her saying, “We don’t like it, but we will reluctantly part with the rug. Are now saying you want to deprive us of the two cardboard boxes as well?”That doesn’t make any sense. They were using the rug; the boxes were gathering dust in her basement. By rights, she should have wanted us to take them. But the way she said it, it sounded like my demanding the boxes, in addition to the rug, represented the absolute ultimate height of ingratitude.
So I took the rug. And I left them the boxes. Which they probably immediately threw away.
What was in them? I’m not exactly sure. In general, it was memorabilia accumulated from my life before I moved here. Some of it was pretty cool stuff. I’m a collector/slash/ hoarder. I remember a scrapbook filled with mounted TV Guide covers, going back to the fifties.
There was a stack of Playbills – the official program of Broadway theaters. Most of them were mine. But some, my mother had presented to me after her theater-centered trips to New York. Programs from the classic musicals – My Fair Lady. West Side Story. The Music Man.
And then there was this, which particularly eats at me, though I can’t exactly tell you why. It just seems to represent an irretrievable chapter of the archaeological mystery that is Earl.
When I lived in London in the sixties, the last place I called home was a rundown kind of a youth hostel. I don’t recall much about it, except it was five stories high, the kitchen was in the basement, and I was the only one with his own room.
Also, there was a community bathtub – that doesn’t mean we were all in it at the same time, just that we all used the same tub – which was so disgusting, it contributed significantly to my decision to return to Toronto.
There was this guy who lived there, he was a white guy, but he came from Rhodesia, an African country whose name may have changed in the interim. One day, completely out of the blue – I would hardly call this fellow my friend, or even a good acquaintance – the guy walked over to me, and he gave me this present.
“I made this for you,” he said. And he handed it to me.
On a thick sheet of cocoa-brown watercolor paper – thicker than regular paper, but you could still roll it up – the man had painted a tableau of a gathering of ceremonial native dancers, dressed up in traditional costumes, festooned head-to-foot with multi-colored feathers. I can provide no further details. It was a long time ago, and I have little gift for describing art. It was just bright, and colorful, and, though it was two dimensional, he had somehow managed to make it iridescent with a shimmering, primal energy.
It was a lovely painting. And I was moved by the gesture. When I returned to
Canada, I made sure to –carefully – pack it along. I kept that picture – and treasured it – for the six years between leaving England and moving to L.A.
I miss that painting.
I miss all that stuff.
But the boxes are gone.
And I can only write about their loss.