Our Things

by Marc Friedlander




One of life’s greatest preoccupations, I’ve noticed, is organizing our things. By “things” I’m talking about our physical stuff.  We come into this world with absolutely nothing outside ourselves, and immediately we start to acquire things.  And soon after that, we think they’re OUR THINGS. 

They aren’t our things.  They are collections of atoms that we lay ownership to, in our minds.

Now that I’ve made the argument that nothing outside your body is really and actually “yours”, I want to get to the main point of this Ramble, which is stated in my opening sentence.  It is that we humans put an enormous amount of effort into organizing our stuff.  Doing so allows us to maintain control of our things, and sustains the illusion that we possess them.

How do you know when you’ve “lost” something?
One way is to see the $20 bill flutter away in the wind, off the end of a boat in the middle of the ocean.  But not all losses are so immediately obvious.
Say you haven’t thought about an article in a period of time – a year.  You’re out and about and suddenly an association brings this article to mind.  It’s a whole thought process – or maybe it all happens at once in an instant – but there it is in my mind:
I can see the object, taste/smell/feel it, remember where and when I acquired it, whom I was with – and all these associated details, and all in a fraction of a second.  I know whether the object is meaningful to me in some way – functionally (it’s a useful tool), sentimentally (it was given to me by my father), or in any other important way.

Now I ask myself the inevitable, killer question:
Where is it?

Sometimes, the whole thought passes uneventfully, as the light changes from Red to Green and I pull away.  But other times, the question catches me short.  Where is it?  Why don’t I know where it is?

Then I don’t feel ok about it until I’ve located it.  And if I fail to locate it, I never really stop looking.  But eventually, things get lost.  They just do.

You ever have a thing – a small object like a pen or a lighter.  Something like that?  And you’re fond of it.  You keep track of it.  You always know where it is.  You like it so much that, just to be sure, you buy an extra one.  Then, shortly after, they both disappear. You can’t find either one. 
It was getting the second as a backup that caused the problem. 
Stay with just the one and treasure it.

The other night I woke up in the middle of the night.  Lying there I realized I took my diamond stud out of my ear, before bed.  But I didn’t put it where I usually do (BIG MISTAKE).  Where did I put it!!!  Now I was fully awake.  Where did I put it?  In the other room, I put it on my phone so I wouldn’t forget it when I went into the bedroom.  And I didn’t forget the phone.  I did forget the diamond stud ON the phone, though.  So that means, when I grabbed the phone off my desk, the diamond could have launched off into space, and landed who the hell knows where in the other room.

I slept the rest of the night fitfully.
Next morning, diamond was on my desk.
Now, I was prepared to lose this diamond.  I mean, it’s just a collection of atoms.  They still exist whether or not I know the location.  I bought it.  It’s mine, in that sense, even if I can’t wear it or show it to you.  But still not the end of the world.

Now I can’t find a music book; a special one, to me.  It was the first Classical Guitar book I bought – 20 Studies by Fernando Sor, arranged by Andres Segovia.  I bought it in 1971 for $1.50.  The strange thing is, I ALWAYS know where this book is.  Always until now.  I have every other piece of music I ever bought, arranged in alphabetical order by composer.  Every one, except the Sor Studies.  I’ve looked and looked.  I’ll find it someday. 

I was in a music store the other day. 
They had the Sor Studies.  Same edition, different cover.  And different price.  It was $19 I think. 
I didn’t buy it – not because of the $19, but because it wouldn’t be the same book to me.  I have all those studies in other books – they’re pretty common. 
Sometimes, it IS the cover of the book, and not what’s inside, that makes it what it is.

The object in the photo at the top, is Jocko.
The plaster head is all that remains of a cloth hand puppet that my mother bought for me from a cart at the Bronx Zoo when I was 5 years old.  I remember choosing it above all the other “silvaneers”.  Somehow, I’ve always maintained possession of my friend, Jocko.  Every relationship, every move, every cross country scramble – Jocko was either along, or waiting for me when I returned. I sure don't ever want to lose him, or not know where he is. Not for a second.

Jocko may just be a collection of atoms, but Jocko is MY collection of atoms.

In the end, we leave what we came in with: Nothing.


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