"With all my love to Mom & Dad"
My dogs own about 100 toys, but I can't remember the last time we got them a toy that entered into the pantheon of toys that truly drive them crazy like their hard plastic play keyrings. I used to think it's because they love to chew, but they could chew any number of other, similar toys, so that's not the whole picture. Then I thought it was the keys' forbidden allure—if they chew too long they're eating plastic, so we take them away after a short time.
My current dogs meeting a toy that belonged to my childhood dog, Cinnamon.
But instead, I think part of it is the fact that this kind of toy was among the very first we ever gave them. I think it's impossible to fall in love with new objects or experiences as hard as you did with certain objects and experiences when you were young and you had so few objects and experiences with which to compare them. And I think that the things we love the most are the things that remind us of when we were kids, or that were among the first things for which our appreciation first made us feel we were growing up.
That's why I think certain objects and experiences hit my nostalG-spot in ways that don't—and don't have to—make artistic sense. I can't really explain why Looker or Golden Girls or Body Double or The Eyes of Laura Mars are visual comfort food for me—in some of the cases, I could semi-objectively argue that aspects of them are just plain quality, but overall, it's not so much about the quality as it is about an indescribable quality these experiences (more than "shows" or "movies") produced in me when I was young, and that they still trigger in me now that I'm old and too jaded to jump on every new bandwagon.
I was watching some of those triggers while I spent the past five or so days obsessively picking over all my belongings, another activity always sure to tickle that nostalG-spot. My goal was to organize and hopefully edit; I accomplished that, if only meagerly (I dumped or marked for sale about three boxes' worth of stuff), but maybe the secret goal was simply to bask in the feelings I get looking at the things I've acquired.
While I searched, I spent the largest amount of time on my most personal items—in other words, I skipped my crazy-huge Madonna collection (which might have been self-preservation since devoting any time at all to it, whether to thin it out or simply rearrange it in boxes, would amount to devoting a month that I don't have to spare) and instead pored over the boxes of childhood mementos, all my sketches and art, the short stories I wrote, my diaries and all my correspondence.
The letters were the strangest part; I had not looked through them in ages. It was like visiting the Titanic exhibit or something—to think that we used to write so much to each other so often! When I was a teenager and in my twenties, I loved nothing more than finding (or drawing) an interesting image and Xeroxing it into some kind of bold stationery, then filling five or six pages of that stationery with what was going on with me and the world. I would do this with at least a dozen people, and they would do the same. (This doesn't even count my XXX-rated correspondence with gay male Madonna fans, initiated—I think—by Madonna's why-not foray into that territory with her Sex book. Our letters were far hotter than hers.)
I have a terrible memory. Or rather, it's the Mark Fidrych of memories—meaning I can easily recall certain things (like who Mark Fidrych was) about pop culture or about my life, but have huge gaps where memories of whole people I knew well should be. This is why my diaries and the letters in particular are so valuable to me—they remind me of people who were once so important to me and also remind me of what was so important to us at that time that it necessitated so much venting. Seeing them all again sent me to Google and Facebook, but I didn't find the people I was most curious about; it seems like I hung out with a lot of guys and girls with non-unique names.
I even saved a bunch of the notes I received during my college years. I lived in a converted hotel (The Shoreland) in Hyde Park in Chicago while attending the University of Chicago, and phone and other messages were left at the desk in little boxes just like you'd have done in an actual hotel in the '20s. It quickly became very "in" to receive messages this way, and the things written on them (usually by a friend, sometimes as dictated to a receptionist) were always cherished as some kind of proof that we were adults. They're now a pop-culture history book—a friend asking me to see Alien Nation ("a surefire Oscar contender!"), another asking me if it's true Madonna canceled the concert to which I had eighth-row seats—it was—and another leaving me a note just so I'd have a note! Moreover, they're personal-history books:
I know I sound old when I say that e-mail has killed lasting correspondence, but it has. I can't imagine existing without it, can't imagine how I existed without it (what was the first e-mail I ever sent? "one small step for Matt...?"), and I know that when telephones were invented naysayers predicted the doom of personal interaction, too. But seeing the proof that e-mail has killed off a permanent record of friendship was undeniable—I have a two-foot stack of lengthy letters from my mom up through about 2000, then mostly short notes from her. Entire friendships seem documented on a weekly basis up till 2000, and entire new friendships since 2000 are represented in my files by postcards, birthday cards and season's greetings, none of which give the slightest indication of anything other than their penmanship.
E-mails can be saved, but I don't save them, not consciously. And I find it hard to believe I'll be lovingly reading over them 20 years from now. Unless I get with it and start saving e-mails religiously, they'll be gone forever, as so, so many of mine already are.
My friend John introduced me to the concept of the envelope as pop art.
And that is at the core of my pack-ratting, the concept of retrievability vs. irretrievability. I have cards drawn for me by my sister when she was 3 (she's now in her mid-thirties), I have a couple years' worth of classmates' Valentine's Day cards, I have my elementary school's newsletter, I have a folding swan from my best female buddy in fourth grade (we later came out to each other and are still friendly today)...and these are all things that if I tossed them would cease to exist and very possibly would evaporate from my memory, too.
Something I acquired on eBay years ago is a pile of images and other memorabilia that belonged to a man named Vernon Gray. He was a minor actor who was gay, though not out. I bought his ephemera I think because it troubled me to think that it would evaporate if I didn't. Maybe the fact that so many (no longer all) gay people are childless, making our keepsakes one heartbeat away from being worthless trash, also fuels my desire to keep as many things as possible. I am the chronicler of my own happy past...because who else will be?
The saddest item in Mr. Gray's—now Mr. Rettenmund's—collection is a lovely, professional 8"X10" of the man signed to his parents. It's sad because there is apparently no one alive with any real connection to it who would want it, and because Mr. Gray himself probably only owned it after his parents died.
I don't save everything of great importance to me. I've slipped up. The two things I'd do anything for, as I am reminded whenever I sift through my stuff every couple of years, would be videos of my two, count 'em two, stage performances. I've written before that I played the Matthew Broderick part in Torch Song Trilogy at the University of Chicago, and that in high school I did a full-drag, lip-synched performance of Samantha Fox's "Touch Me (I Want Your Body)"...and not having access to those kills me. But maybe there is some actual as well as figurative magic to my hoardacious sifting—as soon as I finished, I went on Facebook and found that a high school acquaintance had just replied to my long-, long-ago posting on our alumni board that I wanted my Sam Fox performance on video...and he sounds certain he has it.
I don't want to get my hopes up—two other classmates also claimed to have it (but haven't located it yet), and the brother of Torch Song's director did video that play, yet it, too, has remained a "lost film" for me.
But knowing that a long lost record of something important, thought irretrievable, might be retrievable after all has me momentarily forgetting that all of the things I've lovingly preserved—like my ageless portraits of Vernon Gray—will become irretrievable the moment there is no one around who cares to retrieve them.