There’s a small table in the second faculty restroom at school. It has a plexiglass top that displays an old classroom directory that looks like it was typed 35 years ago. For a while, we didn’t use that bathroom because the sink was broken, no-water-broken. Someone from the city must have come and declogged an old shoe from the pipes because now the lead water run-eth free-eth. And just in front of the toilet, those names are frozen in time on that table. There’s not a bathroom trip that goes by that I don’t think about them. Who were they? Did they like each other? What were their educational philosophies? How did the classroom list end up in the bathroom? Did Mrs. Littlejohn and Ms. Smalls bond over their names? What about Mr. Trueman and Mrs. Truedale? Was Officer Downing kind? What did the engineer even do? Which ones are still alive?
I also get stuck in my head thinking about how the people in that list have no idea they’re still sitting there, a modern-day Ode on a Grecian Urn, memorialized for decades on a table meant for tampons.
I’ve always loved tiny details or relics that reveal more. “It’s the little things” is such a cliche that it’s practically meaningless at this point. Even just “little things” feels that way. But, I really do love the little things, especially the ones others leave behind whether physically or just in my own head.
In some ways, it’s actually a real burden to be painfully observant person, though. I get caught staring at people, I notice things I shouldn’t, I read things in people’s faces I wasn’t supposed to read. I observe and then carry around my new knowledge and sometimes it weighs a lot. But more often than not, I find that I am privy to things that others aren’t. Overall, I love collecting these tiny tidbits and putting together a story, fiction or non, that makes sense to me.
There’s a guy in my neighborhood I call “Falkenhan’s Guy” because he works at Falkenhan’s Hardware (didn’t say my stories were complicated). He has two dreadlocks on either side of his head and then luscious curls in the middle. I see him walking often. He has a very confident gait. I always hi to him when I catch him face to face. He’s really in his own world and only speaks when spoken to but when I greet him, he seems pleasantly surprised. Yesterday, I found myself walking behind him and watched him effortlessly slide down a 20-step railing at the shopping center across the street, like he’d done it dozens of times. It made my afternoon. I mean just think of all of the underlying personality traits for a grown man who slides down a steep railing holding a French baguette and bottle of kombucha. I just tingle at the possibilities! I imagine he goes home and makes gourmet soups with ingredients like leeks and bay leaves and orzo.
Just like an old school, an older house like ours is full of relics. Old floor patterns, a window frame fragment in the garden bed, glass doorknobs, and unclaimed bricks out front. I wish we hadn’t lost so many of them in the remodel.
When Chas and I first moved into our house the remodeler, a male named Loren, showed us a door hinge he found with five different colors of paint on it. To me it was like five generations of families represented by paint chips. I still have it. It feels like a poem, in a piece of metal.
How would you feel if you attended a meeting in a building that greets you with this sign? Would it seem official? Organized? Cared for? If this doesn’t matter, does that mean that the things of substance matter more, or does it mean they matter less?
I took the above photo at the Professional Development Site for Baltimore City Public Schools. This is immediately visible when one walks into this building for a training. Did someone set this up 10 years ago? Maybe that person was fed up with Baltimore and fled for somewhere easier, simpler, more predictable.
Baltimore’s blight includes so many remnants of people of the past. I know I talk about this a lot but I will never get over it. What strikes you about the photo below?
I took it for a lot of reasons and I see even more power looking at it months later. But really what gets me is the railing and the evidence of what used to be staircases. And then I spin a story about a family with lots of kids and maybe a German Shepherd and how that outside space used to be inside space. Sure “No Shoot Zone” is notable. But someone used to climb those stairs to go to bed. A tired old woman might’ve used that railing for support. And on and on.
When I see an old staircase or invent a story about a stranger, when I attempt to rewrite the past I don’t know or see something minor that indicates something major I wonder what messages or stories I will leave behind. What will people who don’t know me remember about me? What’s my version of sliding down a railing? What relics will tell future people who lived on 38th St. a hundred years from now? Will my name be on some list on a bathroom table? What’s the story we tell with the things we leave behind?