As a child, the insides of things fascinated me: excavating beneath surfaces, cracking through the hard-shelled facades to the soft underneath heart of things. I picked at my scabs, making them bleed so that I could scrutinize my bald puckery knee, exposing the vulnerability of its nakedness; boiled marbles until they split in half; examined pockmarked sidewalks, wondering at their imperfections—what had caused them and how the cement would look if I were able to smash beyond its stoic exterior with the jackhammer of my curiosity. Would its insides contain the same drab grey, or throb with pink healthy life, unsuspected by careless feet, and thundering metal skates indifferently plowing its surface?
Anything well-worn and shabby held the same intrigue: ugly lamps with frayed shades, sneakers dirt stained and holey, warped linoleum and saggy overstuffed chairs. Tree bark, its scaly texture not unlike my knee scabs, seemed to me to hold the wisdom of the ages. Forgotten toys rusting in front yards, dilapidated cars slumped at curbs, one flat tire lending an air of ineffable sadness—the sadness of things once valued now forgotten—touched my soul in a way that defied articulation. Oh, the deliciousness of things bedraggled with use, of old books musty with words hoarded between covers, aged by the parade of hands caressing their pages.
Street lamps evoked in me a deep melancholia, their weak halo touching some chord in me, some half-forgotten memory from my earlier childhood of bracing winter mornings when fathers warmed up their humpbacked Packards and Edsels prepratory to leaving for work, or solemn winter nights when blessings embraced me, and I felt unaccountably at one with every broke down inanimate object on the face of the planet.
Oh, it wasn’t new things I craved, stiff with perfection, reeking of the slightly chemical odor of things brand-new, but the old, the used, the familiar. The spanking new wall to wall of our suburban living room was a great trial to me, as was the unforgiving marble coffee table which dominated the room with cold severity. Luxury stifled me, cast over me a spell of inertia and heartsickness.
My dad had always lived in rental homes with generous rooms, homes with wide windowsills and porches, their graveled drives bracketed by sturdy hedges. The furniture of these homes were a hodgepodge of second-hand couches and dinette sets, furniture broken in and thus lovely to my child’s mind. Here, in my mother’s new land of plenty I faltered, having lost that common denominator with my father.
When I dared think of him, I imagined Dad living in the type of home I so adored, a home with hardwood floors worn smooth, and a fireplace with blackened bricks. The tools of his trade would decorate this home: an easel, paintbrushes standing upside down in old paint cans, scrunched up tubes of paint, charcoal pencils, sketchbooks, a shiny tin of turpentine. I imagined his laugh booming off the walls painted with one of his murals, and the sudden spate of his drumsticks assaulting the snare with his passionate para-diddles.
My soul, it seemed, craved creaky doors and broken pottery. I needed to feast my eyes on warped closet doors and curtains limp and faded with too much sun-loveliness. Streamlined homes, such as the one I now inhabited, wearied me. They snickered arrogantly, boasting in their modern sterility void of rough corners or delightful surprises, bone dry with the very life sucked right out of them: polished, veneered and gleaming, I found in them no easy enchantment, no hidden depths to explore with a delicious sense of serendipity. Our new drapes bored me as did the sparkling appliances which, bold as any bald-faced liar, denied their co-conspiracy in the furtiveness of my hastily put together family. No secrets here! they seemed to proclaim with false joviality, what you see is what you get!