Friday, May 28, 2010

On My Refrigerator Door

"Who is that?" my wife asked me a few days ago. This was a reasonable question at the time, since I was posting a photograph on the refrigerator, a photograph of people she had never seen before. It consisted of a family of five posing in front of a white house: a big guy with a mustache and goatee wearing a red collared shirt; his wife, with long brown hair and bangs wearing a green sweatshirt; a boy (probably about 12) wearing a red T-shirt with a Ford truck on it; a girl of about 10 wearing a blue T-shirt with the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup logo; and a boy of about six wearing a blue hoody with some kind of skating logo. In fact, I had never seen these people before, either-- at least I hadn't prior to my decision to open a donation solicitation from Habitat for Humanity. But once that wallet-sized photo tumbled out of the envelope, I just had to put it up on the fridge.

This photo is not the only item I have contributed to the decor of the refrigerator. Years ago, I hung up a sheet of paper that says "Purchasing Department at Fruit of the Loom." It lists the names of 11 people (such as Gary Baker, Burnus Baldwin, Helen Cole, and Mary "I wonder is she's related to Morgan" Spurlock). It also lists the job title and a specific responsibility for each of those 11 people (Baldwin is the Inventory Analyst who oversees polybag inventory. Bart Summar is a Systems Analyst who oversees JD Edwards System, whatever that is). Also listed for everyone is a phone extension (you can reach Cole at X2444). The document is dated 11/14/97. I found this particular sheet of paper when I opened a package that contained a used book I had ordered on-line. I have no memory of the specific book, but I know that it had nothing to do with any kind of garment. When I first held this sheet of paper in my hands, I knew that it was something that must be preserved.

And though it does not hang on my fridge, there is another item that I found, between the pages of another used book I received through the mail, that I have felt compelled to keep for several years. On the back of stationary marked "Sheraton Frankfurt Hotel & Conference Centre Flughafen Terminal 1" is a note which reads "Mom here's your purse...thanks for everything today & tonite. We had fun... will switch tuna in A.M. Love, Rick." (at least I think it says "tuna"--it's kind of hard to read).

I suppose there are two main reasons why people keep (or display) physical objects: A) There is a perceived utilitarian value (including aesthetic considerations) or B) There is a personal significance connected to the object, a significance rooted in sentimentalism. But the above objects don't fit either criteria for me. They don't provide any value and they don't have any personal meaning. So what is the attraction?

A cynical explanation would be that I am simply being ironic, that I am mocking cultural sensibilities, such as the practice of displaying sentimentality on one's refrigerator door. An alternative explanation might be that I am being Romantic, that in maintaining an authentic artifact of human expression divorced from the particularities of context, I am celebrating the universalities of our experiences, finding beauty in the unfamiliar precisely because it is so familiar ("the shock of recognition," as a critical theorist might say). Another theory may be that I am attracted to the potential that each of these items represents, the narratives that can be constructed around them, and the mysteries that they engender, all without having to worry about the disappointment of the prosaic. Because the narratives will never be known and the mysteries never solved, like Keats's Grecian Urn, this ephemera will only and always have potential.

One final possibility: perhaps I am taking part in a ritual act of preservation. In keeping alive something that others cast away (at least in the case of the latter two items), something that has no value to me but may have had some fleeting significance to others, I am doing my part to affirm the validity of those experiences. And perhaps I am doing this in the hope that the favor may be returned, that what I find to be significant will not be carelessly sloughed off by others, but validated in return. So if you happen to have some open space on your refrigerator door, drop me a line. I'd be happy to send you a trifling item to display.


Post a Comment

<< Home