Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Once a week, rain or shine, whether we have lots of snow or less snow, we pack our trash into Leigh’s station wagon and make a visit to the Oswego County Transfer Station. That’s a neutral-sounding euphemism for the dump, which is actually half dump and half recycling center. We hit both sides, usually two bags each. On the recycling side, we deposit one bag’s worth of newspaper and junk mail, and one full of cans and jars. On the dump side it’s just, well, garbage. There are satisfying aspects to the dumping of the trash, in part because it’s cathartic – a temporary freeing up of space – and in part because it’s physical. You literally throw the bags over the side of a giant bin; depending on what’s below, you might hear a satisfying thunk or bump or clunk. Off in the corner of the recycling area there’s a place for shredded paper, a material for which I hold a weird attraction. I like shredding it, I like looking at it – it’s confetti-like, almost festive – and I like thinking about the tangible remnants of lost secrets. In the back of my mind I think it would be fun, spy-like, to take all those pieces of shredded paper and reconstruct them, rebuild all the words and numbers. Find out what was so important that it needed to be destroyed.

There’s a metal area, too, and although we never use it, it intrigues me. People leave old washers and dryers, rusted bicycles or dirt bikes, tools, various deformed exercise machines, and an array of misshapen and mysterious metal. I always spot at least one tackle box or tool box – the old metal kind with sturdy locks. I imagine that they belonged to men whose children have given them new ones as gifts. Maybe they are the tackle boxes of the dead. If they recently belonged to someone still living, I suspect that they parted with them reluctantly. My father loved his old tackle box and luckily as kids we never had the money or the wherewithal to replace it. His tool box seemed sacred, too, something that would last a lifetime and grow more important and meaningful with age. But week after week, there in the corner of the dump, I’ll spot one, sometimes a whole heap of them. Today there were two old boxes; they looked like a long-married couple. One was a little bigger than the other, both were well-rusted but still functional. Next to one was a collection of ancient tools, probably a dozen or so. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone willingly parting with them; my father, again, would sooner part with a finger than a long-held hammer.

Tackle boxes and tool boxes can be purchased online now. They have some fancy contraptions as far as tool boxes go, including some that unfold up and out to two winged tiers with plenty of shelf space. They come in fire-engine red or silver or black; they’re generally rectangular with silver hardware. Some of them look as though they’d weigh 80 pounds if filled with tools, others are more compact. The tackle box industry seems to be booming – there are plastic boxes that look like little briefcases, others that fold out to look like staircases, see-through tackle boxes, even tackle bags – all in a variety of colors and shapes, including fluorescent green and pink.

I can’t imagine my father carrying a plastic box or one with colors or ever considering a tackle bag. It might not be a true equivalent, and I doubt my father would make the comparison, but maybe his tackle box and tool box were like my library, or what passes for my library. (Planks, wooden blocks, lots of books…) They’re each a kind of sacred space, a personal and private place. I arrange my books in the order I like, sometimes alphabetical, sometimes by subject, sometimes just one author I think might like another author right up against each other. (It’s like being a book/author matchmaker.) There are certain books I want nearby, and others that I believe have magical powers. I have one book by Michael Burkard and one by Anne Carson that WORK for me. I open them, I read a line, a word, a whole poem… and I am immediately inspired to write something myself. They have never failed me, and I haven’t abused their powers. If anything, I consult them more rarely – I don’t want to wear them out.

Those relics I saw today seemed to hold the remnants of someone’s secret life. What old hammer rested in one, what series of handmade lures in another? Were they full of little compartments, or drawers; had someone’s father sat her next to one, decades ago, and taught her how to bait a hook, how to use a socket wrench? If I could, I’d steal those old boxes. I’d open them up and imagine the lives of those who opened them before. I’d give them personalities, maybe even names. I’d cluster them into friendly groups, then neighborhoods. I’d have a whole room full of castoffs. A whole barn full of new junk, transferred from one station to another.

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