For Things Gone
The red thread that opened a Band-Aid.
Station wagon: the biggest (and tallest) car on the road.
Movie moguls. True, they were often power hungry sons-of-bitches, but they knew, loved, and had a passion for making movies. As opposed to power hungry s.o.b.’s who know, love, and have a passion for making money.
The clack of typewriter keys on platen. The thunk and ding of a carriage return. Pulling out a page of typescript with a ratchety zip. How industrious it all sounded. And felt.
Mercury in oral thermometers. The sensation of danger when the glass broke, scattering a silvery brightness across the floor — “Don’t touch it!” — beads of quicksilver so capricious and lively you could believe them possessed of deliberate mischief.
Telephones with real bells that ring and ring when no one’s home. Busy signals that tell you: they are. Having to call back if you want to talk. Getting to talk to someone.
Being unreachable if one is not in a known location, and sometimes when one is. This being not only accepted but expected.
Encyclopedia sets that take up entire shelves. In someone’s home.
Three television networks, a local channel, and PBS. Getting up and doing something else if the programming on these could not satisfy. “Remote” being an adjective meaning “far away and difficult to access” rather than a noun denoting “plastic box to change channels with.” Television stations going off the air, with or without the national anthem and Air Force jets. Snow and test patterns and an unbroken tone.
Fishing glass bottles of Coca-Cola, RC, or Nehi Grape from large metal tanks filled with heart-stoppingly cold ice water. The slushy crunching sound this made. The resistant tug as you opened your drink of the bottle opener mounted under the counter. The steel, fluted edges of bottle caps. The cottony heat that fattened the air, the hollow thonk of your shoes on a wooden floor, the swing and swat of a screen door, and the curling dampness of the hair against your neck that usually accompanied the purchase.
Cowboy-style revolvers with ivory plastic grips that fed strips of red paper caps under the hammer with each pull of the trigger. Pounding caps in the driveway with a rock just to hear them snap. The blue-black smell of gunpowder.
Payphones. Phone booths with doors that close. Intact telephone directories tethered below the shelf. Religiously checking payphone return slots for left-behind quarters. Sometimes finding them.
Slide projectors. Their clicking and humming. Girls in darkened rooms combing and braiding and stroking my long hair to that sound.
Service stations. Men with weathered skin and fingernails rimmed black asking how they can help you as they wipe their hands on a rag. Getting to say “Fill ’er up.” Sitting in your car listening to gasoline rush into the tank while the man with his name stitched on his shirt, who actually knows about cars and what they need done to them, cleans your windshield and checks the oil.
Flying on an airplane in a spirit of communal civility. Finding it a pleasurable experience. Being given something to eat on the flight. Stairways rolled up to the airplane door. Walking across heat-softened or frozen tarmac. Scanning a cluster of faces at the gate, searching that tide of anticipatory delight for the one searching for yours. A feeling of having embarked, traveled, of having arrived someplace different.
For Vanishing Things
The bright chrome taste of cold water drunk from the tap. The musty copper taste of water sun-warmed in a garden hose.
Children with unstructured time, left to their own devices among themselves. Especially out of doors. No adults.
Independent newspapers led by editors. Ditto publishing houses.
Paper maps. Asking locals for directions and occasionally learning something about where you are that you otherwise would never have known.
Parents capable of The Look, that wordless beam of warning that stops a child cold in the middle of whatever they are thinking or doing. Parents out in public who don’t think twice about removing, even taking home, a child who is shrieking for want of sleep, food, attention, comfort.
The respectability and dignity of amateur endeavors, performances, activities, sports. Not needing to professionalize, televise, or (especially) market them.
Watermelons with plenty of seeds. Watermelon seed spitting contests. The “thoo” sound a spit seed makes.
Personal letters and cards arriving in the mail. Thank you notes. Hand-written invitations to parties and gatherings. (Parties and gatherings.)
Friends phoning just to catch up.
Globes with the countries of the world printed on them in soft colors.
Being disappointed on the day after Labor Day that it’s still too hot to wear new wool skirts and fall sweaters. Having to wait, also, to wear the new shoes that go with them. Making sure to have new outfits for fall, every fall. Thinking in terms of outfits.
Paperboys. On bicycles.
The languorous, meandering, yet attentive hours that are the most fertile medium for beginning a friendship.
Deft, unobtrusive service. A gracious “will that be all for now?” followed by a quiet retreat, and no one ever promising that they will be taking care of you tonight. Never being told that the soup du jour today is…or that the beef is served “with” au jus. Never being required to answer the question “You still working on that?” or referred to as “you guys.” Having every dirty fork, knife, or spoon whisked away before the end of the meal wordlessly replaced with a clean one, obviating the need ever to hear “You wanna hang onto that?” while having the soiled plate upon which the utensil rests thrust toward one’s face. Being surprised to find your water glass refilled. Reaching the end of the evening wholly unencumbered by any knowledge of the wait person’s name.
For That Which Is No Longer Considered Quite The Thing
Girls washing their faces at night with Noxema. Pond’s cold cream and tissues to remove makeup. The sharp menthol smell of the one, the soft grandmother fragrance of the other.
Sunbathing for good health. Being kissed by the sun, given a glow, or sporting a slightly sunburned nose signifying nothing more sinister than a light-filled, breezy summer.
Running through sprinklers in other people’s lawns on a hot day.
Going to movie theaters three or four times a week. Smuggling in one’s own popcorn and drinks. (Coughing to cover the sound of a popped top.)
Stocking all home stationery needs from the supply closet at work.
Two or three times a year, ordering a drink at a bar (something smoky brown or clear and oily poured into a rocks glass), then bumming a cigarette so one can enact all the rituals: whacking the pack against one’s palm to dispense the cigarette, giving the filter end several sharp taps on the bar top, the sulphurous scritch of a match strike or the metallic whiff of lighter fluid as the wheel ratchets and sparks. The leaning into the flame and cupping your hand around the hand of the person holding it out to you, the backward tilt of your head to exhale the first stream of smoke, the occasional squint and subsequent increase of all gestures made with the cigarette-wielding hand, as if you are a magician, an illusionist, your every flourish followed by a tiny spotlight.