Since I was in high school, I have had a big, transparent yellow folder, in which I put things that have meaning to me. There is no particular order to what goes in. Something from 1999 could just as easily abut something else from high school as it could something from two months ago. I never intended it to be a record of my existence, but that is exactly what it became. I have never edited its contents, and only once or twice did I ever look inside, and then only briefly. Today I opened it up and, working my way from the front (visible), documented what I found. Some things I have grouped together to avoid pointless repetition.
When I was in graduate school in Boston, I would go to trivia nights at The Tam, a serious dive bar in the Theater District. Our team, Grandma’s Hot Friend, would compete for cash, which we would spend on the next week’s drinks. Failing a first-through-third place prize, we would angle for the special fourth-place consolation prize–usually whatever the quiz master, Al, could scrounge up from some dollar store. One night, we won a coconut ukulele. Around Christmas time one year, we won Santa hats. I listen and think better when I doodle, even if it’s on top of names of random countries and fake math.
Birthday cards, newest to oldest, some from my parents, some from other people. The newest was for my 30th birthday, and when opened, it is supposed to play the chicken dance. Now, though, it just produces eerie hissing and clicking sounds.
Tickets to the reception and champagne (brut–let’s not kid ourselves) reception for my graduation from graduate school. I earned my MFA in nonfiction creative writing, and I’ve clearly been making the best of my education.
A flier for porn
A flier for the 2009 Indie Erotic Film Festival. I still have seriously mixed feelings regarding this particular little adventure. On one hand, hey cool free floating burlesque sexuality–pretty much just a cinematic parade of penis and vagina. On the other hand, pretty much a cinematic parade of penis and vagina in the company of complete strangers.
A post card
A postcard, blank on the back, of John Lennon circa 1971. It was a gift, I assume, and most likely from my dad, but it’s really anyone’s guess. Fun fact: This is actually a scientifically accurate depiction of everyone circa 1971. It wasn’t until 1985 that the US government sprayed for airborne music notes. Pan flutes are still a thing though.
Program for a memorial service
This is the program and music pamphlet from my paternal grandmother’s memorial service. It was a surprisingly difficult affair. We had seen her passing coming for a long time prior, but that knowledge didn’t seem to soften the blow. It was also one of the only times I have seen my father cry.
A ticket to Ellis Island
I honestly have no idea why I saved this. It was my first time to the Statue of Liberty, so I guess that might be it.
A pile of newspaper clippings
My parents send me newspaper clippings depending on what’s going on and where I am. Together, they all look like a mishmash of lefty rhetoric and international news. There is not a single piece from a particularly pivotal moment in time–just news stories that might escape the typical level attention given to print journalism.
I think I drew the mouse muffins ad in a Semiotics for Media and Advertising course, but I could be wrong. You should really buy one, though. They’re good.
Humorous, sad, infuriating: it’s all closure one way or the other. I’m old fashioned. I like a woman who can break up with me over snail mail.
Letters of encouragement and recommendation
Lest it appear that I was being flippant, I also like getting good news in the mail.
An ad featuring Mayor Bloomberg
This is one of many things I had glued to my door during my freshman year of college. If I’m not mistaken, this was his sassy response to the question of whether he even smoked marijuana. Right or wrong, sassy responses to inane questions have a table reserved in the smoky cocktail lounge of my heart.
A postcard from Wes Christensen
Artist and family friend Wes Christensen had us pose for a painting about six or seven years ago. It was pretty cool to be depicted in paint. I noticed one thing, though: my head sort of looks like Megamind’s.
A Pearls Before Swine comic
I think I saved this one because it perfectly depicts the two halves of my personality: joyfully surrealist and inconsolably grouchy. I would make a terrible grapefruit.
Pictures of a girlfriend
The first one is from high school prom, and the second is from some other thing in high school, probably after prom. I covered faces with my pocket-size comp book because not everyone in these pictures was 18 at the time. She is an author of one of the break-up letters above. Instead of thinking it’s weird, just know that this is the comp book I used for stand-up comedy–another relationship that failed–so it’s ok to laugh.
The Constitution of the United States of ‘Merica
I suppose I included this in case this was ever buried in a landslide and unearthed a thousand years later, which probably means that I threw this in the big yellow folder after I started treating it more as a time capsule and less as a repository for sentimental crap. Honestly, though, the purpose oscillates between these two things fairly often. Generally, when I move apartments (or across the planet) I throw stuff into the folder that I don’t want to toss in the trash.
Pictures of me
I think I covered my face in the first photo because I documented it right after the others. But then I found my high school swim team photo. I get the feeling I may have also censored the first photo because it’s my pimply teenage face, and the second is me being all fit and healthy looking. It looks like I caved to vanity. But what in the name of Pete am I doing with my hands?
Pictures from my first visit to Las Vegas
I went to Las Vegas with my mother when I was in high school. It wasn’t a gambling trip, though. We were there to catch a bus out to the Department of Energy’s atomic test site, where the US set off hundreds of nuclear bombs in the mid 20th century. We were able to walk right up to craters the size of small towns, but were told to avoid touching pretty much everything but the ground. So maybe we were there to gamble. If you’re still unsure about where we were…
Anyway, it seems that I was pretty interested in that Holy Cow brewery. It pretty much features in every photo.
Drawings and sketches
Most of the drawings and sketches I have in the folder are from high school. Some, like the abstract things in the last photo, are more recent. Let it be known that I was drawing zombie factories before it was cool.
In high school and for the first bit of college, I was very much into math and science, and hated, hated, hated my English classes. To an outside observer, though, I can see the irony. I got and sent an awful lot of mail, and this is just the stuff that I saved. I had pen pals and distant romantic interests, and we put the postal service to the test.
There’s something about a written letter that just can’t be replaced by email or Skype. The act of sitting down and writing it with pen and paper is more analog, more personal than a flurry of rapid key strokes. You feel every line and loop, and nothing is written that isn’t intended. Reading a letter is a similar experience. You can tell by the handwriting what mood the person was in, if they’re being sincere, and how much thought they put onto the page. And if the mail comes quickly enough, you can tell what their home smells like.
I posted this line from The Inferno above my dorm room during my freshman year in college. It was good advice, and too few people heeded it.
A pertinent question
Another item glued to my freshman dorm room door. I remember that this was born of a conversation I’d had, and so actually has some basis in reality. It was a metaphor.
More crap posted to the door. Stylistically, Sinfest has changed a lot since I took these off my door. I found this out while getting the link for the comic, so you can tell how important is has been to me. I pretty much just threw anything into the big yellow folder at one point. Maybe I thought I’d want to remember what bits of paper I’d pasted to a door once upon a time–which was apparently any bit of paper I could get ahold of. I do remember that I glued part of a box of crackers to the door. That bit of wanton randomness still amuses me.
While not the first dog in my home, Lizzy was the first dog that was mine. She was a great dog and could run faster and jump higher than any other dog I’ve known. I still miss her terribly, and she’s been gone for almost ten years.
The first two pictures are of proofs for a t-shirt my dad and I made when I was in primary school. It was the first time I’d ever used a silk screen.
Let’s just call them what they are: expired.
Belt requirements and techniques for the Aikido dojo I went to throughout high school. I developed chronic pain in my knees and couldn’t continue, even though I tried in college.
The Greek alphabet
I have no idea why I saved this, since it is readily available anywhere. Maybe I didn’t anticipate the iPhone.
128-point font. I’m sure there was a reason I printed these out, but whatever it was got overwritten by more important info long ago. Why I saved these is even more baffling.
I was both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout, and I’m fairly certain these are from the former, but it’s really anyone’s guess. Since this is more of a mnemonic journey, I’m not about to cheat and ask my parents. Unless I found these on the side of the road somewhere (don’t rule that out!), I’d say they were from Cub Scouts.
The Three Stooges
I thought that maybe this was another item I’d pasted to my door in college, but there are pushpin holes just above Curly’s head, so I think I had it tacked up somewhere. Doesn’t matter. I have always loved the Three Stooges, and I’d have been surprised to have not found something like this in the folder.
When I got a real tattoo and freaked my mom out, temporary versions became obsolete. Honestly, though, I’m super tempted to get both of these done for real. The first is Rogue from the X-Men. She kicked more ass than Mike Tyson, Bruce Lee, and Mr. Miyagi combined, and I mourned the way her character was treated in the movies. The second is from Scud: The Disposable Assssin (see the Jesus-with-a-laser-gun picture in my post “Science Fiction and the Soul”). For a while, Scud has a “loaner” arm that features this tattoo. Unfortunately, the loaner arm belongs to a werewolf, who also happens to be part of the Royal Shakespeare Company and who eats Venus (the planet). I guess you had to be there.
Stuff in various languages!
Ancient Mayan, Chinese, and Japanese. The bookmark with Mayan spells out my name and birthday. So good luck with that. The chinese pouch is from a Chinese New Year celebration ages ago. And the Japanese thing is a sticker. I probably meant to stick it to something, but never did.
I went to a wedding out in Napa Valley when I was probably 12 or 13. I got to screw around with a camera, probably to keep me out of trouble. This is one of my parents’ friends, who I haven’t heard from in a long time. It’s actually pretty good for a candid Polaroid. Now that I think about it, I’m now about as old as she was in the photo. I keep stuff forever, people.
California Scholarship Federation
I am a card-carrying nerd.
Laws Concerning Food and Drink
I have this piece in a book now, but this is where I learned about Ian Frazier, sometime around the beginning of college, maybe in high school. I’d actually heard it on the radio first, but then went and found it on the internet. To this day, he remains one of my favorite writers, and was a role model during my time in grad school.
In high school, I went on a week-long school trip to Washington D.C., and while there fell in love with a girl from Minnesota. She was an awesome punk-rock chick with combat boots and a nappy brown overcoat. We corresponded for a while after the trip, and she sent me her Christmas sweater photos. She wasn’t 18 in the photos, so I wanted to cover her face, but my comedy notebook wasn’t big enough (there were a lot of pictures), so I used a big Sponge Bob sticker, which was also in the folder. Next best thing.
I got the sticker from my dad at some point.
I save stuff from other people’s weddings. If it’s something I can fit into the folder, in it goes. If it’s not, it usually remains in my possession somehow. I think I still have a yarmulke in the pocket of one of my coats. I recently found pasties from a burlesque show in one coat, so the hat’s bound to pop up sometime.
For my birthday in 2008, my friend Mike asked me what I wanted to do, and I replied that I wanted to do something terrifying. We went with our friend Claire to the anime convention in Boston. Never one for half measures, Mike talked his way into three press passes. It was like watching old Ben Kenobi use a Jedi mind trick. I’ve still never seen anything like it. What we saw there was indeed terrifying, interesting, colorful, and stupefying. For more info, check my Flickr page, starting with this photo.
My friends send me postcards, and most of the time, they’re awesome. I saved these. Front and center is an Easter card from my friends Ron and Amy. It’s not exactly a true postcard, since they sent it in an envelope, but let’s not split hares. The Spock card and the one under it are from Liz, and the Tide card is from Kim, from when she was in Taiwan. The one with the feet is from my girlfriend’s trip to Rome. Now that I’m in Malaysia, it’s my turn.
Carl the Friendly Snake
Carl the Friendly Snake. He dreams of cake. I think I did this doodle while at the AWP conference in Chicago in 2009.
The Fat Jedi
A few years ago, Mike, his now-wife Sarah, and I were sitting at the bar of UNO Chicago Grill in Harvard Square. I can’t remember exactly why, but Sarah started telling the bartender the (true) story of a fat guy who would dress up as a Jedi and project Star Wars onto the back of a comic book store. One thing led to another, and the bartender created, with our guidance, the Fat Jedi line of cocktails. Let history record that this is the very napkin on which these abominations were born. There is one for each color of lightsaber. We’re sticking with the original trilogy for two reasons: no one wants drunk nerds talking about the prequels, and talk of adding malt liquor to the purple one (Samuel Jackson’s) sounded a bit racist.
Fat Jedi Green (The Luke):
- Mountain Dew
- Apple Pucker
- Sour mix
- (I have a feeling we added vodka to this, but let’s call it an optional addition)
Fat Jedi Blue (The Sir Alec):
- Gin (necessary because Obi Wan was always played by a British actor)
- Stoli Blu(eberry)
- Blue Curacao
- Sour mix
Fat Jedi Red (The Vader):
- Cranberry juice
- Watermelon Pucker
- Rumple Minz
The Vader is exactly as harsh as it looks, but that’s the point. It is palatable, but just barely.
A Django reference. My dad gave this to me in high school, and I’ve carried it with me everywhere I’ve gone. I have no idea why, other than it still makes me laugh.
A comic card
A postcard-type-thing that I picked up at a comic book store. Not sure when or how it made it into the folder. Perhaps during a move?
I Heart Porn
It’s a sticker my friend Liz (Spock postcard) gave me for my birthday one year. I thought about putting it on my laptop, but technology gets obsolete so quickly. It found its way into the folder. Maybe someone can stick it to my casket/urn when I die.
It’s a birthday card, but I thought it deserved its own entry, since it pretty much depicts the vessel that now holds it.
I lost my work badge and had to get it replaced. This is where it ended up. The yellow folder is a time capsule as much as an Island of Misfit Toys. I’m surprised I didn’t fine a half dozen left socks in there.
That’s it. The folder is getting full, and there’s some anxiety as to whether I’m going to need to discard it in favor of a larger vessel or simply duct tape it shut and start again. One thing I have noticed is that I put less and less stuff into it every year. Am I suffering from a lack of passion, or as I grow older do I simply imbue physical objects with less emotional gravity?