There are a lot of definitions of what it is to be human. The one that occurs to me at the moment is that of the creature that goes to a lot of trouble to make and collect stuff, but just as relentlessly loses the stuff it makes and collects.
Case in point: this pair of obviously new men’s grey Hains cotton briefs found at the foot of an oak tree in a local cemetery. The dog, whose continuing need for undistracted exercise had brought me to wander amidst the stones, saw–more likely smelled –them first.
They probably told him way more than they did me—although it’s not too very hard to imagine how they came to be where I found them. The weather had been pretty decent, and the boneyard in question is agreeably isolated–but across the street from a high school. Such a private, low rent venue would not go unnoticed in certain quarters.
I am more intrigued by other, more mysterious lost things. A few months after those undies were lost or left at the foot of that oak tree, this single black lady’s pump appeared about 20 feet away. But much more interesting was this unintentional still life that evolved at the head of a hiking/biking trail over a period of several days.
The boot came first. It was one half of a pretty decent pair of lady’s cowboy boots, size smallish, and it was placed carefully where I found it, on a curb by the parking lot. A few days later, someone added the set of keys. A few days after that, both items had vanished.
I don’t know how long the glasses lingered, and I somehow think they were missed more than either the keys or the boot. Or for that matter the black pump or those naughty boy briefs. Not much point in keys, shoes, or underwear if you can’t see where you”re going.
Collectively and individually, we leave such a trail of things behind us that you have to consider how much we are defined by those things and what we would be without them, from Pezz dispensers to Smartphones. The snake that leaves its shed skin, the hummingbird that builds, uses, then abandons its jewel of a nest, is still essentially itself minus the skin, the nest. But a naked, unadorned human is one of the nakedest things there is. Minus artifacts—even the most primal artifacts of beads and body paint—there is nothing in our essential, outward design to suggest the enormous space behind our eyes and between our ears.
The making of stuff seems to serve us as a sort of overflow valve for a space unable to contain its potential. Certain manifestations of that overflow provide the usually weekend entertainments of garage and estate sales, flea markets and swap meets.
Other things less fun, too. Seen all at once (as I lately did at what was once the home of a friend), spread helter-skelter out of the house that once contained it, the stuff generated by a failed marriage is a jangling testament to the ugly, tangled thing that love and hope can become when fear, disappointment, and betrayal mutate it into rage and hate.
Stuff gets lost. So do a lot of other things.