LOST OBJECTS (41)
November 17, 2019
One in an ongoing series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. In 2017, Project:Object’s Josh Glenn and Rob Walker asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. The first Lost Objects series was such a hit with readers, and so fun for us to publish, that we’ve decided it deserves a sequel.
UPDATE: The Lost Objects book was published in September 2022 by Hat & Beard Press. Check it out!
When elephants from the same herd re-encounter one another in the wild, it’s not unusual for them to defecate in joy. That’s how I felt when I unwrapped the Noah’s Ark I received for Christmas when I was eight.
The animals, which didn’t fit inside the ark, came separately, in two clear plastic bags. They weren’t intended to be realistic, but neither were they blatantly “cute,” like many of the toy animals I owned. They didn’t pander. They didn’t come with human clothes or ribbons in their hair. Indeed, there was nothing human about them. They came from another world—a world where animals were happy, plump, and outrageously colorful. One of the camels had a blue snout; the lion had a pink mane; the kangaroo couple both appeared to be wearing lipstick. The squirrels were atomic orange, and the alligators electric green. But they all paled beside the elephants.
They were the color of Pepto-Bismol. Their bright pink trunks stuck out gleefully in front of them, coiling up sweetly at the tip. All the other animals came two by two, in male and female pairs, but the elephants were a trio. A family, in fact: a small-tusked daddy, a wide-eyed mommy, and a trotting, open-mouthed calf. As a middle child flanked by brothers, it was the family constellation I’d always longed for: the perfect triangle. Mommy-daddy-me. Those elephants were Platonic ideals, forms in which the playful shape of the other animals was fully realized. Proud, jubilant, and forward-looking, they embodied a way of being-in-the-world I could never have imagined. They were irrationally overjoyed.
The ark itself was the first to go. I took it with me into the tub and discovered it didn’t hold water. It was cheaply made and broke easily. The animals followed, one by one. A penguin got sucked up by the vacuum cleaner. Mrs. Noah was flushed down into the toilet. The others were lost along the way, but I kept the elephants for over fifteen years. Eventually, they too left me. I knew they would.
From time to time, I’ll scour eBay looking for a replica of my toy. I’ve become familiar with all the cheap plastic Noah’s Arks from the early 1970s—the one made by Arco, whose collectible animals were given away with gasoline, the ones by Fisher Price, Chadwick Miller, and Playmobil—but mine isn’t among them. Curiously, however, I’ve found some of “my” animals—a pert skunk, a vibrant kangaroo—among the creatures that ostensibly belong to other Noah’s Ark sets. I recognize them at once by their color and carefree attitude. It’s almost as if they’re spreading out their magic, deliberately infiltrating the ranks of ordinary human toys. But those fantastic elephants are never among them.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: See sidebar.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Sarah Williamson is a children’s book author, illustrator and artist in NYC.
LOST OBJECTS 2: INTRODUCTION | Geoff Manaugh on MOROCCAN TRINKET (ill. Mariana Pita) | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Laura Lippman on LABYRINTH GAME (ill. Laura Didyk) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Neil LaBute on PICKLED OCTOPUS (ill. Disa Wallander) | Miranda Mellis on SEQUINED SCARF (ill. Adam Goldberg) | Chris Piascik on GENERAL HUSTLER BMX | Jenny Kroik on MISSING TOY PIECES | Anita Kunz on FLOWER NECKLACE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Heather Kapplow on CERAMIC ARTWORK (ill. Matt Wuerker) | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | Leah Hennessey on BATMAN RING (ill. Dean Haspiel) | Kathryn Davis on PRAYER CARD (ill. Dina Noto) | Mikita Brottman on PINK ELEPHANTS (ill. Sarah Williamson) | Nathaniel Rich on AUTOGRAPHED BASEBALL (ill. Ellen Rose) | Charles Glaubitz on TRACK SHOES | Seth on ENTERPRISE MODEL | Becky Stern on SKELETON SWEATER (ill. Monica Garwood) | Mark Dery on GRANDFATHER PHOTO (ill. Kelli Anderson) | Paola Antonelli on VINYL SKIRT (ill. Guillermo Meraz) | Sara Ryan on FINGER PUPPET (ill. Steve Lieber) | Alex Gerasev on KARMA PARKA | Margaret Wertheim on ECCENTRIC BOOK (ill. Armando Veve).
FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.