12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (65)
December 29, 2020
One in an ongoing, seasonal series of posts in which we reprint stories originally written — by HILOBROW contributors and friends — for Josh Glenn and Rob Walker’s 2009–2010 anthropological-literary experiment SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS. This 2020–2021 installment of 12 stories will bring the series total to 72. See below for links to more info about both SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS and PROJECT:OBJECT.
I was more or less in love with this girl, and her name was Samantha. I thought I was ugly, and she thought she was, but the truth is she was beautiful from every direction you could name, and in bed we made each other feel like astronauts. I had a way of entertaining her with the most common phrases, like “I’ll read you the riot act” or “Mum’s the word.” She used this lavender face soap, and I always said that kissing her was like chewing on a flower, which made her laugh, and that was the main thing, but I meant it, too, so what can you do?
She liked to tell me about her childhood, all the buzz and adventure of it, and every so often she would ask me to share a story from my own. “It was just your ordinary childhood,” I would say. “I seem to recall there was some upbringing involved, and then, all of a sudden, I was upbrought.”
And she would stroke my wrist and say, “Nothing about you is ordinary. Not to me.”
So I would make up something about the day I got caught trying to climb onto the roof of my school or the time I adopted a stray dog and hid him in the basement. The truth is that I didn’t remember my childhood, or at least not much of it. It was as if I had reached puberty, taken the first twelve years of my life, and stuffed them in a sack. I was one of those people.
Samantha was always coming home with these trinkets she would pick up at thrift stores or flea markets. One day, on the kitchen counter, I found this little rope and wood figurine, about the size of a saltshaker. It looked exactly like a toy my dad had bought for me at a garage sale when I was a kid: the same spoon-shaped ears, the same Chinese hat. I had named him Mickey the Drum, I remembered. I had a vivid recollection of looking at him on the shelf above my dresser and feeling this bottomless sadness that he didn’t have a mouth.
All of the weight in me seemed to sink to the floor suddenly, as if some plug had been popped loose and I was being tugged down out of myself. That was the beginning for me.
A few nights later, when Samantha asked me for a story from my childhood, I obliged her. I told her about the time I woke up and it had snowed and I stood at my window eating maple and brown sugar oatmeal and watching the flakes tumble from the sky. The next night, I described the sock fights I used to have with my cousin, the two of us whipping each other with these athletic socks that had tennis balls stuffed in their toes. And then there was the day I wore a temporary tattoo to school that said “Lawyers do it in their briefs.” And losing my walkie-talkie at the grocery store. And making the lion at the zoo roar by yawning at him.
My childhood was fine, it was nothing, and before long a funny thing happened. Samantha quit asking me about it. There was no mystery to me anymore, and I think she realized that. Now, in the evening, when we watch TV, I might say “He gives me the willies” or “That really gets my goat,” and she will pinch out a smile but she will not laugh, and I can see her wondering if I might not be ordinary.
I remember what it felt like to wake in the morning with her hands holding tight to me and my pajamas already half off. There was a time, and not so long ago, when the days rang out like coins.
REPRINTED FROM SIGNIFICANTOBJECTS.COM: Matthew Battles on CANDYLAND | Patrick Cates on MEAT TENDERIZER | Matthew De Abaitua on PIGGY BANK | Mark Frauenfelder on JUG | Jason Grote on DOME DOLL | Mimi Lipson on HALSTON MUG | Annie Nocenti on JFK BUST | Gary Panter on DIVE MASK | James Parker on KITTY SAUCER | Greg Rowland on MUSHROOM SHAKER | Luc Sante on FLANNEL BALL | Douglas Wolk on PORTABLE HAIR DRYER | Annalee Newitz on COCONUT CUP | Cintra Wilson on TROPHY | Jen Collins on UNCOLA GLASS | Joanne McNeil on GRAIN THING | Jonathan Lethem on MISSOURI SHOTGLASS | Sarah Weinman on UNICORN FIGURINE | Shelley Jackson on CRUMB SWEEPER | Barbara Bogaev on JUST MARRIED CUP | Dan Reines on FRIDAY MUG | Jenny Offill on MINIATURE TURKEY DINNER | Katie Hennessey on WOODEN FIGURINE | James Hannaham on NAPKIN RING | Bruce Sterling on METAL BOOT | Colson Whitehead on WOODEN MALLET | Jenny Davidson on TOY HOT DOG | Kate Bernheimer on PINK HORSE | Lydia Millet on CHILI CAT | Matthew Sharpe on MULE FIGURINE | Meg Cabot on WOODEN ANIMAL | Sara Ryan on POPSICLE STICK CONSTRUCTION | Ed Park on COW VASE | Jessica Helfand on ELVIS CHOCOLATE TIN | Sheila Heti on CAPE COD SHOE | William Gibson on “HAWK” ASHTRAY | Ben Greenman on SMILING MUG | Dean Haspiel on KENTUCKY DISH | Doug Dorst on RUSSIAN FIGURE | Kurt Andersen on SANTA NUTCRACKER | Matt Brown on CRUMPTER | Chris Adrian on KANGAMOUSE | Nicholson Baker on MEAT THERMOMETER| Rachel Axler on FORTUNE TELLING DEVICE | Sean Howe on PABST BOTTLE OPENER | Susannah Breslin on NECKING TEAM BUTTON | Tim Carvell on ROUND BOX | Susanna Daniel on SHARK AND SEAL PENS | Curtis Sittenfeld on SPOTTED DOGS FIGURINE | Matthew Klam on DUCK VASE | Merrill Markoe on FLIP-FLOP FRAME | Blake Butler on UTAH SNOW GLOBE | Neil LaBute on RABBIT CANDLE | Rob Agredo on LIGHTER SHAPED LIKE SMALL POOL BALL | Rosecrans Baldwin on PRAYING HANDS | Rob Baedeker on FOPPISH FIGURINE | Scarlett Thomas on BIRTHDAY CANDLES | Wayne Koestenbaum on DUCK NUTCRACKER | Jeff Turrentine on “WOMEN & INFANTS” GLASS | Joe Lyons on LETTERS AND NUMBERS PLATE | Adam Davies on TROLL NUTCRACKER | Myla Goldberg on HAND-HELD BUBBLE BLOWER | Dan Chaon on COOKING FORK | Jenny Hayes on DOLPHIN BOX | Kevin Brockmeier on ROPE/WOOD MONKEY | Miranda Mellis on BRASS APPLE | Todd Pruzan on GOLF BALL BANK | Toni Schlesinger on 4-TILE | Stacey Levine on BAR MITZVAH BOOKENDS | Margot Livesey on CIGARETTE CASE | Joe Wenderoth on BALANCING BIRD THING | Charles Baxter on CERAMIC SHELL | Thomas Bartlett on DEVICE | Claire Zulkey on FLINTSTONE PEZ | Betsey Swardlick on DILBERT | Sung J. Woo on BIRD FIGURINE | Tom McNeely on CAT MUG | J. Robert Lennon on CHOIRBOY FIGURINE | Matthew J. Wells on BBQ SAUCE JAR | Maud Newton on CRACKER BARREL ORNAMENT | Stewart O’Nan on DUCK TRAY | Meghan O’Rourke on FELT MOUSE | Lauren Mechling on BLUE VASE | Mark Sarvas on AMACO YOYO | Andrew Ervin on IDOL | Rachel Berger on #1 MOM HOOKS | Nomi Kane on ALIEN TOY | Nick Asbury on CLOWN | Lucinda Rosenfeld on CREAMER COW | Ben Katchor on MAINE STATUTES DISH | Mark Doty on FISH SPOONS | Sarah Rainone on IRELAND COW PLATE | Stephen Elliott on HAWAIIAN UTENSILS | R.K. Scher on INDIAN MAIDEN | Ben Ehrenreich on JAR OF MARBLES | Glen David Gold on KNEELING MAN FIGURINE | Lizzie Skurnick on PEN STAND.
ALSO SEE: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | POLITICAL OBJECTS (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 (4Q2017) | FLAIR (2Q2018) | FOSSILS (4Q2018) | FETISHES (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS (2Q2020) | SEMIO OBJECTS (2Q2021) | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | LOST OBJECTS (forthcoming from Hat & Beard Press, 2022) | 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.
CURATED SERIES at HILOBROW: RETRO VIRUS by Douglas Wolk | UNBORED CANON by Josh Glenn | CARPE PHALLUM by Patrick Cates | MS. K by Heather Kasunick | HERE BE MONSTERS by Mister Reusch | DOWNTOWNE by Bradley Peterson | #FX by Michael Lewy | PINNED PANELS by Zack Smith | TANK UP by Tony Leone | OUTBOUND TO MONTEVIDEO by Mimi Lipson | TAKING LIBERTIES by Douglas Wolk | STERANKOISMS by Douglas Wolk | MARVEL vs. MUSEUM by Douglas Wolk | NEVER BEGIN TO SING by Damon Krukowski | WTC WTF by Douglas Wolk | COOLING OFF THE COMMOTION by Chenjerai Kumanyika | THAT’S GREAT MARVEL by Douglas Wolk | LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE by Chris Spurgeon | IMAGINARY FRIENDS by Alexandra Molotkow | UNFLOWN by Jacob Covey | ADEQUATED by Franklin Bruno | QUALITY JOE by Joe Alterio | CHICKEN LIT by Lisa Jane Persky | PINAKOTHEK by Luc Sante | ALL MY STARS by Joanne McNeil | BIGFOOT ISLAND by Michael Lewy | NOT OF THIS EARTH by Michael Lewy | ANIMAL MAGNETISM by Colin Dickey | KEEPERS by Steph Burt | AMERICA OBSCURA by Andrew Hultkrans | HEATHCLIFF, FOR WHY? by Brandi Brown | DAILY DRUMPF by Rick Pinchera | BEDROOM AIRPORT by “Parson Edwards” | INTO THE VOID by Charlie Jane Anders | WE REABSORB & ENLIVEN by Matthew Battles | BRAINIAC by Joshua Glenn | COMICALLY VINTAGE by Comically Vintage | BLDGBLOG by Geoff Manaugh | WINDS OF MAGIC by James Parker | MUSEUM OF FEMORIBILIA by Lynn Peril | ROBOTS + MONSTERS by Joe Alterio | MONSTOBER by Rick Pinchera | POP WITH A SHOTGUN by Devin McKinney | FEEDBACK by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FTW by John Hilgart | ANNOTATED GIF by Kerry Callen | FANCHILD by Adam McGovern | BOOKFUTURISM by James Bridle | NOMADBROW by Erik Davis | SCREEN TIME by Jacob Mikanowski | FALSE MACHINE by Patrick Stuart | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (cross-posted from Significant Objects website) | UNBORED MANIFESTO by Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen | H IS FOR HOBO by Joshua Glenn | 4CP FRIDAY by guest curators