12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (70)
January 3, 2021
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.
Lydia felt the unfamiliar weight even as she stepped over the threshold of Stacy’s flat, and when, in the hall, she reached her hand into her pocket, the metal rectangle fitted snugly into her palm. She continued down the stairs, across the park and towards home, the metal warming, pleasurably, to her touch. Mine, she thought. It felt like a compact, the kind her mother used to have, when she still had a mother.
In the gloom of Stacy’s hall she must have taken the wrong coat. With half a dozen similar garments, the chances of seizing the right one were probably no more than thirty percent. But she could not bear to return to the roomful of guests, braying over the goat cheese tartlets, nor to return the compact. Her own coat, after all, was nearly a decade old, and threadbare, whereas this one, as she strode across the chilly grass, felt comfortingly warm. When Lydia reached her flat, she did not stop to remove it before she examined what she held in her hand.
Not a compact but a cigarette case — a silver cigarette case. Even when she smoked regularly, she had never owned such a thing. Now, as she studied the graceful butterfly on the lid, the wings unspooling in sleek curves and arabesques, she felt a familiar craving. Just one, she thought.
Inside, however, were no cigarettes. Instead the clip held a piece of white paper.
I want to count your fillings and lick your vvertebrae.
Lydia’s first thought was who spelled vertebrae with two “v”s? Her second that she only had two fillings and a crown. She shrugged off the coat, hoping for a clue, only to discover the familiar rip in the lining. The warmer coat was her own.
Light spilled out of the open case. One summer, her mother had explained the birthday problem: how, if only twenty-three people are in a room, the probability that two will have the same birthday is more than fifty percent. Her mother had carefully drawn the graphs. Four men at Stacy’s party had had the initials E.M.; two were brothers. Lydia pictured the man she wished was the author, and the men she hoped weren’t. If fifty-seven people are in a room, the probability of two coinciding passes ninety-nine percent. Probability worked in contrary ways that could be neatly plotted.
Lydia sat down, wrote her own note, tucked it into the case, and headed out to retrace her steps across the park. For the probability to travel that last one percent – from ninety-nine to a hundred – three hundred and sixty-six people had to squeeze into the room. But only one, thought Lydia, would own a silver cigarette case with four butterflies.
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 (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