12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (86)
December 26, 2022
One in an ongoing, seasonal series via which we cross-post stories originally written — by HILOBROW contributors and friends — for Josh Glenn and Rob Walker’s 2009–2010 anthropological-literary experiment SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS. This 2022–2023 installment of 12 stories will bring the series total to 96. See below for links to more info about both SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS and PROJECT:OBJECT.
In the fall of 1991, Olivia Mendel was 27 years old. Her face held a small dreamy smile, and her hair smelled like crayons. She was beginning her third year teaching fourth grade at Schechter Elementary, and we loved her.
Ms. Mendel taught us long division: Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring-down. “Dad, Mom, Sis, Bro,” we whispered to ourselves. She taught us the days of the week in sign language and the months of the year in Spanish. Around Halloween, Ms. Mendel confessed to us that she was a “chocoholic,” and Ano Balakrishnan’s mother called a special session of the PTA to discuss his teacher’s drinking problem. During the long, dark winter, Ms. Mendel read us Where the Red Fern Grows, and when Old Dan and Little Ann came to the end, her eyes squeezed shut.
We offered Ms. Mendel seaglass, gum, a mouse skull, rice cakes, cherry tomatoes, friendship bracelets, baseball cards, bottle caps, paper cranes, daisy chains, four-leaf clovers, string cheese, Piccolo Petes, Pixy Stix, and pinch pots. She accepted them all with solemn grace.
In the spring of 1991 — and for ten years before and after — my mother was a pilot. She flew long haul night cargo flights between Baffin Island, Canada and Lima, Peru. She called home every afternoon and shouted cheerfully into the phone, “We’re in the same time zone, Hooky!” I remember her shoulder pads drying on a rack in the laundry room. My father called them her wings.
My father, a reserved man who was happiest on long, solitary walks, was uncharacteristically enthusiastic when I mentioned my idea for the gift. “Oh, she’ll be thrilled,” he said with curious force. And together we chose the wood, cut it down and sanded it, whittled out the round O and angled M’s, glued the pieces together. Our steady, quiet work was punctuated by his occasional musings, “Can you believe it’s May already?” and “It’s just, just lovely that you’re doing this for her,” and “I guess we might not see much of her over the summer.” He seemed to be speaking to himself more than to me.
The morning the gift was finished, the last hook in place and the last coat of poly dry to the touch, like magic, my mother appeared. Her uniform was soiled and shoulder pads deflated, but she wore an enormous smile. My father stood, his eyes glittering. She came toward us, her weary arms outstretched. “Oh Hooky, look at that!” she said, bending toward the gift. Lunging wildly, I knocked her arms away, snatched the # 1 Mom hooks up, and ran, down our front walk, across the street, and up the hill toward school.
I left the gift on her chair, didn’t think a card was necessary. The object spoke for itself: “To Ms. Olivia Mendel, My Number One. Love, Hooky.”
It was the only gift I ever gave that made somebody cry.
CROSS-POSTED FROM SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS: 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 | 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