On Thursday I learned that the contents of unit 3099 of American Self Storage on Clinton Street in Brooklyn — including a file cabinet stuffed with papers and computer disks containing everything I wrote between about 1983 and 2003 – was sold to the highest bidder in an auction. Also in the unit: all of my wife Alisa’s photographs, for which she has no duplicates, from her childhood, teens, and twenties; her birth certificate; a turn-of-the-century, twenty volume encyclopedia of literature and philosophy, illustrated with beautiful etchings, that we bought from a library in the Berkshires and never would have read but loved the idea of reading during a sabbatical; four well-used beach chairs, an antique dining table that my father gave us as a wedding gift, beautiful but not quite right for our apartment which caused us guilt; and roughly 8 feet cubed of other furniture, junk and memorabilia we couldn’t bring ourselves to properly archive or throw away, the detritus of the first half of our lives.
The auctioneer, a nice man in his 60s named Don Bader, told me he has “no beef with us” and says that we sound “very nice.” He put in a call to the man who bought our belongings – “a family man who doesn’t a speak good English,” he tells me — but we should assume that he has already thrown out all of our photographs and papers.
This misfortune was caused by a combination of my lackluster bill paying skills, and the ineptitude, and quite possibly criminal neglect, of American self-storage. Long story short: my credit card number changed a couple months ago, and I entirely forgot that this would cause my storage auto-pay to fail. In mid-July, while we were in vacation in Maine, American Self-Storage – hereafter ASS – left two rather cryptic messages on my cell phone asking me to “call them.” I figured it was about the credit card and called them last Thursday to update it. I was told that our belongings were sold on August 3.
What I feel, more than anything else, is the sense of loss that a prosecuting attorney must feel when critical evidence is destroyed. Evidence of my younger self – how I thought, felt, came at the world. I remember plenty, of course, but I have become much more aware in the last few years of what a small subset of the whole we recall. I used to think memory was a colander that catches experiences of outsized significance to us, for one reason or another; now I think it’s more like a pair of tongs, and life, a conveyer belt of events. It’s not that we forget some things or a portion of our experiences; it’s that we forget most things.
The experiencing of having two kids has driven this home – during Declan’s first year I was amazed by how much my parents and friends had forgotten about the details of early parenthood; during Grey’s first year I was amazed by how much I had forgotten about Declan’s first year.
This may seem like a rather grim way to start a blog – my first blog, at the tender age of 41 – but it feels appropriate to begin with a great loss of memory, because the loss has motivated me to pull the trigger on this project. The purpose of this blog is to harvest memory – if the present is a combine mowing down moments (thanks for indulging me here), this blog is a bin in which to catch them. My storage unit may be empty due to late bill payment, but my kids’ are empty because they have just begun to live.