The Silence of Unit 3099

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.

2 thoughts on “The Silence of Unit 3099

  1. Rufus:

    I found this post when I wandered onto your blog from a link on facebook. As a fellow hoarder of memories, I can only imagine your heartache when you discovered your stuff was gone. Perhaps a bit of schadenfreude will ease the pain…

    The exact same thing happened to my father — negligence and ineptitude leading to an unpaid storage bill. But in his case, among the treasured objects he lost (and never recovered) were an entire lifetime’s worth of paintings by his mother, a talented artist, and — I shudder to tell you — his mother herself. Well… her remains, at least. Why he was keeping them in a storage unit and not in some tasteful urn on the mantle, I cannot say. My best guess: because he’s my father, that’s why.

    Hope that makes you feel better.

    — Charlie Newton


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