Friday, June 14, 2013

lost / document / binge

When we returned last spring from a few days in Paris, M's bicycle was missing, disappeared from our courtyard where it had been locked up to a permanent rack in the company of a fleet of much nicer rides. This seemed weird in Berlin, where people leave their bikes overnight locked only to themselves with puny, easily cut little cables. A friend who was housesitting our subsequent apartment also had her bicycle, a real clunker, stolen from the courtyard.

One night I was waiting for takeout at the American burger Imbiss – in which, I have to say, the gentlemen behind the glass (one taking orders, ringing people up, putting the finishing touches on orders, the other doing the cooking per se) are often too stoned for even my hazy/lax/low standard...I mean, come on, guys (but the burgers are very good, it's true) – and I was fidgeting with my "Leatherman Micra," a Christmas gift from one of my brothers which had graced my keychain for more than a decade. Upon arriving home with the food and raising my keys to the door lock, I discovered that my beloved knife-tool was gone. On foot and by bicycle I retraced my path a few times, combed the ground by the Imbiss, but my knife/bottle opener/scissors/thingamajig had moved on.
(On the upside, I have finally mastered the art of opening beer bottles with a plastic lighter.)

Wintry Sunday morning. Family en route to the Bergmannkiez for brunch at the house of some friends. I get a flat so we lock our bicycles on Körtestraße within sight of the U-Bahnhof Südstern and take the train. Wednesday night I return to the Körtestraße to collect my bike and discover that M's has merely been locked to itself for the intervening three plus days! However astonishing for me, this also seems more consistent with my personal image of Berlin, although of course one hears all the time that the beaters for sale at the Mauerpark Floh are usually hot.

Hanging out at the Spielplatz on Himmelfahrt, I spy a Kinder traffic jam forming around the peak of the tall metal slide. Some joker has attached an industrial-sized zip-tie to the railing at the top of the ladder, and its long tail is protruding in a way that distracts the older children and impedes the younger ones. I ascend and try to detach it; no go.
"If I had my trusty pocketknife, oh ho," I boast to the friend with whom I am chatting, "I would cut that zip-tie down! But I've lost it somewhere in the Graefekiez."
"Ah, then you have left something in Berlin," she says, "This means you will return."

R and I are accustomed to seeing the vast Tempelhof terminal from the Feld side, when kicking a ball in the grass, say, or pedaling along the fence line that mirrors the terminal’s long curve – at a distance from which its repeating, homogeneous windows and columns look alternately movie-set-like and menacing. Occasionally, in connection with an event like fashion week, a large tent or stage pops up between fence and terminal. Lately R has wanted to stop and watch the crane operating where it appears that some work is being done to a section of roof. The scale, emptiness, decrepitude, and incongruous uses of the terminal all strike me as uniquely Berlin.
Late one rainy morning (at loose ends because the Tagesmutter is sick) we flip our perspective over to the Straße the process of bringing a weeks' long bureaucratic encounter to a conclusion. Approaching the terminal from the east I recall passing in a taxi in the opposite direction when we had only been in Berlin for a week (we were moving by taxi from the Internationales Begegnungszentrum der Wissenschaft to our first apartment in Kreuzberg). It's an impressively curving, homogeneous chunk of cement, with a big scary eagle in the middle. It also feels deserted, for Berlin buildings have a mood.
We are visiting the Zentrales Fundbüro. A couple of months ago I received a very official looking letter informing me that an object of mine had been found. At first I believed it was some kind of scam. How did they track me down? Why did the letter ask me to bring cash to pay some kind of storage fee? This sounded fishy. I asked MS. She said that no, actually, this sounds legit. Another friend, VS, telephoned on my behalf (without such gestures of kindness, my “German,” such as it is, is frequently ineffective). Legit: a Gegenstand of great value and believed to be mine was found in Friedrichshain on March 8 or 9. A couple of weeks later this letter was dispatched. But I have no idea what the object is. I think hard about the very small number of possessions we have with us in Berlin. And I focus on the ones that might be perceived as valuable. I run to the file box. No, everyone’s passports and other documents are here. I haven’t been to Friedrichshain, except for the Oberbaumbrücke, in months. Is it our stolen bicycle? I have the paperwork for that, complete with serial number and purchaser name. Maybe they used our Anmeldung to track me down? I am completely stumped. Through VS, the Fundbüro lady tells me to come to the office and bring my passport.
This is how R (who only wants to know whether they have any toys) and I find ourselves here. The people of the Fundbüro are very kind, but they cannot tell me what the object is or show it to me. I have to describe it to them. And they cannot think of a way to ask me a question that could confirm my ownership but not reveal what the object is (they did confirm that it's not the stolen bicycle). Unless I can remember what I have lost, the mystery will remain unsolved. I really cannot imagine what this object might be, or how it came to be in Friedrichshain in early March...but the Fundbüro lady re-emphasizes its great value. Now I am dying to know why they believe the object could be mine. How did they even come to make that guess?

A couple weeks ago I was scrounging around in my computer, looking for the number of boxes/total weight of our books/stuff that are currently in storage in California, and I came across a diary. Sic passim:


The Great Purge of 2011 has begun.

To start, Harrap’s Super-Mini French-English, the dictionary I took with me to Paris when I was 15...and have absurdly kept all these years.

A crap paperback edition of a decent translation of Notes from Underground.
My incredibly battered high school copy of Crime and Punishment.
Two translations of Bovary: Blair (with Leo Bersani intro); and Hopkins.
I have Norton Critical Editions of these three novels, and, though I’m attached to the idea of having multiple translations around...uh, no.

American Alternative Theatre by Theodore Shank
A Trumpet to Arms: Alternative Media in America by David Armstrong: maybe I’ll donate this to the Berkman Center.

Learning to Listen, a text book from a basic music class I took at Reed, with TS (who recently reminded me about a funny thing that happened with “Hotel California”)
Manic Pop Thrill, a maddeningly bad book about “alternative music” in the 90s. I have made Sharpie refutations on the cover and inside cover. Perhaps I picked it up because it had something about Sonic Youth in it? It’s the only book I’ve ever defaced.
Punk Rock: So What? An interesting looking anthology from Routledge that a Reedie (AR) sent to me when I was in grad school (along with boxes and boxes of whatever other Routledge books I wanted; this one still has her hand-written “here’s your complimentary copy” card on the inside)...pity: this is one that I always meant to read.
Richard Howard’s translation of Jealousy and In the Labyrinth, with introductions by Barthes, among others. I like Robbe-Grillet in theory, but never fell for these novels, weirdly. I should adore them. I don’t.
The chunk of Nin’s diary that the movie “Henry & June” was based on — packaged and sold as “Henry and June, a major motion picture.” Sigh.

The compulsion to document The Great Purge of 2011 is the Greatest Danger facing The Great Purge of 2011.


The gray, Gor-Tex Woolrich parka I received when I was 14 — a Christmas gift? I can’t recall, but its purchase was tied to the ski season somehow. At this point its minimal insulation has turned to nothing, and the internal drawstring for tightening the waist is hanging out of the holes in the nylon. The velcro wrist tighteners work surprisingly well. I would continue to use this fine jacket, which has done me right for some 23 years, but this is precisely the kind of luxury, extra jacket one cannot afford to remain shackled to, when moving to Europe.

A “Gap” brand large brown plaid flannel shirt, which I acquired from ELB, at his moving-out-of-Beacon-Hill house party, which G, M, and SW and I all attended. This shirt was worn daily during the winter of 2010-2011.

It begins to dawn on me that The Great Purge is going to have to be Greater, that I need to approach this reduction in material possessions with even more vigor. I’m not thinking about it radically enough yet.


Today I added several books to the purge pile (like an extra extra copy of The Sorrows of Young Werther) which M was making, and I was only for a moment bothered that I wasn’t recording each of their titles in this diary. Progress.

I did, though, set aside “American Bicycle Racing” for DA (but then I gave it to JF as a token of my gratitude: she loaned me a decent bike to ride around PDX during the Reed Reunion/Centennial). Perhaps I will also pass along to DA the big glossy history of American bicycle manufacturing that maybe MJ gave me for Christmas one year? Yes, I think I shall.


I listed my Fat Chance for sale in the classifieds of the Fat Chance owners’ online forum.


Today I was able to pass along, to S and N, the copy of Apples to Apples that MD & AM brought us a couple of Thanksgivings ago. And M shed a huge pile of maternity clothes, etc.


I made contact with JK, who owns a bespoke bicycle shop in Union Square. I’ve arranged to visit him this week to discuss potential owners for the Basso.


Reunions was terrific fun, but I’m not sure the attendant nostalgia wallowing helps buttress The Great Purge of 2011. Could go either way.


OK, definitely giving DA the Helmut Newton thing I have, as well as the American Bicycle dealybob. RM gets the Inventions and Discoveries book. I will saddle Misha with the Olympia edition of Zazie Dans Le Metro. I will send an extra copy of the journal with “x country” in it to BT, and MMG should receive some weird book/publication as well. (The first volume in The Last Man, I think.)


Fat Chance: sold to one EP, a welder and fabricator with some connection to Metro Pedal Power in Union Square.


First cut at clothing sort today, will be throwing off a huge amount in this zone...and also trashed a number of worn out wifebeaters and socks.

Another round of hard looks at the downstairs book case. Oh, I shall be distributing many gifts, and hopefully selling the Norton Anthology of English literature.

Also, today we completed a first cut at the “available now” and “available at month’s end” to sell/dump lists...they are quite long. I hope people actually buy this stuff. If not, Craigslist: free.


Added to the dump pile of books and sorted out the various gifts and such...

Sent Theory and the Evasion of History and the first volume of the comic series Unmanned to MMG via interoffice mail. Btab says she will take Frank and Esmerelda.

DJ will purchase several (many!) items, including the queen size mattress.

AS is the happy recipient of my old Sidi “evolution” x/mtb shoes.


Taking to Garment District/donation bin today...and this is real end-of-an-era stuff: the blue Boy Scout shirt, the White House windbreaker, the old “textrop” cop uniform shirt -- all purchased in NYC, not to mention a sweater that AZ randomly bought me one year, the green fleece hoody AM gave me when M and I visited the city from LA and drove up to Binghamton. The “smoking and coffee drinking” jacket from the Seattle year, the fleece adult romper, the bathrobe I took to college, a bunch of other crappy old shirts, none of which ever resonated the way the NYC-era ones did (purchased at Domsie’s before Willy-B was Willy-B)...and last but most certainly not least, the brown sweater with orange and white stripes from K...which has now unraveled more or less I said: end of an era. (And Garment District refused it all: too well worn, HA!)


A colleague of M’s took the old pine CD shelf today, and, as the Berkmaniacs were volunteering at Cradles to Crayons this morning, I hauled all of RJKY’s clothes over for donation — all of them. It was three big garbage bags. Phew. We kept just a few things (like hand knit things from grandmas and such).


RM and DA came for “linner” and left with the items we had set aside for them.


More attacking of the bookshelves: everything from a crap copy of Streetcar Named Desire to the Cliffs’ Notes I used to keep around for busting plagiarizers to the “Atlas of Ancient History” -- getting very aggressive in shedding books.


Purging has been purring along splendidly. I even tossed the issue of Nat Geo about the bicentennial of the French revolution that I had been dragging with me since 1989. Of course I had to psych myself up to such a drastic action in a session with the therapist, but progress is progress.


I can report that the Purge is going splendidly because I haven’t thought once about reporting that the Purge is going splendidly, or what that means...such as: I threw away the bathrobe I took with me to college.


Today I rode M’s bike, towing the trailer, and carried six grocery bags of books to Harvard Square. The heat index was 104. Raven paid us $110 for a little more than half of them. Now we see what will take, then assess whether to keep/sell to Lorem Ipsum/leave in Cambridge DPW’s community bookshelf.


The green glass ashtray from that thrift store in PDX? The back issues of Index Magazine? Gone, all gone. And more gone, too, much, much more...

[And while the table was sold off, well, this strap-on highchair actually accompanied us to Berlin, in a suitcase, giggle.]


2,000 lbs, 71 boxes, three pallets, Amtrak. Five boxes of recycled files stay to rot in Mass: my entire academic career.


PTSD. That is all.


There is more purging to be done, once the last-minute boxes arrive here in Irvine...


Some casualties of The Purge as I remember them:
Kia Kaha shirt. Sweated all the way through during final moving day. Abandoned in hotel.
Queens College sweatshirt: the legend: was so thin you could see through it. Trashed.
Bag of really expensive creams (facial?) in fridge. Couldn’t call M to double-check about them: too late, risked waking R in hotel room.
Apart from useful items left for new tenants (lightbulbs, beer, etc.), there were also at least three easter eggs: Steingass, Behbahani, and the painting that [...] gave [...].
Sunglasses, with their case and wipe, from the sunglass shop we went to in Cairo with S & N.
I think I must have said this already: but I recyled all of my files except for a small number that contained correspondence from friends/family/others, as well as files containing official records from Reed and CUNY. But the work “beneath,” as it were, those official records is all gone now: all of the syllabi and photocopied readings and notes and printed papers covered in professors’ comments: all gone. that’s it. i cut too deep in this area, i think, but only in an imaginary way. i.e. i only feel the loss of these files because i threw them out. i hadn’t otherwise looked at them in a decade.

the tapes, by contrast, I may end up genuinely missing, though there again: i had started the digitization project but couldn’t seem to make much headway. i saved any tape that was a) a radio show by someone i know; b) a mixtape from someone i know; c) a recording of someone i know (mainly JP,B,P et al); or d) something Sonic Youth-related (e.g., a bootleg of a live show with Helium from 1996 or so). That means I lost -- let’s see if I can remember at least some of what’s gone...


I’ll add more here later.
Or maybe not.
Did we cut deep enough? No. Did we cut too deep? Yes. Will this be our last move? No. Will this be our last move? Yes. What is it about us -- humans -- that makes objects so difficult to part from?


I bequeathed my “in Arabic” t-shirt to F.


I am giving up on this journal.


A Belated Meta-Purge:

Ash, you absconded with my copy of Way by Leslie Scalapino (RIP) and a Braudel tome of M’s.
Brother JM, did you ever return our copy of Slingshot Hiphop? M's Ashura in Burma footage?
Mowgli, do you plan to reunite me with my omnibus Lilith's Brood?


  1. Did I mention that I did at one point actually spot our stolen bicycle, locked up to a lamppost on a nearby street? #brazen

  2. There was even more purging in the return to the US of A: that ratty old Montclair State University cleaning staff shirt I bought at Domsey's in 1997; the ancient Burley rain jacket that had been with me since high school; a “Xenogears” post card book (ISBN4-925075-19-5 C0076) that had been with me since 1998 (?).

  3. And when we began in NYC to unpack everything that had been in storage for two years, the survivors, as it were, of the purge, I found that, in fact, yes, I really had been in a radical mood: all my old coffee mugs were gone, including the one with "Drink your coffee. There are children sleeping in China." printed on it.

  4. But thanks to friends, we did regain our wedding mirror, my grandfather's valet chair, and my Nakamichi tape deck.

  5. Let the record show that, via EtG, Way found its way back to me on February 6, 2015.

  6. I have relocated the Excel spreadsheet in which, over the years, I had recorded a majority of the photocopied books and articles in my file cabinet. So the photocopies are gone, and all my annotations with them, but this odd spreadsheet trace of them lives on...

  7. Every day in every way I'm getting better and better...I didn't document anything cast off this time around.

  8. This time, though, I feel compelled to mention that I am throwing away some artifacts of my past life/lives that date to the late 90s: a wallet made out of vinyl and duck tape that an ex-girlfriend gave me many years ago (unfolded, it instructs the user not to mix drinks and to drink water, as well as instructs a third party on where to leave the user if he is found passed out somewhere); a sew-on "Too Drunk To Fuck" patch (who gave this to me?); and one of those Sennheiser tools that looks like a pen but is for adjusting microphones (a gift from Bun, who'd used it on a sound gig that involved, if memory serves, Gorbachev).

  9. In 2011, someone out there received as a gift my copy of Cigarettes Are Sublime. Who? Why would I have parted with it?

  10. thrown away: a gift, a piece of paper with metal beads glued to it: "a night full of talking that hurts -- my worst held-back secrets. everything has to do with loving and not loving. this night will pass. then we have work to do" (rumi).

  11. I found something today in a box. I am not going to tell you or write down what it is. I am simply going to throw it out (recycle it, rather; that's a hint...).