Friday, December 16, 2011
Swan Song XXII--antique
There's a pile of papers slowly accumulating on the desk beside me, growing every minute as students are finishing the exam. Beside that pile sits a tiny stapler I brought along from my desk drawer so that students could bring all the pages of the test together and seal up the mess.
"Whoa," one kid says when he brings his test up. He grabs the stapler as if it were something he'd just found in the tomb of Tutenkhamun, twirls it adoringly in his fingers, smashes the papers together, and makes that little red thing do its work on his exam. "Is this an antique?" he says.
I was stunned. That little Swingline is, was, and forever shall be little more than a little stapler. An antique? "I don't know," I told him. "It's just a little stapler."
He put it down gently, a museum piece.
When he left, I picked it up myself. I'd never thought of that thing as an antique. I'd hauled it out of my office desk drawer just as I'd done countless times before at exam time, made sure it was loaded with miniature staples from a little box I bought on e-bay a decade ago or so, and went off, armed, to class.
I'd never thought of it as an antique, whatever that is, never even valued it all that much. When finally I'd run out of staples, I remember having to hunt longer than I wanted to; but it never really dawned on me to toss that little red stapler, even though I could have picked up some replacement at Wal-Mart for something less than three bucks, I bet. In fact, when I found the staples on e-bay, they came with three more little Swinglines--obviously descendents--in a package deal. So my desk drunk drawer had all sorts of little Swinglines, this one--the one that stopped the kid in his tracks--the obvious grandpappy, its inscription balding on the housing.
An antique? Sure, I told myself. I suppose it is an antique.
I don't remember buying it, but I know very well, somehow, that it's been with me for, lo, these many years. I had it in my desk drawer when I lived in the dorm, in fact. The more I think about it even now, the more I think it may well be the only thing--the only something--that's been in my possession for what now amounts to something close to a half century.
I mean, I've got no antique underwear. No old sportcoat would fit, I'm sure. Socks, shoes, sweaters, jeans?--long gone, out of style. Books?--I've got an ancient brick-like thesaurus, but when I moved into the dorm, the jock from Wisconsin would have thought a thesaurus was a dinosaur. I bought it here. Luggage has been replaced decades ago. Girlfriends are history. Even my hair is gone. All I got is DNA and a little red Swingline.
"You can't take it with you" makes all kinds of sense when it comes to death and dying, but I guess its proverbial half-life extends to our own four-score and ten as well. We just don't take many things along on the pilgrimage, really--or if we do, eventually we toss 'em. Stuff wears out or gets tossed or loses its calling, like those lumbering threshers stuck forever in fields along gravel roads out here in farm country.
Really, things don't fall apart all that much either; they just get replaced. I honestly don't remember anything else I took with me when I came to Sioux Center, Iowa, in September of 1966. Even my baseball glove--a Rawlings, Eddie Matthews signature--is landfill. The stereo--big winged speakers, all turntable--a monster so portable it took up an entire shelf, was gone only four years later. I remember fondly the one I bought when I got my first teaching job--flashy round speakers. I was really living.
What of my possessions has really stayed with me? Only a stapler, a Swingline, a little red thing that's done its dutiful, blessed work without complaining for almost fifty years, only rarely rescued from its dark home in whatever desk drawer I swing my legs beneath. Only a stapler has come along.
Truth be known, I used it yesterday again, stapled a couple of things in my office. But I haven't taken it along to class since the day it was lavishly honored. I lugged along one of those cheap descendents instead, a little pinkish imp constructed of plastic you can almost see through.
Not like my old, little Swingline.
It's an antique, and it won't get tossed when I empty that office drawer in six months. No way.
But it will eventually, when I'm gone. My daughter will take the contents of whatever junk drawer it's tucked in then, empty the mess into a Wal-Mart bag, and toss it.
Maybe. Maybe she'll spot this old thing herself and look at it closely.
Maybe she'll look at it like that kid. "Wow," she'll tell herself. "That's an antique."
Wouldn't that be sweet?