Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Stuff That Came His Way

The Stuff That Came His Way

Yes, this is about the stuff that came his way
and his way with the stuff. By barter, whim,
or accident, odd items came my father's way.
An huge green spotlight from a Navy
destroyer. He wired the light, placed it outside,
and shined it on the mountain. Why?

. . .An ornate barber's chair--porcelain, chrome,
and leather. It occupied our living-room for
a year. He called it a "conversation piece."
I did not know what that term meant. . . .
A hand-made cross-bow. A mahogany
nutcracker in the shape of a naked woman:
the legs did the cracking (very funny). An

upright porcelain urinal, which he left outside,
leaning against a cedar tree. Dynamite. Mercury.
A Chickering grand piano, made in Boston but first
sold in Portland, Oregon. A ukelele. Hand-made
skis. An antique mechanical apple-peeler. Square
nails. Antique barbed wire. Petrified wood. A
bona fide jalopy, which he rigged to drive
a big-bladed buzz-saw. Bamboo fishing rods,
wire and pipe of all kinds, and a Chinese nightstick.

The intrinsic value of all these things was immediately
clear to me. That they had arrived and were mysterious
was all the verification I required. My father used some
of this stuff, laughed at most of it, misplaced some, and gave
a lot away to anyone who made the mistake of showing
or feigning interest. "Hell, take it--it's yours," he'd say.
It wasn't theirs. It wasn't his. It wasn't anyone's:
that was the problem. Toward all the stuff, my mother
remained skeptical, cooly tolerant. She liked the piano.

She laughed, once, at the nutcracker shaped like a woman.
As for the rest: it was from her point of view part of a
domain mismanaged with great authority by her husband,
my father, who was a kind of intersection of the Dadaist
Movement, of which he wasn't aware, and Daniel Boone.
I have a piece of cinnabar someone gave him. It's very
heavy for its size. I'm hanging on to it. The piano's in
my livingroom. I'm restoring his Ford pickup. His stuff,
it came my way. Like him, I'm a magnet for stuff.
Copyright 2009 Hans Ostrom
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