Archive for the ‘memories’ Category


Familiarity and subjective time

October 29, 2007

Why does the return trip seem to pass more quickly? Growing up, I noticed this on our weekend trips upstate. The trip home often seemed shorter than the trip out. Does anticipation stretch subjective time? Does familiarity with the route shrink it?

If familiarity with “the route” contracts subjective time, is this why each year seems to pass more quickly? Or are our minds – especially compared to those of children, the best learners – slowing down?



August 8, 2007

I’ve always been fascinated by historical calamity. Thus a recent trip to Washington found me at Lincoln’s box in Ford’s Theater. Lincoln (who shares my birthday) had been seated in a rocking chair with his back to the door, which is now dutch-style and impassable to visitors. As I scanned the burgundy and gold carpet from the doorway, I noticed something funny: someone had placed a wedge under the front of Lincoln’s chair to keep it from rocking. The chair was not an original and so not in need of extraordinary preservative measures.. which is why I deem the placement of the wedge “unsporting”. I mean sporting in the sense of Roland Barthes’ take on professional wrestling — that people crave the image of the extreme even if know it’s not real.

I don’t believe in ghosts but I do become uneasy in some places. While apartment hunting in April 2001, one place on the corner of Greene and Washington Place came to my attention. Fascinated by historical calamity as I am, I immediately recognized that as the corner across from what had been the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. (The space occupied by the sweatshop is now a biochemistry lab at NYU, i think.) Anyway, even without ghosts, this wasn’t a corner that I would want to wake up to everyday. Ironically, I ended-up moving to an apartment three blocks from the base of the World Trade Center…. (I had been worried about moving there for exactly the right reason but, like Lincoln’s dream about his death, I don’t think that was anything especially prescient. Sometimes paranoia borders on clairvoyance.)


Things that scared me when I was very young

August 6, 2007

Spinning Wheels and Maleficent

The Attic

Wheelchairs (Yes, mostly because of The Changeling)

The deaf kid in kindergarten that shared my first name

My father’s face after shaving off his beard

Kiss album covers

The Happy Birthday to Me poster

The “A Morkyville Horror” episode of Mork & Mindy

The illustration of Rumpelstiltskin in the Gruelle edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales (which somehow menaced me at night from my closet shelf)

A stalagmite that i saw while visiting a cave on vacation in Colorado (which was said to be the outstretched hand of the spirit of a man who had been buried alive there by a cave-in)

The illustration of a dragon in a Sesame Street “Encyclopedia” that was sold at Pathmark

The trailer for The Shining
(From the book, is this the origin of “Redrum”?:

Mommy had scolded Daddy and asked what he was doing, reading a three-year-old baby something so horrible. The name of the story was Bluebeard. That was clear in his mind too, because he thought at first that Daddy was saying Bluebird, and there were no bluebirds in the story, or birds of any kind for that matter. Actually the story was about Bluebeard’s wife, a pretty lady that had corn-colored hair like Mommy. After Bluebeard married her, they lived in a big castle not unlike The Overlook. And every day Bluebeard went off to work and every day he would tell his pretty little wife not to look in a certain room, although the key to that room was hanging right on a hook, just like the passkey was hanging on the office wall downstairs. Bluebeard’s wife had gotten more and more curious about the locked room. She tried to peep through the keyhole the way Danny had tried to look through Room 217’s peephole with similar unsatisfying results. There was even a picture of her getting down and trying to look under the door, but the crack wasn’t wide enough. The door swung wide and …

The Old fairy tale had depicted the discovery in ghastly, loving detail. The image was burned on Danny’s mind. The severed heads of Bluebeard’s seven previous wives were in the room, each one on its own pedestal, the eyes turned up to the whites, the mouths unhinged and gaping in silent screams. They were somehow balanced on necks ragged from the broadsword’s decapitating swing, and there was blood running down the pedestals.


His hand reached out and stroked the room’s doorknob, almost furtively. He had no idea how long he had been here, standing hypnotized before the bland gray locked door.


But Mr. Hallorann — Dick — had also said he didn’t think these things could hurt you. They were like scary pictures in a book, that was all. And maybe he wouldn’t see anything. On the other hand…)


Memory machines

August 4, 2007

Retro Junk aptly proclaims itself as “Your Memory Machine”. This obsession with the “retro” is one of the defining cultural trends of the last 15 years, currently spearheaded by Youtube, Family Guy and Robot Chicken.

This wave of ’70s and ’80s nostalgia will likely roll forward in time with each generation, but the charm of, say, this CBS “Special” Ident, for me is the fact that it was completely lost though dimly remembered for many years:

No subsequent generation is likely to experience such a large, sudden cultural recovery. I thought I would probably never see the ident again, and finding it on Youtube was an experience somewhat like Proust’s tasting of the Madeleine — immediately I was back in December 1980, on an orange shag carpet, up past my 8pm bedtime for the Charlie Brown special. But again, the effectiveness of that clip as a memory machine depends on the fact that it was lost for so many years — otherwise it would have become spread thin over many different times and memories. Always having something at hand allows us to force new associations and obscure older ones, (re)appropriate bits of culture, even.

It’s not the soup can that matters but the world that is referred to by the image. If certain words or symbols are banned/repressed, this will tend to hold still the world that produced them.