Every now and then I empty out my pockets to examine flotsam I have recently carried and transported and transferred from one pocket to the other. It could be items that, over a two or three week period, I’ve removed from dirty pants pockets on the closet floor and relocated to pockets within a (relatively cleaner) pair of pants or shorts, almost always the ones I put on and wear for the day. Two or three weeks—that’s about the maximum amount of time I transfer most objects from pocket to pocket to pocket before I figure out what to do with them, whether trash them, do something the object tells me to do, or repurpose them, occasionally randomly sending an object through the mail to friends.
It’s remarkable what a fistful of objects, pulled from pockets on any given day, can tell me (and you) about how I’ve recently been living, what I’ve been thinking and doing, and what they may represent of the past—my past, a location’s past, a family’s past. They may also foretell, whether completion of a mundane task or indicative of a more significant beginning.
1. Parking Receipt: Space 73849, November 17, 2015. Minneapolis recently converted many of its metered street parking spaces to a solar-powered electronic “multispace” pay system that accept coins and credit cards. Park at a metered space, go to a pay station, and enter the number associated with the parking space. After plugging in some coins or swiping a credit card, hit Print Receipt and go on your way for an hour or two. You must print the receipt, and the system advises you strongly to keep the receipt “in case of a problem.” I almost always heed that advice, each time imagining that I pull out the receipt in triumph as a meter maid (if they still exist) is writing a ticket (if they still do that). This receipt is for space 73849 in the Uptown area of Minneapolis, across the street from the independent bookshop Magers & Quinn, where I went to buy two used books: Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Lost and Found by Kate St. Vincent Vogl, who is teaching a writing workshop this weekend that I am attending, the first I’ve attended in many, many years. I paid 25 cents for nearly an hour of parking time, charged to a debit card at 12:45pm on a rainy Tuesday.
2. Two One-Dollar Bills and Three Quarters I try to carry cash as often as possible and typically transfer that cash from one pocket to another until it dwindles down to coins, which I then drop into a money jar that sits in our living room. The $2.75 left in my pocket this morning started as a $40 ATM withdrawal last week at a Holiday convenience store. This morning I purchased a cappuccino at Five Watt in Minneapolis for $3.75 with a five dollar bill. For whatever reason, I didn’t put any change from the purchase into the tip jar, which I typically do. A quarter seemed too little, a dollar too much, the amount of thought extravagant for whatever tiny impact the tip might make. But, c’est la vie, sometimes you think too much and end up with a dollar more.
3. Four Pens, Various Colors. I usually have one pen in my pocket at any time but it’s not as if I keep a journal or find myself scribbling notes. I don’t journal, though I do write letters and often think that, wherever I’m going, maybe I’ll write a letter to a friend when I get there. Thus, four pens, each one picked up from around the house and put in my pocket, thinking “I just might write a letter to a friend.” The outlier in this pocket collection is the pen plus stylus that I picked up at a legal conference back when I could confidently say I was an attorney. I don’t keep it for sentimental reasons. I just happened to pick it up recently to jot something down, liked how it felt, and it’s now part of the pack, where it will probably hang around for a few days before it’s set down and forgotten about once more.
4. Car and Driver Subscription Mailing Label. Max once had an obsession with cars and had watched nearly every episode of Top Gear on Netflix. One Christmas or birthday, I cannot remember which, we purchased a subscription to Car & Driver. He read two or three but probably has not read another for more than a year. Yet it remains on automatic renewal status, probably one of several things I try to catch and cull, like apps or subscriptions or online kids’ games we never continue to use. Car & Driver is one of those, and I will keep the mailing label from the latest issue in my pocket—transferring it from pocket to pocket to pocket—until I finally cancel it and move on. I will then throw the label away, proof of a task completed.
5. Six Keys: House, Cars, Etc. I have six keys and two key fobs on three various metal loops, along with a Minnesota-themed bottle opener. Nancy gave me the bottle opener for my birthday recently. It has a leather strip tied off in a knot. Of the keys, one is to a Mazda, one to a Subaru, each with a fob. Another key is to a PO Box. I have two house keys: one to my house, one to Sarah’s house, and one key, a Schlage, is a mystery. I have no idea what it unlocks, but I still carry it—it has no meaning beyond being one of a number of mystery keys that I have carried on my key chains over the years, finally tossing them after I knew I would never find their accompanying locks. Of all the keys, the one to Sarah’s house has the most loaded history. It is the key I’ve used almost everyday to enter the house where my oldest son sleeps, to get him up and ready for daycare or for school or for soccer, something I’ve been doing since he was born. As Max is now in high school, I do little to get him ready these days, but I still make him breakfast and drive him to school and sometimes do Rick and Sarah’s dishes or take out the trash while I wait for him to get ready. Sarah is my ex-wife and Max’s mom, Ricky his stepfather, and they live about a mile away from me. It’s a long, somewhat complicated but compelling story, that of the relationship I have with the mother and stepfather of my oldest son and how I am in their home, my son’s home, sometimes two or three times a day, sometimes to hang out, sometimes there with the “whole” family for dinner: my wife and our young son, Sarah and Ricky and their own young son, and Max. It is a story I will tell in more detail somewhere else. For here, for the contents of my pockets, just know that I keep a key to their house, as they each keep a key to mine.