Saturday, September 06, 2008

future past

future past
Originally uploaded by rod lewis
So I’m sitting alone at the kitchen table past any sane person’s bedtime, staring at my son’s canvas wallet. It is much too thick and stuffed for a kid who is unemployed and dependent. I lift it, hold it, weigh it in my hand. I’m surprised to find that it is filled with coinage. Bulky, and heavy with coins. It is also a bit soiled with light dirt, from serving as an inadvertent hand rag for the hands of a teenage boy.
Will was right, this bit of pocket organization will probably go on forever. Never wear out.

A couple weeks ago, Allison presented me with a new wallet. I’m not sure why, except that I actually needed one. But that doesn’t really seem like an adequate reason. I’ve used the same wallet for all the years we’ve been married, which in 16 days will be 22 years. That wallet has held up quite well over the years, but of course 22 are a great many. The edges are worn, torn, and the seams are opening,. When I reach in to pull out a bill, if there are any, I also always pull out a thread as well, and of course this furthers the deterioration process. The once textured leather, alligator-like, is worn smooth and flat and polished to an unnatural sheen.
Upon receiving the new one, I sat at this very table and emptied its contents into sorted little piles and rid myself of the bulk of bits of paper and notes that had long since lost meaning, of receipts for possible returns that showed no signs of ever having contained any written information. Several years of expired car and motorcycle registrations found their way to the trash. I carefully folded and stowed bits that would of course, always be needed – like the yellow legal pad corner that contained, in the blue ink, all-caps, block printing style of my father, the fuel/oil mixture ratio of gasoline and 30-weight detergent motor oil on which the boys’ Maytag engine runs.
When finished, the new wallet made its way to my pocket and the old, no doubt feeling suddenly cold and deserted, lay where it was emptied.
The next day, Will asked me what I would do with the old wallet. “I have no idea,” I told him, “I suppose it will lie around until mom gets frustrated and throws it away.” Will asked if he could have it. I told him of course he could, but asked why he’d want a falling-apart, worn-out billfold. He answered that he thought he’d like a wallet that could be worn out. He didn’t think his wallet could be worn out, and that there was something friendly about a wallet that would grow old and worn.
My heart smiled and wondered at the depth of his contemplations. I wondered if he was feeling vibrations of my years in the emptied, frayed folds. Perhaps he was picturing me in younger, more textured, less worn and thinned days. Maybe he was reaching into a past that he could only trust existed but of which there is no evidence, save bits of weathered and worn leather, textile, and saggy skin. It is possible that he could be merely fantasizing that he, too, as apparently his dad had, could grow older, and richer, and have a deeper past on which to ponder, for at the moment there was no evidence that he was any different than his canvas wallet. In fact, they seem quite the same – rough, indestructible, sturdy construction, and slightly soiled.

There is a moment, maybe a long one, between the invulnerable, immortal, forever-young freedom of adolescence and the growing responsibilities and reality of growing up, during which a boy’s thoughts begin to morph. He begins to contemplate if maybe this slow becoming never actually comes. Suddenly his short past life and shallow experience whisper to his untrusting heart that he’s had all there is. His short past grows longer in his mind and he feels as if he’s lived forever with nothing to show for it. He begins to look for himself before he existed. He searches through the past of his father for glimpses of his becoming, and perhaps sees his reflection, but as of now, he feels no gathered wisdom, no garnered confidence, no assurity of future success based on past work. He glances at himself in the now and sees smooth skin, peach fuzz, lean muscle, tender feet, and green behind his ears. These observations provide little confidence for the young man who has only begun to imagine the road that lies ahead, has measure himself against, and found that his whole being is out of balance.
It may seem like a strange request, the owning of a discarded, worn out leather wallet to replace a newer, indestructible, hip, canvas one. But there is great solace in knowing that hard work makes a mark and assures us that we’ve done well. Reminds us that we work toward an end, and that the infinite vanity we feel in our seemingly pointless pursuits and preparations actually moves us slowly forward toward a goal that brings with it the trophies of physical erosion and the marks of the passage of time as evidence of work well done.
Indeed, many of us carry the previously discarded, the finished-with, the no longer needed. I carry, and use a pair of 60 year-old pliers, and wire clippers in my guitar case as I live out my routine and search through my pre-existence for images of me as assurance of purpose, and meaning, and perhaps even immortality in the post-Rod era.
Until now, I’ve had only the past for promise. I’ve had only the bits that I carry. But I guess I’ve reached a stage where I begin replacing the used-up and the used-up is used for future promise.
It is profound what promise is held in the empty folds of worn out leather, what image is reflected in the polished shine of the tired surface of an old wallet.

Promise and reflection, these are elements of wealth, and one should always carry them.