Sunday, September 11, 2011

9.11- and all the other numbers

Do you have a rolodex? I bought mine around 20 years ago. Bought used, even then it was slightly worn, though in no way as forlorn and dusty as it now is. One scrap of memory, nearly as tangible as the small paper tombstones in the rolodex itself, holds that I bought it in midtown Manhattan, from one of those stores that is perpetually going out of business. (Paradoxically, such stores were actually the only stores not going out of business--they would always be there, years later,  showing signs that continually announced their mirage-like demise.)

As I page through the names and numbers, I recall a dead-letter office. (Now the US Postal service will probably consign whole buildings to this role, as it is forced to shrink, faced with redundancy.) Some of the contacts were in the World Trade Center and surrounding neighborhood, dating from the era when I worked in the Twin Towers (Studio residency program), and freelanced for the Wall St. Journal.

911, 2001 not withstanding, I doubt I can find one single contact in this rolodex that still functions. 
Though many of the names in this rolodex have been claimed by old man Death, I would wager that the majority still live--though their  numbers have been disconnected, and they have moved to other addresses. Such would be the case with one entry, entitled "Mark", a tab pasted in from one of those tear-off posters that were taped to street poles. Though at first I had no recollection of who Mark was, his story eventually came forth, nudged by the frail strings of my memory. 

He was one of a three brothers who had come from Russia; each had anglicized his name, in sensible, Ellis Island spirit, escaping the old world. Their father had been killed by the Mob there, in the immediate aftermath of the the Soviet dissolution, before the KGB men reinstated a type of law, rough-edged as it is. Mark had a beeper for his moving van business (You remember beepers, before the cell phone era?) Though he probably told me some of his story while moving my paintings, the story was filled in over the next few years because I knew his brother, who was an artist, and had parties in a Brooklyn studio not far from where I lived.  Later Mark gave up the moving business, his back giving out. His artist brother moved out of the neighborhood, and I lost contact.

Such is the relentless, rootless quality of people, especially New Yorkers. Quickly a rolodex becomes no more than an artifact--but a nice thing to keep. The names, numbers, and addresses may be out-of-date, but the stories are still there.

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