Dismantling a life that’s fading in memory

Yesterday I went upstairs to our bedroom to do a task I’d neglected to do for years. Every time I went to get a pair of socks they’d be staring at me: Piles of paper, mostly receipts, with some notes, business cards, and post-its. Finally, as part of our emptying out the house we’ve lived in since 1994, I was tackling the Scary Sock Drawer. And in the process, I filled in some blanks in my memory that lasted for years. (For those of you just catching up, we’re doing a reverse immigration thing and moving to Italy soon,)

I’ll admit that I’ve got a weird memory. I’m good at images, and I remember strange facts, maps, pieces of music. And most of it is pretty recent stuff, unless it’s a childhood memory. I can replay images I saw as a baby—in one vignette, I was in my playpen in the Brooklyn apartment that was my first home. I was looking toward the window and a shaft of sunlight that came in through the blinds, illuminating the dust particles in the air. I can see, even now, how I blew on those particles to watch them dance, and then giggled at how clever I was. (This probably explains a lot about my later habits.)

There are huge gaps, though. I tend to remember the last year or so, maybe because I’ve taken more than 30,000 photos on my phones and various digital cameras But for awhile my recollections had a huge void in the 1990s, probably because I was too busy working, trying to get rid of evil bosses, and playing with the kids while keeping my marriage with The Spartan Woman going. It’s only when I started to digitize our hard-copy photo collection that I was able to fill in some details

But why did I save so many receipts from Rainbow Cleaners? And receipts for non-expense account meals? And boarding passes?

We’re not talking about recent garbage. The meals dated from 2013-14. Oh look, the Oyster Bar from 10 years ago. Now I remember, it was with Josephine, my ex-colleague. She and I had a great lunch—I think I was off that day—and we spent way too much on a plate of raw oysters on the half shell and some ice cold flinty white wine. Josephine was in from living in Barcelona, after she’d been cashiered along with a bunch of my former co-workers, and had lately discovered the joys of day drinking. She probably followed that with a nap when she was in Barcelona, but New York doesn’t encourage such things.

What amazed me was how many times I was taken to the cleaners. Ok, I walked, it’s only two blocks away. I kept coming across yellow receipts from Rainbow Cleaners, and I didn’t realize how much dry cleaning we had. Why so many receipts? Who needed them? The guy who owns Rainbow is young and tech-savvy, typical of his Korean-American cohort, so naturally he had both an up to date client database on his laptop and a keen memory. I’d walk in and he’d already located my suit or jacket, so I learned that I never had to give him a receipt.

Not that I wore suits that often in my former life. It’s now more than six years since I left one of the most boring newsrooms on earth (it wasn’t always boring, but once the company brass took over and hired consultants…), and even then I rarely had to dress up. I confess that every now and then I’d don a suit and take a long lunch break uptown just to make it look like I was leaving. Rummaging through the sock drawer, I found receipts for the black suits that I favored, and even tuxedo rental receipts for the one time a year where I had to get on stage and present an award to some corporate lawyer type. I hated those award nights, had bigly stage fright having to speak to 500 Masters and Mistresses of the Universe, plus the food mostly sucked. (One shining exception: the Parmigiano Reggiano chunks sitting in those big cheese wheels at Cipriani.)

I found at least two things in there that are useful: a €5 note, a €20 note, and two Greenmarket tokens worth $10. I plan to celebrate the last one by pairing them with some others we’ve found to get a couple of dozen oysters from the fisherman guy.

THIS WHOLE PROCESS IS both tedious and fascinating. And a little sobering. For one thing, in cleaning out the media wall in the living room, we’ve had to decide what to do with a couple of decades of technology. We stashed everything away, usually in a panicked last minute cleanup if someone was coming over for dinner. So….let’s see: A white Macbook; two MacBook/PowerBook chargers; various USB cables for iPhones long gone (I got my first one in 2008); albums on tape cassettes; empty cassette boxes; blank CDs; blank DVDs; SCSI cables (why there and not in the office-graveyard?); photographic slide film (!); a huge flash attachment for a camera that used said slide film, probably last used in the mid-1990s. And so on.

We’re almost done with the living room, bar the furniture and the electronics in use or too big to deal with right now. Our son-in-law looks wantingly at the decent Advent speakers I bought years ago when I used something called a “stereo system” to play CDs and vinyl “records.” He can have them. I’m not sure about the garden variety DVD player, last used…? I can’t remember. Or the receiver. Does anyone still use those?

Next up: the dining room. We don’t have much in the way of family china and silver. But we do want to pack up some Italian pottery and take it back home. We also have a buffet-top full of bottles of liquor that we never drink. Maybe we should have a party?

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