22 December 2008

My Big, Ugly Mug

The objects that matter to us as people, do we find them or do they find us? How do we end up with all the bits and pieces, odds and ends that seem to multiply when we have to gather them up and move them?

My Big Bro piqued my curiosity a few weeks back, when were jawing about music. I had just sent him some requests to burn digital versions of some songs to disk; I had this cockeyed idea for a compilation that had been swirling around in my head. Not having access to iTunes at the time, Big Bro was my main source for said digital delights. (No, he wasn’t pirating anything. Arrr!). After having burned the disk, he asked me, “Where do find this stuff?” – I think the song in question was “In The Pines” by Leadbelly – “How do you know where to get it?”

My response was on the order of something like “I don’t for sure. I think that like seeks out like, and over time, if you know what you like, you develop a sense of how to find it. Plus, you’ll be more likely to have a receptive mind when you come across something new, you’ll be more willing to listen”. At least, I think that is what I said.

Over the years, I have accrued a number of objects that seem to have just shown up, and have followed me across nearly nineteen years of my erstwhile architectural career. I know this because I had to clear out my desk when I was laid off about two weeks ago. When you have to move a lot of crap, is when you notice you have a lot of crap. Herewith is a sampling of the flotsam and jetsam I have inventoried:

-Small collection of plastic triangles, for pencil drafting (Ha! Computers, man, the latest rage!)
-Bizarro templates for drawing toilets and sinks and other doohickeys
-Really weird plaster sculpture of what looks to be a mutant trying to gouge his own eyes out
-Hand-blown glass bottle I recovered from a renovation project site in Washington, D.C.
-Tiny brass desk gong complete with a little brass rod for striking the gong
-Ceramic sake carafe, grey, with painted blue bamboo stalks and leaves
-Tiny clay brick, promotional trinket I got at a trade show years ago
-Notepad holder made out of a giant steel hinge, the word INTEGRITY stamped on one leaf
-Notepad holder made out of recycled corrugated galvanized metal roof panels
-Clipboard made out of little chunks of cedar glued together, sanded, sealed and polished
-“Sculping”, a chunk of slate the size of a large brick, really HEAVY and pretty
-Textbooks leftover from my college days (Uh, time to ditch ‘em, yeah?)
-The letter “K”, 2” tall by 1” deep made out of anodized aluminum
- Small pennant with a picture of that Taco Bell dog on it, says “Viva Gorditas!” on it

That last one is one of the weirdest things I still have that I cannot seem to just get rid of. Some items that have gone AWOL are an 8” square glass brick (3” thick and solid) and a coffee mug with the logo of the former KGB silkscreened on it. Oh, wait, the KGB mug bit the dust about ten years ago when I dragged it off my desk top with a phone cord.

The last one I had to pick up today, from my (former) office, because I had forgotten to pack it up when I left. It is a giant mug, ceramic, brownish, kinda homely. This mug probably holds 3 regular cups of coffee. I have been brewing tea in it for years, so it has acquired a ‘patina’ on the inside that defied washing away. Probably made the tea taste better anyway. What amazed me was just how…naked(?)…I felt without that mug in my hand in the morning for that first cup of tea. I was antsy without it. I had a ritual associated with this mug when I came into work in the mornings. And when I picked it up this afternoon, I realized that it wasn’t just the mug or the ritual I was missing. It was the people that were usually present when I was drinking my tea. The people who always teased me about the humungo size of the mug:

“Where’s the tanker?”
“Got enough to drink there?
“Is that a soup bowl, or a helmet?”

And my favorite:
“That thing is the size of your face!”

So when I picked up my mug, and I saw some of the people I am beginning to miss, I think I understood something of what these objects mean. The things we acquire, the trinkets and curios of the lives we live, stick with us for a reason. They mean something to us beyond the mere fact of their existence. They gain power through their constant presence and use. They carry with them, in subtle and critical ways, the memory of the people and places and circumstances that make us the human beings we become.

I like my big, ugly mug. It carries tea, and my life.


  1. Beautifully written, Gumbo. Now, to more important matters. You keep dropping song titles that defy my abilities to locate. What gives? And yes, I am stealing them but I will have a great playlist in hell.

  2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k3kRuJhIVIo&feature=related

    There. That's my present.

    Merry Christmas!!!

    If you want proof of the fact that this middle aged old broad can actully rap it...hee hee...

    You're gonna have to call me.

  3. You know when you are driving along and an old song comes on that immediatly takes you to that year that day that hour that meant something to you or didnt mean anything at all? Those are the memories I dont want to revisit sometimes because there is just too much memory there
    Beautiful post...yet again.

  4. I love your mug. I'm a little jealous of your mug. I wish I had a mug that size for drinking tea! (Now that my baby has managed to crack all my tea-4-one sets..)

    What kind of tea do you drink?

    And here's to the motto of many pack rats.. 'But this is from that one time when I...'

  5. I have bits of flotsom and jetsom that seem to follow me from job to job (this is only the third job I've had, so I guess I should say desk to desk). One of them is a sticker that says "multidimensional".

    I have no clue why I have it. But, I can't seem to get rid of it.

    Great post as usual.

    Oh, and MAW and I have discussed it and we need to talk to your wife. We think you need to get laid.

  6. In the Pines is a great song! Leadbelly's version is good, but have you heard the Nirvana live version? It is my prefered one.

    I love the flotsom and jetsom that follows you around. My personal fav is a giant paperclip with a monkey at the top.

  7. I can't seem to get rid of my wedding dress. I'm divorced so people have suggested it would be a good thing to get rid of. I loved it. I loved me in it. Perhaps others should worry about their own shit. That's what I tell them anyway.

  8. Hey, I refound you through your comments to mama. Loved this post. We have things that go AWOL around here, most of the time they just show up again out of no where. I've learned not to question.

    Great mug BTW

  9. OMG. Can I just say how much I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!

    I have never met a human being who loves "El Matador".

    In fact, it came up on my iPod earlier this morning. I have the entire soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank on my iPod. As well as both soundtracks to the Romeo and Juliet movie with Leo and that girl. Movie was all right, but the soundtrack was to die for!

    I liked you before but now I LOVE YOU!

    YOU ROCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. I got me a big 'ol sippy cup that I feel the same way about. But I haven't had a hard time leaving some of the folks I worked with behind. And I have been big on jettisoning the flotsam and jetsom in my life to keep it, clear I guess. I let you know how that's working for me...

  11. That mug is great! I want one.

    I feel the way about blogs that you do about music. Like seeks out like (though for the record, I think I'm slightly more sane than you, Mr. Plaster Mutant Sculpture.

  12. Hello there! Reading your post has made me look at the objects in my office. My junk drawer is full of flotsom and jetsom. My good Luck charm: a post-it note with a smiley face that my daughter drew. Get rid of item: A small jar of fish food. Poor fish passed on to the great pond in the sky. Worst thing: a fortune from my Chinese cookie that says..Why Bother? :)

  13. Yet another great post. I feel you on the music. It finds you, for sure.

    Also, that is an excellent mug.

  14. O Captain, My Captain!: Thank you. ‘I got the music in me!’ – My fave local station, WTMD, has been invaluable to me. Plus, I listen/read a lot, probably more than is healthy! Stuff just keeps coming back. See also jen721 below.

    Charmaine: Awesome! Some old skool stuff that I didn’t appreciate until much later. Lovely present! MAOB raps? That’s worth the LD charges…

    SBA: Funny thing about memory, when it does that. I’ve been training myself to accept it all as part of me, the good, the bad and the ugly. More good, though!

    CPM: Why, thank you, I get spa treatments. Oh, no, it’s the cup :) Tea these days is usually Assam (India) black teas from Peet’s. Tasty stuff!

    MD: “multidimensional” perhaps a reference to your sparkling self? ;) The other thing? Workin’ on it..

    Jen721: Right on! I actually heard and really liked the Nirvana version before the Leadbelly version. Very different execution but the story is just as powerful. That song is also sometimes called “Black Girl”.

    CG: I can’t get rid of my wedding dress either. I looked smashing! Ooops, cats out of the bag now ;)

    PHST: Welcome back! Hey, we just showed up again, great tie-in to the theme!

    MD: *blushing furiously**ears bright red and steam* I’m all about the love! ‘El Matador’ is one of the coolest songs I have ever heard. I need to get that soundtrack transferred to my iPod. I’m going to like this rock star stuff!

    Ashley: There wouldn’t any whiskey in that sippy cup, would there?

    MF: Sorry, gotta stop calling you that! I think the mug came from Crate and Barrel. And lets not even get into a sanity comparing contest, uh, uh, girlfriend! I think we know who’d win that one! Oh, no, yeah it would be you (sigh)

    SC: Good call on the fish food! Although my dopey cats would probably eat something like that. Was that fortune cookie written by a nihilist?

    OAM: Thank you! I realized that good music started finding me a lot easier, when I decided to open my ears and really LISTEN, rather than labeling it first and making a judgment. Talk about expanded possibilities!


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...