This week, a team of researchers, documenticians, and– I assume– forensics experts are sifting though hundreds of boxes of STUFF and THINGS that artist Andy Warhol collected over the span of his life. He started out making piles and messes in his apartment until there were no clear surfaces anywhere, until a friend suggested that he decant the contents of his daily gleanings into boxes and then seal everything up for posterity.
As we all know, posterity came early for poor Andy– him with the shock of white hair and eternally-bemused expression. Well, maybe not so much bemused as afraid. It’s like, very early on, he took a long look outside and then decided to become an Indoor Person, choosing instead to import those parts of the outside world that he could actually deal with, like Jackie O (a naked picture of whom surfaced in his stuff). Have you read his diaries? It’s like rooting around inside somebody’s underwear drawer after they’ve asked you to cat sit for a week. (I deny ever having taken part in something like that, and I’m sticking to my story.)
Reading about Andy’s boxes, and the tens of thousands of things he had salted away– including, but hardly limited to, leaky soup cans– I wondered what the world would do if, upon MY death, it was invited to sift through my stuff. Would my things end up on the Internet for legions of twentysomethings to remark upon ironically? Would they endlessly text one another regarding the contents of Box 43-B because the items spoke of a time and place that, for them, seemed like amusing bits of ancient history? Who can say? And I’m not really interested in the answers; I’m not interested in anything that people will say about me after I’m gone, because it won’t be colored by my perception of it all. Hopefully I’ll be somewhere looking at everything and then laughing uproariously at what I had to put up with for a few decades.
To save a little time, here is a sampling of what you can expect to find in MY boxes.
BOOK: Joan Crawford, My Way of Life. Simon and Schuster hardcover, 1971. First Edition. 224 pages. Dear Joan… she was her own best publicity agent, and this book attests to that fact. In it, Joan gives the details on how to achieve the near-perfect life- a life, I might stress, not unlike her own! It’s full of gems on subjects such as the nurturing of the manly ego: “Make your husband talk about his work. Drag it out of him, if you have to. But, you’re saying, my husband’s a cashier. How can I take an interest in that? Well, for openers, you might say, “Any holdups today?” Color: “A red vegetable next to a yellow one looks unappetizing. Two white ones, like celery and cauliflower, look awful.” Meat loaf: “I use two pounds of ground sirloin, a pound of ground veal, and a pound of sausage meat…thoroughly mixed with three eggs, a bottle of A-1, a good lacing of Worcestershire, a lot of seasoned salt, and finely chopped purple onion and green peppers. I hide four hard-boiled eggs inside the loaf and before it goes into the oven I dribble over more A-1 and Worcestershire and seasoned salt so that a crust will form.” And that is why Joan’s book is in one of my boxes.
FIGURINE: Metal frog, stamped “Gestest.” Size about 2″ x 2″. Manufacture date unknown. I acquired this frog during one of many childhood visits to the doctor for any number of ailments. Long story short: I was not a well child. At one point I must have decided that I deserved rewards for spending so much time in Dr. Gennarelli’s office– sort of a toddler’s version of Sky Miles. This frog was given to me by Nurse Isabelle, who was tough and had lots of dark, curly hair under her starched white cap. (We loved one another.) I carried this frog with me everywhere, and one day Laraine Elder, her name should be preserved throughout eternity, took it and threw it into the depths of her garage. We found it months later, wedged inside a folded beach chair. And I just looked up “Gestest” online: “A synthetic progestational hormone with actions similar to those of progesterone but functioning as a more potent inhibitor of ovulation. It has weak estrogenic and androgenic properties. The hormone has been used in treating amenorrhea, functional uterine bleeding, endometriosis, and for contraception.” Who knew?
MUD from Georgia, dried; March 1974, Acquired on-site. My friend Eugene is one of my best friends in all the world; I know him since high school, having been close to him since 1971. I learned many things at his house: how to drink coffee and stay up until 3 AM with him and his sisters while discussing the finer points of the Shangri-Las’ Greatest Hits LP; how to appreciate Newport cigarettes; and how to look at people through a lens that wasn’t necessarily rose-colored. I tended to trust everyone; they basically made fun of everyone. When his father Joe was en route to Georgia for a business trip, I asked him to bring me back a bottle of red Georgia mud. (I was VERY into Gone with the Wind in those days.) And he did.
Tara, the O’Hara Plantation in Georgia. Premiere issue in the Hawthorne Collectible Gone with the Wind Collection. 5.5 x 4.5 inches. December 1994. The book and the movie REALLY influenced me, irrationally so, and I’ve written about how I threw a GWTW party in college and made my sister Gina dress up as Prissy and serve my guests. When this little model appeared in an ad in Parade magazine fifteen years ago, I HAD to have it. Imagine… a model of Tara! There it would proudly sit, perched atop my television set for years to come. And while I was still basking in its glow, I received a mail offer for another offering: a model of Twelve Oaks, Ashley Wilkes’ neighboring plantation house. (For the unschooled: Scarlett O’Hara nurtured a lustful crush on Ashley for many years, much to the detriment of her own happiness. Was it love? Probably not.) How could I own a model of Tara and NOT Twelve Oaks? Case closed. Little did I know that there were a dozen other little models in the series, all of which I felt compelled to buy. Oy! Things like Aunt Pittypat’s house… the saloon where Rhett Butler cavorted with Belle Watling and the prostitutes… Melanie and Ashley’s cottage… the train station … the newspaper office… the restaurant in New Orleans where Scarlett gorged herself after marrying Rhett… it went on and on. At that point in time I would have been loath to nip a series of anything in the bud; now I know better. Other than Martha Stewart Living magazine, I don’t horde anything. But thank God the series stopped, finally.
Bottle of sharks’ teeth. 1970-1995. The bottle I got at an antiques shop in Connecticut during one of those family trips to the New England coast; let’s just say that we saw a lot of women in Colonial garb dipping candles and working at looms, and a lot of blond young men in tight-fitting breeches brandishing their muskets. During that same vacation I found a 45 RPM copy of the Cookies’ “I Want A Boy for My Birthday,” which I played and pined over all that summer: ‘It doesn’t matter if he’s short or tall / Just as long as he gives his all.’ Please. How ridiculous was that? Sweet, but ridiculous. Years and years later, when I started going to Venice beach with Kirk, the sharks’ teeth we collected went into this bottle. All you do is root around in the surf line, and you find plenty of teeth. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you find really big teeth, specimens as large as two inches. They wouldn’t fit into this little bottle, of course; I’d probably have to put those in Tupperware.
Some sort of Italian rock, millions of years old. Acquired 1984 along the Lima River in Tuscany. Which is a lie. When my sister Gina and I were in Italy that year, our cousins took us down a vertical incline so that we could find rocks like the one you see pictured. Now, when your Italian cousins tell you “we’re going hiking down a vertical incline,” you don’t quite understand what they’re saying, so your sister puts on a dress and strap-on heels, thinking that she is going to spend a day eating lunch at the old family homestead perched safely atop the vertical incline. WRONG. Down we went, me in my big saddle shoes and tight, stylish jeans, but we managed to find a rock large enough to carry back up with us. Which I did, and promptly dropped back DOWN the vertical incline because the slim tree trunk I was holding onto decided to uproot itself from Mother Earth. My cousins felt so bad that they gifted me with the rock you see pictured. It has sat on a bookshelf for twenty-five years, occasionally giving off dust and often mocking me with the fact that my agility leaves much to be desired.
There are many, many other things in my boxes which the public might find fascinating, but I’ll have the luxury of not knowing. I’ll be in a place far, far away. To me, Heaven will be a big arena where we all sit, entranced, as the secrets to the mysteries of the ages are unfolded on giant screens: how the pyramids were built; how and why a few narrow parameters composed of just a few years suddenly exploded with discovery and thought; whether or not visitors from distant space landed in Africa and mated with the existing races to form modern man; and why Eleanor Parker decided to take the role of Constance in Return to Peyton Place when it seemed like it should have been played by Lana Turner, who originated the role of Constance in Peyton Place.
And those unforgettable movies will be in one of my boxes, too.