this is my body

eating and drinking at the end of the world
by Jonah james fontela
The crunch is like no other. It’s more of a crack, from teeth crushing a small stone hidden away inside a soft pile of beans and greens. It’s a reminder that the food comes from the earth is Nina’s generous response from across the table, said gently while she chews the rest of her fouled mouthful of white beans and escarole that I braised in garlic with tomato paste and olive oil. I hear the words in my ears but my brain his its own way. You didn’t do enough to clean those greens and you served something with dirt and earth in it. I hadn’t done enough. I’d violated a sacred and ancient law. I soaked the thick and bitter greens for hours and spun them around. I rinsed them under a firm stream of cold water. But there was so much grit, so much dirt and soil, that some remained behind, clinging to the lettuce. It required more. Individual inspection of each leaf. The small rocks burst between teeth like nothing you’d want in your mouth. It’s not a rough shard of black pepper or a large piece of coarse salt. It’s not the explosive and satisfying calcifications that pop inside the Parmigiano cheese grated atop. It’s dirt. It’s unpleasant. It breaks apart and softens into mud in your mouth. It’s also an accusation. I throw my bread down into the plate and can’t wait to leave the table. The meal has become, for me, an exercise in chewing. And waiting. For more cracks.[Painting: Head of Escarole by Sophie Bearman. Date unknown.]

The crunch is like no other. It’s more of a crack, from teeth crushing a small stone hidden away inside a soft pile of beans and greens. It’s a reminder that the food comes from the earth is Nina’s generous response from across the table, said gently while she chews the rest of her fouled mouthful of white beans and escarole that I braised in garlic with tomato paste and olive oil. I hear the words in my ears but my brain his its own way. You didn’t do enough to clean those greens and you served something with dirt and earth in it. I hadn’t done enough. I’d violated a sacred and ancient law. I soaked the thick and bitter greens for hours and spun them around. I rinsed them under a firm stream of cold water. But there was so much grit, so much dirt and soil, that some remained behind, clinging to the lettuce. It required more. Individual inspection of each leaf. The small rocks burst between teeth like nothing you’d want in your mouth. It’s not a rough shard of black pepper or a large piece of coarse salt. It’s not the explosive and satisfying calcifications that pop inside the Parmigiano cheese grated atop. It’s dirt. It’s unpleasant. It breaks apart and softens into mud in your mouth. It’s also an accusation. I throw my bread down into the plate and can’t wait to leave the table. The meal has become, for me, an exercise in chewing. And waiting. For more cracks.

[Painting: Head of Escarole by Sophie Bearman. Date unknown.]

My grandfather’s face is down near the bottom. He’s surrounded by friends, men of similar age, from tiny Buti. The town, an hour from Florence on a train and thirty minutes from Pisa in a car, sits at the end of long and looping road. You don’t pass through Buti. You drive in and you drive out on that same road.These men, all of them, were called to serve. They had no choice in the matter. They were beckoned by a lunatic who dreamed of reviving a fantasy of Ancient Rome, of striding through Africa a conqueror. He threw the young men of hundreds of towns like Buti, and cities like Roma and Milano, into the cannon’s mouth. He had his own manifest destiny and he slipped himself inside Hitler’s back pocket where it was nice and warm.This record of the Butesi who served in Mussolini’s army once leaned on a ledge near my bed. The apartment was tiny, two rooms, so when I hosted couples I gave them my bed to sleep in while I took the couch. One of these guests turned the picture to the wall before clicking off the lamp. I can only assume they were offended by the fascist imagery, Il Duce, and the violence and death it suggested.  I said nothing the next day when I found the young men of Buti facing the wall. It offended me, but I said nothing. I said nothing, either, of how many of those men defected at the first opportunity. Or how many of them died, ground up like gravel in someone else’s bad dream, before they had the chance to run off. I spoke not a word to my friends about how men and women of the village climbed up into the green tiers and olive trees of Monte Serra to form the partisan brigades. How they challenged the occupying Germans and Italian fascists with guerilla raids and flimsy carbines. My friends went home not knowing how many of these local people, some of the faces they turned to the wall, were tortured and murdered when found in their hiding places.I told them nothing about how my grandfather jumped out of an airplane, landed in hostile territory and cut himself loose from his parachute. He took off his uniform and traded it for rags, walking home many hundreds to miles to Buti. He walked and walked over the scorched and offended earth of his home, to the end of the road. To his home. On the way he gathered pieces of metal, scraps from spent casings and war debris, and twisted them into a ring. He offered it to my Nonna when he got to Buti, with a proposal of marriage.I like to think it was then that my grandmother told my grandfather about the American soldier she hid under her bed. How she confronted and scolded a German, shaming and shooing him from her bedroom to keep that American safe.

My grandfather’s face is down near the bottom. He’s surrounded by friends, men of similar age, from tiny Buti. The town, an hour from Florence on a train and thirty minutes from Pisa in a car, sits at the end of long and looping road. You don’t pass through Buti. You drive in and you drive out on that same road.

These men, all of them, were called to serve. They had no choice in the matter. They were beckoned by a lunatic who dreamed of reviving a fantasy of Ancient Rome, of striding through Africa a conqueror. He threw the young men of hundreds of towns like Buti, and cities like Roma and Milano, into the cannon’s mouth. He had his own manifest destiny and he slipped himself inside Hitler’s back pocket where it was nice and warm.

This record of the Butesi who served in Mussolini’s army once leaned on a ledge near my bed. The apartment was tiny, two rooms, so when I hosted couples I gave them my bed to sleep in while I took the couch. One of these guests turned the picture to the wall before clicking off the lamp. I can only assume they were offended by the fascist imagery, Il Duce, and the violence and death it suggested.

I said nothing the next day when I found the young men of Buti facing the wall. It offended me, but I said nothing. I said nothing, either, of how many of those men defected at the first opportunity. Or how many of them died, ground up like gravel in someone else’s bad dream, before they had the chance to run off. I spoke not a word to my friends about how men and women of the village climbed up into the green tiers and olive trees of Monte Serra to form the partisan brigades. How they challenged the occupying Germans and Italian fascists with guerilla raids and flimsy carbines. My friends went home not knowing how many of these local people, some of the faces they turned to the wall, were tortured and murdered when found in their hiding places.

I told them nothing about how my grandfather jumped out of an airplane, landed in hostile territory and cut himself loose from his parachute. He took off his uniform and traded it for rags, walking home many hundreds to miles to Buti. He walked and walked over the scorched and offended earth of his home, to the end of the road. To his home. On the way he gathered pieces of metal, scraps from spent casings and war debris, and twisted them into a ring. He offered it to my Nonna when he got to Buti, with a proposal of marriage.

I like to think it was then that my grandmother told my grandfather about the American soldier she hid under her bed. How she confronted and scolded a German, shaming and shooing him from her bedroom to keep that American safe.

Let’s go in this way. Dan insisted we use the bar’s back door. I tried to tell my friend from Romania that this wasn’t an entrance. It was for workers to take out the trash and smoke on their breaks. What’s the difference? he asked, shrugging, steam rising from his head. He was a large man. It was winter and we were chilled. Dan pulled on the door and slipped inside. He dodged a worker in an apron going the opposite way, accidentally knocking a pair of empty pint glasses from a ledge. They fell and crashed into a busing tray full of ice used to mix drinks and chill water. Every set of eyes behind the bar and the fire-spitting grille stopped what they were doing to stare daggers at us. The broken glass was identical to the shards of ice in the tub, and it disappeared and turned instantly into extra and aggravating labor. Can I help you guys? An irritated female voice asked. I felt my face reddening as I looked out at the barroom from an unfamiliar reversed angle. No, I don’t think we’ll stay, Dan said, unfazed. He bumped my shoulder. Let’s go. We walked out the same door. He shrugged it off. He disappeared one day from my life. I’ve lost track of how many years ago he left. I remember his friendship and his mischievous laugh, drinking liquor made from plums brought by his noisy mother when she visited from Bucharest. It smelled the same as the grappa my grandfather made when I was a boy. Dan had a love of good beer and food and talking soccer for hours beyond reason, late into the night. I remember a black-and-white photograph of Dan in military uniform, five-point star stitched to the front of his beret. He was a drafted soldier in Romania’s Red Army under the command of Nicolae Caucuescu, the same dictator who ordered the death of Dan’s father. Dan was barely 18 when the photo was taken. Caucuescu was eventually captured by soldiers once loyal to him, during the fiery uprisings of 1989. The dictator was killed by firing squad, alongside his wife, on Christmas Day.  [Photo: Romanians behind a tank during the 1989 uprisings known as Bloody Christmas. Photo credit: Unknown]

Let’s go in this way. Dan insisted we use the bar’s back door. I tried to tell my friend from Romania that this wasn’t an entrance. It was for workers to take out the trash and smoke on their breaks. What’s the difference? he asked, shrugging, steam rising from his head. He was a large man. It was winter and we were chilled. Dan pulled on the door and slipped inside. He dodged a worker in an apron going the opposite way, accidentally knocking a pair of empty pint glasses from a ledge. They fell and crashed into a busing tray full of ice used to mix drinks and chill water. Every set of eyes behind the bar and the fire-spitting grille stopped what they were doing to stare daggers at us. The broken glass was identical to the shards of ice in the tub, and it disappeared and turned instantly into extra and aggravating labor. Can I help you guys? An irritated female voice asked. I felt my face reddening as I looked out at the barroom from an unfamiliar reversed angle. No, I don’t think we’ll stay, Dan said, unfazed. He bumped my shoulder. Let’s go. We walked out the same door. He shrugged it off. He disappeared one day from my life. I’ve lost track of how many years ago he left. I remember his friendship and his mischievous laugh, drinking liquor made from plums brought by his noisy mother when she visited from Bucharest. It smelled the same as the grappa my grandfather made when I was a boy. Dan had a love of good beer and food and talking soccer for hours beyond reason, late into the night. I remember a black-and-white photograph of Dan in military uniform, five-point star stitched to the front of his beret. He was a drafted soldier in Romania’s Red Army under the command of Nicolae Caucuescu, the same dictator who ordered the death of Dan’s father. Dan was barely 18 when the photo was taken. Caucuescu was eventually captured by soldiers once loyal to him, during the fiery uprisings of 1989. The dictator was killed by firing squad, alongside his wife, on Christmas Day.

[Photo: Romanians behind a tank during the 1989 uprisings known as Bloody Christmas. Photo credit: Unknown]

Summer began yesterday. It came when we left the city and our small apartment behind. We shook off the bonds, the boxed-in emotions and hurts, the routines and demands, and aimed the car north. It doesn’t matter what direction you go. There are always magnets. Our magnet is straight up on the compass and the clean water of the Massachusetts north shore. Later in the summer it will be farther north still – the cleaner, colder water of Maine that rattles your bones and sets your teeth chattering. One hour passed and we were on a different planet. Flat and calm. Carved gouges of earth mashed together a million years ago by glaciers are are now home to colorful birds. Small yellow ones danced in packs and hid in the yellow-green of the scrub brush. Large white cranes took off like military cargo transports, flapping their long jointed wings, before rising and gliding on the up breeze in perfect flight. Seagulls screamed and circled, dove into the shallow pools for clams and crabs. They dropped them from a great height to break their shells before eating the slugs and soft salt flesh inside. Grassy marshes and tidal pools rose and fell, bumping against the ocean, raging and windy on one side and gentle in the cove. The sun that burnt my neck and the sand stuck in my beard and between my toenails were a blessing. It felt like a sacrament as I stood in the water. I dipped my hand in and rubbed the water on the back of my neck. We gathered bleach-white clam shells, the rare sand dollar, and the scraps of smoothed driftwood. They felt like treasures. We needed wine and bread to make blood and flesh for our sacrament. So we pointed the car back south, taking the long way on US Route 1A. We drifted into Essex. Fried fish was the target. But first, cold beer on a deck overlooking the marshes and the pools with their tidal moods. Boat captains drifted out and back on their vessels, finding their feet for the season. Heads happy from beer and bellies sucked empty from salt and sand and wind, we crossed the street to eat. Later in the season, hell, later in the night, the place would be swamped – a line of hungry people curling down the road and around the low wooden building. This time, though, we took the table we liked. We sat near the window in the back and ate without talking. Our fried clams, our lobster roll, our crab and fried onions disappeared under groans while the sun’s shadows grew longer.

[Photos: Woodman’s and booty by Jonah James Fontela and Nina MacLaughlin, 2014.]

The Blue Jay was a bully. Its shrill squawk, more scream than chirp, filled the air. The sound had nothing at all in common with the gentle tweets that tickle my ears and beat the dawn to my eyes every morning. A preening cardinal, stylish in all-red, landed atop the branch of a nearby spruce tree. She was crudely chased away by the angry cries and menacing dives of the Jaybird, blue on its back and white on its chest. I saw in the corner of my eye that same Blue Jay, out for blood, chase a pack of chubby sparrows across the driveway in the afternoon. Get lost motherfuckers! he seemed to mean. Maybe he was protecting something. Maybe he was hungry or hurt, or maybe he was just a son of a bitch. Later that evening, though, he got the blood he wanted. Nina noticed the cocky blue bird ramming its beak into the flesh of a slow moving smaller bird. He poked and poked. I yelled from the window, but the attacker didn’t care. He was in a blood frenzy. I ran out the kitchen door and stomped my foot. The blue jay bounced off to hide out in a nearby branch. The wounded gray bird was dying. Fast breaths sent its chest up and down. Its eyes were wide open and red blood dotted the middle of its face. We looked at each other, Nina and I. When I thought the bird was gone for good, I picked it up from its wing tip. It suddenly sprang to life and flailed itself, running off to the garbage cans. It’s alive I smiled, imagining a happy ending, when the Blue Jay screamed, dove from its branch and pounded the little bird again. He finished him off in the shadows of the garbage bins. Nature I said, and we went inside to eat our dinner.[Image: Blue Jay by John James Audubon. I don’t know much about birds, but you should follow this blog and you might learn a thing about our feathered friends.]

The Blue Jay was a bully. Its shrill squawk, more scream than chirp, filled the air. The sound had nothing at all in common with the gentle tweets that tickle my ears and beat the dawn to my eyes every morning. A preening cardinal, stylish in all-red, landed atop the branch of a nearby spruce tree. She was crudely chased away by the angry cries and menacing dives of the Jaybird, blue on its back and white on its chest. I saw in the corner of my eye that same Blue Jay, out for blood, chase a pack of chubby sparrows across the driveway in the afternoon. Get lost motherfuckers! he seemed to mean. Maybe he was protecting something. Maybe he was hungry or hurt, or maybe he was just a son of a bitch. Later that evening, though, he got the blood he wanted. Nina noticed the cocky blue bird ramming its beak into the flesh of a slow moving smaller bird. He poked and poked. I yelled from the window, but the attacker didn’t care. He was in a blood frenzy. I ran out the kitchen door and stomped my foot. The blue jay bounced off to hide out in a nearby branch. The wounded gray bird was dying. Fast breaths sent its chest up and down. Its eyes were wide open and red blood dotted the middle of its face. We looked at each other, Nina and I. When I thought the bird was gone for good, I picked it up from its wing tip. It suddenly sprang to life and flailed itself, running off to the garbage cans. It’s alive I smiled, imagining a happy ending, when the Blue Jay screamed, dove from its branch and pounded the little bird again. He finished him off in the shadows of the garbage bins. Nature I said, and we went inside to eat our dinner.

[Image: Blue Jay by John James Audubon. I don’t know much about birds, but you should follow this blog and you might learn a thing about our feathered friends.]

This poster hangs above the stove in a friend’s kitchen (he’s on tumblr now and you should follow him). It was part of a collection produced by the US Food Administration to remind Americans to conserve resources during World War I. Nos1 to 4 are smart, but I take issue with No5 - serve just enough. The word serve assumes a family or guests or more people eating than just the cooker of the food. When serving food I was always taught that rule No1 is to leave no one hungry. It is inviolable. It requires maneuvering. It requires an alchemy in the kitchen – the magic of making something from nothing, or little. You have to make more than what you have. Soups, pastas and beans to help with a small amount of meat or fish. It requires nimbleness and agility, even in times of want. No member of my family was on US soil during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, in that first quarter of a turbulent twentieth century. They were in the middle of Italy and they were in the northern tip of Spain. It wasn’t until well after the Second World War that any of them fled the scars of their home countries for the promises being sold in this land of plenty. They brought with them the knowledge of how to make a little go a long way. It was one of few items toted.  Serve just enough. I like it in concept, and in my more generous moments I can overlook the problematic verb serve. I am a saver, a thrifty person. I will risk sickening myself through rot or mold before throwing something away. Wasting money and wasting food offends me, deeply. No6 rescues the whole list, and I like to think of one dissenting voice in a smoky room full of artists and propagandists, government men and reformers, stern members of the military. I like to imagine a bearded pest of a man insisting on use what’s left. It is in the using what’s left that you learn to cook, where you learn to combine what is not obvious. It is where massive failures and huge successes occur. It is where dogma and script are traded for the possibility of magic – a magic never possible if your serve just enough. So, serve a little more than you should, friends, because you never know how long peacetime will last. [Image: Poster from the kitchen of two friends, one of whom is now on tumblr. Check him out here: http://tidalriverhouse.tumblr.com/. He’s writing about building a home. Some of the practical but more of the abstract.]

This poster hangs above the stove in a friend’s kitchen (he’s on tumblr now and you should follow him). It was part of a collection produced by the US Food Administration to remind Americans to conserve resources during World War I.

Nos1 to 4 are smart, but I take issue with No5 - serve just enough. The word serve assumes a family or guests or more people eating than just the cooker of the food. When serving food I was always taught that rule No1 is to leave no one hungry. It is inviolable. It requires maneuvering. It requires an alchemy in the kitchen – the magic of making something from nothing, or little. You have to make more than what you have. Soups, pastas and beans to help with a small amount of meat or fish. It requires nimbleness and agility, even in times of want.

No member of my family was on US soil during Woodrow Wilson’s administration, in that first quarter of a turbulent twentieth century. They were in the middle of Italy and they were in the northern tip of Spain. It wasn’t until well after the Second World War that any of them fled the scars of their home countries for the promises being sold in this land of plenty. They brought with them the knowledge of how to make a little go a long way. It was one of few items toted.  

Serve just enough. I like it in concept, and in my more generous moments I can overlook the problematic verb serve. I am a saver, a thrifty person. I will risk sickening myself through rot or mold before throwing something away. Wasting money and wasting food offends me, deeply.

No6 rescues the whole list, and I like to think of one dissenting voice in a smoky room full of artists and propagandists, government men and reformers, stern members of the military. I like to imagine a bearded pest of a man insisting on use what’s left. It is in the using what’s left that you learn to cook, where you learn to combine what is not obvious. It is where massive failures and huge successes occur. It is where dogma and script are traded for the possibility of magic – a magic never possible if your serve just enough. So, serve a little more than you should, friends, because you never know how long peacetime will last.

[Image: Poster from the kitchen of two friends, one of whom is now on tumblr. Check him out here: http://tidalriverhouse.tumblr.com/. He’s writing about building a home. Some of the practical but more of the abstract.]

Oh shit. I heard a man say under the Sunday bustle at the Laundromat. Look what I did. He smiled wide and turned his head to the ground. I looked at the glass eye of the heavy-load washer. The drum was spinning, gleaming metal going round and round with nothing in it. No clothes bouncing, no underpants tangling with work shirts and socks and suds. It was empty. He put his clothes and detergent in one machine and his money, four dollars and fifty cents, into another. Once they start running, you can’t stop these big machines. They lock until the cycle is over. The man’s money was sunk. I looked at his face and his eyes beamed. He laughed. His crooked teeth were burning white. His thick dreadlocks bounced with the shaking of his head. His jeans were baggy and pegged tight at the ankle. Down on his luck for sure, but here was a man with style. I laughed with him. I’ve never seen it I say. A friend of his came in from the warm bright of outside, a Cuban woman who works in the Laundromat emptying coin canisters and tidying. He told her what happened and soon we three were laughing again, making a racket. That’s good money down the drain she says. It’s not your day I say. You shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning.I compliment his good attitude because I am amazed by it. If the same had happened to me there’d be a dent in the machine and a nasty electric cloud in the room. Just once in my life I’d like to know what it’s like to react to slim misfortune without lashing out. What relief and dignity there must be to laughing something off. What small connections he brought to that room, a Laundromat full of long faces and the resentment of exposed drudgery. He became a magnet of good will to those around him. He kept smiling as he made more change at the machine and fed the right washer with his coins. He’d disappeared into the background with the rest of the strangers when I felt a bump on my arm. I looked up. My forehead was slick with sweat. I was burning my fingers on rivets and buttons in a hot dryer. There’s a scratch-off lottery ticket in my face. See where a good attitude gets you? the voice says from behind flashing white teeth. The man’s got a hundred bucks coming his way, matched up correct on scratched-out silver blobs. No way. I say as he struts to his machine. A winner.   [Photo: From Laundromat, a collection of photographs by Snorri Sturluson, 2013. More of the photos are available here.]

Oh shit. I heard a man say under the Sunday bustle at the Laundromat. Look what I did. He smiled wide and turned his head to the ground. I looked at the glass eye of the heavy-load washer. The drum was spinning, gleaming metal going round and round with nothing in it. No clothes bouncing, no underpants tangling with work shirts and socks and suds. It was empty. He put his clothes and detergent in one machine and his money, four dollars and fifty cents, into another. Once they start running, you can’t stop these big machines. They lock until the cycle is over. The man’s money was sunk. I looked at his face and his eyes beamed. He laughed. His crooked teeth were burning white. His thick dreadlocks bounced with the shaking of his head. His jeans were baggy and pegged tight at the ankle. Down on his luck for sure, but here was a man with style. I laughed with him. I’ve never seen it I say. A friend of his came in from the warm bright of outside, a Cuban woman who works in the Laundromat emptying coin canisters and tidying. He told her what happened and soon we three were laughing again, making a racket. That’s good money down the drain she says. It’s not your day I say. You shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning.I compliment his good attitude because I am amazed by it. If the same had happened to me there’d be a dent in the machine and a nasty electric cloud in the room. Just once in my life I’d like to know what it’s like to react to slim misfortune without lashing out. What relief and dignity there must be to laughing something off. What small connections he brought to that room, a Laundromat full of long faces and the resentment of exposed drudgery. He became a magnet of good will to those around him. He kept smiling as he made more change at the machine and fed the right washer with his coins. He’d disappeared into the background with the rest of the strangers when I felt a bump on my arm. I looked up. My forehead was slick with sweat. I was burning my fingers on rivets and buttons in a hot dryer. There’s a scratch-off lottery ticket in my face. See where a good attitude gets you? the voice says from behind flashing white teeth. The man’s got a hundred bucks coming his way, matched up correct on scratched-out silver blobs. No way. I say as he struts to his machine. A winner. 

[Photo: From Laundromat, a collection of photographs by Snorri Sturluson, 2013. More of the photos are available here.]

The air is getting thick and heavy. It’s time to drag the fan up from the basement. It’s not your average pharmacy box fan, or one of those rotators that wobbles from one side of its pivot to the other like an unsteady toddler. This fan has the shape of a column, straight up and down. Vertical. It swivels, but it takes up very little space. I inherited the fan from my parents, two people who take good, serious care of their objects. My father has a file cabinet full of user manuals, many yellowed and brittle and belonging to appliances and gizmos he no longer owns. I remember trips to the repair shop on State Street, with its dusty sign and shelves overflowing with parts, dangling wires and diodes. When the TV broke, we brought it to be repaired by an old man in that shop. He’s dead now and the shop closed five years ago. His name was Markman, the same name up on the sign. Radios and audio equipment were repaired there too. I loved to dismantle things when I was young, to take them apart with screwdrivers or pry them open to see their guts. Old VCRs, equipment from my dad’s years in the army overseas, old radios and busted 16mm cameras. Even if I didn’t know what the thing was, I’d take it apart. I marveled over the innards of the machinery, the shiny metal column, on a tilt, inside the boring plastic coat of a VCR. The speakers and green circuit boards inside old telephones. They had tiny metal spikes that could cut your skin if you weren’t careful. I dreamt of making time machines or invisibility cloaks from works and doo-dads I found inside. The old glass tubes from a TV encased in fake wood, MAGNAVOX stamped on a tiny plastic plate under the screen, looked like they might contain potions. Typewriters were most amazing, nothing but metal levers and screws and oily springs. They seemed infinite. I never closed up the things I took apart, the surgery ended at dismantling, cutting in. I never resealed the patient, having lost track of the screws and the order of assembly in my excitement and distraction. My father raised hell each time he found some object disemboweled and hidden away in a corner of the garage. A few years ago, this fan – this inheritance – began to squeak. It was loud, like a shriek, and happened at weirdo times in the middle of the night. It was frightening. I thought to put it out on the curb to become someone else’s problem, but I reached for my screwdriver instead. I took the panels off, tried to understand the systems and moving parts. I found the problem. A worn piece of rubber – round like a washer with a hole in the middle – had disintegrated with all the spinning and all the years. Millions of revolutions. A long, shining metal mandrel that spins the air-fanning apparatus had come loose and was rubbing against other metal and plastic. I found a way to brace the mandrel and keep it straight, mostly with duct tape, and it works like magic again. I have to fix it a few times each summer, but I enjoy the sensation of closing the plastic housing and turning all the screws tight.   [Image: Vintage Russian Camera Manual courtesy of blog.iso50.com ]

The air is getting thick and heavy. It’s time to drag the fan up from the basement. It’s not your average pharmacy box fan, or one of those rotators that wobbles from one side of its pivot to the other like an unsteady toddler. This fan has the shape of a column, straight up and down. Vertical. It swivels, but it takes up very little space. I inherited the fan from my parents, two people who take good, serious care of their objects. My father has a file cabinet full of user manuals, many yellowed and brittle and belonging to appliances and gizmos he no longer owns. I remember trips to the repair shop on State Street, with its dusty sign and shelves overflowing with parts, dangling wires and diodes. When the TV broke, we brought it to be repaired by an old man in that shop. He’s dead now and the shop closed five years ago. His name was Markman, the same name up on the sign. Radios and audio equipment were repaired there too. I loved to dismantle things when I was young, to take them apart with screwdrivers or pry them open to see their guts. Old VCRs, equipment from my dad’s years in the army overseas, old radios and busted 16mm cameras. Even if I didn’t know what the thing was, I’d take it apart. I marveled over the innards of the machinery, the shiny metal column, on a tilt, inside the boring plastic coat of a VCR. The speakers and green circuit boards inside old telephones. They had tiny metal spikes that could cut your skin if you weren’t careful. I dreamt of making time machines or invisibility cloaks from works and doo-dads I found inside. The old glass tubes from a TV encased in fake wood, MAGNAVOX stamped on a tiny plastic plate under the screen, looked like they might contain potions. Typewriters were most amazing, nothing but metal levers and screws and oily springs. They seemed infinite. I never closed up the things I took apart, the surgery ended at dismantling, cutting in. I never resealed the patient, having lost track of the screws and the order of assembly in my excitement and distraction. My father raised hell each time he found some object disemboweled and hidden away in a corner of the garage. A few years ago, this fan – this inheritance – began to squeak. It was loud, like a shriek, and happened at weirdo times in the middle of the night. It was frightening. I thought to put it out on the curb to become someone else’s problem, but I reached for my screwdriver instead. I took the panels off, tried to understand the systems and moving parts. I found the problem. A worn piece of rubber – round like a washer with a hole in the middle – had disintegrated with all the spinning and all the years. Millions of revolutions. A long, shining metal mandrel that spins the air-fanning apparatus had come loose and was rubbing against other metal and plastic. I found a way to brace the mandrel and keep it straight, mostly with duct tape, and it works like magic again. I have to fix it a few times each summer, but I enjoy the sensation of closing the plastic housing and turning all the screws tight.  

[Image: Vintage Russian Camera Manual courtesy of blog.iso50.com ]