I recently reorganized my office and, as a result, confronted the odd collection of items I have kept on my desk over the years. I’m a sentimental person, but also one increasingly disinclined toward clutter and non-utilitarian objects.
That said, why do I have a soiled plastic Donald Duck, four inches high, on my desk? Why has this duck followed me from Waco to San Antonio to Baltimore, surviving a total of eight moves? I have no particular affinity for Donald. I liked Tweety Bird and Foghorn Leghorn and Daffy Duck, but not Donald, never Donald.
I ran over this duck while parking my car one day on the street that ran perpendicular to Franklin Street, home of the Waco Tribune-Herald. (Ninth Street? Am I right about that? Am I even right about Franklin? The Memory Project is run according to the same loose guidelines employed by Nicholson Baker in “U and I,” one of my favorite books, in which he writes about Updike but does not allow himself to check anything as he goes, correcting himself later via footnote.) After glimpsing Donald in the shadow of my brown Ford Escort, I picked him up and put him on my desk. At some point — Waco, San Antonio — I actually impaled Donad on an old-fashioned spike, the kind that gave rise to that word as a verb for the death of a story. (Donald has a small hole in his base, so it’s not as painful as it sounds. I just turned him over to inspect that hole and found this inscription “1977 Gabriel IND MFC Elmwood N.J.) Spikes disappeared from newsrooms, as did huge glue pots — but not before, in a fit of boredom one election night, I took the lid off and inhaled, just to see what would happen. Twenty-two years later, I just want to see if there were any errors in the returns from, say, Bosque or Meridian, or even Crawford — I am truly, truly sorry.
Donald is one of the oldest objects on my desk, although the wind-up sumo wrestlers from a now defunct Georgetown toy store are a close second. I bought those while in the company of one of my dearest friends, Nancy Goldman Greenberg, so they’re here to remind me of her. Other artifacts include a small carved cat from Mexico, given to me by another good friend, except I can no longer remember who it was, just that the cat reminded me of James Russell, the fearsome cat who roamed my San Antonio neighborhood like some deranged man, terrorizing humans and cats alike until a pack of dogs took him out.
I know at some point there will come a time when I won’t want to pack Donald, the sumo wrestlers, my little carved cat, my Brooks Robinson card, my tarnished baby cup, my collection of Easter eggs, the tiny Day of the Dead figure that shows three business-suited skeletons on a park bench propped up on a naked skeleton, with the inscription “Pacto de Solidaridad Economica.” But, for now, I don’t think I could work without them.
What non-essential item is essential to your workday?