As an exercise to start thinking about the young men in O’Brien’s stories, I have asked my seniors to write about the things they carry — or plan to carry — as they begin the next part of their lives.
I’m not planning on going anywhere soon, but I have made many moves… not surprisingly, the list of things changes. But here are some of the things that I have carried since leaving home, back when I was 18 years old and on my way to college:
1. I carried two musical instruments, a clarinet and a saxophone. Both of these instruments got packed again when I went to Italy between my second and third years of college, and the saxophone still comes with me wherever I go. Since high school, the saxophone has been a big part of who I am and what I do. Wherever I’ve lived or worked I’ve made friends and (very little) money by playing music. Even though I don’t play or practice very regularly, I can’t imagine being anywhere for more than a few days without my horn. When I think about my life in different places, it’s often defined by the kind of playing I did: In college I was in the marching band, then the jazz band, then many orchestra pits. Then I was back home in Milwaukee, living at my parents’ house and sitting in at The Estate and The Main Event, the two local jazz clubs. Then I was back in Boston, sitting in at sessions at the Central Square VFW and the Cantab Lounge, every once in a while going to New York for the Sunday morning jam session at the Village Gate. Then I moved to Caracas and played at Juan Sebastian’s bar — even started my own working group and recorded a CD. In Portugal I never played at all, except with students at the high school where I worked, but now, here in Florida, I’m happily playing again…
All the way through high school and into college I carried, for some reason I still don’t understand, a mummy. It was a seventh grade social studies project — I’d wrapped up a doll in rags, and the mummy came with me everywhere. Eventually, though, it had to go.
I’ve always brought music with me. In college, it was two boxes of one hundred casette tapes and some Vinyl albums, then a few hundred CD’s plus the Cassettes and Vinyl. Now it’s a 500 gig hard drive, but soon I suspect it’ll all be up in the cloud and I won’t have to bring any of it with me.
I also have carried around a collection of books, which I started to acquire when I left my parents’ house. The collection started small — I think I had all of Vonnegut’s novels, in paperback, and a few books that had been given to me by my parents, or which I had borrowed (or appropriated, or stolen) from their library. That collection has expanded ro a few hundred, now that I’ve bought more books, and found many in schools — abandoned by students, or lost in the shffle of moving from place to place. In Venezuela someone who had worked for Britanica sold me the 1991 encyclopedia and their Great Books collection. While I seldom open any of these, I love having them on the shelves. There are my diaries, too… from Indonesia (summer of 1986) and Italy (1989-90). Then there are two albums of incriminating photos from college. Someday maybe I’ll digitize them… or lose them…
Since living in Venezuela, my wife and I have carried a lot of art around with us, too. We have a lot of paintings and sculptures, purchased from artists and friends of artists. Each painting and sculpture has some kind of a story behind it, and I’m glad we have been able to bring them with us.
So that’s it: A small art collection, a book collection, a music collection, and a saxophone. That’s what I carry.
What does it say about me?
It makes me look a lot more “artsy” than I think I am — I wouldn’t describe myself as the kind of guy people would think of as an artistic or literary person.