Monday, October 29, 2007

Things I'd Lose in the Fire

What would you save?

You've been given the 30-minute evacuation warning, and you can see the hillside flames charging your neighborhood so you know it's for real. What would you save?

I've been thinking about that a lot lately. I'm safely cushioned in a concrete suburbia, a man-made, beautifully window-dressed firewall, but if the winds and the heat became too much for even the city to withstand, how would spend that last half hour at home?

Rounding up the cats could take several minutes in itself . . . and I only have one kitty carrying case. The thought of cramming them in such tight quarters in the midst of an already chaotic situation doesn't sit well with me, but a trip to the local PetSmart for another cage would consume my thirty minutes as quickly as the flames rushing toward my apartment complex. Their safety trumps their comfort for now.

With the actual lives I'm responsible for secured, what about all of my stuff? The comics, action figures, and countless collectibles I've acquired over the years? I've happily accepted that they're all completely replaceable. Even the signed comics aren't worth my life, nor the time I could be spending gathering irreplaceable mementos. (Okay, perhaps I'd grab the signed Alex Ross Justice League plate, but only because it's on top of everything else.) Let those comics feed the flames, I say! Watch those poor action figures, over twenty years' worth of toys, bubble into a puddle of lead-ridden plastic. I'd proudly display that multi-colored mold next to its replacements in my new apartment, if only to show those chumps who the real hero is.

So, what are those "irreplaceable mementos" I mentioned? That's the thing -- I don't know. As much as I horde superhero-related stuff, I'm equally possessive about my personal trinkets. Yes, I'm my biggest fan, but I'm as unorganized about it as I am enthusiastic. The fantasy of a "trophy room," more commonly dubbed a "man-cave" by contemporary pop psychologists, plagues every geek, and many have managed to recreate their childhood bedrooms in adulthood "studies" or "dens," much to the chagrin of their girlfriends or wives. I attribute the craze to both Sherlock Holmes and Batman: Holmes, in that his Baker Street flat was a veritable museum to his multitude of solved mysteries, displaying everything from the Irene Adler locket to a fireplace painting of Reichenbach Falls, and Batman, in that he literally dwells in a cave with an attested "trophy room" wing . . . but I digress. Little ol' one-bedroom me hasn't achieved the trophy room dream yet, but the hope is in constant conception on my bedroom floor.

So, assuming that my apartment will become some field reporter's smoldering backdrop in a half hour's time, and considering that I've had time to think about it now, what would I grab to launch my coming-sooner-than-later trophy room? In a single pivot in my bedroom, I would grab the Christmas stocking in which my parents brought me home from the hospital and stuff in the Alex Ross plate face down, widening the stocking to carry more stuff. I'd drop in the keepsake box my friends and I were given as complimentary high school graduation gifts from some woodsmith in Arizona, in which is already a host of trinkets I told myself to cherish many years ago. I'd also grab my recently acquired portrait of my mother at sixteen-years-old, haunting painting that stared at me every weekend at Mima and Papa's house throughout my childhood. (The portrait is currently wrapped in my old He-Man bedsheet, which is a bonus.) On my way out of the bedroom, if I still has underarm space, I'd pull the 18" x 24" frame of pictures I have hanging in the hallway -- a montage of memories I collected a few years ago that includes a newspaper article about my old public access TV show Dumbfounded and a picture of me with radio talk show host Bill Handel. In the living room, I'd drop one of my speech trophies in the stocking, if only to ever-prove that I competed in something in high school, then I'd take one last long look at my desk, at which I've written and drawn for over fifteen years. Somewhere in the mess of papers on it now is the keepsake that started it all -- the item that, when I received it, inspired me to start keeping everything: the engraved golden pocket knife my cousin gave me as a thank you gift for being one of his groomsmen.

Two frames under my arm, a stocking in one hand and my cats in the other, and I'm out of there. Of course, this is assuming my girlfriend can take care of herself and also has two arms' worth of stuff to grab. Hey, if she has a free hand, she could always grab my Hall of Justice.

What? Chivalry isn't dead; it was just lost in the fire.

Indeed, therein lies the rub in replacing my, and anyone's, lifelong collection. While I could find a Hall of Justice on eBay or at any convention or trade show, and one probably in better condition than mine, it wouldn't be my Hall of Justice. It wouldn't be the same one my Super Powers figures defended from Darkseid for years, the one that often sat open and ready on my bedroom floor in case my younger self was inspired to recreate a story I'd imagined. Captain Picard was right in Star Trek: First Contact when he described the connection between tactility and memory to Data, just as Danny was right not to sell the house in that one episode of Full House. Four walls and a roof do not always a home make.

Also, if I actually owned a home, I realize that these items would not only represent their respective memories, but also elicit memories of the house itself, doubling their sentimental value. "I remember when I won that trophy . . . and all the others from the shelf in the old house, before . . ." Fire reinforces the importance of that old real estate adage, "location, location, location," because it doesn't discriminate and yet ironically attempts to consume it all.

In a tragedy that completely doesn't compare to the loss of a home, my laptop crashed last week, and in the day our tech guy warned me that all could be lost, I quickly mentally inventoried all of my saved pictures and music. The documents are replaceable, but the personal media hasn't been backed up in a while, and had he not been able to recover everything, years worth of illegally downloaded music and personally preserved pictures would've been lost . . . temporarily. The most treasured images, I assured myself, have been shared on-line and could easily be saved. The two tracks I recently actually purchased on-line have already been saved on a CD and my mp3 player. The only real price I paid was my inconvenient inability to blog at Starbucks -- proof that our society thankfully spoils even its poorest sons.

The lesson in all this is: scan and save those old photos on Flickr. You never know how long they'll last, and the memory is often only as vital as your connection to that image.

With a week's worth of thoughts bottled up here, I have more to blog later, including the peculiar treasure hunt I experienced last weekend. All of these pent up musings are burning me up here.

Too soon?

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