Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pocket's Red Glare

I really thought I was going to need that toothbrush.

I had to dump the contents of my pockets into a tray on Saturday, but I didn’t do it for Homeland Security.

I did it for art.

I had joined other members of the Meetup group “Everything Brooklyn” to attend the annual Gowanus Open Studios event in Park Slope.

We hiked in and around old warehouses in Park Slope that have been converted into art studios.

One of the artists, Joana Ricou, was working on a fantastic project where she asked people to take whatever they had out of their pockets, put it all in a tray, and allow her to photograph it.

Joana explained that the contents of our pockets tell us who we are at a given moment in time. The photos are a freeze frame of our lives, particularly in this age of the smart phone, where we carry personal computers packed with all our vital information.

I usually leave my house with my front pockets brimming with all manner of stuff—bloated wallet, I-phone, house keys, and a business card holder that also contains my parents’ prayer cards as well as one for Mary, the woman who took care of my dad up until his death.

Mary’s card is inscribed with “The Prayer of St. Francis,” my choice for the most beautiful prayer ever, and I like to keep it handy.

On this day I also was carrying a traveler’s toothbrush. I had thought that perhaps I’d go to a story-telling show in Manhattan after the art tour and, if so, I intended to stop at one of the New York Sports Club’s outlets to take to a sauna, a shower, and brush the old chompers.

What can I say? I wasn’t a Boy Scout for very long, but I do like to be prepared.

I stepped back when the call for volunteers went out. I wasn’t going to allow someone to take a mug shot of all this personal material so total strangers could gawk and snicker at it.

But the concept fascinated me; it’s so simple, yet so brilliant. What we carry says so much about us that I thought I might learn something if I joined in.

Personal Defects

One of the people in our group went first and, annoyed at myself for holding back, I stepped up behind him and grabbed an empty tray.

“I might need two of these,” I said.

I must say it took a while to dig out all of my possessions. I thought I heard somebody chuckle when I removed the toothbrush, but it didn’t bother me. I wanted to share.

I told Joana about the prayer cards and she plucked Mary’s out of the folder and set it on top of the pile so the camera could capture it.

Then I stepped back and I looked at my life in a tray. Jesus, the only things missing here were a pack of condoms and a flare gun.

Clearly I don’t like to be caught short, and I’m a virtual slave to my dad’s rule of “better to have it and not need it, then to need it and not have it.”

My life often feels as crammed as my pockets. Before meeting up with the group on Saturday afternoon, I had gone to my gym, dry cleaners and fruit store. And I seriously thought I’d go to another event in Manhattan? Ultimately, I scraped that last bit, deciding that the day had been long enough.

I felt strange looking at my all stuff; it was liberating in a way, a kind of out-of-body experience. I belonged to no one.

Yes, at the moment I had no identity, no way of calling the outside world, and no place to live. But I also felt free to be somebody else—or a better version of who I am now.

I could be someone who is not so cautious and uptight. I could stop obsessing about planning things and actually start doing them. Even my parents’ prayer cards, which mean so much to me, are symbols of the love that I carry for them in my heart every waking moment.

I had a sudden flashback to Jack Finney’s “Contents of the Dead Man’s Pockets,” a short story I read as a freshman at Brooklyn Tech in 1971 and which I probably haven’t thought about since.

The story concerns a young man who risks his life to retrieve an important business document that has blown out the window of his high rise apartment and come to rest on a ledge.

The guy gets into some very serious trouble and at one point he wonders what people will think when they scrape his corpse from the sidewalk and look through his pockets.

All of a sudden that vitally important document wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

Joana’s project really got me thinking, which is the greatest compliment I can pay to any artist. Thanks to her I was recalling my past, examining my present and reconsidering my future.

I gathered up my belongings and made way for another one of my companions to take the plunge. My pockets were full again, but nothing could weigh me down.


Ron said...

Okay Rob, this was like the COOLEST thing EVER!

I clicked over on the links you left, so I could see who Joana was and to also see the photos she took for the Fantastic Project. was SO interesting to see all the different stuff that people carry. And I loved the one tray with the two tampons in it - HA!

And I swear to god, am I the only person on this planet who doesn't carry a CELL PHONE because practically all the trays had a Smartphone in it.

This was such a great idea Joana had. Both artist AND thought-provoking!

And I LOVED this....

"Then I stepped back and I looked at my life in a tray. Jesus, the only things missing here were a pack of condoms and a flare gun."

Bwhahahahahaha! Cracked me up!

Btw, was YOUR photo over there because I didn't see one with a toothbrush in it?

GREAT post, buddy! Sounds like you had a FUN time!

Have a faaaabulous week!

Rob K said...

Hey, Ron, what's up?

No cell phono? Good for you! We've got too many people blabbing into their palms already. It's good to be disconnected from time to time.

The project is so cool. I haven't seen my tray posted yet, but we'll give it some time. It should be quite a sight.

Take care, buddy, and have a great week!

Bijoux said...

I'm going to assume some of the photos were contents of purses, cuz how do you fit all that in pockets?

What an interesting project. Something along the lines of 'We are what we carry'. I always have my phone and a bottle of water because I like to communicate and stay hydrated. I like your idea of a travel toothbrush. I might have to pop one in my purse.

Rob K said...

Hey, Bijoux!

Yes, you're right. Some of the photos do show the contents of people's purses. In fact, one of my friends emptied her purse for the cause.

The tooth does come in handy. I just have to get deeper pockets!

Take care!

Anonymous said...

This is pretty awesome. Now while I don't carry anything in my pocket- i I were to empty my purse I think there would be an interesting assortment of things to find. I can only imagine what is in there! So weird to think that someone one day could look through such a personal yet disconnected part of your life to try and figure out who you are. Really great post, had me thinking!

Rob K said...

Thank you so much! Perhaps you could go through your purse and see what's in there...

Take care!

V said...

awesome indeed. now i wonder what she would think of me and what's in my pocketbook. well i don't carry a pocketbook but only a camera bag. i'm not like most women. i don't primp, don't wear make up nor do i carry the kitchen sink in my bag. i keep it simple.

Rob K said...

Hey, Val, how's it going?

Simple is the best!

Jay at The Depp Effect said...

Wow .. what a great idea! I've no love for 'concept art' but this is a really good one, and one that really does reflect life.

Heaven knows what people would make of the contents of my pockets. Actually, I wonder if it would give a wrong impression, because (among other things) there is usually a pedometer, and I'm a long way from being a fitness freak. But perhaps the strips of Co-codamol and Gaviscon tablets would give that away?

I loved this blog. I love the way you thought through it and how it made you think. You might be uptight and cautious (join the club!) but you also sound a very genuine, sympathetic and nice person. :)

Rob K said...

Oh, my dearest Jay, thank you so much!

Yes, I'm uptight, cautious, and cuckcoo to boot, but I feel so much better knowing I've got someone like you on my side.

Keep that pedometer handy: you might suddenly have the urge to run a marathon!