The Inside of Floyd B. Olson's Nose

Here's something I don't think I have ever told anyone. It's no dark revelation, just something odd I never thought about much until driving to work today. Ready? Okay, here it is...

As a boy I developed a habit of hiding things in places where they could be left undisturbed for a long time. I'm not sure why I started doing this. Perhaps I was inspired by the idea of time capsules, those vaults or lead boxes filled with a miscellany of contemporary artifacts. It could be, too, that it's just another manifestation of my obsession with time, the way it only goes in the one direction: from available to unavailable.

For whatever reason, I began doing this when I was fairly young. I remember there was a staircase in our grade school, and I must have been about eight or nine. I waited until no one was around and then crept under that leftover and useless space always formed by a staircase on the bottom floor. I wedged a penny between the steel casing of the stairs and the walls. I haven't been back for a long time, but it was there as recently a 15 years ago. I found myself in my old school once more. I was alone. I just had to look. Still there.

Over the years I've even made this habit something of a small tradition. I've hidden poems in many of the houses or apartments where I've lived. There are poems even now stuffed behind wainscoting or picture moldings of half a dozen apartments. I don't even recall what I wrote. It just seemed interesting to leave some evidence behind. I doubt anyone ever discovered these lost poems or thought much about them if they did. No doubt, most of them will be carted off with the debris when the buildings or houses are raised.

I worked for the Minnesota Historical Society for a little under a year after I got out of grad school. It was a part-time job giving history tours of the statehouse. It didn't pay well, but the other guides were smart and funny creative types stitching together lives with a few low-paying jobs. One guy rebuilt pipe organs, another woman was going to culinary school, and still another woman was an artist who did elaborate mosaics out of broken glass.

The last day I worked at the statehouse, the summer before I started teaching, I was standing in a long, marbled hallway staring at the bust of Floyd B. Olson, the twenty-second governor of Minnesota, a Depression-era populist and former I.W.W. man. It was just the two of us in the hallway, so I took a dime from my pocket, reached up and into the bust from below and rested the coin along the backside of the governor's nose.

Checked it a few years ago. Still there.

I've heard that Zen Buddhists sometimes plant a tree and return to it at various moments in their lives to meditate on change. These trees, like my lost poems and pocket change, are fixed points. They stay while we leave and forget them for awhile. Then we return and reconnect with who we were when we were someone else. But considered absolutely, both staying and leaving are indistinguishable. The tree changes as well. It only seems fixed in place and time, but it's growing, moving, aging. Like us, it too will be carted off someday. I'm not sure what the Buddhists get out of all this, but I confess that I like going back to the places where I've hidden things. It is always strangely wonderful to fish my hand into the darkness and withdraw some half-remembered thing that's long waited for my return.

I really need to hide something again. It's been a long time.


TXC said…
Excellent! I like to write weird jokes and hide them inside people's brains. Years later, after I've forgotten the jokes, people repeat them to me, saying "Don't you remember saying that?"
Professor Quest said…
Hooray, a comment. I was beginning to feel a bit lonely since I revived the blog.

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