Fall/Winter 2003

Cabinetlandia: Update No. 1

Sina Najafi

At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all look that) I would put my finger on it and say, “When I grow up I will go there…” True, by this time it was not a blank space any more. It had got filled in since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery—a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over. It had become a place of darkness.
—Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Not darkness, but blinding sunlight was covering “ranchette” Unit 34, Block 4, Lot 8 outside Deming, New Mexico, as Cabinet fellow traveler Spencer Finch and I arrived in the afternoon of 13 July 2003, to see for the first time the half-acre of land the magazine had bought sight-unseen in January for its issue on “Property.” We had, much in the spirit of the quote above, sat in armchairs here in Brooklyn and overlaid the land with names and divided it into pieces, some as small as the dimensions of an issue of the magazine. Readerland, Nepotismia, Internland, Funderlandia. These names, satirical or not, implied order, structure, and, above all, possession.

But now, despite all this civilizing work, Spencer and I faced a large undifferentiated tract of desert, with some wildish horses off in the distance. Most of the land was worthless, but nestled somewhere in there was a very special half-acre of land—ours. Like parents trying to find the one special child among the sea of indistinguishable, wrinkled baby faces in the hospital nursery, we set out to determine as best as we could the perimeters of our plot. We were equipped with some highly sophisticated instruments, including a Geiger counter and a light colorimeter, but a measuring tape had not crossed our ambitious minds. Knowing that our land was the 8th plot from the left out of a total of 22 identical plots, we were reduced (or perhaps elevated) to methods that Euclid would have recognized. Long division, pen, and paper came to the rescue.

A proper flag would have completed our parental-imperial adventure but we had come instead with a wooden mailbox, with me harboring what turned out to be vain hopes that Deming’s post office might be convinced to deliver occasional letters to our land, some 15 minutes’ drive east of the city. Once our mailbox was erected, we then carried out a request for Cabinet’s website co-director, artist Luke Murphy. He had provided us with the aforementioned Geiger counter and asked that a small piece of radioactive uranium he had also kindly supplied be buried on the land. We were then to take readings of the radioactivity at the surface for over two hours. (I should mention here that our drive from San Antonio to Deming had been heavily compromised because I had forgotten to take my green card, and the US now has a kind of border within its borders where special patrol cars routinely stop drivers and ask for their papers. If you are ever in a mad rush to drive from Texas to New Mexico, make sure to leave behind your swarthy Middle Eastern friend missing his papers, your Geiger counter, your samples of radioactive uranium, and any books you might be reading on the Taliban or other evildoers).

Having generally announced ourselves to the land, we retired for the night. The next day was packed with appointments with various members of the Deming Chamber of Commerce (our chests puffed when we saw that the Chamber had the “Property” issue in its office and had also featured the magazine’s project in one of its newsletters). Some facts that we learned from our conversations:

1. There are rattlesnakes and scorpions on our land. Whoever visits the land next should please leave behind a pair of workman’s boots inside the mailbox. Send us a photo and the receipt and we will reimburse you.

2. If you see a rattlesnake, do not move away. Spencer, who is obviously being retained by a competing cultural magazine, had advised me to turn and flee immediately. No, let the fear drip into all your nooks and crannies and petrify you instead.

3. We purchased our land for $325 on Ebay. Identical plots of land are available, however, for as little as $75 through the Deming city registry. Many owners neglect to pay their whopping taxes (ours just came in the mail; it was $7.36) and the repossessed plots are put up for sale by the city.

4. The origins of these half-acre lots go back to the 1960s when a Deming resident by the name of Carter Kirk bought some worthless nearby land, divided it into small “ranchettes” (he apparently coined this term), and placed notices in Northern newspapers advertising a good place for retirement. Perhaps to his surprise, many Northerners, especially from Chicago, fell for the scheme. The plots originally sold for $299.

Finally, thank you for sending your pennies to claim your bit of Readerland. We received close to a thousand replies and are continuing to process your orders. We will be sending you information about your micro-estate in the near future. In the meantime, here are two interesting letters that we received in response to the project.

• • •

Date: June 13, 2003
From: Matthew Passmore, San Francisco, California

I read with interest the article in the Spring ’03 edition of Cabinet regarding your land acquisition in Luna County, New Mexico. Congratulations on joining the landed gentry.

I am writing to inquire about development possibilities for the land. I have in mind the idea of building the Cabinet National Library on a small piece of the land. The Library would, fittingly, be a small cabinet that contains all (and only) the issues of Cabinet magazine. Visitors to Cabinetlandia and/or Cabinet subscribers would be eligible to apply for a library card and subsequently check out issues of your fine magazine.

I will place a cabinet upright in the desert (right now, I am thinking of a standard two-drawer file cabinet, roughly three feet tall). I will then mound earth around the cabinet, completely covering it on three sides, leaving only the drawer side/front exposed for access to the library. (Please see the attached detailed sketch.)

The idea is to make it look like the cabinet grew naturally out of the landscape; as if, in Cabinetlandia, cabinets are naturally occurring elements of the ecosystem.

The mound will require some kind of substructure (piled rocks, wood frame, etc.) to prevent it from eroding away into nothingness. I will also plant native plants on the mound to prevent erosion. The cabinet will of course need to be weather-proofed (for water, heat, wind, fauna). I am also researching the possibility of putting a solar-powered light in front of the library in order to illuminate it at night.

I would be happy to create a detailed proposal for this project, and also to go out to the desert and build it. I hope all is well with you, and that you are surrounded by small spaces full of possibility.

• • •

Date: June 6, 2003
From: Brian Lehman, San Rafael, California

In 1974, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band released an album called “Good Earth” in which there was a postcard that buyers of the album could send in to obtain deed to one square foot of land on a hillside in Wales. It was a kind of land preserve by mass ownership. I was reminded of the album with your issue #10 and your purchase of the Luna County parcel plus the small parcels in Queens County. Perhaps there’s a performance aspect in which all the parcels could be linked. The Manfred Mann piece in Wales and the US parcels synchronized in time and space via a gesture or motion or stance wherein someone in each locale at a given instant might face a given direction. I suppose it would make sense to have some ritualized gesture involved, but not necessarily needed. Simply linking through an agreed-upon simultaneity of being might be plenty. As long as it isn’t too self-serious.

Two web pages with info on the Manfred Mann album:
www.manfredmann.co.uk/whats_new/press_cuttings_5.html [link defunct—Eds.]
www.manfredmann.co.uk/music/good.html­ [link defunct—Eds.]

Sina Najafi is editor-in-chief of Cabinet.