Spring 2003

Fungible Goods

The properties of property

Rachel Knecht

A man walking along a sidewalk in New York. There is nothing remarkable about his dress, his head, his gait, his posture. But there is the football. The football he cradles, now bounces, now tosses from hand to hand. The football he fakes, then throws to a passing teenager. The kid dives to catch it, then runs past the man, spins, and throws it back. The man continues. He throws the football to a businessman—who ignores it, an elderly woman—who drops it, picks it up, and places it back in his hands, shaking both of them at the same time, a young child with his mother—mother claps, a panhandler—who shouts at him and kicks the ball out in the street, a young woman, a man exactly his own height, a bicycle messenger—who catches it with one hand and tosses it backwards over his shoulder as he pedals away, a truckful of workers—who toss it among themselves before sending it back to its owner.

Bowler hat
Chamois cloth
Guns, Vases (under inventory)
Money purse
Paintings (see Art District)
Pot of honey
Red wheelbarrow
Rings, of Recollection
Severed heads
Souvenir penholder
Stuffed parrot

I almost lost my vacuum cleaner once. It was an upright one, not new at all; in fact, it was a hand-me-down vacuum cleaner. It sounds like a silly thing to care about, and an impossible thing to lose. How can you misplace a vacuum cleaner? Why did I care so much? Because I had just moved, and craved the stability of the same appliances; because my ex’s mother had given me this vacuum cleaner, and I still missed her (the mother); because I was broke, and couldn’t afford to buy a new vacuum cleaner? I had vacuumed that machine through three different apartments, two cities, four relationships.

Why does the word have only one “c” and two “u”’s? Or maybe it makes perfect sense that way.

The dog I had adopted during apartment number three, relationship four, really objected to the vacuum cleaner. He would bark ferociously at it from the moment it Hoovered out of the closet. It was a mystery, this antipathy; the vacuum cleaner was the only thing that made my dog bark. And bite—the thing was scarred with toothmarks after a year with the dog.

So I had just moved, still with my dog, but no relationship, from a second-floor apartment at 3133 North Calvert Street to a second-floor apartment at 3511 North Calvert Street. It wasn’t a far move, and so I did it in little trips, hardly even using boxes. I had a pickup truck at the time, and up and down Calvert Street I went. Different friends helped me on different days. I’m not sure exactly when I noticed it missing. I asked the various friends who had helped me move if they remembered anything about the vacuum cleaner. No, none of them did, but one of them told me that in French, the word is something like aspirator. Another of them asked if I had looked in the basement? No, I hadn’t—I couldn’t use the basement because it was full of the previous tenant’s belongings. It was part of the deal with my landlady: I would eventually have use of the basement—once she tracked down that tenant, who had paid up all his rent, but then vanished at the end of the lease, leaving everything behind.

For two months, I did without: I used a broom.

About two months after my move, I noticed a sign for a yard sale, marked with my address. It was early morning, not quite eight. I was out walking my dog. The sign was posted at the end of the block, it said 8 am till dusk, with that day’s date. Did it really say my address? Yes, 3511. I turned around, cutting short the dog walk. I hadn’t seen any sign of any such thing five minutes before as I had left the apartment. I remembered when I got back that there was a garage behind the apartment house.

It was a garage sale, not a yard sale. Anyway, plenty of people had already found it. They were milling around, one of them already had a small lamp tucked under his arm. There was my landlady. I waved, and started to walk over to her. The man with the lamp intercepted me, bending over to pet my dog. He was saying something about what kind of dog was it, when he (my dog) suddenly lunged, growling and snapping, jerking the leash out of my hand. He knocked the man slightly off balance, brushing past him—not at him—but still the man lost his grip on the lamp, which hit the ground with a huge crash ... no, the crash was the sound of my dog knocking over a card table stacked with a silver-plated tea service, then the cry of an elderly obese woman falling into a chair too small for her, as my dog rushed by her too, barking savagely, leaping, attacking ... my vacuum cleaner. There was no doubt about it. The same dingy beige, upright Electrolux. How could it be? But there it was, labeled: 1st Floor, in magic marker, in my ex’s mother’s hand. And the toothmarks, there they were.

Today, I live with the goods of that garage sale. I bought out that garage sale, and refurnished my apartment. A swap with the disappeared tenant: my things are in the basement now. Or is it me in the basement ... Was it the things I swapped, or the space (or did they swap me)?

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Cultural Revolution porcelain penholder

On the front of this porcelain penholder it was the image Mao and Lin Biao together, reviewing the Cultural Revolution Army. On the back was Mao’s words, “Revolution improves productivity”, a famous slogan in the late 1960’s. Interesting imprints are found on the bottom of this porcelain penholder, it stated the following: “In memory of Manufacturing Company’s Revolution Committee, October 1967.” The Revolution Committee was written in shortcuts to save the space. This was like a souvenir item to celebrate the establishment of the revolution committee for a manufacturing company.

Size: height 5.12", diameter 2".
Price: $28

ACTS 5:1–5 NIV
{1} Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. {2} With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. {3} Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? {4} Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.” {5} When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.

I went to a word auction once. That’s the auction that sells off words, where the auctioneer speaks in fast objects.

Rachel Knecht is a writer living in New York; professor of writing at NYU/Gallatin School; secretary of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta to the United Nations.

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