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    April 2009

    17. The Museum of Whatnot

    By Kevin Wilson

    A man himself is junk and all his life he clutters the earth with it . . . he lives in it. He loves it. He worships it. He collects it and stands guard over it. —William Saroyan, 1952

    *

    This is how my day starts: checking the newspaper hats for silverfish. Dusting the mason jars of baby teeth. Realigning the framed labels of apricot jars. My mother calls me every Friday to remind me about my body. “Janey, you’re going to wake up one day, childless, and all you’ll have are those . . . things.” And probably she’s right. Still, I tell her that I’d rather watch over other people’s useless things than have to deal with my own. She hangs up after that.

    I am thirty-one years old. I have a degree in museum science from Dartmouth. I keep to myself. I am the caretaker and sole employee of the Carl Jensen Museum of Whatnot. We, and by we, I mean me, call it the MOW. We sell T-shirts but no one’s buying.

    The MOW is the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the acquisition and preservation of the everyday made unique. Things that are ordinarily junk but not junk because someone, somewhere, made it more than that . . . Read More.

    16. Telegraph Dog

    By Mark Twain

    It was in the time of the Indian war, a quarter of a century ago. Company C, 7th Cavalry, 45 strong, had been headed off by a body of well armed Indians numbering 600 seasoned warriors, and had taken sanctuary in a small island in the South Platte a hundred miles from the nearest army post. Their situation was critical, and from day to day it grew worse; for their supply of provisions was slender, and a couple of attempts to get word to the fort had failed. This during the first twelve days. The Indians appeared in force every morning at a judicious distance beyond the river in the plain, and for hours kept up a long-range rifle practice upon the camp. The sharp-shooters of Company C wasted no ammunition—it was too scarce and too precious for that; they only fired when they were nearly sure of their man; the intervals between their shots were wide, but the shots were deadly. In the course of a day’s work they bagged many Indians, while the reckless storm of Indian bullets harvested but a small crop of casualties by comparison. Yet the general result was against the soldiers, for to them the loss of a man was a serious matter, whereas to the enemy the loss of a dozen was of no considerable consequence.

    Sometimes the Indians, driven to fury by the stubborn resistance of the handful of whites cast their native caution aside for a moment and dashed through the shallow stream and tried to storm the camp—but in broad day always; so the whites were ready for them, and flung them back defeated, each time.

    At the end of three weeksthe soldiers were in sorry case. Their commander was lying in the protection of a pit hollowed in the sand, helpless, with both legs broken by balls; eight of his men were dead, twelve were wounded, five of them to disablement; . . . Read More.

    15. A House in the Country

    By Thornton Wilder

    Throughout the twenty years that he had served at the Warehouse, Old Malcolm had rarely missed a day’s work. He wrote a fair hand, knew all the variations in a bill of lading, and was generally called upon to teach newcomers their routine. But Old Malcolm had never been a satisfactory clerk. His thoughts had always tended to roar, and with the passing of years so great an absent-mindedness had grown upon him that only the extreme simplicity of his duties prevented him from involving his house in grave commercial errors. In the boarding-house where he lived another monotony encouraged his habits of abstraction. The elderly women who succeeded one another in its direction resented the presence of the unsociable dreamer. There were days when he was hazily conscious both of sharp reprimands at the Warehouse and of shrill abuse at home. Fortunately he had found a way of shutting out all that.

    It is hard to live twenty years without having been admired by someone, and Old Malcolm had been forced to construct for himself a world wherein he played a more influential and more sympathetic part. His thoughts kept returning to a dream he had cherished from his youth, that [at] intervals children were sent off to their beds in bathtubs, hammocks and trunks. Towards twelve and one the conversation grew intermittent and they fell to thinking of the trials that had attained this consummation; for it was generally understood that everyone was there to stay, that there illness, poverty, or hate could never reach them more. Even death did not approach the house in the country.

    This was the scene that Old Malcolm kept evoking to himself as he went about his duties. . . . Read More.

    14. Year of the Dog

    By Casey Kait

    Meili met us at the door of the restaurant. She kissed my head as my father and I entered, and when he wasn’t looking, she slipped me a thin, red envelope. It had a bright purple ship and two fat goldfish dancing on a turquoise sea. There was a raised gold border like a Greek key and gold characters that I couldn’t read. I knew what was inside—a crisp twenty-dollar bill—same as every New Year.

    My father had been Meili’s ESL teacher in Paterson, and each year it seemed there was a new wave of students from another part of the world. Julya, a Russian student, gave me a plump nesting doll. Phuong made me special tiny Vietnamese spring rolls wound tight as cigarillos. The students fawned over me, sent little gifts home with my father, tokens of their appreciation. But it was Meili who really spoiled me. She had two sons and told me I was her adopted daughter.

    I slipped the envelope into my coat pocket and ran my thumb over its bumpy surface. I loved Meili’s presents. They were grown-up and seemed expensive. She had given me two necklaces—a gold chain with three small, gold balls strung on it, and a silver one with a jade pendant in the shape of a heart. . . . Read More.

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