November 20, 2013

Abracadabra

It was a fascinating old house, cluttered with books and records and objects, dusty old furniture, display cases, wardrobes, upholstered chairs. As a boy, I found it endlessly fascinating. I don’t think too many people visited there.

The old man had converted the attached garage into an office/studio, with stations for various activities. There were weird lamps hanging over wooden tables, a long bench made out of an old door on sawhorses, typewriters from various periods, electric ones, non-electric ones, huge books full of small type and images.

He wore a hat with a light on it and a loup that could be pulled down in front of one eye. He caught me looking in the basement window one day when I was casing the place to steal something. He knew what I was up to, but he invited me in and offered me a tuna salad sandwich.

I didn’t say much to start with, being ashamed of my purpose, but he asked questions and I nodded a lot. Somewhere along the line, I started looking at a wooden box on the wall with little compartments. Focusing on the little objects helped me avoid making eye contact, but then I started to notice the little things on there.

“Ah,” he said, “You can see it!”

“Huh?” I didn’t know what I could see. It was just a bunch of junk, rocks, broken pieces of pottery and colored glass. Why would anyone save such things?

“Here,” he said, handing me a small dark, roundish stone, pressing it, almost painfully, into my hand, squeezing my hand around it. “I picked that up under the light of a full moon, on the autumnal equinox, in the year I marked three cycles of the Chinese zodiac. I found it in the dust on the side of a tree-lined road. It cast a glow that made the leaves move away, drawing me to it. It’s a magic stone.”

“What does it do?”

“What do you want it to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You have a lot of time to figure that out. It is yours now.”

I figured it was a bunch of hokum; the old man was just giving me a worthless rock to get me to leave him alone with his junk, but there was something about his attitude that made me feel comfortable. He wasn’t trying to get rid of me. He was telling me something about who he was. You don’t do that when you’re trying to get somebody to go away.

I haven’t shown that stone to many people. At first, I kind of joked with my friends about it, but I started to recognize that they were full of menace; they made fun of the story, and I got the feeling that if I told them any more about the old man, they’d go rob him or something, so I laughed it off.

A few years later I started to recognize the stone’s magic. I showed it to some people I trusted. It was an exercise that helped me identify people who were touched by the grace. Sadly, there weren’t many of them, and I spent a lot of time trying to cultivate that vision in people who didn’t have it.

When the old man passed away, I got an inheritance from him, a bequest. It came by parcel post, a huge, heavy book. It’s probably handmade. There are hundreds of pages. There was a note from the executor of the man’s estate, a lawyer in Massachusetts, explaining that he was obligated to send it to me, but he didn’t see that it had any value.

Indeed, a casual assessment would result in the assumption that the pages were blank, but close examination revealed that they were textured, as if they had been etched upon, like with a stylus or a pen with no ink. You might think I could rub the pages with a pencil to see if the indentations would reveal their messages, but with “writing” on both sides of hundreds of pages, such an effort would simply waste a lot of time and ruin the book.

Over the years, I have spent hundreds of hours with it, taking in the old man’s stories and narratives, explanations and incantations. It is one of my greatest treasures, among the many items you can see all around.

For further consideration: “Blue is the Warmest Color” is the first film based on a graphic novel to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes.