Unpacking the Boxes is a series of legacy writing pieces accompanied by photography. They form a larger narrative in the ideal of Borges and his garden.
The man in the hospital bed in front of you is named Jack. It is the moment before his death. He is not an important person in the eyes of the world, with his name appearing only twice in newspapers during the years from his birth in 1944 to his coming death in 1980. He has never appeared on television, and has enjoyed only a brief stint as a disc jockey on a Los Angeles radio station, his showed called Beamed from Boston. He doesn’t have a six figure salary or a beautiful wife and two kids. It is not important to know how he came to be in a coma at the age of 36, or what color the walls of the hospital room are painted. He will not live to see the rise of Hip Hop, or the fall of the Berlin Wall. He will miss the 1984 incarnation of the Ford Mustang, with which he would be thoroughly unimpressed, and he certainly will not witness Michael Jackson first performing the moonwalk during Billie Jean at the 25th anniversary of the birth of Motown. But, if you must know, the walls of his hospital room are a pastel green, somewhere between spring and emerald, and they evoke a sort of dreary stagnation due to the north facing windows.
Jack’s first brush with stardom came by way of the March 15, 1958 issue of the LA Times. The newspaper credit had to do with a play he acted in in ninth grade, Alice in Wonderland; it was a fine production in Jack’s eyes, and not because of the quality of the acting or the set design. No, it was a fine play for Jack because of a certain facet of the backstage area. You see, the set was designed with two intersecting walls, and thus two intersecting passageways behind those walls for the actors to walk on when not on stage. There was an area right behind a curtain at that intersection of the walls – a rabbit hole if you will – that was dark and secret. A faint glow from the stage lights bathed the small quiet space in a reddish hue, and a tiny bench had been brought in that filled the furtive area with a sense of expectation. It was here that a queer scene unfolded completely unrelated to the play being performed only a few feet away; one involving the Mad Hatter (Jack) and the Eldest Alice (Dorothy Hayes, the cutest girl at Los Angeles Baptist High School). It was the last scene before the break between acts, right between the caucus race and the caterpillar smoking a hookah, and it did not disappoint. The lights came up and the scene was on; the teeming teens pounced on one another in lurid inexperience; moist lips met; hands moved to bodies; his to her supple young breasts and – the curtain fell; raucous applause. Intermission.
A picture of the two of them appeared on the back page of the arts and entertainment section, their names printed under a picture that was captured far too dark for newsprint. The caption was “Down the Rabbit Hole”. Down the rabbit hole indeed, Jack thought. The page was framed by his mother, her pride distinctly different from Jack’s.
The second newspaper caption will be his obituary, buried in the D section of the May 19, 1980 LA Times, page 3. The paragraph about his life will say nothing special, only extol his virtues as a goodly and kind man who will be sorely missed by his friends and family. It will say nothing of the makeout session with Dorothy Hayes, or the myriad untold stories that Jack kept close to himself. The 125 words about his life will utterly strip him of who he was as a human being, debasing him into what he is in death; a name written on a sheet of paper or a slab of stone. His name will be second to last in the obituary section, directly before Herbert G. Zebediah. Most readers will skip Jack, electing instead to delve further into the mystery of this man with the surname Zebediah. They will not regret their choice, as Zebediah did many wild and outlandish things, such as robbing the general store he himself owned with nothing more than a rubber band gun. Most readers will chuckle to themselves, say oh that Zebediah, and close the paper. I am Jack’s deflated sense of self worth.
When Jack was finishing his thesis at the University of Southern California in 1966, he came across an anecdote about a man being chased by a tiger. The man jumps into a well to escape the beast, but the trouble is, there is a dragon with a gaping mouth at the bottom waiting for him to come down. As he clings to a tiny bush half way down the well, he thinks what would I rather be eaten by? Then he notices these two little mice, and they must be two evil bastards who enjoy watching and instigating grotesque killings, because they are gnawing at the tiny branch that he’s hanging from. And at this point he must be thinking, god, did I ever mess with the wrong members of the animal kingdom. The man knows he only has a few seconds before he falls to his death into the jaws of the dragon, so what does he do? He uses all his strength to hoist himself up to lick the honey off of the leaves of the bush he hangs from. Then he dies.
In a short time, Jack will also be dead. In the time it takes to listen to me tell the story of Jack’s life, he will be moving, unstoppably, along an all knowing continuum on which rests birth at one end and death on the other. He is simply at the very end of that labyrinthine line, hanging from a branch being gnawed by savage mice, savoring the final drops of the honey that is his life. Though he is in a coma, it will be the best honey he has ever tasted.