Sunday, March 1, 2009

Letters in the Box in the Attic

Letters from the Wasteland - The Wallflowers (mp3)
Open Letter (To a Landlord) - Living Color (mp3)

So I was up in my mom's attic recently to turn off a light that got left on, and I stumbled on a box my mother dutifully entitled "Letters to Billy."

The box was filled with letters. Postcards, long missives attached by staple or paperclip, letters on standard rule or word-processed. Dozens upon dozens of letters. And because I'm me, and me is someone who frequently worked his butt off on letters to make them super-duper fancy and intricate but then couldn't seem to find the f*#kin' motivation to address and stamp the damn thing, I even had four or five letters I'd written to folks and never sent.

I love email as much as maybe anyone on the planet. Email is one of the magic oils in the engine of my life that allows me to write with minimal wrist-cramping, without the need for white-out or balled-up paper to be thrown into waste baskets. I can write someone a 1,000-word meandering waste of their time without having to feel like I've killed an entire tree to do so.

But discovering that box gives even this email-o-phile pause. It makes me think -- and I'm still chewin' on it -- that maybe I need to mail a few more letters to my friends and the people I love. I'll read through every damn letter in that box at some point in the near future. I've already gone through a dozen or so. A large percentage were from my two longest-running childhood friends. We wrote each other regularly once our elder member left Chattanooga for Boston College, and we kept it up when the remaining two of us split to UT and UNC.

But I also got letters in response to ones I wrote in the summers after my freshmen and sophomore years of college, when I was waxing silly and sentimental to reach out to those people I missed (or, OK, desired) the most. I even kept a letter from the girl I met in Panama City on Spring Break my sophomore year. She and her pals from Villanova and my fellas from UNC kinda became a united and co-ed beach threat, protecting us against redneckier types. And OK, occasionally hooking up.

Her introductory thought in the letter proves I haven't changed much...:

     So who would've thought I'd be writing some big geek I'd known for only a week? Well get used to it. I know you secretly like it...

Then there's the "Stoopid Survey" a friend of mine sent out in the spring of my sophomore year (1992) that I seem to have never quite mailed back. It's definitely the kind of thing you'd see on Facebook nowadays, but I was amused by some of my responses, so I thought I'd share.

1. How often to you clean your belly button?
Whenever it itches or starts to turn green.

2. What method do you use to clean your belly button?
The pick-n-eat method, kinda like when apes groom each other on National Geographic TV.

4. Imagine that your house, containing everything you own, is on fire. Your parents and pets are safely out, but you have time to rush in and make one final dash to save one item. What would it be?
The box I keep my letters from you guys and from ***** and my diaries in... You can't buy those back with insurance money.

5. Do you like plants?
No, but I respect them and hold them afterward.

9. Do you consider buying music a hobby?
No. A scathing, acidic, bottomless addiction.

10. What is your favorite hobby at the moment?
See #9.

11. What is your second favorite hobby?
"Duhhh Beersss." [SNL Mike Ditka/Chicago Bears reference -- b]

12. What is your third favorite hobby?
Suckin' face (It would be my first favorite if I was still dating ********.)

15. If I had a wishbone and asked you to make a wish on it with me, what would you wish for?
Bottled beer in a can... wouldn't that be great?!

16. Are you a pillow-hugger at night?
No. I throw my left arm over my eyes to guarantee the removal of all light and my right arm on my massive chest and saw some big damn logs.

18. Do you like pajamas?
No. Not unless they have Yodas 'n' shit on 'em. [Raising Arizona reference -- b]

23. How many kids do you want to have?
"Six or seven.... Strapping young boys, like me!" -- Gaston [from Beauty and the Beast -- b]

28. Rate your top five traits for attracting a woman.
(1) Not UNattractive
(2) Will never ask her out but will be one helluva trusty friend.
(3) [never could come up with three more, it seems... -- b]

30. What do you strive for most in your life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?
Power doesn't become me. Security suffocates me enough already. Accomplishment eludes me. I'm looking for some way to defend how love and excitement and knowledge are all inseparable so I can claim them all.

Reading the letters has been heartwarming in a way that I needed at present. But it's also served to remind me that I've hungered for written connection with people for as long as I could string decent compound-complex sentences together and form semi-coherent thoughts. It's a need older than Cyrano deBergerac, yet I've always feared it was somehow childish or immature. All those letters make me think perhaps it was childish to think of it as childish.

So, please pause now to consider one of two requests from dear ol' Billy. First, if you've ever saved some letters and haven't read them in a while, go find 'em. Go read 'em. I've spent so much time looking through photo albums that I'd forgotten that letters pull out photos in our memory that are in ways all the more vivid. Second, consider writing someone a real, bona fide, handwritten (or, OK, typed) letter.

Letters have a half-life stronger than nuclear waste.

In the meantime, I'm going to keep reading the letters from the person who sent me more than the rest of the people in that box combined.

To be continued...

"Open Letter..." is from Living Color's most successful album, Vivid. "Letters from the Wasteland" is from the Wallflower's vastly underrated sophomore album, Breach. Both can be found on or iTunes.


The Big Nichols said...

Another great song would have been Whiskeytown's "Houses on the Hill" from Stranger's Almanac.

Billy said...

Seriously, how awesome is Hype Machine that I went and found that song and have now had the opportunity to listen to it and agree with you?

Thank God the box wasn't labeled "Tinsel and Lights" or I would never have opened the damn thing...

The Big Nichols said...

Wilco's "Box Full of Letters" also comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

"Can't find the time to write my mind the way I want it to be."