An Ode to Obsolescence

Ah, the fabled abode tome.

Today, I confront my address book. No, not the list of contacts generated within my various email accounts. I’m talking the old school, hardcore puppy. The one with actual information written in and scribbled out.

If you’re over the age of thirty, you probably still have one. And whether you’re comfortable with it or not, it contains a history unique to you.

I know the exact origins of mine – do you? I picked it out of a grab bag at a holiday party thrown by a guitarist in Queens, NY 1997. How’s that for a memory? Elephants ain’t got nothing on me! Truthfully, I wouldn’t have remembered the year if it hadn’t been for the Phish Madison Square Garden Aftershow pass plastered to the back. I guess I felt it was worth saving at the time. I am still friends with the person who put it in the grab bag (Hi Melissa!) and the guy who hosted the party (Hi Al!) and I do remember the moment I plucked it out and claimed it as mine. I was excited to have a new address book. I had just moved into my apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and many of my fellow 20-something friends were on the move as well. I needed to keep track of the paper trail.

My husband likens it to the “George Costanza wallet”: full to the point of bursting if I add one more scrap of paper (or a sugar packet) to its bulging pages. When I receive a card from someone who hasn’t yet been committed to a page in pen, I save their envelope within the folds so I can someday add them into the book.

Someday.

Mine sits untouched most of the year. I haul it out to send off birthday checks to various younger members of the clan, or to offer condolences when family elders pass on. It sits silently beside me like a faithful dog as I address my yearly holiday cards. As I consider resolutions, I include it in my good intentions: this year I will update it, add to it, make use of it more often. Reach out…reach out and touch someone. (OK, if you’re under the age of thirty, you’re probably scratching your head or thinking that sounds vaguely creepy. It was an old Bell telephone commercial jingle from the 1970s/1980s.)

But like most of my resolutions, the book gets stuffed in a drawer come January 15. Life is too hectic to slow down and painstakingly add those who need to be added, or remove those who need to be removed. There’s no easy delete button. And even if you scribble someone out, the black mark is still there. Ex-boyfriends. Co-workers who fell out of touch, or fell from grace. Girls who probably no longer answer to their maiden names. Friends who married, then divorced and moved on. And then there are those who are no longer with us, unable to be reached at any physical address or phone number.

I meant it when I said “confront” – it’s not always easy, thumbing through an ink-smudged memory lane.

I happened to mention it to my mother the other day, and she surprised me by rattling off, with a bit of pride and wistfulness in her voice, her paper trail on me. She continues to tend to her address book as lovingly as a garden and apparently, I had filled up an entire page: the various college dorms where she sent me mail, even though we were still in the same town. My first apartment during graduate school. The two places I lived in while working on Staten Island, along with the locations of those local libraries. Then onto my place in Manhattan, and the two in New Jersey after meeting and marrying my husband. The only entry not crossed out is my new address. I had come back to my hometown with my own family, close to her once more. For a mother, that’s a happy paper trail.

Perhaps this year I will tackle my book. Email, texting, speed dialing and caller ID really can’t replace it. Even if I can’t wrestle it back into submission circa 1997, I can at least reach out to someone long-lost within the pages and pleasantly surprise them with a letter out of the blue.

 

 

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