Pocketology


Sports jackets are meant to be worn, not exiled permanently to the bleak interior of an unexplored closet. In those more social, pre-Covid days, mine were worn fairly regularly to various social events. Now, having morphed pretty much into hermit mode, I doubt whether many of my shamefully large collection will ever again provoke gasps of public admiration. So, except for two or three, I’m relying on Goodwill to find foster homes for the neglected menswear.


Before they and I go our separate ways, however, I’m rummaging through all inside jacket pockets to extract small items cached there, mementos of the past entrusted to what I came to regard as convenient little museums. As the farewell moments approach, I’m resolute that disconnecting from the jackets shouldn’t require disconnecting with the past. Important as it is, the past is too susceptible to whims of memory, which has countless competitors for its storage space. Whatever in the instant seems unforgettable inevitably risks, at some point, slipping into obscurity. There’s just too much worth recalling, so that’s my rationale for collecting the tangible bits of memorabilia stuffed into those inside pockets.

Some people, including a few quite close to me, view me as a “pack rat.” That is a clear misjudgment. In reality, I’m a “pocketologist,” a particular kind of archeologist dedicated to preserving, in unlikely places, bits of history that deserve occasional re-visiting. These treasure troves have survived visits of their receptacles to the dry cleaner’s by being arrayed carefully on dresser tops, then being re-inserted upon return of their refuge garments.


Among my collection of what neatniks would refer to dismissively as “stuff’ are the following: There’s a one-page cast list for the “Frost/Nixon,” which Elaine and I saw years ago at the Donmar Warehouse in London. Not only was it an exceptional show, the fact that it was produced in a small one-time actual warehouse added intimacy to the riveting performances of its actors. It’s gratifying that I’m able to relive many of those moments simply by examining that piece of paper again.

Then, there’s the ticket stub for the Chicago Institute of Art, a treasured reminder of the first time I saw one of my favorite paintings, Ivan Albright’s “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.” It’s a work of horrifying beauty, depicting mercilessly both the external and internal disintegration of its subject. Staring down blatantly at the viewer, it captivates both eyes and mind.


Finally, there’s a makeshift memento, the least formal one in my collection. Having had no more savable commemorative object, I ripped a corner from a newspaper I’d been carrying and inscribed on it an exclamation point, underneath which I wrote the name of the building that inspired such amazement. You’ll have a fair idea of its location when I say that, despite its virtues, I can’t imagine re-visiting it, at least while the country where it’s located is controlled by a loathsome dictator. It’s the height of irony that such a triumph of imagination exists literally next door to such corruption.

No more games. I refer to St. Basil’s Cathedral, close to the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow. On this particular visit, I was confronted by it totally unexpectedly. Exploring the unfamiliar streets of the city one evening, I had, to my amusement, just passed a McDonald’s. Imagine, a McDonald’s in the center of Moscow! Since that time, of course, their number had greatly expanded, but recently, in retaliation for government brutality, they have been closed down.


I had no idea an infinitely larger surprise was only a second away. I turned a corner and, astonished, faced that structure I had known nothing about. The Cathedral totally transformed the gloomy atmosphere that would have been created by the mediocre architecture of the Kremlin. Graceful domes, textures, lighting, and spectacular colors combined to create a marvel of symmetrical enchantment. Never before nor since have I been so transfixed by a building. Now, I have to wonder about the fundamental hypocrisy that allows such beauty to co-exist among the domains of bestiality. That scrawled exclamation point has sadly come to represent more than it was originally intended to.


No matter how neat freaks scoff at us pocketologists, we are definitely not compulsive hoarders. We are preservers of shards of memory which, like chunks of ice from glaciers, are vulnerable to falling away and disappearing into the cold depths of forgetfulness.