Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Searching For the Scribe of the Cards

I've been having some odd experiences on the metro this week, and strangely feel the need to tell them. I'll start off with today's, which is the simplest.

Like any smart metro rider on their morning commute to work, I power-walked down the escalator and across the clay-colored tile of the platform to get one of the plum spots on the train. I'm at the first stop on my line, so it's usually a given that I'll get a nice window seat. Today I found a little something extra underneath the seat I picked. It was a small plastic grocery bag from Giant Foods, and inside sat a six-inch stack of notecards bound together by a tight rubber band. The cards were all different colors: mint green, peach, baby blue, bone white. Little dividers marked with each letter of the alphabet separated and organized the cards in some fashion. Most cards had writing on them with a name and phone number, and in some cases real world and email addresses as well. The handwriting, although legible, was rough and kind of angular. The ones lacking writing had a business card or a cut out from a newspaper staples to it. What I found, apparently, was a low-tech rolodex of some sort. In this day of PDAs and contact lists kept diligently on programs like Outlook and Yahoo make the stack of cards feel very quaint, almost a novelty.

After I got off my train at Metro Center, I went to the the main kiosk to turn it in as a lost-and-found item. The woman behind the glass peered at me as I approached, clearly unhappy that I would come up and bother her.

"I found this," I said, holding up the cards.

"How nice for you," the woman said.

"Ummm...I was hoping to turn them in. Someone might ask for them," I said.

She stared at me a moment, and then said, "No one's gonna come looking for that."

"What should I do with it?"

She shrugged. "Throw it away. Keep it. Sell it. I don't care."

She then turned away from me, clearly feeling like her end of the conversation was over.

I went on to work, with all the cards in tow.

Some of the cards like "Phone Company" are pretty generic, but others like Ms. Lyons, written on a lovely mint green card and filed under "T" for "teacher" hint at some things more personal. Some cards, like the one for Longfence with the motto "Call If You Need to Talk Right Away" emblazoned on it, seem almost mournful. It gets even more involved when I find "Zinnia", no last name, written on the one single pink card in the stack. Zinnia, whoever she is, must have written her name herself, because the letters were drawn much more carefully and in an almost giddy, bubbly style. A little heart sits in for the dot of the first "i", making me think she was (is?) a romantic interest of some sort. I called the number, hoping to discover the identity of the scribe of the cards. But I was only greeted with an automated voice telling me the number was disconnected and no alternate number was available.

After looking through the cards some more, I felt a little dirty. It's kind of like peering into an odd corner of someone's life. Little fragmented, loosely knit connections that in some way make a whole person. I can't help but think of Borges, who often said the best way to know him was to read his writing. I wonder about some magic spell or some far-flung future technology that string these cards together and bring this unknown person to life. Or at least simulacra close enough to figure out who the real person is.

I also wonder how lost this person will be without all these phone numbers and addresses. A good number of the cards look pretty worn, their colors and writing relatively faded. Some must stretch back several years. I hope my mystery person has some way to pull the fragments back together themselves, and live life again in their own way.


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