From time to time, as I make these weekly forays into the past, I keep David Macaulay’s marvelous book “Motel of the Mysteries” in the back of my head.
Macaulay’s book, published in 1979, tells the story of an archaeologist many centuries hence who discovers a perfectly preserved room in a typical American roadside motel. (The America we know has been buried under a landslide of junk mail, or something like that.)
The archaeologist manages to misinterpret the role and significance of every single item in the room, all the way down to the tub stopper. What we recognize as a typical Motel 6 kind of room, he re-imagines as a consecrated burial chamber, with every item playing a ceremonial role in the send-off.
And, as with the King Tut traveling exhibits of the late ’70s, plastic duplications of the “holy objects” from the “burial chamber” are available for sale.
It’s a wonderful — and wonderfully illustrated — piece of satire, and one I highly recommend checking out if it’s never crossed your path.
And the thought of it reminds me that I’m ultimately just pissing in the wind here, week after week, month after month.
I can take a calendar entry of my grandfather’s and apply some family context to it, or slap it with a couple coats of cultural/political history. And I can guess at what my grandpa was thinking or doing with more accuracy than Macaulay’s 41st-century archaeologist.
Still, there’s always the chance that I’m taking something my grandpa saw as a motel room and re-imagining it as a burial chamber.
Like this item, from April 1964. Anyone reading this through 2012 eyes would surely believe my grandpa was consorting with drug users.
And what do you suppose a contemporary reviewer would make of a reference to “meth men”?
Of course, in these cases, perfectly good explanations are only a moment’s thought away.
“METH” in this context means neither methedrine or methamphetamine; it means “Methodist.” My grandparents attended the local Methodist church. And presumably, my grandpa was taking part in some sort of men’s church group that night.
And “junkie” in the context of my grandpa’s calendar is shorthand for “junkman” — the same way that Bostonians abbreviate “package store” to “packie,” “state cop” to “statie,” “South Boston” to “Southie” and “East Boston” to “Eastie.”
Just a few years before, my grandpa brought his water tank to the junkie:
So, yeah. These particular entries are pretty tough to misinterpret when you actually think about them.
I still keep David Macaulay’s hapless archaeologist in my thoughts when I sit down to write these blog posts week after week, though.
Hopefully, by the grace of fate, I will never turn a toilet seat into a ceremonial headdress.