Excerpt from This American Life - Plan B: Act 5: The Accursed Items - An excerpt from J Robert Lennon’s short story of the same name.
A bottle of pain reliever brought on a business trip that proves, at the moment it is most needed, to be filled not with pain reliever but with buttons. An accomplished forgery of a famous painting that was thought to have been lost in a 1965 mansion fire, which now hangs in the largest gallery of a major American art museum. Sneakers, hanging from the power line, with one half of a boy’s broken glasses stuffed into each toe. A Minnie Mouse doll you found by the roadside and brought home, intending to run it through the washer and give it your infant son, but which looked no less forlorn after washing and was abandoned on a basement shelf, only to be found by your son eight years later and mistaken for a once-loved toy that he had himself forsaken, leading to his first real experience of guilt and shame.
Love letters seized by federal agents in an unsuccessful drug raid, tested in a lab for traces of cocaine, exhaustively read for references to drug contacts, sealed in a labeled plastic bag and packed, along with a plush bear holding a plastic heart, into an unlabeled cardboard box, itself loaded into a truck with hundreds of similar boxes when the police headquarters was moved and forever lost.
Nude Polaroid’s of a 13-year-old female cousin. An icicle preserved in the freezer by a child which, when discovered months later, is thought to be evidence of a problem with the appliance, leading to a costly and inconclusive diagnostic exam by a repair man. A gay porno magazine thrown onto a ball field from a car window, and perused with great interest by the adolescent members of both teams, two of whom meet in the woods some weeks later to reproduce the tableaus they have seen, leading to a gradual understanding that they are, in fact, gay, an incident, the memory of which causes one of the two, when he is well into a life that is disappointing emotionally, professionally, and sexually, to fling a gay porno magazine out his car window as he passes an occupied ball field on his way to what will be an unsuccessful job interview.
A biscuit, crushed into the slush of a Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot. The orange toboggan, whisking her to her death.
A resume that betrays its author as utterly unqualified for the position for which she has applied, but which, because it smells good, leads its reader, a desperate, experientially undernourished middle manager at an internet-based retail corporation to invite her into the office for an interview that, although it further betrays the applicant’s complete unsuitability for the job, provides the middle manager with the physical impression to compliment the good smell, which impression is intensely exciting, forcing him to hire her as a supplemental secretary, much to the bafflement, chagrin, and eventual disgust of his extant secretary who, during her employer’s lunch hour, removes the resume in question from his files and personally delivers it to the CEO, and who is with the CEO when he barges into the middle manager’s office and finds the unsuitable supplemental secretary standing beside him, crying silently with her dress half off, while he sits in his reclining office chair, sweating profusely, and holding a plastic letter opener in a threatening manner.
The house plant that will not die. 50 pairs of old blue jeans found at secondhand clothing stores and brought, at great expense, on a trip to eastern Europe and the former Soviet Republics where, rumor had it, old blue jeans could be sold for a lot of money, but where this was no longer true as so many previous visitors had heard the same rumor and done the same thing, creating a glut of old blue jeans which were not even all that stylish there anymore, and causing the entire trip to be ruined by the necessity of hauling around these huge suitcases full of other people’s jeans which smelled kind of bad, as if those other people were currently wearing them.
The urine sample produced for the canceled doctor’s appointment, and forgotten in the back of the fridge.
My eyeglasses, covered with a thickening layer of dust that I never seem to notice, that I simply adjust to, until, at last, I clean them out of habit and discover a new world sharp and filled with detail, whose novelty and clarity I forget about completely within 15 minutes.
Your signature, rendered illegible by disease.