I did the unthinkable this past weekend, a thing I would not tolerate anyone else’s doing, even though I did (and do) it too.
The thing I did (and I shamefully confess I’ve done before,) was to touch something that had a very clear, very prominent “Do Not Touch” sign on it. As a matter of fact, those same signs were all over the place. As a matter of fact, I didn’t care.
Mongo and I (he’s truly innocent in all of this and, by the way, knows nothing of my flawed character---at least this flaw, although I’m pretty sure he’s reading this-- uh oh--) anyway, we went on a mini vacation this past weekend. On our way we stopped to visit a museum with an enormous collection of very old motor vehicles and planes, and it was there I again broke the rules.
But before I broke them I looked carefully around to make sure no one was about, and to my relief, no one was. It was then put my hand out and touched the handle of a magnificent old car, an elegant Rolls Royce built in the early 1900s. And if I were to be truly honest, I guess it could be said I didn’t actually touch, I grasped. I wanted to touch a car that had been touched by maybe Jay Gatsby. (Yes of course, I know he was fictional, but not to me.) Or touched by perhaps Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Or any one of their crowd. I wanted to touch the handle of that remarkable machine so I could connect with all those dead folks who’d ridden in it, who’d had incredible lives, who’d lived through great, glorious swaths of American history, who’d lived a life I never could, but often wished in my fantasies, I had.
I shouldn’t have touched that car. Sorry, but I’m not sorry. Because I touched the handle of that remarkable antique automobile, I know I touched a tangible piece of history, a thing “they” had touched. Now happily, “they” are part of me, and I of they.
And there’s more. I once reached out and touched a ragged, collapsing one-horse buggy in a museum’s attic I’d been told Abraham Lincoln had ridden in, and I wondered if some of the atoms of this great man could still be clinging to it and would they now be intermixed with mine, and I decided the answer was yes. I once touched a painting by Grandma Moses and Norman Rockwell, and hoped some of their artistic atoms were quickly stirred into mine and again, decided the answer was yes. I’ve put my hand on the sides of buildings built hundreds of years ago, knowing people who built them had touched them there also, and therefore were now connected forever with me. I touched a chair in which the great Thomas Jefferson had sat, a blanket George Washington had allegedly slept under, a table at which Benjamin Franklin had worked, and while I am not proud of these improprieties, when the temptation presented itself, I could not resist. If there is a twelve-step program for Touchers-of-the-Forbidden-Anonymous, (TOTFA) I will not join, so don’t suggest it. After all, I can quit whenever I want to. Oh yes, I can.
I also have touch goals, too. I dearly want to touch a sphinx and the Great Wall of China and the piano Ira Gerschwinn played on and the wooden staff Margaret Mead walked with in the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and a covered wagon in which a pioneer family had traveled, and the sill of the window from which Ann Frank looked up at the stars and dreamed of a better world. I want to touch a tree that was a seedling around the time of Jesus’ birth. So many things to touch, so little time.
I once touched the side of a very old stagecoach and felt bonded with the people who’d built or ridden in it, people traveling in the old west, who had dreams about young, wild America and how they’d fit into it or it to them. I’ve put my palm on the impossibly enormous legbone of a dinasaur and felt weirdly connected to her, too, and once I touched a necklace that had graced the neck of Marie Antoinette. Yes. It is beyond bad that I do this and truly I am ashamed. (Well, perhaps not altogether truly. Well, perhaps not altogether ashamed.)
I had the great honor of meeting and interviewing a very, very old Senator Margaret Chase Smith just before she died, and got to shake her frail hand twice. And when I did that I knew I’d connected with more of this world’s movers and shakers than I could ever possibly know. Gandhi. FDR. JFK. Truman. Queens. Kings. Picasso. The peacemakers and warmakers. The world’s leaders and losers. Those who built the world and those who sought to destroy it. Inventors. Creators. Everyone famous in the world’s politics. In show business. Science. Literature. The arts. In space programs. Everyone everywhere. Imagine—Senator Smith’s touch connected me to the greats and famous of this world. I’m not at all sure she would agree with this fantasy of mine, but that’s my story, and you know how that cliché goes. So you see in my skewed world, some touching is good. For me, I mean. I know I should not do this, and I’m really trying to quit, but I am an incurable, hopeless addict. Pray for me.
“What if everyone did what you did?” I’m scolded. “Who entitled you? How dare you? How utterly reprehensible! If everyone did this, pretty soon those things would vanish because you take away a microscopic piece when you touch them, to say nothing of the oils from your skin getting into those precious items, things that belong to the world, and not just to you, you self-centered @#$@%&! You have some nerve. What gall! I shall never speak to you again!”
I know, I agree, and I seriously deserve this vituperation, this ostracization. I am a hopeless touchaholic and I know of no cure. I’m certain one day I shall be punished. There is quite likely a special place in hell for people like me where we are chained to the floor, surrounded by mountains of priceless, historic items with Do Not Touch signs hanging everywhere. And each time we reach to touch the objects of our desires, they move just a few inches out of reach, while a huge, prehistoric eagle tears at our livers.