Recycling is old hat. Long a moral point, or a sign of my well-learned training to be cheap, I feel a slight uplift when there is a bin for me to put something in that promises it will be transformed and reborn as a new, functional thing. It’s ironic that fundamentalist Christians are cool toward recycling: the old is taken in, magic is done, and raw startstuff is made ready for fresh making. It’s creative destruction that actually works, though as I get older I see it as a palliative, like a smokestack filter. It’s still something used up that nine times out of ten didn’t need to be used at all. Walking semi-rural, semi-suburban county roads in the late Seventies, there were ample beer and soda cans to claim. Hyperactive kids and spare tires are about as useful an end product as aluminum cans at forty cents a pound. I guess.
Work follows the same lead as everyone else in this part of the world. We have bins for recycling: cans, bottles, paper, all the usual suspects here. Compost bins for paper plates and odd-feeling, Ovaltine-colored compostable dinnerware with spoons that can’t be used in soup or hot drinks because they melt. Trash cans have a black label and list the odd-outs: chip bags, plastic wrappers, soiled everything.
Each nook where the copiers and office supplies sit is a tall bin for “office supplies”, its square open mouth as receptive as a Venus flytrap. A selection of oddball things goes in here, namely alkaline batteries and toner cartridges. Previous versions accepted unwanted CDs, floppies, and videotapes, and I choose to believe this is still so: the label doesn’t specifically preclude them. Early last week I drop in the wedding video, which I’d found unpacking the previous week.
I was not sure what to do with it. Finding it made me a little sick–questions, doubts, a confused sense of earned defeat–but not that much, nowhere near as much as if I’d found it months ago. No point in keeping it, no interest in any extraordinary measure. I didn’t look at it closely. I handled it as if it was any other videotape, which, I think, is good.
I used to work in video production. I could never decide on the creative or technical side, and the forces at work, or the ignorant voices I listened to, suggested you had to choose. The small sliver of available success pointed away from those on screen and those that wrote the words for them. Better to be behind the cameras, in the dark rooms, doing the magic with the knobs and buttons. The decision came out of a middle school model of the universe, which was static and isolating. I was good at what I did, or at least good enough, but there are so many good enough people and more all the time. I have one box of tapes from my time in that world and no way to play them. My old boss does all his work with two Macbooks.
Tape is a fading kind of magic. Growing up it was a middling, incomplete thing, as all things in the 70’s and 80’s seemed to be. Floppy disks and videotapes worked, but only now with fast, cheap memory do we realize how cumbersome and low-fi they were. Every tape you still have and don’t listen to is slowly eating itself up: the magnetic charges that make the tape work, spooled tightly together, are just strong enough to imprint and scramble one another. If you have an old cassette you can hear it as a song fades out: about half a second of the song previous and next song bleeding through, faintly. Videotapes become softer, the colors blurrier. Given enough time, tape erases itself.
I don’t think I ever watched the wedding video. Neither one of us wanted one–it was something my mother decided and arranged, without our knowledge, if I remember. Irony had her hire two guys I worked with. One was named Tharon, and the closest thing I had to a boss. Outside the hall I asked him if he had any advice. He laughed and thumbed his cigarette. “Run,” he said.
Dropping the tape in the box was not cathartic, not riveting, not regretful. I left it in the black vinyl case and dropped it in, rustling the bag, thunking to rest. I was going to mail it to a place that recycles tapes, but the Post Office was closed that Monday, and I remembered the box. I didn’t linger, revisit it, or think much about it until now, when I the draft of this post in my list. That was all.
I am not sad about it or even glad it’s gone. I feel like someone at a museum display backing away from the piece to see the world through the windows. I feel like the last time I returned to my middle school and walked around the campus: so much smaller, but still the same dark, cavernous insides. I can remember a little, but not much, and wasn’t too interested in that. The world is much bigger than math homework and honor society, and there has long been no need to wait for life to happen.