LOST OBJECTS (16)
November 24, 2017
One in a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. We asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. We’re thrilled with the results. This is the fourth volume in the PROJECT:OBJECT series. Please subscribe to the P:O newsletter; and purchase P:O apparel and accessories — all profits will be donated to the ACLU!
How do you bring back a vanished streetscape? By ordering a late-’50s Rand McNally Road Atlas off of eBay.
It was 2001 or so. I was settling into my second half-decade in New Orleans, and trying to understand that city better by finding how it once had looked. I’d noticed the two Howard Avenues that ended on either side of the major expressway through the city. I’d read news clips from the 1960s about North Claiborne Avenue, where the authorities had pulled old oak trees out of a wide median strip to make way for Interstate 10.
And for about twenty bucks, including shipping and handling, I could see the old street grids of New Orleans, and lots of other cities, before the interstates came blasting through. Much like the current atlas from the same publisher, the one I’d bought was oversized, flat, and floppy. By the time it reached me, the pages had yellowed, and the cover had weathered — the book had traveled from coast to coast and back, I imagined, before landing in some attic in Wisconsin or Georgia or Maine.
As a navigation aid, it was hopelessly outdated. But for me, the atlas showed how my chosen city would have looked in a parallel world where highways hadn’t torn into the cypress swamps on the outskirts of town; where most of the middle class hadn’t decamped to flimsy ranch houses in new subdivisions outside the city limits; where languid New Orleans neighborhoods beloved by Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole hadn’t been chopped up before I ever arrived on the scene.
You don’t have to do anything with history; most of the time, just having it in your possession feels like enough. Over the next few years, I flipped through the road atlas only every now and then. I kept it where I kept all my larger books: on a lowest shelf in the first-floor bedroom my then-boyfriend and I shared. This turned out to be a poor choice in the final days of August 2005, when a different piece of public works in New Orleans — a hurricane protection system with flimsy walls — failed in spectacular fashion.
Fitting, I guess: A road atlas that recorded one kind of loss became part of another.
When I bought it, the atlas seemed a unique expression of my own nerdiness and introversion. But it ended up as just another piece of waterlogged debris that we hauled out onto the street, to be carted away by some FEMA contractor. You can uncover what used to be, or what might have been, but you’re still at the mercy of the landscape where you live.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: See sidebar.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Joe Alterio is an illustrator, animator, comic creator, and artist interested in narrative structure, interactive creativity, and the physical manifestations of story-telling. See more at JoeAlterio.com.
LOST OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Alison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | Luc Sante on CLUB CHAIR (ill. Kate Bingaman-Burt) | Nina Katchadourian on FOUNTAIN PENS (ill. Lisa Congdon) | Matthew Sharpe on BAUBLE (ill. Glenn Jones) | Claire Lehmann on PEANUT-BUTTER CRACKERS (ill. Karen Kurycki) | Jessamyn West on ENGINEER RING (ill. Amanda Clarke) | Mandy Keifetz on ORGONE ACCUMULATOR (ill. Emory Allen) | Molly Sauter on DESKTOP DOG (ill. Shayna Piascik) | Amy Thielen on DOG-FUR SCARF (ill. Heather Kasunick) | Stephen O’Connor on HUNTING HAT (ill. Oliver Munday) | Alice Boone on COLLEGE NEWSPAPERS (ill. Rick Pinchera) | Dante Ramos on ROAD ATLAS (ill. Joe Alterio) | Alex Balk on SHOOTING GALLERY (ill. John Lowe) | Chelsey Johnson on NOTEBOOK (ill. Rubi McGrory) | Susannah Breslin on SILICONE VAGINA (ill. Jennifer Heuer) | Seth Mnookin on .22 REVOLVER (ill. Alex Eben Meyer) | Dan Fox on CONKER (ill. Linzie Hunter) | Lisa Takeuchi Cullen on GLASS CLOCK (ill. Rose Wong) | Michael Tisserand on WALKING SHOES (ill. Jackie Roche) | Jeff Turrentine on BASEBALL MITT (ill. Andrew DeGraff) | Randy Kennedy on SNAKE RATTLES (ill. Max Temescu).
ILLICIT OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS series: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS series (4Q2017) | BYO #OBJECTS audio series | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE by Significant Objects | 12 MORE DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE by Significant Objects | 12 DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (AGAIN) by Significant Objects. ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007).