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things 17-18
spring 2004
Animate objects
From pinecones to Russian dolls
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Krystal Chang
Animate Objects

There are some things we kept and some things we left behind. There are some things we wanted, but mostly, they are all things that have built up over the years that we canít bring ourselves to throw away, accumulating an awkward crust of objects, building up a family history that began only twenty-five years ago.

Thing left behind:

My mother came to America with a dead moth, to be sold according to my grandfatherís instructions. She was afraid of it and accidentally-on-purpose left it behind in some American city. There were too many to be sure which one; she came to Atlanta, met my father in Normal, Illinois, and began a silly-sad journey through Columbus, Gainesville, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, East Brunswick, and Los Angeles.

Thing we wished we still had:

My sister, born in Columbus, is most mad about the Snoopy ice-shaver we left in New Jersey--actually, not left, but given away to a little boy who was one of the most annoying little boys on the block, but whose mother was friends with ours.

Ugly and useless things that have decorated our house:

A plastic cube with dimes floating inside, a wooden statuette of a dolphin, a miniature Mickey Mouse Christmas bell, different wallpaper in each room: cattails in my parentsí bathroom, pink and grey stripes in my bedroom, red squares in my sisterís, a poster of a huge juicy pink shrimp with a golden glass of champagne bubbling in the background, awful pink geode bookends from Natural Wonders, given by relatives.

Pretty, but equally useless, things:

A giant pinecone picked up in a national forest, a set of nesting Russian dolls, a dried-up pear, a small brass abacus.

Scary thing:

The really old photo albums, the ones that show my parents when they were young, are kept underneath a pile of clothes at the bottom of my fatherís closet. Years ago, my sister and I were looking thorough them, pulling out one after another, when we came to a small box and naturally opened that as well. Inside was a gun, silver-plated and pearl-handled but still startling, a relic of the Chinese restaurant my parents ran during the Florida years.

Inherited things:

I have my grandfatherís wallet key chain. Itís small and compact, made of metal covered with foam and then leather. I know because itís tearing. My sister has his Boy Scout belt buckle and patches. My dad has a younger brother, clinically and conveniently insane, to worry about.

Stolen things:

My father gets up early in the mornings and takes walks around the neighborhood because thereís no one to play with yet, and steals fruit from other peopleís trees.

Ungiven things:
I was eleven when I went with my family to Taiwan for the holidays. It was hot, humid, and dirty. As my mother put it: "Taiwan is hell and your step-grandmother is the devil." I had made a Christmas present for my grandfather: tiny swords made out of fish bones tied together with brightly colored thread. I had hidden it under the bed, with a tiny note, and then was too shy to give it to him and left it there when we came back home.

Amazing and sometimes scary thing:

I found a seed in my grapefruit that had started sprouting, and planted it. Two years later, it is still growing, sometimes at an alarming rate.

Things I gave and took back:

A ceramic green dinosaur with blue spots and a smile and a gold thread to hang it on a tree. I had given it to my mom for Christmas years ago.
A "Mini-Cleaner" car, Japanese import of course. It is tiny and translucent yellow, with green details, and has two little brooms that sweep-sweep-sweep when the car rolls forward and a tiny dustpan that you can empty. I warned my sister before I gave it to her that I wanted to keep it.

Things to hold other things:

Most of our furniture at home was built by my mother. (My fatherís notoriously bad at following furniture instructions.) My desk was bought from Plummerís, a warehouse specializing in office furniture, my bed from someplace else, and a chest of drawers from a store in Chinatown that threw in a black metal pencil holder I really liked. My sisterís bed was delivered on her birthday. I was nine then, and pouted because my birthday present had not been that big.

New things:

My sister is now living in her own apartment, half an hour from home. Itís been almost a year since she moved there and all she wants to do is decorate, shooting for a cross between a Modernist showroom and the Playboy mansion. Thus, the grey velvet chaise lounge, leopard print ottoman, Michael Graves-designed tea kettle, antique Chinese nesting tables, a chimp on a skateboard, a solid red painting. None of it is accidental, all was planned and wanted and gotten.


Krystal Chang is a writer and architect living in Los Angeles. She hopes to write a book about an ice king, his family, their hopes and dreams, the weather, and a library at the end of the world.

things 17, Spring 2004

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