The power of objects is that, while serving as props in our games, they sometimes reveal to us something about ourselves that we did not know before. Leo Racicot’s story (Lowell, Massachusetts, 1950s) is one such testimony about a discarded object that, through play, prompted an early self-discovery.
Leo’s story features a fox face fur neck warmer that used to belong to his mother. While it was hanging in the dark closet, Leo says, it looked frightening to him: “It always looked as if it was trying to say something to me - or was I imagining it?” Yet Leo’s attitude changed drastically when he one day found the fox fur thrown away in the trashcan behind their house:
"It looked so suddenly there not scary but scared. My mother had deemed it no longer worthy, not useful. Maybe it had hit her how strange it was to wear a dead animal around her shoulders, how apart from the rest of her clothes the fox fur was, misunderstood, somehow 'other.' I went all sad inside yet didn’t know why. After all, hadn’t these same eyes scared the hell out of me? Hadn’t the mute face refused for so long to tell me what secrets it held? But I hated that the fox had been thrown away as if what it had once meant now needed to be forgotten."
Suddenly moved by the appeal of the fox fur, perplexed by his own strong feeling towards it, Leo salvaged the fur from the trashcan, of course, then hid it from his mother. There in the safety of the house it remained, until some time later:
"The rare day came when I was alone. Hot, hot day. I put the mink over my shorts and summer shirt, wrapped the fox face fur around it, stuck my too-small feet into a pair of matching pumps and ventured outside.
The fox and I came alive.
Parading around the yard in my mother’s clothes. Loving the delicious click-clack of her high heels on the sidewalk. Loving the fox against my neck. It smelled like fur and perfume. I sashayed back and forth, back and forth. I was Audrey Hepburn at a movie premiere, Angela Lansbury in Mame. The world fell away. I was invisible in my discovery of 'me.' The fox felt almost unbearably lush against my face."
The story gets even more dramatic as a neighbor spots young Leo’s parade outside the house, calling him “a sex maniac.” Regardless of the consequences, though, the newly formed bond between the person and the thing proved to be lasting:
"I saved the fox face fur for years, a talisman of sorts, a protector. It freed me to be myself because it was so very boldly itself, a sly thing, an ugly entity that was, in its essence, a beautiful one. I could not bear to see it relegated to the trash heap of someone’s fickle disregard. Once I accepted its oddball charm, I knew what it had been trying to say to me. I gave it back its life and in return, it told me mine."
Faced with the otherness of objects, we become more attuned to otherness per se, more tolerant and open to experiences and sensations. In a world where formation of identity is guarded since the earliest stages, the role of free play is hard to underestimate, and so is the role of objects that act as catalysts of discovery.
I find it significant that in Leo’s story, the change of perspective happens once the status of the object is changed: from a treasured decoration to a discarded, lost object rejected by reason but rebelliously and “boldly itself.” The fox face fur is a perfect example of a discarded object “in the process of becoming”, which comes with an unprecedented freedom: they can be anything, and defiantly so. Broken, in various stages of decay, transformed into an oddly shaped entity that at times does not yield recognition, discarded objects possess what I believe to be an intrinsic ludic quality, exactly what helped young Leo imagine, through play, possibilities of identity.
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.