Fountain—inspiration of Elizabeth Burbank—in the Luther Burbank Gardens, Santa Rosa, February 2005.

THE river's tent is broken: the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed.
Sweet Thames, run softly, till I end my song.
The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.
And their friends, the loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed, have left no addresses.

From: The Waste Land by T.S.Eliot

21st March, 2005

Back Full Circle

We are now back in our old—though newly decorated apartment, after two weeks absence. Even with our limited resources we could have moved and found another apartment, but as S pointed out, what is the use of more of the same? No, we wanted to move to a completely new situation, but it became obvious that that "new situation" was still elusive. So here we are back again in the same place after our little adventure. An email to family gives the basics of the story, which you can read below.

Copy (with a few amendments) of email sent to Hartley & Sheena and brood—those faraway shadowy figures, sleeping partners of Undiscovered Worlds Press, who live far across the Atlantic ocean in Sheffield, a city in England's industrial north They tell us that Sheffield is known as the rust capital of the world—no doubt the rust dissolving in the air is the last lingering trace, of a steel industry that provided a once mighty empire with its swords, shovels, pins & needles and knives and forks.
14th February 2005, California

Hi HSAA&newly arrived Stephanie,

Subject: On the Move

We sent keyboard off to you today by airmail. You should have it in a week or so.

The arrangement with the management here, is that we will move Friday into what they call a "hospitality suite," while our belongings go into storage in another apartment on the complex. The "hospitality suite" is a few buildings away from Hannah's old place. Our "goods & chattels" will be in another empty apartment near where we live now. We are to be in the "hospitality suite" for 10 days, at the end of which, we move back into our old apartment—by then tarted up with fresh paint and carpet. It seems to our addled brains that we are in fact moving twice, only to end up in the same place we started out from.

Alice looked round her in great surprise. "Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!" "Of course it is," said the Queen, "what would you have it?" "Well, in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing." "A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now, here , you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!"
From: Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Not that this is the same place, of course. We walked over to Hannah's old place yesterday and everything looked so different. New gray sidings on the buildings, which will be painted brown. All the shrubs and fences on the front perimeter of the complex have been uprooted and carted off. Satellite dishes ordered to be taken down. Looking at the balconies you could still see balconies stacked with boxes, kiddies bikes and pot plants but just as many with no sign of habitation.

It seems more than 50% of people have already moved out. As we walked back to the apartment, we stopped at a tip found a lovely book on the wildlife of America and S swept up a little tree like thing made of plastic on which you hang socks and undies to dry.

Everywhere piles of ripped out carpet, broken furniture, books, old computer books, computer parts, if people had left in a hurry. Turning the corner, the sign instead of reading the new owner's selection of a name evoking the spirit of gracious living The same story here, bushes, fences ripped up and trees have disappeared, four or five eucalyptus still remain, for the time being.

It seems most of the people who remain now are Mexican or from Central or South America (most probably illegal?) with large families and a sprinkling of older people. We hear that some people cannot afford to move and are staying to the very end. The end is now very near! We looked at some of the apartments along from us near the fence running by the creek—dark damp affairs. The persimmon tree has been cut down, the beautiful rhododendron's flowering presence now gone—by the fence, a few bowls remain that were used to feed the deer and down further piles of old dishwashers and lengths of fencing. Three large containers overflowing with debris...

I think that wherever you live (whether you like it or not) your spirit spreads out in lapping circles, until you in a sense own the place. Of course, everyone does this and it is this merging and mingling of different spirit circles that creates a community. Sometimes we have lapses in awareness and we hardly notice the ebb and flow of the community around us. Back in the apartment it was hard to shake off a feeling of depression at all these changes. S says it's as if we have been taken over by robots! This is not to our liking at all, we much prefer a place a little funky, lived in, frayed at the edges.

A German woman, who leaves kibble for two outside cats on our balcony has it right, she said, "They call this a Democracy! Where's the Democracy in turning people out of their homes?"

We have come into contact with Alfredo, who at one time helped Hannah. We thought he had moved, anyway he is helping us with the move on that is a big relief.

Do you remember at Christmas I said that the card we originally made out for you was lost? Well, I had a suspicion it was lost in the desk, you know—sucked in by a drawer and dropped down the back somewhere. Anyway, we were clearing out the desk and I thought I would see what was behind the drawers. We found a few interesting things, including a calling card with a note dated 1900 and an envelope dated 1901. Seems our steel desk was made at the turn of the century.

That's it for now...S is busy sorting and packing. What a Carry-On Eh? Hope all is well with you...we await your news. Love R&S

Email from HSA&A in Sheffield to R&S in California:

On Saturday, February 12, 2005, at 08:03 PM, " HSa&a wrote:
Hi, very quickly as the keyboard software is acting up... seems doctor's and the scan indicate that bump is only 7lbs. and is right in the middle of a normal growth curve on charts for 36 weeks... caliper/tape-measure guesstimates surrenders... Doctor said large placenta. So we are headed for our original due date although neither of our other pregnancies went the full 40 weeks. All for now... Love HSa&a..&b

Desk Story

R's desk reveals a little of its history

During our household packing—we are moving apartments—which is coming along (though slowly, as we hummed and hawed over this and that!), I emptied out the drawers of my desk. Last Christmas, while writing out Christmas cards at the desk, I went away to make a cup of coffee and when I came back to the desk the card I had been working on had vanished.

It was a card to our grandchildren and I had spent a long time writing and decorating it with hummingbirds, stars, snowmen and other festive regalia. I feverishly hunted for it high and low, looked in all the drawers and shuffled through their contents umpteen times, foraged wildly in rows of folders but all to no avail, that Christmas card stayed stubbornly missing. Later, I wondered if the card had somehow dropped down behind one of the draws into the desks vast interior. One day, I thought, I'll figure how to get the draws out and see what's in the desks interior.

S and myself bought this desk about 5 years ago, merely a week or so after moving into the apartment. We desperately needed a second desk for my computer. We saw a notice locally of someone who cleared out houses and was offering cheap office furniture. We phoned the number and a man said he had a desk which he could let us have for $20 and he could deliver it that very afternoon, but we would have to let him know then and there as other people had expressed interest in the desk. This seemed a deal too good to miss, so we bought the desk—sight unseen. Later in the day, the desk arrived, it took 2 or 3 swarthy men to get the desk with difficulty up the stairs ("What's this made of?") and into the living room ("Where do you want it up against the wall?"). We were astonished to see a metal desk—a steel desk—with a black graphite like top and rounded brass edgings on all its corners.

For some reason, we had assumed the desk would be a wooden one. We wondered if we had made a dreadful mistake, but by then it was too late, the seller and his helpmates had vanished into the afternoon. The first thing we realized was that the desk was made out of steel and it weighed a ton! Using all my might I could barely lift it a few millimeters off the floor and then only for a second or two. There was no way we would ever move the desk, as it was now firmly and eternally anchored to the floor. The desk was so heavy I had visions of it crashing through the floor into the downstairs apartment, and flattening the elderly inhabitant as she innocently sat knitting in her armchair!

Moreover, the desk was thick with dust and dirty with oil smudges all of which gave off a peculiar smell ("My God, it's going to smell the place out."). Our imaginations ran wild—had the desk been in a garage of some sort, heaped up with oily motor parts, or perhaps used to store drugs and wads of ill-gotten dollars by a gang of drug dealers! Oh God—how could we have been so foolish as to think we could get a bargain at that ridiculously low price. That guy must have seen us coming! Now we were lumbered with a monstrous desk of dubious origins that we could never lift or move in a month of Sundays. S, taking a more positive tack, thought we could change the vibes of the desk by giving it a good clean. So that's what we did, cleaned it up, and installed my computer on top. Some time later, we saw a lovely desk on the street someone was giving away. We managed to get it into the boot of the car and home where it was used for the television and video recorder. I kept meaning to swap this nice wooden desk with the metal one in the living room...but the practicalities were formidable and I never quite got round to it.

Now—fast forward five years to Saturday, 5th February 2005. Along with 500 or so hapless inhabitants of this apartment complex we have received an eviction notice from the new owners. We spent most of Saturday packing, or trying to, and as I emptied out all the drawers to my desk, I remembered the lost Christmas card and decided to take out the large sliding drawer and see if the card was at the back. I slid out the large file draw and examined the desks interior, but could see no sign of the errant card, but I was surprised to find a number of interesting things in the dust, which revealed something of the history of the desk.

I must say here that I have made one big assumption; it is, that all the things we found were lost in the desk by its successive owners. Let's get some of the more mundane things I found out of the way first. There was a large sheet of gold wrapping paper, an antique brush for cleaning a typewriter, textile fragment showing a flower, tiny metal clips in a plastic box, 3 plastic (?) filament strands, arranged as a spray, each threaded through with what looks like silver pearls. A woman's hair or hat decoration? Then I saw buried in the dust a little card—a calling card. On one side, printed in airy italics was the name, Miss Leita Johnson. On the reverse side written in ink was this note:
With best love and hearty congratulations to dear Mrs. Forster from Leita. Dated, March 17, 1900.
What really electrified us was the date—1900. Was this desk made prior to 1900 and did it belong to Mrs. Forster, the recipient of the card? We are inclined to think so.

I also found a strip of card with some scrawled words, similar in style to Leita Johnson's handwriting. At one end of the strip was a stamped image of a building...very small, but reminiscent of Kew or even the Crystal Palace in outline. A few words stood out from the scribbles and doodles—Go to Boston...Paris...Was the writer (I am assuming it was Mrs. Forster) sitting at her desk doodling on this card, wondering or agonizing whether she should go to Boston or Paris? Well, we will most probably never know because I could find nothing more in the desk from 1900 or Leita Johnson or Mrs. Forster.

I was now down on my hands and knees, peering into the desks dusty depths with the aid of a torch. Next, I came across an old rumpled envelope. It was postmarked, Alameda-Cal Jan 23 1901. (Alameda—a city and county in California, meaning avenue or way in Spanish). The envelope had two 2 cent red stamps bearing a side view of George Washington. The envelope was addressed to: Fred C. Jones, 608 Hayes St., San Francisco, Cal. Return addressee: A.K.Grim, County Recorder, Oakland, Alameda County, California. Unfortunately, the envelope was empty. But we think Jones was the new owner of the desk, or, at least, had some intimate connection with it.

We now go over the years to 1955 and another owner of the desk. My next discovery was a dust laden sales receipt from Dawson's Book Shop, 550 So. Figueroa Street, Los Angeles 17, California, dated May 12 1955. Addressed to Desmond Henderson, Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, California.

For: Early California Travels Series Volume XXIX: Glances into California by Walter Colton. Introduction by Edwin Corle, printed by the Grabhorn Press, San Francisco. < $7.50 plus 23 cents Sales Tax and 8 cents Shipping.

It would seem the desk is still in San Francisco, owned by Desmond Henderson as of 1955. Then in another part of the desk, right at the back I find an envelope with the printed address of Bank of America, San Francisco. The envelope contained two Bank of America documents as follows:

1. Collateral Receipt: Non-Negotiable. Deposited by Muffy Henderson 1-22-62. Lists a number of Pacific Gas and Electric shares.

2. Interest in Installments or at Maturity (Individual, Partnership, Association). Dated September 18th 1961. To mature on 18th March 1962.

This looks like a loan agreement between Desmond and Muffy Henderson and Bank of America (the shares) above as collateral. Mailing address of the Hendersons—Coral Gables, Florida. In the middle of the document are the words: Purchasing Rolls-Royce and signed underneath by the Hendersons and an official of Bank of America.

So it seems to me that the Hendersons took out a loan of $12, 500 to purchase a Rolls-Royce and gave the bank a number of shares as collateral. One imagines that Desmond and Muffy were wealthy San Francisco socialites, living a comfortable life off of the dividends of their stocks and shares portfolio. Now what ties all this together is my next find—a map of America's Eastern States, (dated 1961)—For People Going Places! (as it says cheerily on the front).

When we opened the map someone (Desmond?) had marked a thick blue line from Chicago down to Miami. Now it seems to me that Desmond and Muffy Henderson (those oh-so-fun-to-be-with charming SF socialites) were planning to leave San Francisco to retire to Coral Gables (a Mediterranean oasis for the rich) and they were buying a Rolls-Royce in which they were going to tour many cities on their way down to Florida. We must assume that in San Francisco, they gave away to charity (Isn't that just like Desmond and Muffy, always thinking of others!) some of their possessions because the desk now passes on to other hands. In 1962 (when Desmond and Muffy were motoring down to Florida) the desk appears to now belong to a church group in San Francisco, for I found in the recesses of the desk the following xeroxed letter of invitation:

Hi Everybody:

A date has been made with Sister Rosarii to visit her on the Sunday after Easter, April 29, 1962 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Joseph's Convent, Jefferson and Addison Streets, Berkeley. Come to the convent garden at 216 Jefferson Street. Listen for the laughter and walk toward it. Don't introduce yourself. See if we know you. Bring ALL the children. Call up a class mate and bring him or her also.

It's easy to find. Go out Eastshore Freeway to University Ave. Go East on University Avenue toward the University of California. About the 1600 block on University Avenue you'll find Jefferson. Turn right or south and go one block.

Rayner Topping
4680 Sheffield Ave. Oakland 2, California

So the desk after being in the hands of the wealthy Hendersons now seems to belong to a church group.

Printed on card, three fragments—the Articles of Faith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, impossible to date. We now come to the 1990's. I find a notice telling of an Adult ADD group (of the North Bay) meeting on June 1, 1994. I assume ADD means, Attention Deficit Disorder?

By this time I had searched all the interior of the desk I could reach. I found only two more things; a pamphlet entitled, Work from Home, 1995 and an envelope with the printed address of Great Western Bank, Northridge, California. Containing bank statement and checks for one, Mary Lou Chivers, who lived in Santa Rosa.

So it appears the desk leaves San Francisco and ends up in the home of one, Mary Lou Chivers in Santa Rosa. It is she who had the Work from Home pamphlet, because amongst the bank checks in the envelope I found a check made out to an At Home business. So the last owner of the desk was a woman who worked from home. I scanned the checks, many were made out to Longs a pharmacy. There were quite a few checks for Longs, so I assume she suffered from ill health and had to buy a lot of medications? That was most probably why she worked from home? The bank checks were for 1995. I could find nothing else. We bought the desk in 2000.

As we rummaged through these unexpected findings, and we viewed our monster desk with kinder eyes. This is a desk with a history, a desk that had survived the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. More than that, through a few dusty fragments, hidden unseen for years in the desk's interior, we had caught glimpses of the desk's previous owners, and we found that oddly moving.

This week workman having been ripping out old woodwork on the roof and outer walls of our apartment building, replacing it with fancier gray sidings of some sort. The noise from all the ripping out, sawing and banging has rippled through our apartment causing everything to vibrate. Everything, that is, except our steel desk, which I am happy to say was rock solid and calmly unruffled.

I have looked up the history of metal desks and sure enough, they built them around the turn of the century. They were built to withstand the force of the typewriter. Perhaps overbuilt, and now it stands firm 100 years later—despite the tendency it has to lock every drawer, which a little jiggling and some heartfelt swear words soon makes right—and is witness to this new fangled computer. But it has an understanding that words are being exchanged and used, and that is it's function, to be of use where words are being written.

Copyright© 2007, Undiscovered Worlds Press