Last week’s essay concerning the vanishing jalopy didn’t attract any public comment, but I had a small blitz of personal email about it. Only some of the messages concerned automobilia; the larger theme was cultural erasure or amnesia generally—things that used to be around, but seem to have disappeared, or that we have simply forgotten. Most of these were material: 78rpm-records, blocks of ice delivered by guys with huge tongs, glass milk bottles, that sort of thing. But whole tribes of human beings also vanished. Two Jehova’s Witnesses came to my door last week. They were the first in at least a decade, probably two or three decades, and the exception that reminded me of all the people who don’t come anymore, especially Fuller Brush salesmen. If the term “Fuller Brush Man” is meaningless to you, it simply proves my point.
They generally dressed in what appeared to be the unsold items from a really scruffy yard sale. Their eyes were so weakened that they seemed never to notice that there was about a quarter of an inch of dust on everything—everything but the Scrabble board, that is, which was in daily use. Their hearing was also impaired, so that all communication, including that emanating from the television set, was at a level somewhere between a shout and a bellow. I rather imagine a conversation between Hardy and Lord Nelson on the quarterdeck during a typhoon. To cross their threshold really was to enter an alternate universe.