Who wants them?
by John Martin
Evidently, in 1998, a big corporate bash for Tivoli, a company then-recently-acquired by IBM, was held at the Longbranch Saloon, a local, and primarily country and western, bar in Raleigh, NC. Evidently, as well, 1997 was no less than a banner year for Tivoli.
There was a “Monopoly” theme to the celebration, with giant “Chance” and “Community Chest” cards hanging about the venue with customized, almost giddy, sayings on them. Sayings, such as:
There was food galore, the drinks were flowing, people posed for pictures doing various things with various denominations of currency bandying about the word billion a lot, and the entertainment for this little soirée of excess was none other than Lyle Lovett.
I know all this because it’s eight years later now, and I’ve just stumbled upon two abandoned photo albums in the printer room on the second floor at the end of the building opposite to the end at which my office resides.
In the boom years, as in during the years in which the events depicted in these albums were taking place, there were two printer rooms on each floor – not to mention monthly beer bashes, to which your
“The Power to Drink Anything, Anywhere.”
would not only authorize you free entrance, but would get you two complimentary cocktails as well.
After the first few pages of pictures, the ones from which I’ve garnered the event name and location I’ve already related, a series of five pictures ensues – all of a man who appears to be an emcee. He looks, perhaps, mid-forties; he’s stocky with a salt and pepper beard that’s more salt than pepper at the chin. He has on a white shirt, with a red collar that’s turned up a tad, and either a navy or black sport coat. In one picture, his belt is showing threaded through one blue denim loop.
In the first four photos, he seems to be acting in his official capacity, but the final one appears to be a casual shot, in which he’s holding a bottle of beer and talking with a man who looks like he could be a celebrity, but who is not the night’s paid celebrity. I only say he looks like a celebrity because in spite of being indoors, he has on sunglasses, yet not wielding a red-tipped white cane.
The next ten photos are of – I’d be willing to bet – a “then Tivoli executive” addressing the crowd with a microphone. This would be the obligatory “meeting” part of the evening, satisfying the requirements to allow the bash to be written off on some corporate tax form under some corporate tax law.
This man is wearing a white, casual shirt with a short turtle neck to it, a dark sport coat, and a baseball cap, which consists of a white crown with a purple visor. This cap is undoubtedly serving two functions: 1) hiding a good part of his stressed-induced hair loss, and 2) giving him perceived credibility as he talks about the development and sales team’s success in 1997 using some sports metaphor that is lost on, or dismissed by, most of the women and gay men in the audience.
The next forty-three pictures are of Lyle Lovett, alone, on the stage in front of a mic playing the guitar. A head-on shot. A shot from the left. A shot from the right. One of him from a 45º angle, another from a 35º angle, and then a 38º degree angle, a 39º angle, and just one more at a 40º angle. Well, you get the drift – one degree at a time.
There are one-hundred twenty-nine more photos in this album, and I don’t know most of the people in most of the pictures. Every once in a while, I see someone I know in one of them. They sure do look happy in them. They sure were having a good time. I think, mostly about the ones I don’t know, “Where are these people now?” and then, more disturbingly, “Who are these people?”
Doesn’t anyone want these pictures? Why wouldn’t they? They were younger in them. Their company was making more money then. These memories are supposed to be lighting the corners of their minds.
I want to take out the few pictures of the people I know, and take them to their offices, and say, “Sarah, don’t you at least want this one? It's of you. See how happy you look?” I imagine her wistful response, “Oh, yeah, before my diagnosis. No, thanks.”
“Janet? No? You don’t want this one? But, you're in it, and your hair looks so good.” She sighs, “Yeah, divorce number two put an end to weekly salon trips. No, thanks.”
Ah, this one — of Pete line-dancing — is a classic. Reaching Pete’s office, I find his office nameplate empty, and his desk as clear as a whistle. I look in the office next to his and his ex-colleague mouths, lingering longer on the leading letters of each word, “Laid off last week.”
"Okay, thanks," I mouth back. Evidently, that's where some of these people are now.
What’s to be done with these artifacts now casting barely a sliver of light into the darkest corners of our collective memory? These albums are heavy – both in hand and heart. Who owns them? Who wants to bear their weight?
I look over at the huge recycle bins right here in this printer room – opaque and locked, so that confidential material can be safely placed within. I read the sign that says, “No colored paper, soiled paper, or glossy paper,” and I think, “These photos have a matte finish so, technically, they're not glossy paper.”