October 28, 2011

Candle, tower, flame

I found these candlesticks at a flea market in lower Manhattan in my college days long
ago. I was always on the lookout for bargains back then, not having a lot to spend on
home accessories, but determined to acquire what I could to groovy up my pad on east
25th street, my first apartment in New York, a walk-up studio on the third floor.

They’re silver plated, now heavily tarnished; I was attracted to their extravagantly
slender stem and tulip cup, their nod to Art Neuveau, and vaguely churchy elegance.
The twelve inch tapers that they habitually wore increased their drama. They followed
me from one dwelling to another, one life to another, one of my few possessions that
never fell off the cart in all those gypsy years.

In my Staten Island apartment, my triumphal last digs in New York overlooking the
harbor, they sat together atop a heavy oak speaker tower, one of two dramatic monoliths
that were the last word in music reproduction back then. I had bought them at a close-
out many years before and they, too, had managed to stay with me, shipped, stored,
hustled, trudged, from one destination to the next.

I wish I could remember exactly what I was doing, what my exact thoughts were, when
I heard the noise. I was in another room, and the apartment was quiet and still. I’ve cast
my mind back, looking for some clue, some correlation to what happened next, but it
eludes me still. Something, somewhere, had fallen, shifted, been disturbed. When I
walked into the living room, there it was: one of the candlesticks had tumbled off the
tower, somehow, and now lay, four feet down, in two pieces, its head severed, on the
floor. Its candle was standing straight up, by itself, on the floor next to it. The slightest
breeze would have toppled it. I stared at this marvel, walked around it, stared some
more, for as long as seemed decent, then carefully plucked the candle from the floor.

Every attempt I’d made to repair the candlestick - solder, duct tape, Elmer’s glue, liquid
metal, crazy glue - had all failed. It would not hold a candle. Sooner or later, it
beheaded itself again. Eventually I gave up, accepted its brokenness, and laid it to rest,
along with its twin, wrapped and ribboned, in a drawer.

Some time after I had moved to Florida, and was nearing the end of the first cycle of
creating a life in a tropical setting, I was out riding my bike and thinking about how
things had come together, and what remained to be done. I remember thinking, and may
have even whispered to myself, “My one regret is leaving those speakers behind.” A
few days later I was browsing the local Kiwanis thrift shop, looking for bargains to
groovy up my Florida digs with, and there they were. Thirty dollars for the pair. What a
strange sensation, seeing those two old friends under cold fluorescent lights amongst
tattered hide-a-beds and stacks of lampshades, a thousand miles from New York. I paid
with no dickering and brought them home. Are they the same ones I had left behind in
New York? I’ll never know. I thought I’d give the candlesticks one last try. I got them
out, glued the broken one together again, and set them both, with new candles, on the
old tower. There, to this day, is where they stand.