Here is a puzzling piece of paper, 3 9/16" x 4", found in a 1967 paperback, The Olympia Reader, a sampler of works published by the Olympia Press. I no longer know how I acquired this book — most likely at a library sale.
This list is almost certainly a preparation for a short trip — I can't invent another context in which these items fit. Whoever composed the list is an orderly person: five groups, checkmarks for almost all items, long lines through the groups. The red checkmarks might suggest the hand of a teacher.
The drugs and remedies on the list — more items of this sort than of any other — suggest a difficult life. These are the items the listmaker is careful to get down first and, I suspect, cannot imagine leaving home without. The first item, Unicap, might suggest what used to be called a health nut: not many packing lists begin with vitamins. It's the second item that startles: codeine. But there's a red line through it: has it been checked off, or crossed off? Is the listmaker now resolving to do without it?
Most of the medicinal items that follow suggest everyday woes: headaches, colds, stomach ills. Perhaps this traveler wants to be prepared for anything. I cannot make out the third item — xtreno? But look at the middle column: Isoniazid is used in the prevention and treatment of tuberculosis. Marax (evidently no longer available) relieves the symptoms of bronchial asthma.
The toiletries group makes me think that this list belongs to a man: razor, "foam," no makeup. (Cf. Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window: "Why, a woman going anywhere but the hospital would always take makeup, perfume, and jewelry.") Scissors are a puzzling addition — to trim a mustache? to cut fingernails? Those are tasks one could take care of before a trip. Wherever the listmaker is traveling, there must be toothpaste and deodorant, which seem conspicuously missing from the list. But there won't be shaving cream.
The books — everyone packs a paperback or two, no? — suggest a listmaker familiar with literary culture, as does The Olympia Reader itself, with work by Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, and Henry Miller. I take Vietnam to be shorthand for Norman Mailer's 1967 novel Why Are We in Vietnam? Chaillot can only be The Madwoman of Chaillot, an English translation of Jean Giraudoux's play La folle de Chaillot. The play was made into a film in 1969, and a paperback translation was published that year. (An aside: the first English translation, from 1947, is by Maurice Valency, who taught one of my professors, Paul Memmo, at Columbia, and, much later, my wife Elaine, at Juilliard.)
The most puzzling part of this list comes last. It's conceivable that a man might wear one pair of pants for three or four days. But where are his t-shirts? Where are his boxers, or briefs? These omissions seem odd with a traveler finicky enough to pack slippers and handkerchiefs (and scissors).
For a long time I thought of this list as a hypochondriacal prelude to a summer weekend trip. But there's no suntan lotion, no tennis racket, no camera. More recently I've wondered whether this list might involve a stay in a hospital or sanitarium. But the pullover and shirts don't fit that scenario.
On the other side of this piece of paper appear three phone numbers, with letters designating their exchanges: Jef, OR, VI. Each number has a notation to its right, and together these notations suggest a life that has begun to frazzle. They also suggest to me what it feels like to pose questions about this list:
NONo one's home, or at least no one who can answer my questions.
Invitation to a dance