Arthur’s diary

July 24, 2009

A man, who I’ll call Arthur, died in 2006 at age 60, leaving everything to his mother. He was a professor of zoology. In the case that he died before his mother, which he did, his mother was to give certain things to UCLA. Some were earmarked for the Music Department. His mother died recently and several boxes of stuff were left for us to come pick up. I went down and went through them. Several boxes of LPs, mostly old recordings of romantic violin music; lots of not terribly good paintings and odd photographs that he made; a photocopy of the manuscript of the Brahms Violin Concerto; framed pictures of Rodin sculptures, and other house pictures. Also, was a large book of his poems, writings, and philosophic musings — really, a kind of diary of his life. In his living trust, besides his violin and money, the most important item that is mentioned many times is his diary. I decided to take the diary home and read it, which I did this morning.

The poems were not very good poems, rather stream of consciousness observations of the world, and whatever was going on in his life at the end. There were many pages of scientific musings that, not being my area of expertise, may or may not be of interest to the scientific world. He includes an unanswered registered letter he wrote to Stephen Hawking in the ’70s. There is a chapter on his mid-life crisis, written on his 40th birthday. There are some photos in the book, but they are all of him, standing in front of statues or buildings around the world — and no one else. He doesn’t mention anyone else in the whole book except for a beautiful Spanish boy that he met in 1967 whose hand he had the pleasure of kissing.

The wizened, older Arthur revisits the wild and crazy younger Arthur with annotations in pencil, made and initialed by him later in life with comments like “not true” or “not the whole story.”

My guess is that Arthur was a big pot enthusiast, as most of the book seems like stoned ramblings. But where was his life? It all seemed inside his head. If this guy was a zoologist, you wouldn’t know it from any of his personal writings. If he was a professor, there is no evidence that he ever had a student in his life. This diary was his escape from everything and everyone. I did a search on his name and found only an appearance of his year of birth and year of death, and that a year before he died, he and his mother made a contribution in the memory of a friend to a their synagogue. Other than these two citations, he had no internet presence at all.

Why did you die at age 60, Arthur? Did you like people? What did you do when you traveled all over the world? Did you meet anyone, other than the people who took YOUR picture?

The most amazing part of reading the book was landing on the final page. He had an order form for the book. One copy would be $52; he then made a list of the prices if you purchase 5-10, 10-20, 20-50, and if you bought over 100 copies, they’d be $34 each. I couldn’t believe that he really imagined that this book had any commercial potential. But clearly, this was one of his most sacred and prized possessions. And it is now in my hands. I really don’t know what to do with it, but keep it, like I do so many other things, and show it to the appropriate person from time to time. What happen to the millions of other diaries that get left to be found by family or strangers?

I hope someone misses you, Arthur; and if not, I certainly am thankful for inheriting your strange little time capsule.
Arthur's fantasy
[Top picture: Self Portrait of the Arthur (no date); Lower picture: Arthur’s Fantasy (1981)]

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