You remember matchbooks. Those ubiquitous lighters on which detectives found scribbled clues. The keepsake of the place where your boss gave you a promotion. The joint where this babe kissed you for the first time, and then became your wife.
Matchbooks have disappeared. At the Hoya resort hotel in Taitung, Taiwan, last month I asked for one and the confused clerk handed me a souvenir notebook as a consolation. At Moriarty’s pub in Philadelphia last week, the waitress said, “I’ll give you a light, but we don’t have matches. Or swizzle sticks.”
Matchbooks have gone the way of celluloid mirrors (1900s), plastic telephone dialers women used to keep from breaking a fingernail (1950s), and metal lunchboxes your kids used in fights on the school bus (1960s). We all have Bic lighters now, or have quit smoking.
Matchbooks and matchboxes are the ephemera of memories. The Equinox in Manchester, Vt., is where Ethan Allen held staff meetings a few centuries ago. The Kitcho on West 46th in New York was a weekly hangout for sushi when I was directing communications at Dun & Bradstreet. The St. Regis on Fifth and 55th St. was a marvelous place to sip a martini, but don’t ask for some simple cheese and crackers for dessert. The Hôtel Royal in Evian, France, is the place I told the roadie for my meetings to sit down and simply watch the passersby. The Waldorf’s Bull and Bear is where my wife and I repaired for drinks before a show or after I was stuck working late. London’s Inter-Continental brings back memories of strolling through Hyde Park. And on and on they go.
And so the years pass. Time is the rip tide in the Hellgate, pushing on my seventy-odd birthdays. Surging forward and backward, dragging me onto the rocks and then washing me back with the new currents. Why hold on to these things? Memories.
Realists will tell you memories are like trying to describe your first kiss with the red-headed eighth grade girl in the movie theater. It’s not the real thing. It’s a memory, and you can’t trust that any more than you could trust your first girlfriend. But the truth is that the memories may be better than reality.