The Wise Hook

in Essays

hook comp The Wise HookIn old sea­side cab­ins I have found the wise hook nailed to the splinter-board bath­room wall, oppo­site the small sink and the plain toi­let that has no spe­cial adap­tors for spe­cial clean­ing and is not heated.

The hook has been nailed to the wall for a long time. Nothing has strained it, since noth­ing heav­ier than a pajama top or a towel has ever been hung there.

But this hook, like some rela­tion­ships, is designed to sup­port more. Its upper prong, bent slightly toward the ceil­ing with a small knob at the end, is strong enough to hold up a coat, if a coat was ever hung in a bath­room, and when the cold dense fog of the Pacific rolls in, a coat might be hung there, in a kind of sum­mer despair. Its lower prong, shorter, but also tilted up and fin­ished with a tiny ball, is not that strong and yet it could cer­tainly hold a pajama top and bot­tom, a night­gown, prob­a­bly flan­nel, and at least one wooly robe.

The wise hook, thus bur­dened, or rather, put into full, even spec­tac­u­lar, use, would rule the small bath­room, its gar­ments pro­trud­ing into the space between the wall and the sink, never wide to begin with and now pop­u­lated fully.

As in a rela­tion­ship when the unwel­come rev­e­la­tions of years have come to hang upon it, the hook itself, the rela­tion­ship itself, is hid­den under what it car­ries. And what it car­ries is not vis­i­ble, indi­vid­u­ally, but sim­ply as a large hang­ing lump, belong­ings that at the moment belong to no one because they have been left, deposited, aban­doned, even if only for the space of a cold night.

There are other wise details in the small old bath­room: the sil­ver metal box for tis­sues attached upright to the wall by the shower, the molded plas­tic shower itself, or rather, the tiny soap shelf sculpted into one cor­ner like the curve of a mar­ble nude’s calf, the milk-white upside-down caps on the two light­bulbs over the sink—these are all intel­li­gent, formed for ser­vice, but also, at least in the case of the lights, their use­ful­ness is some­what under­mined by their decorativeness.

The hook needs no such devices. Those belong to the tem­po­rary, the less highly skilled. The hook we would like to call “merely util­i­tar­ian,” just as the rela­tion­ship that sup­ports the fam­ily, its jobs, its spend­ing, its place in the com­mu­nity is “merely util­i­tar­ian,” although when it was nailed to its spot it seemed to have other attractions.

Now its pur­pose and its power are melded: it sup­ports, it holds up, and the lim­its of its abil­ity to sup­port and hold up have never yet been reached.

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