Kurt Andersen met Rob Walker, co-editor of Significant Objects, at Vintage Thrift in Manhattan to pick out three objects for our contest. The doll reminds Kurt of Tim Burton. “Kind of frightening,” agrees Rob. “It’s old enough that one of the eyes is sort of deteriorated. It’s hovering, in my opinion, right on the verge of being garbage. But it’s five bucks, so...” (Garbage is expensive in New York.)
We want to read your backstory for this object!
His calloused hands rubbed the stubble of his face, scratching away at the dried grime that had found comfort in between his whiskers. The chair he sat in was an old plaid, once a bright yellow was now a faded pale smoker’s yellow, only in certain light did you see it’s once cheerful yellow. His boots were caked with soot and left prints that led to the front door, their dismembered chaotic patterns were strewn across the floor, slowly calming down and taking their place back at his feet. His shirt was halfway open and un-tucked and in his lap was a strange doll its face smiling upwardly at him, its rainbow ribbon wrapped around it caressed is fingers, giving them small soft kisses. The man gave the little dolls blue shoes one kiss each and sighed, petting the doll’s little black tuft of hair he placed it in his lap. Taking his hands he rubbed his face and shut his eyes. His face now all covered in soot, broken now be the small streams of tears that poured out of his eyes. He looked back to the doll, its little red smile looking up at him and its disproportionate eyes seizing his gaze. Scooping it up he held it close to his face, there the doll laid it’s comfort but no closure.
Whatever you want to know, I'll tell you, about being old and not believing it, about losing pieces of hair and toes and god knows, but grinning back at the world anyway, one cheery red grin.###Ottavio the toymaker gave me this grin, though he's long gone now.### He made at least a dozen of me, delivered to little shops from one side of the Arno to the next.### I sat for years watching that river. ### Some dolls are observers.### We don't live in tiny houses and wear outfits.### We stay propped, we watch, we think and we wait for our thoughts to be read.### In the end we unravel like other toys, but there is something about a doll that spends its life watching - how you want to keep me near, put me on your mantle, glance everyday to see, have the half-gone eyes moved, is the tuft of hair still curled and, most of all, is that old doll still the mystery you need me to be.
This is the story of my revolution.
###I was born Serghei Tomescu in Giroc, a small village just south of Timisoara in the County of Timis, Romania. My father, Lucian Tomescu had labored many years on a compulsive Communist state-controlled collective wheat farm. Shortly after I was born on 8 November 1970, the Romanian dictator and secretary general of the Romanian Communist Party, Nicolae Ceausescu began a systematic campaign of demolishing small villages, towns, and cities. My birthplace, my father’s home, my grandfather and his father’s home before him was classified “irrational” only because the population was less than 1000 and therefore sanctioned for physical eradication. My family was forced to relocate to Timisoara.
###For the next few years we lived with my Father’s brother who owned a small three room coal-stove heated apartment above his haberdashery of fine linens on Strada Moldovei in the eastern portion of the city. At that time, there were two classes of people in Timisoara; the poor and the elite. We were definitely not in the “elite” class, but I never felt neither that we were poor. My father was a very frugal man, but we never went without food or clothing. Both my parents helped in the linen store from seven in the morning until late at night and my mother took in washing on the side. When I became school age, I built myself a shoe-shine box, earning extra money at local fuss ball and rugby games.
###On my eighteenth birthday in November 1988, my father arranged a dinner celebration and announced he would use the savings he had accumulated over his life to enroll me in the Timisoara West University, one of the four city public universities. During the following month of December, I began my studies in Public Administration.
###As soon as I started my classes I could sense a tension among the students heavier than the steel anvil on my father’s farm. Nothing was said, but you could see it in the student’s eyes and hear it in the inflection of their voices. No one dared speak unfavorably about the government, for it was well know that one out of every four Romanians was a Securitate (secret police) informer.
###There was whispered discontent about long lines and shortages of food at the grocery stores. Television was reduced to a single channel that transmitted only two hours per day and electricity was constantly interrupted for hours. The government continually raised taxes on practically every subsistence item, while diverting huge sums of money to frivolous projects which drained the country’s finances. My father’s brother was forced to reduce his stock to mere common white cotton linen, foregoing the more natural soft and smooth flax linens.
###There were minor strikes and protests in other Romanian cities in late 1987, but these were rapidly put down and the participants arrested and imprisoned. During the intervening years, there were a few letters written by several leading activists in the Romanian capital of Bucharest criticizing the economic policies of Nicolae Ceausescu and calling for government reforms, but the dissidents were detained for a period of time, interrogated by the Securitate and eventually released.
###Then on 16 December 1989, the mayor Of Timisoara, Petre Mot, received government orders to remove Pastor Laszlo Tokes from his post and evict him from his home for comments critical to the Ceausescu’s regime, including a radio interview in which the Pastor stated, “Romanians do not even know their human rights.” This resulted in a few parishioners and seminary students to gather around his home to protect him from harassment and eviction.
###Protests continued into the next day, and even some of my student friends joined the townspeople who broke into the District Committee building and threw Communist Party documents, propaganda brochures and Ceausescu’s speeches out the windows. This gradually intensified to fights, casualties and burned cars.
###The military was sent in to control the riots; Helicopters hovered over all sections of the city; tanks and trucks blocked access to the city; the mayor declared martial law, prohibiting people from gathering in groups larger than two people; curfew was imposed from sunset to sunrise; and all students were confined to the school dormitories.
###I felt I had to perform some significant act of solidarity – after all, wasn’t this protest against the same man who evicted my father and family from our home?
That evening, on 17 December 1989, my girlfriend and I slipped out of the University, knowing that plainclothes Securitate-agents were posted at every street corner to enforce the curfew, to meet my parents at the linen store. Upon arriving, I explained my plan and together we created what was to become the nation’s symbol of solidarity. My father devised a frame out of pipe cleaners. My uncle created a round head from two small pieces of fine linen handkerchief, stuffed with raw cotton and sewed together. My mother fashioned a peasant’s wedding suit of white linen. My aunt embroidered the piping around the sleeves and pant legs. My girlfriend embroidered the eyes, mouth and stub of hair on the head. My cousins created the hands and used my old shoe polish to blacken the white linen on the feet. And finally, I added the ribbon representing the three colors of the Romanian flag (blue, yellow, red) across the chest. And so the “The Patriot” was born.
###We labored night and day for the next 72-hours, taking only short breaks for food and sleep. Thousands of The Patriot were made and within the following two days, every home displayed this 16-centimeter symbol of unity and hope in their windows. Every car contained The Patriot on their dashboard or in their back window. Office workers took them to their offices. Plant workers took them to their factories. Students took them to their classrooms. And children held them tightly in their arms.
###On December 25, 1989, Nicolae Ceausescu was removed from power and the Romanian Communist Party ceased to exist.