Junk Drawer at the Edge of the Universe
Steven Reed Johnson, author
\tIn the beginning, Reed, the narrator of the story, is living in a red storage shed near the apartment building where Woody Guthrie wrote Roll on Columbia, Roll On. He has been living in the storage shed for five years, trying to carry out the last will and testament of his friend and mentor, Jack Ainsworth. \tThe stories begin and end in a tiny place on earth, that the narrator calls the shire, but his wanderings--often "accidently" inspired by Jack Ainsworth, leads him to far places on the earth; from the outback of Australia distributing digital cameras to Aboriginal communities, to rumbles on the streets of Kyoto Japan in the 1960s that turn into musicals, and Ayahuasca experiences with a shaman in the headwaters of the Amazon. The loves of his life die in Hawaii; the deserts of Eastern Oregon; on a futon next to the giant first edition books he loved all his life; and in twenty places simultaneously, including the 20 personas his friend and mentor created. \tIt is also the story about the narrator's ambition to be a writer. He meets Jack on a precipitous day when unable to sleep, and fearful he may never sleep again, by chance, through an unlikely out-of-body experience, he has an insight that his life story could be told through the contents of a junk drawer he opens by mistake. While he is conjuring a "string theory" of how to connect the events of his life into stories, Jack calls him; then meet for the first time, and quickly develop a contract. Jack will help him tell his stories like Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) if he will take on the duties of being the Secretariat for the Gertrude Stein Fellowship Club. While he tells his stories through Arabian night episodes, his life continues to unfold as he becomes caregiver to the people he loves the most in his life; and a poignant answer he realizes to his persistent question for God or someone to give his life meaning. \tThe Arabian Nights sessions unfold over several years. Reed dips into the junk drawer, retrieves an item and then tells a brief story conjured by the item. Unbeknownst to Reed, Jack also writes longer stories based on the items. Sometimes he publishes the stories. He also conveys the stories by word of mouth, places them in geocaches (before there was such a thing), and reveals their whereabouts in classified ads, movie subtitles, and stories published by well-known authors. The stories travel around the world; by the time they get back to the narrator, like in the game of passing a phrase around in a circle of participants, the stories are enriched and stretched beyond belief. \tReed does become a better writer, but at what cost? His own life is like a red storage shed compared to a Downton Abby estate. Reed finds the missing box, hidden away in a garage owned by Tinker Bell and it lives up to its advertising campaign. Reed's writing improves. He wrote the first chapter and last section. Jack, along with his personas, has an apt memorial service.