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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, February 26, 2024

Cabinet of Curiosities: Pumpkins, underwear, the books of Rich Shapero

Replacement Graphic for JAKE Ren's column "Cabinet of Curiosities"
Graphic by Olivia White

Although it is already December, pumpkins from Halloween continue to haunt the Tufts University campus. Remembering how these gourds were dismembered, carved, gorged and skinned to make into pie, perfume, spice and lattes in October, it is nice to see them just sitting around now. They often perch at inaccessibly high parts of buildings, upright and intact, as if giants had carefully placed them there as ritualistic protection so that “Attack On Titan” (2013–23) could conclude on a satisfying note (which was proven successful). Some pumpkins, like the two on Barnum Hall, have been removed, but enough remain for them to be considered a phenomenon. The ones at eye level are surprisingly still with us, likely a result of Tufts’ lack of policy on large, stray orange gourds.

Inedible and non-festive items have also gained semi-permanent citizenship in the Tufts community. There was a pair of purple underwear, for instance, on the staircase to the Houston Hall basement. Sitting on the landing, it did not pose a safety hazard and remained easy enough to avoid for nothing to ever happen to it. In my Russian culture class, I read a story about how in the Soviet Union after World War II, a soldier broke a child thief’s arm and left him there to scream, but nobody called the police for the child because they were so desensitized to violence. This feels like that. You would think that whoever left the underwear in the basement would eventually come to reclaim it, but they never did. It was there for almost two weeks, never pushed to the side, just right smack in the middle of the stairwell, still and eternal, like an exhibition item in a modern art museum.

Around campus, there are also the glossy new Rich Shapero books like “Island Fruit Remedy” (2020) and “Dreams of Delphine” (2022). I have never seen anyone read these books, or move them, but they seem to have been interacting with the community nevertheless. I first encountered them during my pre-orientation in August and since then have seen them dispersed around campus, in most buildings, on a wide variety of surfaces. They were apparently handed out around Tufts last year, and, despite the sexual nature of some of them, have never been addressed by the university. For instance, “Island Fruit Remedy,” according to Goodreads, is set in “an outrageous tropical burlesque, where a cast of metaphorical fruits dares you to surrender to an allegory with deeper resonances.” The cover features a vaguely suggestive papaya.

Sometimes, when I am walking down a street, I see a leaf — or at least what’s left of a leaf — decomposed onto the asphalt. I see leaves that have become a part of the surface, giving color to a previously lifeless government infrastructure. The pumpkins, the purple underwear and the books of Rich Shapero remind me of those leaves, as they are remnants of a time, person or idea that has become forever frozen in time, tied to the university’s campus.