1 Mr. Schmitz Artifacts only have value if they were of any use during their life.
Yes, artifacts have a life. More importantly they have an afterlife. It is only during their afterlife that they are called artifacts. During their life they are just objects. Commonplace, everyday objects. A paintbrush. A mirror. A compass. They don¶t carry much weight. But it¶s different if they served a greater purpose or were involved in some splendid event. Like the paintbrush that Michelangelo used to finish the Sistine Chapel. Or the mirror that Washington looked into every morning before he took his small Continental army out to fight the impossible war against the British. And the compass that Magellan used as he became the first man to cross the Pacific Ocean. Then its value increases; it is remembered. This is what was going through Mr. Schmitz¶s mind as he ran down the sunny streets of Boston. What Mr. Schmitz did wasn¶t really running, of course. It was more of a waddling trot for a man of his waistline and stature. Beads of sweat formed on the top of his head and made their way downward. Some rolled down his round face, sprinkling his glasses or getting caught in his perfectly trimmed mustache. Some retreated down the back of his head, soaking what little dark hair remained there. Most of the droplets found their way to his thick neck and downward. There they joined other groups of perspiration that were already darkening his mustard plaid shirt under his arms and across his shoulders and back where his suspenders pressed close to his plump figure, fighting desperately to keep up his trousers. Mr. Schmitz waddled along nearly running into people, mailboxes and cars (technically the cars nearly ran into him). He apologized left and right, even to the mailboxes, and scuttled along the sidewalk never once allowing the near bumps or close encounters to take away the smile on his face. He kept his eyes up, his hopes high and his grip firm on the six hundred year old telescope he held, pressing it close to his heart. Mr. Schmitz had made a discovery that afternoon. Just inside the telescope lens he had found what appeared to be a small corner of a piece of paper or something like it. The visible part of the old parchment was no bigger than a mustard seed. He believed this was the find he was looking for. Mr. Schmitz was an artifact appraiser. He put a price tag on ancient items depending on when and where they were from. Placing items in the right
2 century and continent was easy enough for Schmitz, but narrowing down who actually owned it was much more difficult. If an artifact had a known owner, a famous one at that, its value went up dramatically. He had a history of mistaking items in his meager personal collection as belonging to important people that they never really belonged to. Like the Eastern Asian broach he thought belonged to the last heir of the Ming Dynasty or the Spanish pocket watch that King Ferdinand didn¶t actually ever own. However, the telescope looked to be authentically thirteenth century, and from the Gregorian designs on the sides he could tell that it was southern European, either Italian or French. He thought the paper inside might be proof that it belonged to a notable from that time, like a king or a duke. If it did, then he had something worth a barrelful of money. More importantly, it would put his name among the known appraisers of his time. These thoughts had distracted Mr. Schmitz from the signs of fatigue his portly body was giving him. He had been running for quite awhile. When he stopped at the corner of Jefferson and Main he became aware that his body demanded a break. He decided he¶d have to make a rest stop on his way to Ulrich¶s, his intended destination, or he might not make it there at all.
Alice and Phil were longtime friends of Mr. Schmitz. Their home was situated in the part of Boston where there were knee-high, white picket fences in the yards and children playing in the street. Their house matched the one two doors down from them, just as their neighbors matched three doors down and so on. Every house fit into a perfect pastel pattern with white framework, only standing apart with small, personalized accents. Mr. Schmitz knew his friends would provide a nice rest stop for him. When Alice saw the sweaty, short winded and equally short statured man at her front door, she quickly brought him in. She knew Mr. Schmitz to be an eccentric man, often doing strange things for stranger reasons and she wondered what strange reason caused his sweaty jog with a rusty telescope that afternoon. Alice set a glass of ice water down on the table next to the telescope. Mr. Schmitz gulped it down. Phil watched from across the table as he peeled potatoes. ³So you ran all the way here from Weston Park?´ asked Phil.
3 Mr. Schmitz put down the empty glass. ³Yes. I was three blocks away from your house before I realized that I had left my car back at the park.´ He laughed breathlessly at himself. Alice took the glass and refilled it with ice water, then went back to preparing her famous pot roast. Alice was Phil¶s wife of thirty years and had never lost a cribbage game in her life. Margaret, Mr. Schmitz¶s wife, would playfully insist that she cheated. Alice would just move her long golden hair out of her face, smile and shrug. She was the first one to meet Mr. Schmitz at the hospital when Margaret died. During the five years since, she had invited him over for dinner every Tuesday and Thursday night. ³Sorry to drop in suddenly,´ said Mr. Schmitz. ³Just a pit stop on my way to Ulrich¶s shop. I figured he would know how to open this thing without damaging it.´ ³Do you mind?´ asked Phil. He put down his peeler and wiped his hands off on a towel. ³No, not at all.´ Mr. Schmitz handed over the telescope. Phil¶s huge hands fit all the way around it, even at the telescope¶s thick end. Mr. Schmitz¶ doughy little fingers barely encircled the smaller side. Phil was taller than Mr. Schmitz, as most people were, and he was a thick man. His shoulders, legs, arms, and chin were all thick, the kind of thick that radiated strength. His usual aura of silence and sheer presence could be very intimidating if one didn¶t know him. Phil liked being silent. However, due to a previous conversation with his wife about their friend and his aimless endeavors, he was forced to talk more than usual this visit. Alice said a man could relate to a man easier than a woman could. Phil didn¶t think anyone could relate easily to Schmitz. Phil examined the telescope for a moment, turning it over in his hands slowly. Then he held it up to his eye. ³Do you see it?´ asked Mr. Schmitz. ³Only a tiny corner is visible in the viewfinder, no bigger than a piece of confetti. I was on top of the playground looking out at the bay when I saw it.´ He took another drink. Phil pulled the telescope away from his eye. ³You were on a playground?´ ³Yes, it allows me to see over some buildings down by the dock. It¶s quite fun up there, they didn¶t make them like that back when I was young.´
4 Phil imagined his old, chubby friend playing with his toy amongst a dozen little kids on the playground. Somehow it fits, he thought. Like minds maybe. ³You need to put the telescope up to the light to see it best,´ Mr. Schmitz said. Phil pointed the telescope towards the window. The backdrop of sunlight produced a tiny shadow of a triangle on the edge of the glass. He turned it around and ran his fingernail on the front of the glass. After a moment he handed the telescope back to Mr. Schmitz and picked up his peeler. ³What do you think it is?´ he asked, trying to sound interested. ³What I think it is isn¶t as important as what it might be,´ he said, smiling at Phil. He took his glasses off and wiped the sweat from his forehead. ³It probably belonged to a Lord or a knight. Or royalty! Could you imagine? I could be called to meet with someone at the Federal Museum. Or go to Italy. The telescope does appear to have Italian designs.´ Alice took a few of the peeled potatoes piled up next to her husband. As she did she gave Phil a look, the look a wife gives a husband to encourage him to do something. Alice had an idea to set Schmitz up with their friend Marilynn. Schmitz seemed more eager for some adventure since Margaret passed. Getting someone back in his life that he could love might take some attention off of his silly projects that always got his hopes up. Like that European broach or whatever it was last year, she thought. Setting up Schmitz and Marilynn was Phil¶s man-to-man assignment. Alice gave him the look again. Phil turned his attention back to the potato in his hand, and without looking up again said, ³We were hoping you could stay for dinner tonight.´ ³Sorry, I don¶t have time. Ulrich closes shop just after six. He is a stickler for time.´ Schmitz took another gulp of his water. Of course, that would have been too easy, Phil thought. ³We¶re having Marilynn and a few others over for Alice¶s pot roast and we have an extra plate.´ ³Oh, I love her pot roast. Save me some leftovers, would you? I can pick it up tomorrow, if I¶m not off on some important meeting about the telescope.´ Phil realized his mistake here; he shouldn¶t have thrown in food and Marilynn in the same sentence. He¶d have to change tactics. ³You know we¶ve started up a cribbage group on Wednesday nights,´ said Phil. He placed another shaved potato into the pot
5 beside him. ³There are quite a few good players, Marilynn being one of them. You remember meeting her last month?´ ³Yes, the sweet young widow from uptown. She¶s very nice,´ said Mr. Schmitz. Young, here, was a relative term. Mr. Schmitz himself was fifty-nine. Marilynn was fifty-four, only a year younger than Margaret would have been. ³We are thinking of starting a couples tournament,´ said Phil. ³Let me know how it turns out. Maybe I can referee, eh?´ Mr. Schmitz chuckled. Phil looked over at Alice, helpless. ³I best be off,´ said Mr. Schmitz. Holding the telescope close to him he walked over to the sink and put his hand on Alice¶s shoulder. ³Thanks for the water.´ Alice knew the affects of battered hopes on her friend. He was getting increasingly more difficult to cheer up after each failure. ³Please stay for dinner,´ Alice said. Mr. Schmitz smiled at her. ³I would, but I finally have something here, Alice. I just know it.´ To his friends it looked like he was pursuing a fruitless dream, but Mr. Schmitz felt he was finally starting a journey. ³What if it¶s nothing?´ she asked. ³But what if it¶s something,´ Mr. Schmitz said. Alice looked at the telescope under his arm, then at his eyes. She patted his shoulders. ³Try not to get lost in the stars.´ ³I shall keep my feet firmly on the ground. Speaking of which,´ Mr. Schmitz said, slapping his hand on Phil¶s thick back. ³I better be running.´ He made his way out the door and down the front steps. Rounding the corner of First and Maple he barely missed banging his knee on a fire hydrant, and shortly the sweat began to appear on his forehead.
As he ran (waddled) memories of Margaret came to him. Memories of how they met at Harvard while he was pursuing a history degree. Late night scenes of him acting out the fall of the Roman Empire for her into the early hours of the morning. He thought of their marriage and how the children came quickly. Too quickly. Rather than exploring the vast reaches of the world to make some grand discovery Mr. Schmitz had to put his
6 degree to use in a more monetarily satisfying career of artifact appraisals. His life was devoted to giving value to the objects that other, more important men once used. Like the telescope Mr. Schmitz carried. He had acquired it from his friend, Ulrich, who specialized in artifact restorations. Mr. Schmitz liked the engravings on it and due to its rusty appearance Ulrich didn¶t think it worth that much and sold it to his friend for a few hundred dollars. Mr. Schmitz added it to his small collection of mediocre artifacts his salary allowed him to collect. However, this particular telescope was not a mediocre artifact. It had once belonged to the very famous explorer, Christopher Columbus. When Columbus sailed west to find a quicker route to the Indies and landed in America by mistake he had the telescope in his possession, along with three chests of Italian gold. The gold was going to secure Genoa¶s involvement in the spice trade. Since he landed in America and not the Indies, Columbus hid the chests somewhere along the Atlantic coast for safekeeping intending to reclaim them on one of his many returns, which never happened. The tiny corner of paper in the telescope that Mr. Schmitz had discovered on top of the playground that afternoon was the corner of a map Columbus made to find the hidden chests of Italian gold. But of course, Mr. Schmitz didn¶t have any of this knowledge. He just had hope. As he entered the downtown district he stopped at a crosswalk to wait for the light to change. As he leaned against the traffic light gulping in air and wiping his forehead he heard a chirping noise close by. He looked up and down, left and right for the source of the noise. It seemed to be coming from him. His pocket. ³Oh,´ said Mr. Schmitz. He pulled out his cell phone. ³Hello?´ ³Schmitz, what¶s going on? I had to call you twice,´ said a sharp and short voice. ³Oh, Artie, it¶s you,´ Mr. Schmitz said breathlessly. Artie was Mr. Schmitz¶s boss at the Boston Museum. ³I¶m sorry, I¶m on my way to-³ ³Well, stop, where ever you¶re going, stop. Get over here right away. I¶ve got the job of a lifetime for you.´ ³At the museum?´
7 ³Yes, you nitwit, where else would it be? Listen, Howard Stowels is coming to my museum tonight. It¶s a last minute thing. The Howard Stowels is coming to my museum. Press will be all over the place. This is big.´ Howard Stowels was a professor at Penn University, one of the top history schools in the world. He¶s handsome, young and articulate; the Brad Pitt of the artifact world. He¶s well traveled and written three best selling novels involving artifacts, history and amazing discoveries, most of which he discovered himself. Artie continued, ³The next book he is working on has to do with some artifacts we have in our cases. He needs detailed numbers and facts on them. Quickly and accurately. That¶s what your best at. I told him I¶d put our best man on it. That¶s you.´ ³Oh, well, I might be able to make it over around eight o¶clock, but I¶m not sure-³ ³Eight? Now, Schmitz, now! I need you now!´ ³I have a project I¶m currently working on.´ ³Forget it! Stowels is big, like Indiana Jones big. I hear he needs specialized consultants on this book he¶s writing. That could be you. You could spend weeks at his estate in Maine helping him write his next big book. Months even.´ ³Maine?´ said Schmitz. He¶s already been to Maine. ³This is the chance of a lifetime, Schmitz! Of a lifetime!´ Mr. Schmitz stammered for a moment then said, ³I±Okay.´ ³Great! Get over here now,´ Artie said and hung up. Mr. Schmitz looked up at the crosswalk; the little blue man was waiting for him across the street. He turned east, down Harper Boulevard, towards the museum. Howard Stowels? Consultant? Maine? Tired of waiting on the other side of the street, the little blue man had disappeared and a blinking red hand with a countdown next to it had taken his place. Thirteen seconds. Mr. Schmitz had many things cross his mind. What if the little spec of paper really was nothing? What if I got to Ulrich¶s opened the telescope and a little leaf fell out? Ten.
8 Artie was right, though. Howard Stowels is big. What if I never get another opportunity like this again? Eight. What if there is something fantastic in the telescope? I could write my own book. Five. Wait a minute, are Alice and Phil trying to set me up with Marilynn? Three. Then many names blurred through his mind. Washington. Magellan. Columbus. Michelangelo. Cortes. Cousteau. Lincoln. Franklin. He realized they all had one thing in common. They only needed one part of their name to be recognized. That is the true sign that someone had made an impact on history, they are known by only one name. They have one-name-status. Not because they never did the thing they always intended to do. Not because they waited for opportunity to find them. And certainly not because they stood in the shadow of someone and consulted. But because they did something great during their lives and retained their value in their after life. They became artifacts. He put his phone in his pocket and held the telescope close to his chest and sighed. The crosswalk was now a solid red hand. The light turned yellow. Before it turned red he bolted through the crosswalk and yelled a one-word war cry the whole way. ³Schmitz!´
Mr. Schmitz peered around Ulrich¶s shoulder at his telescope that had been firmly pressed between two rubber C-clamps for a half an hour. He would have been peering over his shoulder, but Ulrich was a solid two feet taller than him so he would have to settle for peering around his shoulder instead. ³You are going to have to give me some space, my friend,´ said Ulrich. Mr. Schmitz took a step back, wringing his hands together. ³Sorry. How¶s it coming?´ ³This is a stubborn one,´ Ulrich said. ³Take a seat on that chair over there, this might take awhile.´
9 It was the mix of Ulrich¶s German accent and Mr. Schmitz¶s fatigue from his jog that made him obey the command. He sat down with an audible groan and removed his round-framed glasses. With his chubby fingers he took a handkerchief out of his shirt pocket and wiped the sweat off his face and head. He looked around Ulrich¶s shop. It was crammed with mirrors, clocks, armoires and other various, shiny antiques piled up in corners and on worktables. ³I can¶t believe this dirty thing is back,´ Ulrich said after a moment of silent working passed. ³It took me forever to finally sell it. To you even.´ ³If you¶d shown it to me ages ago I would¶ve gladly taken it off your hands. I¶m telling you, it¶s at least thirteenth century.´ ³It probably is, but shiny things bring in more cash than dull ones, my friend.´ Ulrich studied the telescope, stopping his glasses from sliding off his nose while at the same time intensifying the magnification on them. Mr. Schmitz could see Ulrich fumbling with his gadgety glasses from behind. He imagined they slid off his friend¶s nose frequently. Ulrich¶s nose was smaller than it should have been and Mr. Schmitz always thought that a man of his height and slender build should have a larger nose. But, what Ulrich Mueller lacked in nasal constitution he made up for with hair. At his old age he still had a full head of blonde hair the only flaw of which was some slight graying at the temples. Even that just made him look more regal. ³This is probably going to take me a little while to open. It¶s already closing time and time is money. Why don¶t you come back tomorrow and I¶ll finish it up, eh friend?´ said Ulrich. Mr. Schmitz stood up quickly. ³Please, if you could. Consider it payback for the emergency appraisal of the Russian flute. I need to see what¶s inside.´ Ulrich sighed. ³Okay, okay. All this because you saw a little piece of something. It¶s probably nothing but a piece of a leaf stuck between the lenses.´ ³Maybe.´ However Mr. Schmitz knew his old friend was wrong. Ulrich often overlooked things, important things. Mr. Schmitz usually overlooked things as well, obvious things. Like how Ulrich wasn¶t working on opening the telescope anymore, but closing it. He got it open fifteen
10 minutes ago and had already removed the folded piece of lambskin inside it and placed it in the top drawer on his worktable. Ulrich wasn¶t sure what it was, but it was obvious that it was going to bring in some serious cash. He had cut off the tiny corner that had been visible and was trying to secure it back in the telescope. His plans were to give it back to Mr. Schmitz, seemingly unopened, and then open it again at a future date in front of his eyes revealing nothing. He had done things like this before to his old friend, stealing little valuable parts off of the artifacts Mr. Schmitz brought to him. Schmitz couldn¶t miss what he didn¶t know was missing. Ulrich was so focused on his task that he hadn¶t spoken in awhile, and it was imperative that he kept up conversation with Mr. Schmitz as a distraction. ³I heard that Howard Stowels is appearing at your museum tonight, that must be exciting to have a famous explo±´ A chime sounded followed by a crash in the adjacent room. Urlich spun around to see a shocked Mr. Schmitz stand up from his chair. ³What was that?´ asked Mr. Schmitz. Ulrich ran into the other room to find a two hundred year old grandfather clock on the floor in broken pieces of glass and splintered wood. ³How±how did this happen?´ Ulrich said. He walked back into the front room to get his friend¶s help. However, Mr. Schmitz was gone and so was the telescope. Ulrich ran over to the worktable and opened the top drawer. The lambskin was gone too. Ulrich stood in silence, wondering what had just happened. Mr. Schmitz was running down the streets of Boston, again, his heart pounding. This time his thoughts were on the scene he just left. Mr. Schmitz had seen Ulrich¶s shady actions through the reflections of the various mirrors around him. When he determined that his less than honorable friend was indeed being less than honorable he stealthily stole away into the back room and leaned the grandfather clock precariously against a desk and set the clock to a minute before seven. When the clock struck on the hour, the moving parts offset its balance and sent it crashing to the floor. He couldn¶t believe it actually worked.
11 It was all right in front of him now. The things he never noticed. How the people in his life viewed him: confused and lost in the stars; an unimportant consultant; a clueless man to be used for personal gain. But the most important thing he noticed was that those were only magnified versions of how he had viewed himself. Because of this, he spent his time dreaming about his dreams rather than living them. Too busy or too afraid to do what he wanted most. He spent his whole life looking at the path, never actually stepping on it. Now he was there. It was an exhilarating path to be on; one of action as opposed to watching. He couldn¶t wait to get back home and unfold the lambskin to see what action he would be taking next.