Friday, August 29, 2008


Has anything more useless than a plaque ever been invented?

I was cleaning out a box of stuff this week, prompted by a desire to send some of my old children’s books to my niece. That plan proved impractical, because on closer examination the books were falling apart and were hideously dated. I wound up keeping two and recycling the rest.

Meanwhile, I came upon a roughly 9-by-12-inch plaque that I received in 1988 as graduating editor of my college paper. Truth be told, I sort of ordered this plaque for myself! I ordered them for all my section editors, and figured I should get one too -- so the head of student publications “presented” it to me and I handed out the others.

This plaque has lived in a box nearly the entire time I’ve owned it. Even when I had space to hang it, I didn’t -- and was I really going to put up a plaque commemorating my college newspaper career? Now, after 20 years in journalism, that just seems a little desperate.

I was reminded of an essay by E.B. White, probably my favorite writer of all time. In “Good-bye to 48th Street,” about moving from his longtime New York apartment and the purging it involved, he puzzled over the same issue:

“All sorts of special problems arise during the days of disposal. Anyone who is willing to put his mind to it can get rid of a chair, say, but what about a trophy? Trophies are like leeches. The ones made of paper, such as a diploma from a school or a college, can be burned if you have the guts to light the match, but the ones made of bronze not only are indestructible but are almost impossible to throw away, because they usually carry your name, and a man doesn’t like to throw away his good name, or even his bad one.”

My plaque did indeed bear my name, quite prominently. In White’s case, he unscrewed his name from the plaque and tossed the plaque itself. But I couldn’t do the same, so I tossed the whole thing, good name and all.

(Photo: Clown in the window of an abandoned bank, Liberty, N.Y., Aug. 2008)


  1. I faced the same dilemma when I retired. My plaques of a long career sit in a box in the basement neatly labeled "Retirement". I often wonder who will be the next to delve into that box or will the whole thing just get tossed into the trash unopened with its names and dates and citations hidden forever from the world?

    E.B. White is the greatest, I agree.

  2. Interesting ... I was editor of my college newspaper, as well! (Such as it was ...)

  3. It's so good to be recognized for work well done, and such a liberating feeling to let the physical residue of that recognition go out to the recycling bin.

    You're not the type to hang accolades on your walls. No way! I salute you but I promise I will not make a plaque and send it to you!

  4. any idea where I can find White's essay? did a quick google search (your blog came up second!) but I figured it would be faster just to ask. congratulationns on removing the plaque. there are better ways to commemorate the experience/title.

  5. HT: The essay is in White's book "The Points of My Compass" (used copies available on Amazon for as low as 93 cents!) and is probably available in other collections of his essays as well.

  6. I have a stack of plaques lurking in draws and on shelves. I would never consider hanging up and I can't bring myself to toss them.

  7. I come across old awards--in boxes, like Merle I don't know what to do with them-will my kids want them? --my friend just found her trophy from when she was a Buffalo Jill... she'd all but forgotten. (she can still do the splits though!

    ps the building is in use --graphic arts companies.

  8. maybe we can create some sort of game where we exchange plaques with friends ....

    or maybe there's some odd art project we can do with these little useless artifacts - I think we should put ched on to coming up with an idea -she's mighty creative when it comes to such dreaming up things....

    eb white is that you mention it, I wonder where my copy of points of my compass is???

  9. E.B. White is a great writer; nice to be reminded. That picture is great, by the way.

    We have local concern here called the Plaque Shack; for a while, I had thought it was some goofy dentist, trying to be cute . . .

  10. Trophies are like leeches - thats very funny.

    i think kimy's exchange idea is quite brilliant.

    but steve, whats so wrong with being hideously dated?

  11. Pack rat I am not. Junk is junk. And, most things become junkier over time. ;-)

  12. Searching through my toolbox for a frame hook, I just discovered that I kept my stupid office-door name plaque from a brief stint at Microsoft. It took wing, and after a brief flight landed in my trash bin.

    My dead grandpa had hundreds, I think. He lived long, through a plaquier age. I went down to the basement a few months ago and found several boxes of Grandpa's plaques, sitting right under a sweating cold-water pipe, growing plaque-mold. Good use for them: as loam for the next generation of beings.