It was exactly like the opening scene in "Citizen Kane," only Orson Welles didn't drop the Austrian snow globe — I did.
As it hit the wooden floor, the heavy glass shattered, the thick liquid puddled, and I'm still retrieving the finely ground rice that passed for snow.
The miniature hand-painted Alpine cottage is all that remains — however, a treacherous circle of jagged glass that refuses to depart the base surrounds it.
After Erwin Perzy created the iconic movie prop in 1941, his factory in Vienna subsequently manufactured a limited number of copies. I was fortunate enough to own one of them.
For three decades, I employed the five-inch replica to address the symbolism in the film ranked No. 1 by the American Film Institute.
If you've seen "Citizen Kane," you know that the snow globe first decorated the apartment dresser of Susan Alexander — the woman who became both Kane's second wife and a not-so-talented opera singer.
After Alexander experiences enough of Charles Foster Kane's self-serving Pygmalion act, she walks out. In retaliation, during an over-the-top temper tantrum, he trashes her bedroom. The single object he refrains from destroying, however, is the snow globe.
While most film critics focus on the "Rosebud" sled that is carelessly flung on a bonfire of Kane's discarded possessions by film's end, it is the snow globe that spoke to my students.
Passing it around the room not only stimulated the liveliest discussions during the semester, but when my "wallflowers" — the students most reluctant to speak up in class — held the prop, they suddenly found themselves both passionate as well as surprisingly (to themselves) articulate.
Not only did the snow globe act like the "talking stick" used by Native American tribes to designate the right to speak, but also stimulated and empowered them to dig deep inside and share their findings.
Many of my students recognized that the most important aspect of the film was not Kane's success as a publisher but his failure as a human being. According to their personal analyses, only as his life concluded was Kane able to recall the last time he felt truly happy — as a carefree child returning from playing in the snow to parents who possessed little more than a warm fire and their unshakable love for him.
My students also had no trouble identifying Kane as a rapacious collector, who was, in their words, attempting to fill a psychological void with artwork, sculptures and antiques.
They claimed, especially those who had toured Hearst Castle that the downside of materialistic excess can be demonstrated in the massive rooms of Kane/Hearst's estate, stacked floor-to-ceiling with crates of priceless treasures. They were shocked to learn that Kane/Hearst had never even bothered to pry them open.
Yet, it was difficult for my students to see themselves as acquisitive. While Kane/Hearst had the means to pack rat on a grander scale, aren't many of us, I would ask, likewise possessed by our possessions?
What do you mean, they'd ask?
How many of you know somebody who has been renting a storage space — for more than a year? Lots of hands went up.
What about, I continued, reality shows like A&E's "Hoarders" and TLC's "Buried Alive"?
While my students admitted to covering their mouths in awe — and revulsion — at folks who have an issue with hoarding, they, themselves were not hoarders. Yet, I went on, isn't it just a matter of degree?
How many of you cannot park your vehicles in the garage because it's already full?
All of us — not just the 1 percenters — have too much stuff. Not only have we bought into the gospel of materialism, but when we also indulge the drive to acquire more than we need, we become as upside-down, psychologically, as a post-real-estatebubble mortgage. Instead of our stuff supporting us, we are laboring — too long, considering the hours denied friends and family — to support our stuff.
My moment of Zen came in May. Swenson 206 was my fourth university office. That means that during the past 35 years, I packed this same crap in cartons — four different times. Book buyers found the texts on my shelves so ancient, they declined to cart them away — for free. Lecture notes from classes I hadn't taught in decades clogged my files. During 35 years, it appeared I threw nothing away.
Am I miserable now that the snow globe is no longer whole?
I am disappointed, but definitely not heartbroken. After all, the replica of the "Citizen Kane" movie prop worked its magic for generations of students. I cannot help but be grateful for that.
And no — in case you are wondering — "Rosebud" did not cross my lips. This isn't a movie, after all — it's real life.