Monday, June 04, 2007

Cleaning the Basement: A Packrat's Conundrum

I spent Saturday afternoon with my darling ex, as I call him, cleaning the garage. This is an activity that we have shared since 1993, an endless task that proceeds but does not culminate. Since we broke up in 2003, the cleaning has been more sporadic but more conclusive given that fonts of influx no longer flow. Still, we managed to accumulate a lot of indispensable treasure not only in 10 years together, but in decades before and what will becomes decades after.

The non-packrats, of course, enjoy the ritual of ridiculing those of us who cling to stuff ... stuff not as any concrete thing, but stuff as the abstraction that represents all the things that fit within the set of what a packrat might accumulate. So "Stuff" rather than stuff. And the packrats play along with the non-packrats, all the while smugly clinging to the notion that we will have the one thing that is needed when the others cannot find it. Of course, the advent of cheap Chinese-made stuff and the insatiable-consumer society means that whatever little treasure we have stored faithfully, and probably could not find if we needed it, is available entombed in a heavy plastic blister pack buried in a couple of further layers of packaging for 99 cents, or 5.99, or 14.99, or whatever at the local MegaMart.

A pox on MegaMart.

RB, the aforementioned darling ex, and I accumulated a large treasure trove of lights. RB is a lighting designer, and at one point we sponsored legendary Halloween parties. No ghoulish detail was too small to ignore, and no disgusting display was too obscure to receive the precisely perfect lighting. So each of our basement cleanup jags has been concerned to some great degree with processing the assorted lighting devices ... and more importantly the would-be lighting devices to which we are clinging in the earnest if objectively vain hope that one day we will use them, or one day RB will make them usable.

We have been apart, if still joined at the hip, for four years now ... wow, seems strange to write that. No friend of mine will be surprised to hear that I am as much in love with him as I have ever been, but RB and I are fully agreed that our lives and our friendship have been vastly well served by separating. So we can hang out, and clean the basement, with vastly less rancor or apocalyptic meaning than ever before. When we were together, throwing something out felt like an abortion ... I use the term lightly ... like a lost opportunity for life together. Now throwing things out together feels like a relief, like we can let go of the crap so we can get the hell outta here and go get tacos together. (In fact, we waited just a little too long for the tacos, and by reason of lack of food I got a little bitchy in response to an RB former-wifely bit of what I call Heloise Helpful Household Hints ... but that passed as soon as the taco settled down in front of me.)

But the epic moment in this cleanup was the cabinet/buffet. We threw out this and that, processed this and that, stuffed some treasures into the back of the '86 Honda Civic that I drive and which I call Merc after the Mercury space capsule, to take to Community Thrift. But there was no way to work around that bloody cabinet/buffet that I have failed to move on Craigslist. I put up yet another ad, this time for free, while we worked, and by the end of our hours together, I had more than a few bites. Over the months I have tried to dump this treasure, I got no bites at $30, so I raised the price to $50 and got a few false leads, then lowered it again and got more "yeah, I definitely want it, but I am never going to contact you again" crap.

Well, to make a long story short, I have finally given it away. It is a lovely piece ... or was a lovely piece as far as I am concerned ... and it served me well and it was part of the Kurt patrimony (and I will leave that to another post) about which I am sentimental and nationalistic. But it no longer fit in my life, and it has been consigned to the garage for four years now. This lady, Lynn, who is a nanny-on-demand, and who definitely grokked my mojo, answered my ad, stuck to it with me through a couple of false starts, and brought her son and mega-SUV which swallowed the thing like a whale and Jonah. We had a chat about packrats ... she has an aunt who collected tissues ... the problem with collecting is not the obsessive compulsiveness, but rather what you are obsessive-compulsive about. If you read this, Lynn, I enjoyed meeting you and I am happy you have my cabinet. I am sure Kurt would be happy too.

But I still feel the pain of its loss ... as I do with every single tschotschke that ever leaves my grasp.

Being a packrat means a life of loss and giving up, even as you steadily accumulate.

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