I like to think of myself as a hippie in straight-man’s clothing. Someone who, at heart, doesn’t really care about possessions. And while I don’t care about accumulating more of them, or impressing others with them, I really do care about the things I own. For example, Shelley, as part of her valiant effort to redo our home, wants to move my record albums out of the living room. “You don’t play them!” she says. Now isn’t it obvious that this fact is beside the point? My record albums are ME — can’t she see that? I tell her she might as well try to relocate my stomach up to where my lungs are. And my books? She wants to move them out of the living room, or put them behind glass in the breakfront?! I tell her why don’t you just cut off my arms and legs and hang them up on the wall?
The point is, I collect music, and I read, therefore I am…aren’t I?
So Shelley and I have found ourselves squabbling lately, which is shocking to the both of us because we’re usually so lovey and dovey. But her trying to throw more and more of our stuff away and rearranging everything in the house is totally unnerving me.
Latest to go is my old dresser. At dinner with her the other night, I realized this dresser goes back further than I’d realized, and I probably had it at Pad Six. That would mean I’ve had it for over 42 years. And it may have been my grandmother’s before that.
But it has a hole in it (one I put there myself, but that’s another story) so it’s time for it to go. But I’m sad to let it go, and resent a bit Shelley’s trying to move my things around, or making so many changes so fast.
But all she wants to do, she patiently explains, is have a home that doesn’t embarrass her and that looks like adults live in it. Not a bad aspiration. But then I take a gander at all the HGTV shows she’s been watching and D.V.R.ing and playing for me, and I realize our minds are being infected with a deadly strain of Burbitis. Like with all these living room makeovers, where they shuttle the couple off to a hotel for 3 days while the painters and decorators re-make their home, and then the couple is brought back in to say “Oh my God! How totally awesome! I once was lost, but now I’m found! Was blind but now I see how the chocolate brown goes with the green!” I point out to Shelley that in all these makeovers and in all these homes, you will not see a book. Not one. Much less CDs, and certainly no records. Maybe a magazine. This is home improvement for the kind of people who say, Oh you’ll have to excuse the place! It’s such a mess!” And then you walk into a space that looks like Monk’s living room the day after he downed some Ritalin.
But mostly I’m startled by the degree of upset I’m going through about what are, after all, only things. This comes with age, I suppose – this calcification. Not to mention the fact that, without them, I’m really not exactly sure who I am. (You too, maybe?) So I hang onto my things. They seem to age slower than me, anyhow. Hang onto them as if they were extensions of my body. Or perhaps they hang on to me. Either way, we part ways, eventually. But I don’t have to like it. Those poor people who got hit by floods or tornadoes last spring that destroyed their homes and who then appeared on TV all hollow-eyed and bereft? I totally understand what they’re going through. Although I stopped short of calling Eyewitness News to have them catch me tearfully clutching the leg of the dining room table as Shelley was giving it away to my brother. Some people just wouldn’t understand, I’m afraid.
And the dresser? We literally kicked it to the curb. (And it was gone four hours later, hole and all). Oh, the stories it could tell! I remember when I left all my friends at Pad Six during the summer of ’70, to hit the road for a while. Before leaving, I took a few big sheets of Russell’s computer paper (remember the kind with the holes on both sides?) and wrote a big note, and laid it across the top of that dresser: PLEASE LEAVE EVERYTHING ON THIS DRESSER AS IS! I had all sorts of things arranged just so. My way. The way I needed them to be when I returned. And I didn’t want them messed with.
I came back later that fall, after hitching around the country and Canada for 10 weeks, only to find the top of the dresser in complete disarray. A roommate or crasher had placed one thing on top of the sign one day, and from there layer upon layer of stuff had rapidly accumulated. I was quite upset, but learned something: You’re not around, and your final wishes get respected for a little while, and then life happens, and it’s as if you were never there.