Sunday, April 3, 2011

I See This As A Kind Of Love Letter

David Bowie--"Golden Years" (mp3)

"We're throwing out the first twenty-five years of our marriage," my wife said.

We were down in the basement, in a room that has been the playroom, the niece's bedroom, an abortive "man cave," a garage (minus the car), a garden room, and finally, just the junk room. It was that last re-purposing of the space that took hold--four walls and a tile floor with no raison d'etre except to have every when-the-children-were-young, once-upon-a-time, when-we-had-a-different-fashion-sense, this-would-be-a-cool-thing-to-buy piece of stuff shoved in there for future evaluation. And we were cleaning it all out.

Let me apologize in advance before I proceed further. We are having major work done on our house and, so far, it has been an all-consuming experience. I hope to leap beyond it for inspiration in later posts, but, at least for the moment, it is controlling my outlook.)

There's a great freedom to having a gigantic dumpster placed in your driveway. It's the gaping, yawing, one-way mouth that will swallow up every capitalistic embarassment, unpleasantry, indiscretion, or carelessness that you have ever been a part of. At the same time, though, you are participating in perhaps the ultimate act of ecological thoughtlessness that an individual can be a part of, since all of it will be buried somewhere out of your sight.

The last time we had work done on our house, they hauled in a large, green dumpster with all kinds of "green" messages on the sides, and we were afraid to put anything in it. We stared at it longingly, watching the growing pile of wood scraps, while our junk sat in the backyard in a pile. We knew that wood was headed to a better place. But our contractor has since informed us, "Oh, he just put that on there for business. He dumps that in the landfill." So what did we do? We went from laughter to outrage to throwing any kind of shit we wanted into that dumpster:

Toys that had gotten old and faded, law school books and notes, chipped dishes, leftover paint, gaming tables, broken furniture, things left by the previous owner (we've been in the house 18 years), clothes, books, towels and anything else damaged by times the basement has flooded, parts of appliances, unwanted lamps and shades, kitchen gadgets that weren't clever enough, and, perhaps more than anything, the random pieces of everything in life that fall to the floor and don't seem worth the trouble to pick up until you can't remember what they went to.

Though we didn't talk about it, I understand my wife’s comment. There’s something about a major cleaning out that makes me want to confess to something. The problem, though, is that I don’t really know what that is. The easy answers, the pat answers, the politically-correct answers all probably center on wasting things, on having too much stuff, on a careless use of money, on planning to get right and do better in the future. But I don’t really carry that kind of guilt.

Sure, I wish that more of what we were getting rid of either had more of a value to someone else or that there was some good way of getting what might have some use to the people who need it. Unfortunately, people like me don’t like to drop off cheap crap at the Salvation Army; we want to be seen leaving good, presentable, quality things that will serve someone else well.

And maybe that’s where the confession comes in. At some point, the contents of a house are no longer some incoherent mishmash of college stuff, parental cast-offs, wedding gifts, bargains, and furnishing choices made largely because of a lack of money. At some point, the contents of a house are supposed to be us, are supposed to be the mature, tasteful representations of who we have become through education and hard work. The adult, children-are-grown-up home is supposed to represent a rational progression of life choices that have gotten us to this place of finally being able to have the home we want to have.

But I think we know, especially when we walk down to a basement room filled with things we couldn’t figure out what to do with, that that isn’t the case. There may have been the occasional rational choice, but so much of what we did was by chance, by luck, by misguided instinct, by avoidance of what we couldn’t deal with at the time. We know that lurking in the junk rooms and junk drawers and laundry rooms and attics and closets of what will soon be a much more beautiful home are the reminders of all of the wrong paths we took, from the big decision to the small purchase.

And even though we are taking great pleasure right now in getting rid of so much of what we don’t want anymore, I trust that one day our older selves will have no trouble looking at us as we are now and seeing similar evidence of the same kinds of foolishnesses we have worked all weekend to expurgate.

1 comment:

John said...

Dear Bob,

Here's the promised, unposted post. Having seen the before and current state of your in progress kitchen, I'm more excited than ever to share in your hospitality when the whole shebang is over. I wonder how many of your readers know what a kick ass cook you are. No irony attached today. Just good feelings all around.