Untethering

Where is my tether?

I’m referring, of course, to the cord that attaches my Blackberry to my computer and allows me to have Internet access anywhere.  Once we turn in the cable boxes, we’ll need it.  I can’t find it.

This is probably the 10th or 15th item I couldn’t find today.  On the phone, our lawyer asks for the account number of our mortgage and a copy of our latest water bill.  No problem — I put both of these in a package of materials not to be packed.  All of the things not to be packed are on the bed.  Alas, the legal-size manilla envelopes with these papers never made it to the bed.  Mr. NYer remembered that they’d been left on the shelves in the computer room, which were … already packed.

But the moving guys obliged.  One remembered the envelope and gamely proved the rule that it’s always in the last box.

Slowly but surely, other needed items have disappeared. The sugar bowl, the boxes of tea, the lamps.  The movers believe in minimalism, and we will live that way tonight.  They plan to leave us with one lamp, a floor lamp that we can carry around like a candlestick on steroids.

How did I get here?

On a plane, on Saturday night, of course.  The cab driver, in a first for New York City’s fleetest, carried my bag up the twenty-three steps to my front door.  It almost made me sad to be leaving.  I rang the bell to let Mr. NYer know I was home, then opened the door only to have him grab me and, basically, not let go.  “Thank God you’re home,” he said aloud.

To himself, I think he added, “There’s a lot of work to do.”

And work we did.  Sunday and Monday we made arrangements, wrote lists, and cleared out the rest of the stuff that wasn’t coming with us.  You know how the things you least want to do are the ones you put off until the end?  Well, the end has arrived.

Case in point:  Thirty five years ago, I did a college art history project on the architectural history of Staten Island.  My professor encouraged me to try to get a grant to continue the work, and recommended I work with another student who was a photographer.  That student, who subsequently became a boyfriend, borrowed a valuable book on the small houses of Ernest Flagg, a Staten Island architect, from the secretary of the Art Department.  Fast forward a couple of years, and ex-boyfriend, following the lead of his hero John Denver, decides he needs to live in the Rocky Mountains, buys a used VW bus, puts a camera mount on the roof (I hate to think about what that did to his camera lens), and dropped the book off with me to return to its rightful owner.  I think I made one attempt, but she wasn’t at the college when I stopped by.  And then, life happened.  The book has traveled with me out of my parents house and into two apartments and a house.  I had a child.  The woman died and I read her obit in the Advance.

You might think I should just add the book to my own collection, but I couldn’t.  I stored it in the basement (I know), rather than risk thinking of it as mine.  As many of you know, Staten Island is a small world, so I was not entirely surprised when one of the elementary school classmates of the Abandoned One turned out to be the grandson of the woman who owned the book.  I intended to return the book to them, but it was hardly top of mind, nor was it within handy reach.

Until Sunday, when the Men with Truck came to clean out the basement, and I wound up with the book in my hands.  Did I have the heirs’ phone number?  Of course not; nor were they listed.  But Mr. NYer remembered that Mrs. Heir was on Facebook, and I sent a message.  Monday night she called and, like a repentant sinner, I told her the story of the book that had once belonged to her mother-in-law.  This morning I wrapped it in shrink wrap and Mr. NYer left it at their house.

One item off the list.

Originally, we hoped to have another two or three weeks before the closing, and had carefully gauged our consumption of cleaning liquids, wine and other spirits accordingly.  By Monday, though, we needed to deal with the bottles of ammonia, nail polish remover, rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, soy sauce, white, cider and rice vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and enough seltzer to start a soda shop.  We counted up nine bottles of champagne or prosecco.  And not bad stuff.  Then there were the odd bottles of hard liquor that we rarely drank but that had somehow accumulated over the years:  vermouth, flavored vodka, rum, Harvey’s Bristol Cream …

None of this can go in the car.  We need room for the cat cage, Mr. NYer’s clothes, and other necessities. These are all contraband items for interstate moves.  We’d already filled dozens of contractors or recycling bags, and were trying hard to lighten the load.  The trusty plumbing system beckoned.  And so I began pouring.   Shortly after the first elixirs from the medicine cabinet went down the tube, I looked out the window to see a large DEP truck stopping on the street.  Seems the sewer was backing up into the houses across the street.  Great.  Imagine not only finding that you’re getting a sewer backing up, but wondering why it smells like ammonia.

In about an hour the DEP let us know that the system was running fine, and we could resume use.  Little did they know …

Two days of final cleaning down.  Day One of the move itself down: the house is 90% packed.  Only one item — a globe from a small Ikea lamp–broken.  Tomorrow is Move Day Two: the Loading of the Truck, then the furious cleaning, and tomorrow night the walk-through.  Thursday the closing.  Friday Mr. NYers retirement party.  And then Saturday, we’re on the road.  Just us and the two cats.

Did we remember to keep the cat sedative unpacked?

You Can Go Home Again

In a few short hours, Lifelongnewyorker leaves for the airport to go … home?   Well, back to Alabama.

During the visit to the real home — defined as any place where Mr. NYer, the two cats, and the Abandoned One live — she has had to hold her tongue a few times and refrain from referring to the apartment in Alabama as “home.”  It’s a bit disorienting.

Thankfully, Staten Island missed the “Snowmageddon 2010” storm that hit Washington, Baltimore and up into New Jersey.  Perhaps two or three inches fell here, while just to the south friends in New Jersey got a good deal more.  It still felt like winter, though, with the temperature a lively 18 degrees this morning.  A peek at Montgomery showed 52.  Ahh.

Being home, even for just two nights, had its rewards.  Cats.  Cats in lap, cats padding chest, cats nosing the hand, wanting to be petted, 16-pound cat sound asleep on back during the night.  Food.  Mr. NYer prepared one of my favorite meals on Friday and whipped up two of his signature eggplant omelets this weekend.  Sleep.  In my own bed, with my husband. 

Lifelongnewyorker felt a rush of pleasure walking through the door to a clean and more spare house than she’d left.  The moving sale didn’t move many of the big items, but it helped the guys to pare down the possessions.  Mr. NYer packed up pictures and small items; the Abandoned One has made significant headway, too. 

We descended to the basement to confirm what was to happen to the stuff hunkered down there.  Much to my relief, much of it was easily decided:  some would go with the Abandoned One to his new apartment, some to the Salvation Army, some to the trash, and precious little with us.  Only two boxes, with old files, had eluded judgement:  we lugged them upstairs for review.

And that’s how I came to spend much of Saturday afternoon reading through every paper I ever wrote, beginning in 7th grade.   Some, from Mr. Roach’s classes in high school, revealed that my worldview and politics haven’t changed much:  in 1971  I wrote about the need to replace fossil fuels and cut down on energy consumption.  In another paper, I examined mass transit policies that would replace cars in cities.  There were two major papers on John Vliet Lindsay, one looking at his candidacy for the Presidency.  (After all, he’d  already been mayor of NY, which as his campaign button proclaimed, was “The 2nd hardest job in America.”)

Then I came upon the college papers and realized just how much I’ve  forgotten.  I came upon a blue book from a philosophy course — I was a philosophy major — and read, with some astonishment, an essay distinguishing synthethic from analytic statements, replete with the phrases “a priori” and “a posteriori” scattered throughout.  I’d once known this stuff?   Other papers discussed Kant, Descartes, Leibnitz, Wittenstein and Vonnegut.  Apparently I once had thoughts on phenomenology.  Not only did I not remember most of this — although I like to believe that I’ve integrated it into my thinking on a very deep level — I couldn’t even remember some of the courses.  Dr. Reuben Abel?  The name sounded familiar, but the face could not be summoned.  Nor could any details of the classroom or any of my fellow students. 

The grad papers, mainly in history but some in education, occupied more familiar ground.  Yes, I did know a lot about 19th century reform movements, the Burned Over District, and the growth of cities.  Most of that stuck, and I still find it fascinating.  Just ask me. 

Fascinating or not, the piles of onion-skin erasable paper went into the trash bin of history.  If I have contributed to human knowledge, it’s been through my teaching more than my scholarship.  Except for Prohibition Park and NDA itself, but those are each another story …

The Abandoned One looked through a trove of art and writings from his prehistory.  On special occasions he would record his thoughts by dictating them to me.  I wrote these down in large printed script.  Thus we read his reports on the  Pink Badge and Green Badge parties from the Great Kills Swim Club, the trip to Sesame Place, and summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard.  Mostly he wrote about food.  The art ranged from crayon scribbles to gilded macaroni.  He chose the best and will send it to Alabama with us. 

The Abandoned One found an apartment this weekend, and is happily planning his move.  Together with two Oberlin friends, he’s moving to a parlor floor in a Crown Heights brownstone.  It has a new bathroom, a full-size refrigerator in an actual kitchen, and is, he reports, full of light.  Even his bedroom, which has no windows.  It’s right on Eastern Parkway, a few blocks from where my sisters went to high school 45 years ago.  He’ll have window seats at the Caribbean Day Parade. 

Eager to have somewhere to put our stuff when it gets to Alabama, Mr. NYer and I tried to decide on which house to buy.   We’ve got three strong choices, each with some wonderful features, and all of which we think we’d be comfortable in.  Of course, each also has a major trade-off. 

Should we buy the updated 1925 house with lots of character, a huge veranda, a screened-in room and lots of light?  It’s also the one where the 2nd bedroom’s wall are  upholstered–literally–in French silk,  putting the room off-limits to the cats, and where the 3rd bedroom with bath is outside in a separate building. 

Or  perhaps we’ll take the 1952-era home with the wonderful addition on the back that features an open-plan kitchen/great room, a master suite with its  own study, and a guest wing that can be closed off from the rest of the house when not in use?  The downside here?  The house next door should be condemned and looks  like a meth house.  Oh, and there’s no covered parking, something that you want to have in the South.

Finally, there’s the new construction, a single-family cottage in a new development that’s in the older part of town.  It’s got quality finishes, a separate bath for each bedroom, a two-car garage, and a park-like community with pool, tennis courts and fitness room.  Oh, it also has an elevator.  Down side?  Not much private outdoor space, no separate study/den, and top of our budget. 

We alternate on which we like the best, then we rule one out only to rule it back in again the next time we consider the possibilities.  Right now, we’re back down to two, but it wasn’t the same two we were down to two hours ago.

Stay tuned. 

 PS — Dear Reader, if you like to read this blog but depend on new posts via FB, Lifelongnewyorker would appreciate it if you’d subscribe to the blog.  This means you’ll get an email with new posts, and I won’t have to post them on FB.  Thanks!

I Am a Cast-Iron Frying Pan

I am a cast-iron frying pan.  Or maybe a griddle.

Like the pan, I perform really well once I’m heated up.  You know the rule for pancakes, don’t you?  Throw the first batch out — the pan probably wasn’t hot enough.

When I begin a new project, especially one that requires a bit of stretching to wrap my arms around it, I take time to get to the fully effective stage.  The warm-up is marked by false starts, distractions and intermittent bouts of panic.

So it’s been the last few days as I’ve been home contemplating packing.  I try out various strategies — mainly in my mind — and find myself thinking of reasons they won’t work and should be abandoned, or at least postponed.  The UPS guys brought about 100 boxes yesterday.  So far, I’ve filled exactly one-half of one.  Turns out it’s premature to pack, because I haven’t edited my belongings enough.  

Another stab in the dark related to the basement.  We have probably eliminated about 25% of the stuff that was clearly junk and could just go to the curb.  We’ll take about 15% with us, which leaves 50% of the basement contents in limbo.  Since I don’t have the time to sort, clean and try to sell it, I decided I needed to get someone to haul it away.  I collected recommendations on businesses (GotJunk is a franchise!), or guys with trucks, who would render this service.  But I didn’t pull the trigger and call any of them, because a) it drove me crazy to think I’d be paying for something I could accomplish for free by continuing to haul it to the curb, and b) I wondered if this was the most effective use of my limited time?

Various packing strategies played out in my mind:  weed, clear room in the basement, pack and store boxes down there.  No.  Leave the packing to the movers and focus exclusively on weeding.  No, focus only on my personal stuff this week, and leave the rest.  OK, if I focus on my stuff, should I first pack the items that will come later with the movers, and then the stuff I’ll be taking down next week?  Or should I just leave the stuff I won’t be taking with me next week for the movers or Mr. NYer to pack?

You get the idea.  Paralyzed by too many potential paths of action, I am stranded at the inaction interchange.  Not to say I haven’t been busy.  I’ve had movers in for estimates and been occupied doing the kind of stuff that eats up time on the telephone.  I’ve run errands.  I cooked dinner last night. 

And I’ve been engaged in micro-weeding.  Instead of packing all the photos in boxes, I’ve decided that I can whittle the collection down if I sort through each and every one of them and weed them out.  Kicking myself at this folly, I decided to march into my computer room and clean out one desk.  I would pack up what was going, and weed out the rest.  That’s where the half-box came in.  A good amount of stuff found its way to the trash.  But there was that in-between again.  I had a perfectly good telephoto lens for an SLR that I no longer owned.  Throw it out?  Ouch.  What about the six skeins of thread I purchased when I decided I was going to learn how to do filet crochet?  Still in original packaging!  Not to mention the books and records I’ve already mentioned repeatedly.  And the items of furniture.

When casting about for basement clean-out guys, one friend advised me to call another, who “has a pick-up truck” and “loves this.”  I called, and before long, Joe, aka My Hero, came to my rescue by agreeing — enthusiastically — to help us by organizing a moving sale in our house.  My Hero knows exactly what sells and what doesn’t, has a pricing philosophy which I won’t reveal, and said he’d enjoy doing it.   We compared calendars and agreed on a weekend AFTER I’ll be 1,000 miles away in Alabama.  I hesitated for a  nanosecond about committing Mr. NYer to the work, the prep and the weekend, but knew it was a great thing.

Finally, I think the pan is hot.  I went upstairs and rummaged through what I’d already weeded, pulling out article after article that could be included in the moving sale, and excluded from the moving van.  I designated a room for us to collect the items and started to pile things in.  When Mr. NYer came home, I filled him in and, eventually, won him over.  We’re starting a list of furniture to be included.

Of course, I’m still weeding on the level that takes time.  Yesterday I found a dozen of my mother’s hankies.  Do any of you remember when women carried little whiffs of linen around with which to delicately wipe their noses?  Those I found were trimmed in lace or printed with floral patterns.  A few were hand-embroidered, and there was one just for Christmas.  While I remember my mother tucking one of these up her sleeve, I also know that even she had stopped using hankies in favor of tissues, which she came to see as infinitely more hygienic.  But she kept her best hankies for some reason and, since she did, I guess I felt I had to as well.     

I emailed my sisters, reporting the discovery and asking if they wanted any of the hankies.  My sensible sister replied, “Only if they’re in good shape, I’ll take two.  NO MORE.”   Seemed like a good rule, so I culled them and assigned two to each of us; the other six are destined for the house sale.   Next I found both my parents’ wallets, complete with ancient credit cards, IDs, Medicare cards and really worn out school pictures of the grandkids.  Why on earth do I have these things?  Out, except for the one wallet that’s in good shape, which I set aside for the sale.  Next I unearthed a cache of 3-D holy cards depicting various scenes in the life of Jesus.  These, offered at my Grandfather’s wake in 1971, were universally seen as awful even then.  I don’t offer them to my sisters.  

And so it goes.  Tonight, I share the plan for the great, purifying and cathartic moving sale — and the timetable — with Soon-to-be-Abandoned.  Tomorrow, I hit my closets.  The iron is hot.

Lists, Records and Spare Change

Christmas preparations are no longer an excuse.  Neither, as of Wednesday, will work on The Project.  Even Mr. NYer agrees that it’s time to figure  out the moving thing.

Yesterday, with notebook in hand, we walked room to room, making a list of things that needed to be done, most of which included the word “weed.”  Two columns on the page helped Mr. NYer see the urgency:  the first was labeled “before Jan. 14,” which is when Lifelongnewyorker heads south.  The second was “after January 14,” when Mr. NYer is on his own. 

That date in black and white helped.   In each room we decided what to take with us.  This was surprisingly easy when it came to furniture.  Yes, let’s leave that.  And that.  And that.  What to do with these items is yet to be determined.  Soon-to-be-Abandoned hopes to get an apartment — rather  than just renting a room in an apartment gotten by others — and may take a sofa, kitchen table, bed, dresser, desk, etc.  

“How about your toy chest?” I ask.  But Soon-to-be-Abandoned suspects he’s barely going to have room for the things that will  be useful, and doesn’t quite see a role for the toy chest in his as yet imaginary hip Brooklyn digs.  Even with our plan for furnishing Soon-to-be-Abandoned’s place, we will have plenty of furniture left.  Turns out the Salvation Army will send a truck.  Good. 

Another milestone.  Mr. NYer has agreed to part with some LPs.  We sat together on the dining room floor and made the first pass using a simple rule:  get rid of any records that we have either digitized or have in CD format.  That eliminated a cool 25%, and there are now several 16-inch high stacks of records awaiting their fate.  Some have been scooped up by Soon-to-be-Abandoned, who admits he’s not sure what he’ll do with them.  The rest will be offered to several twenty-something phonophiles who have recently discovered records, or to the folks on Craigslist who buy in bulk. 

The records are weight.  Not in any spiritual or psychological sense.  They’re just plain heavy.   The mere memory of hauling milk crates of LPs around when I was younger gives me a backache.  

Another source of weight came in the form of my bank collection.  I love banks, and have since childhood.  My mother always had a bank or two in the house, and I think I learned to count by helping her roll pennies.  She showed me how to stack them in groups and count by five, then slip the wrapper over my thumb, slide the stacks into the roll and finish by neatly folding down the ends.   We had a big Anchor Hocking amber glass piggy bank.  No rubber stopper for that one.  You had to turn it upside down and shake the coins out, or — as my mother demonstrated — slide a knife into the coin slot and ease them out in a stream. 

When my mother began to work in “the city” (Manhattan), she banked at the Seaman’s Bank for Savings, for which she was rewarded with banks.  The first, which I still have, was a cardboard cannister printed with a clipper ship and topped by a removable slotted metal lid.  Better yet, though, were the sailor banks they began dispensing sometime in the mid-60s.  The sailor, clad in creamy whites, strides along in his ample bell bottoms, with jaunty nautical hat and bag slung over his shoulder.  The coin slot sits atop the bundle, and the sailor reminded me of Gene Kelly in On the Town.  Who wouldn’t want to save?

My bank collecting began in earnest around the time my oldest niece  was born.  In the A&S department store, I  found a musical Raggedy Ann and Andy bank and bought it for her  first Christmas.  What I didn’t know was that my mother bought an identical one for me and thus started me as a collector.  On every vacation, I hunted the souvenir shops for banks, and snagged a mini Tower of London, an old Maine fisherman, an upright piano in New Orleans, a cable car in San Francisco.

Banks are practical collections.  Nice to look at, they justify the space they occupy by virtue of the fact that they promote  saving and delayed gratification.  The summer I worked as a carhop at  A&W Root Beer I began the nightly habit of depositing the day’s change in a bank.  Soon I stopped looking for exact change when I purchased something, but deliberately broke a dollar to increase the coins in my purse, and the savings in my banks.  Every few weeks, I pulled out the coin rollers and sat at the kitchen table rolling pennies, dimes, nickels and quarters.  

More than a few years ago, I noticed that it was harder and harder to snag a bank during vacations.  The souvenir shops switched to mugs, shot glasses, key chains and  T-shirts.  Banks,  like thrift itself, disappeared.

So I turned to eBay, where I joined those who favored still banks as opposed to mechanical ones.  I began looking first for the banks that banks gave out, but grew over time to like pigs.  So elemental. But I’m not exclusive.  I’ve got banks that look like buildings, an entire set of Anchor Hocking piggies in various colors, the Liberty Bell, Mr. Peanut, a couple of bears, a pink elephant, a NYC taxi and a London phone booth.  I’ve also got a tiny milk bottle that says “W.I.N.!” for Whip Inflation Now — that was from the 70s.   They are scattered throughout the house, and I fill them regularly, trying to use them equally. For some reason, I especially like to throw Mr. NYer’s loose change into them. 

I’m not usually in need of the spare twenty or thirty dollars these days, nor do I go into brick and mortar banks often and pick up coin wrappers, so I rarely roll those coins. (Do banks still give out coin wrappers?)  But the collection needs to move, and it makes no sense to travel full.  Too heavy, and too likely to break.  By the armful, I carried banks to the dining room table.  Together, Mr. NYer, Soon-to-be-Abandoned and I pried off the stoppers and shook, knifed and otherwise emptied the contents into a plastic jug. 

I’m told there’s a bank where you can just bring in the coins, pour them into a machine, and get your cash.  But that sounds too easy.  I think I’ll spend a few evenings stacking the change and putting it into rolls.

Craigslist Sure-Fires

A close friend let Lifelong NYer know that her recent posts are kind of sad.  

Well, not this one.  This one goes into sales mode.  As loyal readers know, LifelongNYer and Mr. NYer have been cleaning out.  We’re not thrilled with the process, but one of us, at least, doesn’t feel at all bad about letting go of stuff. 

Except for the guilt.  The trash beckons for many items, but other stuff is still good.  Someone might yet get good use out of it.  That’s why folks invented eBay, Craigslist and yard sales.  Moving the merchandise means marketing, so here are some stabs at positioning my goods to move.

Ancestral Monkey-Wrenches — pick-up only!

Motivated seller must give up set of family heirloom monkey wrenches.  You may not know the ancestors to whom these belonged, but ownership means you can claim them as your own family legacy!  Make a rustic arrangement on a wall (must be load-bearing), or use as ballast or to replace sash weights.  Goes great with primitive wood plane (available at additional cost).

Vinyl LP’s — too many uses to name!

Nothing beats the warmth of analog recordings, and nothing beats the true-to-life sound of recordings that were stacked on the turntable and played thousands of times even though the needle should have been changed.  Not man enough for sound that real?  Then consider how a short application of heat can turn these records into unique works of art!  The only limit is your imagination.  

Home Security System

Is your fancy schmancy home security system vulnerable to power outages?  Does your alarm go off so often that your neighbors ignore it?  Free yourself from the tyranny of the technologically “superior” security system by adopting the tried and true do-it-yourself home defender:  the baseball bat.  Dozens of bats available (Mr. NYer coached Little League), so you can have one for every room plus a bonus for your car!

Old U.S. History Books for Kids — No Revisionism Here!

With these stirring stories of Davy Crockett, young Abe Lincoln, the Rough Riders and others, your kids will learn that American history was made by white men — clean-shaven, nicely attired, hard-working, church-going white men — who stood on their own two feet.  Plus, they didn’t smoke, spit or swear.

Too Much Cleaning

We got a lot done this weekend, and I’m weary of the work. 

The sign went up outside the house on Wednesday.  No showings so far, but the realtor said we’d have a week or so to really get the house ready.  So that was the main task this weekend. 

By Thanksgiving, we’d already done what was necessary for staging the main rooms, getting baskets, boxes and piles of stuff off floors (doesn’t everyone stack belongings on their floors?)  The closets have been re-organized and decluttered.  Somewhat. 

The basement awaited.  We’d ventured down there last weekend, took a quick look around, felt unequal to the task, and escaped — quickly — after agreeing that a number of items, mainly old lumber, should be put out for the next trash collection.  On Monday, with the dreaded items in mind, I asked Mr. NYer if he needed help getting the recycling together — I’d be happy to tie up newspapers if only he took responsibility for the basement.  I asked twice,  but didn’t really explain my reasoning.  He said no, and I didn’t push.  Only later did I realize that he’d “forgotten” about the basement (which I didn’t mention, so I think we were in mutual denial).  Friday, needing some activity to work off Thanksgiving dinner, I decided the basement could wait no longer. 

Why do we save bits and pieces of old projects?  Why would I ever need the 30-inch piece of maple quarter-round once the toe-molding has been installed?  I know why I  kept the paint — it’s nearly impossible to get rid of it.  New York  City asks residents to dispose of old paint through evaporation, and put only empty cans in the recycling.  Evaporation?  I had over a dozen nearly full gallons of various shades, and it’s November.  Then there was the old vacuum that no longer worked.  An old flue pipe.  Chipped and overpainted old crown molding.  With nails.  I began sorting through it.

Between Friday and Saturday, we hauled and emptied and made piles  that will go out for the garbage collection on Tuesday.  I just hope there isn’t a limit to what you’re allowed to place at the curb.  Maybe we can put some of it in front of our neighbors’ houses.   Worse, once we’d cleared some open space, we saw the true extent of the dust and dirt.  Frankly, we rarely sweep the basement, and certainly hadn’t since replacing the old oil burner several years ago.  First I attempted a broom, but nearly choked.  Then we pulled out the shop vac, and pretty much clogged it up.  But between shop vac and broom, the basement isn’t nearly as scary as it was.   And my cough is getting better.  Thanks.

The once-and-future home of Soon-to-be-Abandoned, the large attic room, had been made presentable last week.  On Friday, though, Soon-to-be-Abandoned borrowed the SUV and began moving out of his apartment and back to the homestead.  He continued moving out of the apartment on Saturday.  Despite a stop at the storage facility to stow redundant furniture and cooking equipment, Soon-to-be-Abandoned brought a lot of stuff back to the now-unpresentable attic room.

Remember the children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” in which every action leads inexorably to a consequence?  My house has become the physical embodiment of that, a kind of moving shell game where we’re trying desperately to hide the pea. 

Too many metaphors.  Sorry.

There were only way two ways to free up room for Soon-to-be-Abandoned to store his stuff. First, he had to clean out his old stuff from the dresser and closet to make room for the current clothes.  Next, I had to try to clean out space in the dark, dark room so he had a place to stash what wouldn’t fit in the closet, under the bed, or in the dresser.   The dark, dark room runs the width of the house under the roof with doors at either end that conveniently open into the attic.  Inside the dark, dark room is the central air conditioning equipment and ductwork, which cannot be removed.  Then there’s a trunk with, with … stuff in it.  I haven’t checked it lately and decided not to look at it today.  Assorted luggage is kept near a door too, and of course we’ll be needing those.  On the other side, I discovered an old stereo system, a telescope, several years worth of Guitar magazines, a rod and reel, and a fan — all items belonging to Soon-to-be-Abandoned.  Finally, there was my childhood dresser.   Three drawers held baby blankets and sweaters, many handmade by my mother.  I left those for another day.  Two smaller drawers yielded letters and ephemera dating back to my own and Mr. NYer’s college  days, when stationery, an 8 cent stamp, and perhaps some sealing wax was all that kept you in touch with friends.  I emptied those, brought the stacks downstairs and announced that it was nostalgia time.

We each spent about an hour reading through the old letters before we put them in the recycling.  I saved only a few, including the few letters written by my parents.  Reading those, I understood, perhaps for the first time, the real emotion behind my mother’s simple words “I miss you.”  Her letters were the kind that people  probably used to write a lot, full of the small details of the everyday.  Staten Island’s first Macy’s had just opened, and Richmond Avenue had been widened and paved.  “It’s hard to believe,” she wrote, “That Richmond Avenue could be so smooth.”   In the next letter, she wrote that my Aunt Alice had called one Saturday and suggested they drive out to the new Macy’s.  She had stew on the stove, but in an hour was able to leave and check out the new store.  In that letter, she also mentioned missing me, and how, to combat the blues, she had suggested a Sunday drive to my father.  They went up to West Point, a frequent destination of my childhood, walked around for an hour, stopped for supper at a diner in Ft. Lee, and read the papers when they returned home. 

When my mother died I took some of her furniture and a few other items in the hope that they would keep her alive for me.  I will probably leave the desk behind; I’ve already decided to give away her bright red  LL Bean down parka.  None of those things recall  her the way those two letters — only two!– can.  Those I will keep.

At any rate, the attic/dark, dark room cleaning didn’t accomplish much in the way of removing stuff from the house.  I’m leaving it to Soon-to-be-Abandoned, who is faced with some tough decisions himself about what to keep and what to heave.  Only he knows what memories come with each item, and only he knows if the memories can endure without a thing to attach them to. 

It’s Sunday afternoon and I’ve spent the better part of three days tossing stuff and getting gritty.  I’ve had enough for now.  It’s too soon to really begin packing, and the house is ready to be shown.  So let the showing begin!

And next week?  My plans are to get together with friends.  Folks — my calendar is open.

The Weight

Ticking items off my to-do list I paused at “paperwork for New Job.”   The large FedEx box that arrived on Thursday was a lot heavier than the envelope I had expected.  Half the bulk was taken up by items explaining life in Montgomery, including the Alabama Driver’s Manual and a real estate magazine so thick that I wondered if everyone in the city was trying to leave.  Was I being counter-cultural AGAIN?

The actual paperwork, although a thinner stack, demanded time to absorb.  This afternoon, as the painters finished up the living room — in a shade that, despite the assurance I got from the gurus at the paint store that Benjamin Moore colors are never discontinued, is NOT the same Oriental Silk I’ve had on the wall that works magically with every item in the room.  The lemony shade that is now on the walls will undoubtedly make it harder to sell the house.  But I digress–I settled in my bed to read through the forms, policies and benefits. 

Which is when I realized that there was a cap on the moving allowance.  In one corner of my mind, I’d figured I would do my best to jettison the obvious jetsam, and haul the rest to Alabama where I could go through it at my leisure.  One of my future colleagues had cheerfully advised me that I shouldn’t worry about weeding out my belongings.  “Big houses are cheap here,” she said, “just bring it all with you!”    

But there, in cold black & white type on the Relocation Policy, I saw ample economic reason to weed, and weed ruthlessly. 

I enjoy weeding.  It’s my favority gardening activity and, twice a year, at the change of seasons, I re-curate my closet.  All my unwise purchases are banished:  out go the shoes whose color I love but which  pinch my toes; into the Salvation Army bag goes the suit with the unfortunate peplum coat; they are followed by sundry articles that no longer fit, recall the 90s too vividly, or have just had it. 

It turns out, though, that my aggressive de-cluttering is limited to my wardrobe.   We have overfull bookshelves in five of our eight rooms.  Despite having adopted the latest audio technology, from cassettes to CDs and MP3, we still possess about 900 vinyl albums.  Mr. NYer hates to throw anything out, and grows visibly despondent when enlisted in spring or fall cleaning.  Our son, the Soon-to-be Abandoned Child, moved out in a minimal fashion, leaving behind all the physical artifacts of his childhood plus three guitars and two amps.  Our basement has the wondrous power to multiply objects while simultaneously making them grimy and damp.  In a mutual bond of  avoidance, we keep it dimly lit and use a machete to maintain a path to the washer.  Lastly, we have a large storage area that runs across the entire width of the house at the back of the attic.  We call it the dark, dark room.  We have no idea what’s in there.   

You can talk about filling a contractor’s bag a day, or spend an evening in front of the TV cleaning out a desk drawer, but none of that is going to do squat to address  the issue of sorting through and getting rid of the  accumulated stuff, which I’ll refer to as the Albatross.  And then there’s the how to get rid of it all.  It’s the wrong time of year for a yard sale, and we don’t have a front yard.  I don’t have time to write clever listings for eBay, Craigslist or Freecycle, or to make the individual arrangements to have Flowerpot Guy pick up all the garden tools.  There’s no market for old books or LPs.  And cleaning out the basement?  A new  definition for eternity spent in hell. Not to mention that every effort to clean out has induced allergies. 

So how do I lose this Albatross?  Is there a diet?