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How a Group of 8th Graders Killed Dracula

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Wax lips, Pixie Stix & Zots

Even though my daughters stand over 5’9”  they have both been Chunky Little Princesses more than once in their lives.  They really had no choice in the matter.  If they wanted the candy – they had to put on the snow suit.  I don’t know whose idea it was to celebrate Halloween on the last day in October, but in the northern climes hypothermia sets in pretty quickly when you dress up as Michael Phelps and we tend to see more werewolves and Sasquatches than cheerleaders and belly dancers on All Hallows Eve.

Halloween always began with pleadings and tears and ended with our kids begging us not have to wear coats or snow suits with their costumes.  But there was no way on this frozen planet that we were going to let the girls traipse through the streets in nothing but a Little Mermaid costume in the middle of winter begging for candy door to door.  So every Halloween, starting when they were old enough to have an opinion,  we would put them in their snow suits and then pour them, kicking and screaming, into their Littlest Princess dresses, instantly transforming them from cute little Disney princesses into Japanese nuclear accident versions that might date Ultraman.

People would open the door and my girls would yell trick-or-treat and the people would look at them and say, “Oh, what cute little sumo wrestlers.”  The girls would quickly say “princesses!” and then turn their sour faces to Kelly and me as if to say, “I told you so,” and then try to stomp in exasperation, but not be able to because they couldn’t lift their legs high enough in their snow boots.

My boys fared no better when it came to Halloween.  For three years in a row Kelly dressed them in the cutest little clown outfits you have ever seen (outfits big enough to fit over winter coats mind you), with little clown hats and little red noses.  Of course, she had made these costumes and love, love, loved to see the boys all dressed up.  She might even have pinched their cheeks more than once.

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This mockery of all that is decent came to an early demise the moment Wesley, who was just at the age of cognitive reasoning, saw his best friend dressed as an Army man.  Christian was too busy stuffing M&Ms and Tootsie Rolls into his face as fast as he could to care, but the indignation that lit Wesley’s face when he realized exactly what his mother had been putting him through all these years could have been cut with a Ka-Bar fighting knife.   The rest of the evening he was the spitting image of the clown from IT.

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The next year when she tried coax him into the clown costume, no amount of money or promises of a new puppy could get him into the clown spirit.  He dug his heels in and flatly refused, going boneless as she tried to force his body into the suit. I finally had to step in with the camo face paint and a black headband to make things right.

I used to love Halloween when I was a kid and considered it the third high holy day of the year, with Christmas and my own birthday being the first and second.  There was some debate amongst my friends as to whether Easter should be considered the third of the trivium, but only amongst those who got presents on Easter and weren’t required to eat a hard boiled egg (my mom used all kinds of tactics to get rid of the six dozen she had made and hid for me) each time you wanted to have a piece of candy.

Since my mom was an excellent seamstress she always made my costumes and they were always amazingly awesome and authentic.   Being from Alaska, I’m not sure I should have liked getting dressed up so much, but I loved it and especially the accolades I received from my mom when I put her costumes on.  Oh vanity, vanity.  You played me false.

One special year she made me a cape out of black velvet and red silk (so my skin wouldn’t chafe) and bought me a pair of black knit pants.  It was a phenomenal  costume and made me feel more like Dracula probably than Dracula himself.  I ran around the house, raising myself high on my toes and stretching my arms out like a gangly, oversized, slightly flaccid bat and then pretended to pounce on the unsuspecting living, making them the unsuspecting living dead.  I slunk around with the cape pulled up to my eyes and darted furtively from corner to corner looking for my next victim.  This is normal imagination for a boy of six.  I was 13.

My mother was too busy pretending to be scared of her little “Dracula” to stop long enough to consider that maybe my actions weren’t appropriate for a boy my age.  Why she didn’t slap me upside the head and give me the what-for is beyond me, but since she made the costume, I’m sure she didn’t want to see it go to waste.

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Had my dad seen me he would have gone into an apoplectic fit, with the vein in his eye bursting again, giving him that deranged and demented look like the time my sister had used her curling iron to give my hair some bounce.  “You look like a girl for God’s sake!” he bellowed as he made me wash out my greasy locks (I think I only showered once a week back then).  I’m sure he would have been beside himself if he had seen me, but he was either at work or at one of the many different lodges (Moose, Elks, Masonic) or starting a fight with someone.

By the time it was dark I was dressed for action.   My face was a pasty, powdery white, a slightly whiter shade than normal and I had lipstick blood dripping from both corners of my mouth.   My hair was slicked back revealing a hairline that most adult men would have hidden underneath a comb-over and when the plastic vampire teeth were inserted, I was the spitting image of a 13 year old trying to pretend he was Dracula.  Awesome or awful is probably a matter of opinion, but in my mind I was pretty awesome.

 “Just one more house” had been my mantra with Butchie, my best friend at the time, all evening.  We had been out for three hours and he had been pushing to head home for the last 30 minutes. But the lure of free candy and the mystery of what I would get next drove me on with a passion that only candy or caffeine can cause.  Oh, that I would have listened to him, because that was the night fate decided that is was time for him and me to meet.

The take, up until the blue house, had been magnificent.  I had already thrown the apples and popcorn balls deep into the woods (my dad wouldn’t have let me eat them anyway because the apples always had razor blades in them and all popcorn balls had been laced with dope by the hippies), but my bag was still crammed full with countless gigantic, medium and small sized candy bars and the sheer number of wax lips and wax straws I had in the bag would keep me busy for weeks.   The sorting that evening was going to be epic.

I can remember with absolute clarity walking through the gate of the white picket fence and the feel of the wood on my knuckles as I knocked on the door of the blue house.  It slid open silently; the soft yellow glow of shaded lamps and muffled chatter met me as it did.

It’s cliché to say that time seemed to slow down, but time seemed to slow down.  It was like a small hole in the continuum of my happiness had been sliced open and my soul was slowly being sucked out of it.  My voice sounded odd and distant and slow and vaguely not mine,  like I was shouting through a pool of thick molasses as I delivered my standard line of “trick-or-treat” in my best Transylvanian accent.  The word “treat” trailed away as if my lungs had just collapsed and didn’t have enough air to finish the word.

I stood, naked to the world, so to speak, as  I realized that the room was full of my 8th grade classmates having an actual party.  Every single one of their eyes locked onto mine and the room became still and silent.  I realized in that moment that not one of them had a costume on, but I did.  I knew without having to be told that they were “in” and I was the teenager, three years away from driving, five years away from being an adult, standing in the doorway dressed in a Dracula costume that my mom had made.

It was like the dawn of morning had found Dracula standing in a field and he and I were shriveling into dust and being blown away on the wind.  The punch to my heart was palpable.   I was drowning in an unfamiliar sea and had to run, but couldn’t.  I was frozen.   I saw the shock on their faces and then the joy, as if their lives had somehow just been made complete.  The room erupted like a giant burp of laughter being belched simultaneously from every gaping mouth.

Mercifully, the hole in the time continuum chose to snap shut at that moment and my legs instantly came to life on their own.   I bolted from the house (leaving Butchie to his own fate) with the roar of their laughter pulsating into the darkness as I ran.

As I sat on the beanbag in my closet late that night with waxed lips firmly clenched between my teeth, a candy bar in one hand, and a cherry Zot nestled into my cheek, I wondered if it was all worth it.  I smiled a little and thought that it probably was, but I made a mental note to stay away from the blue house next year.

These Are Not the Clubs You’re Looking For

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“They’re for sale if you want them.”    (Ben Kenobi)

I once had a 50 yard drive with one of my clubs, and, by one of my clubs, I mean one of my clubs actually flew 50 yards.  I stood there for a minute looking at the ball still sitting serenely on my tee and asked the guys if they minded if I put the ball where my club lay 50 yards away in the middle of the fairway and hit from there.  It was my best drive of the day.  It’s not like I’m a terrible golfer and I never throw a club in anger (break them across my knee on occasion, but never throw them), it’s just that I’m way too cheap to buy nice clubs (or new grips) and so I often find myself in these awkward situations on the course.

Don’t get me wrong – I would love a new set of clubs, but the Dream Crusher has this crazy idea that the kids need to eat and so we (meaning her) have always chosen food for the kids over new golf clubs for me.   Maybe in a few years when we finally decide to cut the cord I’ll be able to buy a new set of clubs, but until we do, I’m stuck with having to cobble together a set of clubs from the area pawn shops and the drug dealers.  Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but not by much since I often feel like the addict venturing into the inner city to try and score a hit without spending a fortune doing it.   “Hey buddy, wanna buy a wedge?”

Maybe I’m so bad at golf because I have never bought a new club and  have only purchased other people’s rejects out of the “used and abused” bins at Goodwill.  For me it’s like walking into the Humane Society and seeing all those sad faces staring at me and knowing that I will be walking out with the St Bernard- Dachshund mix that nobody wants.

To say that my bag is filled with rejects from the land of misfit toys would be an understatement.  It is stuffed with every infomercial reject known to the golfing world and looks like something that the Vietcong would use to make man traps.  My clubs are all different lengths and they stick out at odd angles because my bag has lost its shape. Many of the clubs don’t reach the bottom when I shove them in after a shot and two or three are always sticking out above the cart and in danger of being ripped of by low hanging limbs.

The real problem is that I’m a sucker for new innovations, but am relegated to old technology with awesome sounding names that make you think that the next swing will launch a gargantuan drive.  I want space tourism, but am stuck with Apollo 1 technology (burned up on the launch pad).  I want a Ferrari, but have to settle for a Desoto (defunct).   My clubs are like a testament to all that’s wrong with golf and the history of trying to hit a little white ball straight.

My golf bag does ooze with chest thumping masculinity and virility though.  When I pull clubs named Burner, Tornado, Big Fire, Launcher, Blaze, Jumbo and Krank out of my bag I feel like I’m about to drive the ball 600 yards using a member of the WWF.  Is it any wonder my sphincter tightens and I tense up like a hammer thrower about to launch a 50 pound weight down the field with the force of a canon every time I address the ball?

NB: Did you know that a whiff actually counts as a stroke and hurts worse than getting hit by a linebacker?  There is something very humbling in trying to explain to the wife why I can’t mow the yard because I hurt myself playing golf.  She’s educated and so I haven’t been able to convince  her that golf is actually a contact sport and that I hurt my back when the guy in my cart clipped me from behind during my follow through.

Someone once said that golf is like a walk in the park spoiled by a little white ball.  This is the stupidest saying I’ve ever heard.  Golf has never been a walk in the park. It has always been an instrument of torture that slices open your soul to reveal the shriveled black thing you used to call a heart.  It breaks down every semblance of pride you have ever had and makes you scream like a little girl and the worst part of it is that you pay to inflict it upon yourself.

But, like an addict, I keep coming back time after time to inflict the pain on myself again and again.  I guess I’m like a cutter.

I am convinced, however, that the pain would stop if I had brand new clubs.  My clubs are fine I guess, but they are not good for me.   I think my next set of clubs will have zen like names.  Maybe names that kids would call their ponies or kittens.  They will have names like “Fluffy” and “Smooth” and “Easy.”  They will be all the same brand and length and will nestle into their own fur-lined grooves in a leather cart bag.  Golf will bring peace and tranquility to my life.

…But really, where’s the fun in that?

However, I did bring the entire group of clubs in my post to the pound.

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Nike, Puma & Kobe

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Kobe Wagyu Beef on the hoof. $4.48 per oz.

Nope, not that Kobe.

I wish I had seen these shoes prior to my last post.

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Puma toddler shoes $22.49 per oz.

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Nike toddler shoes $14.66 per oz.

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And Then Depression Set In

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That little white note says: “Free!”

This was the hardest thing to walk away from this year – a free “leather” and wood recliner.  Yes, it did need refurbishing, but only a bit, and hey, I’ve always wanted to learn how to refinish a leather chair.  Kelly gave me THAT look as both she and the newlyweds went on and on about some stupid air conditioner that was for sale.  All the while this gem sat quietly calling to me, begging me to take it before someone else did.  As Kelly continued on unabated, I kept glancing at it, hoping she would take a second look.  I peeled myself away from the intriguing air conditioner conversation (my IQ was dropping by the second) and sat in my chair.  I leaned back and I felt the mechanism click into place, reclining me to the perfect position without a sound.  I imagined myself sitting on the deck with a beer and, just as the the heavens began opening a bit, they were  immediately snapped shut by Dream Crusher.

“John, we need your help making a decision about this.”

All I heard after that was blah, blah, blah air conditioner.  Blah, blah, blah air conditioner.  Do you know how hard it is to find justifications for a free chair in your head with all that yackin’ going on?

In the end I walked away without a backward glance.  Hmm.  I wonder if it’s still there. Maybe it’s time to take a little drive.

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Punctuation and Other Necessary Evils

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“Punctuation is the Devil’s workshop!”

Kelly is my editor-in-chief, but I’m beginning to get a little hacked off at how much she laughs at my grammar.  I think I can string a sentence together just fine, but my lack of putting the little marks in between words and making some letters bigger than others (like at the beginning of a sentence) apparently isn’t my strongest attribute and it gives her such a charge that it’s becoming more than a little annoying.   I keep telling her that I don’t really need the running commentary and that she should just edit in silence like a good little editor.

She’ll be quiet for a while, but then her shoulders start to shake, she snickers and then her outburst wakes the dog.

“John, Greenland is not a continent!”

“Uhhh, it used to be?”

“John, do you really think you should capitalize firetruck?  How about yellow?  How about tire?”

“Uhhh, yes.  You always capitalize proper names.”

“John, why would someone name their child ‘Tire’?”

‘Uhhh, well, Michael Jackson might.”

“And why did you put a comma here?!”

“Uhhh, because it separates the prepositional phrase?”  I get desperate sometimes and start throwing out terms that have no actual meaning to me, but that I’ve heard her use in “that” tone as she edits my writing.

“Nope.  Wrong Again!”  Then she breaks into a fit of laughter that rivals what she goes through whenever I hurt myself in a really bad way.

I stubbed my little toe so badly one time that it disappeared inside my foot like a turtle hiding in its shell – the doctor had to use an extractor to get it back to its original position, like pulling a cork out of a bottle.   As I held my foot and hopped up and down and screamed in agony I looked to the wife of my youth for comfort and solace.  I was hoping she would help me to a chair and get me some ice.  She was in no shape to help because she was completely immobilized, and not because she had fainted at the sight of the blood that had sprayed all over the wall.  No, she was immobilized because she had collapsed into a fit of laughter so pronounced that her face was red and tears were rolling down her cheeks.  She lay there, laughing in silent agony, not wanting to hurt my feelings by actually laughing out loud, but unable to control her mirth at my misfortune.   As soon as our eyes met, she lost it even further and burst out laughing so loudly that all the dogs in the neighborhood began barking.

One would think that turn-about would be fair play so I tried this once when she hurt herself in a similar fashion, but I was instantly frozen in place (my guffaw dying on my lips) by the icy daggers that she fired from her bloodshot eyes.  It was like that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vadar makes that guy choke on his own spit without really touching him and then says, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.”  Except she said,  “I will kill you and no one will find your body for a month and by then I’ll be in Mexico drinking beer on the beach.” (Well, it was something close to that.)  She even sounded like James Earl Jones for a split second and I found that I couldn’t breath until she released her grip on me and I collapsed back onto the couch and spilled my beer ( which she then made me clean up).

I guess I’m just tired of bowing down to the conventions of grammar and I’m not going to take it any more.  I feel that things like punctuation and other grammatical nuances should be beaten into submission and do what I want for a change.  I’m tired of being held to such a strict law in my writing (can I get an “Amen!” from the congregation?).  The English language is supposed to be fluid and changing – like the wind, and, come to think of it,  maybe I’m just a ground breaker.  Maybe in the future people will use commas in all the places, I, choose, to, use, commas.  I’m tired of fighting with punctuation and I would give up on it entirely if I weren’t so stinkin’ afraid of my wife.

i guess, until that day happens, I can rest, in the knowledge, that IT makes my wifes’ day when I Punctuate. so Badly: .,; (have fun deciphering that one honey);”

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My Saturday sickness

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One step forward and two back

I have to give you a glimpse into my thought process in order for you to understand what I go through and why it’s going to be so hard for me to stop.  Every Friday I think that maybe we won’t go to any yard sales on Saturday.  But, then I check the want ads to see what’s being sold (just in case) and that gets my mind wandering.   I see something I might want, but know it’s probably junk, but how would one really know without checking?  I think about all the great “finds” that I’ve made over the years and then imagine someone else getting that Nikon camera for five bucks and that camera would have been mine if I had only decided to go and then the next thing I know it’s Saturday morning and I’m all keyed up, list in hand, hustling Kelly and the girls out the door even before they’ve showered or had their morning coffee.

Yes, this is a cry for help.

Today’s plunder:
1. Vulcan Golf Hybrid club #2.  No one can hit a #2 club.  No one can.  I’m not sure why they even made this model, but hope springs eternal and I got it for $2.00.  Hey, it’s a “Vulcan” club and any club good enough for Spock is good enough for me.  “Live long and drive well off the fairway.”

2. Red mugs made in China. Real China mugs for 25 cents each?  Who can pass up a deal like that.  And, besides, the other mugs in the cupboard were getting lonely.  Kelly has her favorite mug and I never use any mugs, but they are laser etched and have good hand-feel.  A true bargain at twice the price.

3. White wedding china.  Yawn.   It’s our discontinued pattern so we had to buy these.  Way too practical for me.

4. Reese towing mirror extenders.  The rubber holders are starting to rot a little and there is only one in the box, but I think one is better than nothing and duct tape is my friend.  We don’t own a trailer….yet.  But, when we do I’ll be ready.  I am kind of hacked though.  I offered a dollar and she cackled and said she was happy to get a dollar because she didn’t know she even owned a mirror extender until she found it in the garage.  I could have had this gem for a quarter.

5. Black cabinet knobs. This was an absolute steal at $7.00  There were 42 of them, which was almost exactly what we needed to replace the Holly Hobby knobs in our bathrooms.  We only have 28 of these left over.  Anyone need black knobs (some might have a little bit of glue on them)?  A bargain at only $15.

6. Schmid WWII Puzzle. This brand new puzzle is really awesome.  It depicts a B-24 bomber sitting on the ground with guys standing around it (one of them is even smoking a cigarette).  I love anything to do with WWII airplanes.  However, because true color wasn’t invented until the sixties, this puzzle is just a morass of greens and browns, and since our puzzle person is going to school this semester, it will never get put together.  Wesley loved WWII stuff when he was twelve so the bonus is that since it’s still in the shrink wrap we can give it to him for Christmas.

7. Axis and Allies &  Risk.  I hate both of these games and usually end up getting stuck on Greenland or some other inconsequential country (I did have to change that last word from “continent” to “country” after I found Kelly in a fit of hysterics).  If I were playing a game of dice golf instead of A&A  I would win every time because I am probably the most consistent roller of ones and twos of all time.  This was a nostalgia purchase and will probably have to go to Goodwill at some point because we already have eight different versions of each game.

Fifteen bucks and three hours of my life that I will never get back.    I did get to spend those three hours laughing and talking with Kelly and the girls and Kelly’s two cousins Kolette and Kim… And I got some really “cool” stuff in the process.  So, I guess it wasn’t a total waste.

Why I need a firetruck with a compass in the stock.

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Heck, I don’t really know what I would do with it, but who else but me would be able to say, “Hey guys, you want to see my firetruck?”

The whole idea behind this blog is to help me deal with my hoarding issues.  But, in order for me to deal with the actual issue I think I first have to define in my own mind  this question: when is what I buy or keep a necessity and when would it be considered hoarding?  In order to help me establish this foundational principle I have to ask you a question.  Would buying a firetruck be considered hoarding?

When Christian was three or four years old there were two things that he wanted to be when he grew up:  a firetruck and a banana.  True story.  This obsession may have had something to do with him wanting to be a “Robot in Disguise,” but he was adamant that he didn’t want to be a fireMAN, he wanted to be a fireTRUCK. Why he wanted to be a banana was beyond my comprehension, other than he really, really, really liked to eat.

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The poor kid also had a speech impediment that was so pronounced that my family thought he might have some form of mental deficiency.  They turned out to be mostly correct, but he seemed to grow out of it after he got through his teen years.  We have undecipherable recordings of him when he was little that make us laugh until we cry (yes, it’s okay to laugh at a disabled person  if he’s your son).

Because of his lack of verbal acuity, for all we knew, he could have been telling us that he wanted to be a doctor or fan dancer, but the translation that came through Wesley, who was our main interpreter, was that Christian wanted more than anything to have four wheels and a fire hose (he did have a bed wetting problem for a while, so maybe that was a factor in him wanting to be a pumper truck).

Speech impediment and translation aside,  the family legend has it that from that time on Christian has always wanted to BE a firetruck.

So imagine the surprise on Kelly’s face when I locked up all four wheels of the truck, quickly swapped ends and fish-tailed to the side of the road.

“What in the name of all that’s good are you doing?” she screamed.

I pointed mouth agape at a real, live firetruck parked on the side of the road with a FOR SALE  sign wedged under the wiper.  Kelly just rolled her eyes and went back to her book, but the kids and I jumped out to get a closer look.  We laughed about ever being able to afford such a thing, knowing they were probably asking at least 20 to 30 thousand dollars, but I always say that it never hurts to look.  I mean, maybe it’s a great deal at that price.  How would anyone know what the Bluebook value of a firetruck is anyway?  It would be like asking the surgeon what the total price of a hip replacement  would be.  No one knows how much it costs.  You just pay what they tell you at the end and be happy about it.

The man who was selling this piece of machinery for the “actual” owner  just “happened” to be working in his field when we happened by and he gave us the low down (street lingo for information) on the beast.   He appeared at my elbow pretty quickly after we stopped, so maybe he had been sitting there all day like a fisherman luring old men with a bright yellow, four wheeled lure.  I looked for horns and a crossroad.

“Only 16,000 miles on that beauty.  The owner only drove it in parades and there ain’t many parades anymore.  He says he’s gettin’ too old to drive it now and wants to get rid of it.”

I looked under the wheel well and kind of tapped at the gauges like I knew everything there was to know about firetrucks.  I sort of gazed off into the distance like I was extremely bored and disinterested.

“How much do you think he’d take for such an old machine?”

“Only five thousand.  And everything on it works.  Why, this thing is like new.”

Christian instantly saw that familiar look in my eyes and started jumping up and down and yelling.

“We’re getting a firetruck!  We’re getting a firetruck!  And it’s yellow, like a banana!”

Only five thousand for such a beauty? I mean, how could I resist.  How could anyone resist?  As I walked back to our truck, I could see Kelly furiously scribbling something on a piece of paper.  She stopped as I approached.  I looked curiously at her as I grabbed the checkbook and made my way back to my new firetruck.  I opened the checkbook to write out the check and across every single check was written in big black letters “VOID.”   I looked at back at Kelly who just shrugged and waved a little.

I showed the old man what she had done.  He smiled.

“Your wife is nice.  You should have seen what the wives of the other three men wrote on their checks.”

Hoarding is an impulse and I knew the feeling would pass as soon as I got in my puny, silver truck and started the drive home, but that didn’t take the sting out of almost owning real firetruck.   I was silent most of the way, but when I got the nerve, I looked at my wife out of the corner of my eye  and mumbled under my breath.

“Dream Crusher.”

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You’re stealing my childhood!

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“You Can’t Sell Grandma Dudie’s Cookie Jar!  I hate your new blog!  You’re stealing my childhood!”

I thought getting rid of my stuff would be difficult.  I didn’t know it would be next to impossible. Both of my daughters are having a really, really hard time with this and it’s not going exactly as planned. I mean, how hard should it be? Take junk from the basement, take a picture, talk about it and get rid of it.  Easy.  It’s not turning out to be so.

The stuff I’m trying to get rid of is not actually leaving the house, it’s just transferring rooms – like a hotel that is making room for more important guests by transferring current residents to the broom closet.  So far, Allison and Christian have both imprinted on my old baseballs, three of the kids want some of the duck calls (I’m sure Wesley would also, but he’s in Salt Lake City) and Molly has put the stupid Rhino cookie jar in the witness protection program and has all but dared me to find it.  To be completely honest, it hasn’t been that hard.

“How did you know it was in my bed? ”

“The big lump kind of gave it away, honey.”

It keeps moving from one lumpy hiding place to another and she has all but threatened to start selling my stuff if I kept trying to find it.  When I explained that that was kind of the whole idea behind this process, Molly said, “Well, what about your baseball cards or grandpa’s fly fishing stuff?  Maybe  I’ll just get rid of that stuff!”

“Honey, those things are nothing like the cookie jar,” I said.  “Those things have value.  The cookie jar is butt-ugly, worthless and there is nothing redeeming about it.”

“It was grandma’s and that’s what’s redeeming about it.”

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And therein lies the rub.  That one sentence summarized my entire existence and the reason that I’ve been an avid keeper of such things my whole life.  Each little thing that I keep has some special meaning to me, just like that cookie jar has for my daughter.  Every item, in every box of junk stored downstairs in the dark, has a thread attached to it that leads through my brain to a long ago time and place and an almost forgotten memory.  Holding that thing, or smelling that smell (Play-Doh brings me back to Mrs. Thompson’s 2nd grade class) means that I haven’t forgotten that event.  And since I don’t keep things that bring to mind dark times, like the broken tooth from my first fight, all of the strings lead to good things, happy memories and happy times.  That is why my daughter can’t get rid of the Rhino and why I struggle to get rid of my stuff.

To my daughter, that cookie jar is the thread that leads to her grandma.  I have no idea where my mom actually got the cookie jar, but it is not from my childhood (which consisted of decorations that glorified the Alaskan existence).  African animals were for picture books, not for counters.   It was probably a white elephant gift or bought at a thrift store, but this one, ugly, tacky Rhino has been a constant presence in my parent’s house from the time my kids were born.  

We visited my parent’s home on Camano Island two or three times a year and even before the hugs were over  and the cartoon network was turned on (we never had cable), the kids were into the “magic” cookie jar – which was always full no matter how many hands had been in it.  

The sound of that lid being lifted and set back down is etched into my memory.  I couldn’t reproduce that sound if you asked me, but I would be able to pick it out from hundreds of other lids being lifted and replaced on hundreds of other cookie jars.  That sound is a thread and that thread is what keeps me, I mean her, from being able to get rid of this really ugly thing.

Now that I think about it, there probably isn’t any single thing from my parent’s house that represents that time as well as that stupid cookie jar and it doesn’t just have a single thread, it has hundreds. It has webs and webs of threads that lead to things like boat rides and clam digging and shark catching, swimming in the pool, driving the golf cart, picking raspberries and watching Sponge Bob for twelve straight hours to get to the “new episode.”  It was a constant, and aside from the TV, probably the single most focused upon fixture in their house.

That Rhino represents all that was good at my parent’s house .  As the years went by my Mom became more and more forgetful and the cookies weren’t quite as fresh, and more often than not, trying to get only one cookie out of the jar became a challenge as they had congealed  into a single mass of stale and sticky goodness, but until Mom was gone that cookie jar was never empty.

When my Dad died the Rhino was almost sold at his estate sale.  Kelly didn’t want it and since the magic was gone and it was finally empty, I didn’t want it either.   It was gone at the end of the day without a second thought. We didn’t realize until we got home and started to unload the Suburban that we had adopted the stupid Rhino.  Molly has always had a little of the bandit in her and at the last minute had stashed it underneath the really important things that I wanted from my parent’s place, like the shotgun cleaner and totem poles.  Not until we were home, did we realize we had inherited it and it has sat on a storage shelf in a dark room ever since… Until I tried to get rid of it.  Then, for reasons that I am just now beginning to understand,  it magically turned into Grandma Dudie.

Molly is looking at me right now, clinging tightly to the Rhino with a defiant look in her eyes.  She has been reading this post and is now lifting the lid and putting it back  (clink) and saying “boat ride”  (clink) “golfing with your dad” (clink) “crab fishing” (clink).  Okay, okay.  I get it.  We can keep that one thing for a little longer.  In a way, maybe I’m just a bit glad we still have it.

Post script:  I have decided to make two different kinds of posts.  Posts of things that my kids want to keep and posts that I will get rid of.  I’m sure one will outweigh the other.  Which one will win though, is  the million dollar question.

Might As Well Face it

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I have heard it said that the first step in conquering any addiction is to finally admit that you have a problem.
“Hello, my name is John and I’m addicted to stuff.”

When I came up with the idea to blog about getting rid of my stuff, I wondered if I would actually be able to do it (no, not the blogging, the purging).  It’s difficult for a man, who has spent his entire life collecting really “cool” and “useful” things, to willfully give up his addiction without at least some form of internal beat-down of his entire basis of life.  When something is so foundational, it often takes a swift kick to the solar plexus of the soul to make him realize that he has to do something about the elephant (read junk pile) in the room.   What did it for me was the realization that, even though I love them, the things I have do not define who I am or who I was.  In short, my stuff is not me.

When I mentioned this project to my friends,  I received universal approval and a hearty endorsement to forge ahead and blog away.  “Why not let me blog about getting rid of some of your stuff too?” I asked one enthusiastic friend.  She didn’t respond, just bared her teeth and backed away from me,  picking up trinkets and folding them in her arms until she had backed her way into the house and locked the door.  I know exactly how she feels.  I have talked myself in and out of this project countless times and now that I have picked out the first few items to get rid of (literally having to wrestle one of the objects out of the hands of my daughter), I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.

I am not what you would call a classic hoarder.  I don’t have a camera crew following me around turning up their collective noses at my “Willard-like” infestation of rats or my fabulous collection of antique cat poop.  I don’t have 30 years worth of old newspapers or a car full of old shoes sitting on the north forty. The doors to all my closets close, I can walk through my garage from front to back (unless I haven’t taken the cardboard to the recyclers in awhile) and I shower and groom regularly.   I am married and well-adjusted and my wife, while not finding me exactly handsome, at least doesn’t run screaming from me when I get home.  But I do like to buy stuff when it’s a really good deal, even if I don’t need it, and I love to find great deals on stuff that I might need at some future date.  My storage spaces are filled to the gunnels with the fruit of “great” deals and good intentions.

However, the “useful” items will be the easy part.  I also have almost every bit of memorabilia that I ever picked up along the road of my first 20 years, and it is legion, and it will be like extracting an impacted tooth with twisted roots to get me to let go of it, and I’m not exactly sure why.  No one is alive who cares that I won the MVP award at the Block F basketball tournament my sophomore year at a very small highschool of white kids, or remembers that I won medals shooting rifles, or that I hit a home run when I was 12. And, those that are alive and were there, couldn’t give a flying rat’s backside.  Yet, I hold onto that trophy like it’s proof that at some point in my life I was really, really good at something, and for that sliver of time I thought I was someone really important.  I guess I  hold onto that home-run ball because I feel that getting rid of it would be somehow sacrilegious and morally wrong, like getting rid of a part of my soul.

I have clung to the hem of these items for years thinking that what is hidden in the storage room defines me and makes me great.  I’ve recounted the glories of my past to my kids and shown them the baseballs and patches and medals to great effect, so much so that they now look upon these items  like a monk looks at the finger bone of a long dead saint and, because of this, they will be saddled with the burden of dividing them up upon my death.  It is hard to stare objects like that in the face and realize how truly inconsequential  those moments were and how those things don’t do anything but represent  a memory and a feeling and that it’s okay to let them go. And, it’s okay for my kids to let them go.

So, it’s time to finally bring them into the light, for they do no one any good where they are.  I am going to open the sealed vault of my past, blow the dust off it and let you see what I’ve been hiding in my basement all these years – and some of it is not going to be pretty.   I may cry myself to sleep at night or fall off the wagon frequently, but at least to begin with I’m going to take pictures and talk about what I find.   I’ll sell some, give away some, and, I’m sure throw away some.  In the end, I hope to have a better grasp of reality, a better archive of my past, and a lot more storage space in my house.

Post Script: My kids are not happy with me for doing this.  It is painfully obvious that the sins of this father have been visited upon his kids in spades.    I take this opportunity to apologize to all future and current spouses.  It’s all my fault that they are like they are.  So, children, if you see anything on these pages that you can’t live without, come get it before the neighbors do.