Pack Rat

by Brian on September 15, 2005

in Just For Fun


“Happy Birthday!” my wife Jody and the kids cried out as they placed
before me a home-made chocolate cake with white frosting and peanut
M&Ms spelling out the number “45.”.
 
“Thank you,” I said as I hugged each one of them in turn. “And what’s this?” I asked innocently.
 
As I felt the loosely gift wrapped package, there was no mistaking its
contents: the most dreaded gift for a gadget head like me. No, it
wasn’t that new iPod Nano I wanted. Nor was it a TiVo or even something
as mundane as extra memory for my digital camera.
 
It was clothes.
 
A stack of new colored t-shirts to be exact.
 
“Gee shucks,” I said with a smile. “It’s just what I wanted.”
 
And I meant it.
 
You see, in the heady days of dot.com doddery, I found myself not
infrequently holed up at some hi-tech conference. In reward for our
nerdy attention, the organizers would bestow upon its participants a
goody bag, invariably stuffed with several t-shirts emblazoned with the
names and logos of this and that sponsoring company. Those t-shirts
became my workout attire and I became quite attached to them.
 
However, repeated wearing and washing over the past seven years has led to a
holey-ness of an entirely non-spiritual kind. A less-than-artistic
pastiche of rips and other unfashionable blemishes have made me into a
running embarrassment (fortunately, that’s usually when I wear them,
while running, so you don’t get to see me for too long before I zip by).
 
I should have replaced them years ago. But the t-shirts represented a
certain part of my history. And besides, they were part of a bigger
issue.
 
I admit it: I am an unreformed and unrepentant packrat. Over the years,
I have collected so much junk, it spans two locations – the closet of
the room I grew up in at my parent’s house and my current home office
which these days looks more like a U-Haul self-storage depot after a
fight between a dozen cats in heat.
 
There are the techie books I’m not really sure I need anymore, like
Windows 95 for Dummies” or the “Fourth Annual Spring Internet World
1997 Official Show Directory and Buyer’s Guide.”
 
And the stacks of old floppy disks (although you never know when
someday you might need to refer back to an old legal document from
1989). And floppies are certainly less of a space hog than keeping the
original paper documents.
 
Oh, did I mention I don’t actually own a floppy drive anymore?
 
There are piles of yellow pads with notes from at least five different
places of employment awaiting that long fantasized-for “free moment” that
never comes, and the incremental CD backups done religiously every
month from 1996 on.
 
All of these are still in the “messy but manageable” category. Not so with my extensive collection of newspaper clippings.
 
I have been cutting out articles I thought were interesting since I was
– wait for it – fourteen. As a result, I have curling newsprint at my parent’s house
dating back to 1974. Box after box is filled with the kind of trivial
pursuits of utmost importance to a middle-class “That 70s Show”-era
suburban teenager.
 
There are lists from Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 and Dr. Demento; the
entertainment line up from the Millbrae Art and Wine Festival; old
Greyhound bus schedules and the occasional news headline on something I
deemed important…although in those days, politics took a definite back
seat to the latest news from my all time favorite art-punk band The
Tubes
.
 
I have ten years worth of “Fall Season Preview” issues of “TV Guide” (hey, that’s got
to be worth something on eBay) and way too much bad poetry (what was
I thinking?)
 
Now, you may not be an out-of-the-closet packrat like me, but I’m
willing to bet that many of you know oh too well the experience of
having “stuff” still stored at
your parents; stuff  you just can’t bear to throw away…so you just
leave
it there, collecting dust for the future, and hoping no one will ever
notice.
 

More to the point: do you know where your old high school yearbooks are?

 
Somewhere, in the foggy recesses of my packrat brain I guess I always
thought that this would all make for a great book. A must-have coffee
table title. Or maybe an avant garde performance art piece. Perhaps
even a highly irreverent podcast.
 
At the very least, I was sure that my kids would be fascinated by this
offbeat time capsule from the developing mind of their very own father.

 
I once asked the kids once if they were looking forward to going
through my collection. They stared back at me in stunned horror.
 
OK, so maybe the grandkids.
 
My wife finds this aspect of my personality a bit…disturbing, to say
the least. Her mantra is minimizing clutter and augmenting simplicity and we have had more than a few clashes over the matter.
 
Fortunately for our relationship, I’ve found that every so often I
become possessed by the holy god of Order and begin to weed through my
stuff with a vengeance. The most recent such exorcism was six years
ago, when we rented our current apartment.
 
I had the moving guys carry up onto our terrace the staggering
collection of product brochures and press kits I’d collected from
hi-tech companies that have long since vanished from their brief blip
of fifteen-minute fame. It took me weeks, but by the end, I’d
eliminated a good 60% of the contents.
 
Jody was so proud.
 
And so, it was in that spirit that later that night we trashed my
t-shirts. Cut them up and turned them into cleaning rags with memorable
dot.com names like “Goodcompany,” “Mongo Music” and “Thunder
Lizard
.” I could have put up a fight. But I knew we have a bigger fish
to fry.
 
My parents had just told me that, after 40 years in the house where I
grew up, they’re moving to a retirement community. There won’t be any
room for all my years of clippings in their new place.
 
Had the packrat finally met his match?
 
“What a great opportunity,” I said offhandedly to Jody as I relayed the
news. “Now we can consolidate all my stuff in one place right here!”
 
Jody just shook her head.
 
“Yes, it’s an opportunity, all right,” was all she said.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Anonymous September 17, 2005 at 11:52 pm

Rahel writes:

I can tell you exactly where my high-school yearbook is.
At the bottom of the sea. (I don't know the coordinates, though.)
No, I'm not kidding. Maybe I'll post about it someday.
2 Anonymous September 19, 2005 at 11:19 pm

ALG writes:

I can relate. I, too, am a packrat. The problem was that when my parents made aliya in 2000 (I was 20 at the time), they made me take all my stuff out of the house. I was in college at the time, so I put it into the basement of friends of mine. Then I moved to Manhattan and had to take it all with me. Now, I pay more than $1000/month in rent (for one bedroom, I have two roommates), so that I will have space for all my junk. Now, mind you, I have not unpacked some of these boxes in more than two years, but that's okay. I feel better knowing that I have my 8th grade civics notes under my jacked-up bed, along with many other file boxes that contain things like every phone bill ever paid (to MCI, AT & T, and Bezek), all pay stubs received, all receipts from donations given (since 1997? or thereabouts). Etc.
At least I come by it honestly, as my grandmother says. She has probably 70 years of newspaper clippings in her apartment, and my father is also a pack rat.
Whew! I feel better having shared that… 🙂

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