THE ATTIC – It is time to put up the Easter decorations and get down the Christmas ornaments. True, the mall merchants beat me by several months – Santa’s elves were wearing thongs – but I still should get started. Here are the holiday boxes, and I notice that every summer someone sneaks into my attic and tangles up the Christmas tree lights. Next, I need to climb over this mountain of piles. This is a stack of suitcases, ice chests, a box full of something I’m afraid to open, a writing desk and chair that my daughter refuses to take to her house. Why are parents still stuck with their children’s things when the kids are joining AARP?
No doubt your attic is also full of odds and ends too bad to keep and too good to throw away. It has a name: stuff. The late comedian George Carlin had a whole routine about stuff. Maybe we should label these items “garbage-can challenged,” “Dumpster-worthy” or just “things” (in Texas we say “thangs”). By any name, they enter the unwanted-yet-still-here category in various ways. Some of my stuff was good at one time but simply became obsolete through no fault of its own. Here’s my eight-track tape player next to the TV rabbit ears, my trusty electric typewriter and VCR player along with a pile of movies on tape. Recently I went to the local Goodwill to do my Christmas shopping and saw stacks of dusty VCRs. They couldn’t even give them away.
Take another look at that ice chest, the one sporting the Houston Oilers logo. That box is long past its prime, sort of beat up and chipped. The smell of three-day-old shrimp is almost gone. But that ice chest still does its job like it did the day I stole it at a tailgate party. What ever I put in the box stays that way. Remember the guy who asked, “What’s that?” He was told it’s a Thermos bottle. You put a liquid in hot and it stays hot. You put liquid in cold and it stays cold. The guy thought for a minute, then asked, “How does it know which to do?” I don’t need to keep this ice chest since I’ve got new ones, like this Styrofoam box marked, “Southwest Conference Champs.” But why throw away a perfectly good ice chest? Maybe I should go door to door in my neighborhood, Running Rats Acres, asking, “Would you like a beat-up but still perfectly good ice chest?”
In my bedroom is a wooden picture frame sitting on the floor, about 3 feet by 2 feet. No picture, photo or pelt within, just the frame. It belonged to my late mother-in-law and held a painting by some guy named Manet or Monet, I get them mixed up. I traded the painting to a fellow called Dude at a flea market for $50 and a nine-iron. Hey, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. Dude didn’t want the frame, so it just sits here. Every noon when I get up, there’s that empty picture holder looking back at me. Maybe Manet-Monet would like it back.
Look in your closet. Maybe you still have T-shirts reading, “Shock & Awe” and “Quayle in ‘92.” You probably still have matching spats. (I’m sounding like Andy Rooney.) These narrow ties are coming back. Don’t you watch “Mad Men”? Here are my Marine dress blues. There is an expression, “Once a Marine always a Marine” Who knows, the Corps may call up my old regiment, but I couldn’t fit into this uniform using axel grease and instant liposuction. However, the tri-corn hat still fits.
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “Stuff happens.” It happens? Is there a stuff factory which daily churns out things we don’t need but can’t toss? Like this hoola-hoop and that inner-tube. Do they even make inner-tubes these days? Same for the ice trays. You may be the type of person who saves old magazines and can’t stand throwing them away without a second read. My own magazine collection seems to be growing, so I must start reading and pitching. Maybe I’ll begin with Look and the Saturday Evening Post. Terrible about Pearl Harbor, don’t you think?
Then there are the collectibles, which are stuff with one thing in common: no sane person would collect all that junk. How many different Czech beer cans do you need? Why 12 shelves of mousetraps? But don’t touch my albums of Mao quotes. Collectibles are not to be tossed — until after your estate sale. One solution to this heap of stuff is the consignment shop, where tassel loafers and bell-bottoms go to die. If you can’t find that special Christmas gift at Goodwill, try consignment shops.
You really need to take a fresh look at your garage. Old paint cans are ubiquitous. Every garage has some, but as soon as you toss them, the new painter will say, “I can match the colors in your stables and Jacuzzi if you have the old paint cans.” To quote our governor for life, “Oops.” Many garages in Texas contain snow shovels and tire chains, left over from the previous resident who moved here from Ohio and was dispatched to Bengazi last June. “I won’t be needing these,” he explained. “The boss says it’s a beach town with lots of sun.” Garages hold all kinds of stuff. Some of my neighbors even keep their cars there.
How many old eyeglasses do you have? Probably all of them because no one has ever, ever, thrown away their old glasses. I even have my early monocles. You heard about the fellow who bought a new boomerang but went crazy trying to throw away the old one. Have you ever tried to get rid of a carrier pigeon? They keep coming back. Finally, I want to thank you for allowing me to use the word, ubiquitous. I always thought that was a Roman general.
Ashby is framed at email@example.com