Friday, June 16, 2006

Too Many Things

My apologies for not blogging lately, but you will understand and forgive me when I offer as explanation these three little words:

We are moving.

Everyone knows the hell of moving. We last moved seventeen years ago, and I vividly remember how bad it was . . . and how I vowed that I would never move again if I could possibly help it.

But vows like that tend to get broken. (Many a woman in the throes of labor has vowed never, ever to have another child, but somehow second and third children do manage to get conceived.) Now here we are, surrounded by a sea of boxes of books and papers (around a hundred at last count), counting the hours till there will be some return to normality. I spent the last two days rooting around in the attic among boxes I haven't looked at since the last time we moved, which gives you some idea of how important the contents must be.

There's nothing like moving to make a man into a disciple of Thoreau, at least temporarily. How alluring the unencumbered life suddenly seems! To travel the open road, carrying just a knapsack holding a few essentials, the wind in my face, free as a bird! The life of a philosopher--not that of a pack mule, weighted down by all these things.

Yet how seductive things are. I've been throwing out vast mounds of stuff the last few weeks, from old couches and appliances and dressers and clothes to bags and bags and bags of papers and books, and I must say that not a single thing I've tossed hasn't cost me at least a momentary twinge of regret. After all, I owned all these things for a reason. Each one represented a relationship or an experience that I wanted at one time to hang on to or keep for some reason. Discarding all these things now is like rejecting pieces of my past as empty, worthless. And maybe they were, but I hate to acknowledge that.

Which is why I'm clinging to some things that by rights I ought to trash. I'm willing to throw out the old green-glass 8-oz. vintage Coca-Cola bottle that a husband-and-wife author team sent me as a souvenir from their home in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, where Coke is still dispensed that way. Same with the little model airplane I was given after touring the plant where they manufacture Gulfstream aircraft as part of a ghost-writing project that never came to fruition. And the unpainted, uncarved Pinewood Derby car that for some reason I saved from son Matt's Cub Scout days and stuck in a drawer in my office.

But I will not throw out the painting daughter Laura made of Mets third baseman Howard Johnson, wearing his characteristic 1980s moustache and jersey #20, just completing his home run swing. (I judge, from stylistic and historic evidence, that the artist was about twelve at the time.) Or the bag of scallop shells in thirty different speckled hues, ranging from pure white to deep gray, almost black, that I collected one week on the north shore of Long Island and that I've been meaning for years to arrange in a shadow box. (I figure I'll include somewhere in the arrangement a nicely calligraphed version of the opening lines of Sir Walter Raleigh's famous poem about going on pilgrimage:

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet, / My staff of faith to walk upon . . . )

And I certainly won't throw out the bass drum head from the kit I played, incompetently, with my old bandmates thirty years ago, painted with the name of the band (WINTERFILTH) in stenciled white letters on a black background.

Some things are sacred.

But oh how happy I will be when the move is over and I can sit in my new home surrounded not by boxes but by my usual furniture and pictures and books, and not have to carry all these darned things anywhere. I like having them (I admit it) . . . but not moving them.

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