From the series: Splatting Shit Against the Wall – Old or Rejected Writing Otherwise Collecting Dust
Everybody I know has junk. As a pretend writer, I’m interested to know when and where metaphor and real life intersect. Junk can be a difficult subject to breach, especially when I’m keeping this writing thing my dirty little secret. I realize it’d be much easier to just say, “I’m working on this piece about junk”. Kinda playing off the old thing about skeletons in the closet, you know. But instead of skeletons, I’d deceptively say, “Junk. Like old puzzles or board games or a son or father’s military uniform tucked away in a closet somewhere like a bad memory.” But I’m neither writer nor spy, so I trip through it all disgracefully, just like this fucking paragraph.
The deception in my quest for meaning in our accumulation of junk leaves me feeling like one of those losers on Catfish or To Catch a Predator. But I’ve at least carried a reputation in regular life as a bit of an eccentric, I think, and if so, that probably helps. So I usually lead with how my garage is full of junk that’s open and exhibited every time the basement or garage door opens. It’s on display to the neighborhood when I pull out the lawnmower. And I’m too lazy, which is what keeps it in such disarray anyway, to care about shutting it too. So the clutter and chaos of tools and holiday decorations and paint cans and old turntables and boxes of books and toys are on display to the whole neighborhood while I’m out there pushing the 194 cc Briggs and Strotton. And with some identity to the situation, my subject might open up about the types and locales of his own junk.
But we’re speaking in metaphors here, right? The real junk, like everybody else, I keep hidden. The ways I’ve disappointed myself. My disappointments at opportunities not pursued. Of goals left untended. Of minor betrayals and the hurt and harm inflicted on those too weak or naive to fight back. Of weaknesses hidden. And lies. That’s my junk. And my shame. And because I’m speaking of them in generalities now, that’s partly why I’m just a pretend writer too.
Everybody I’ve known has junk. Instruments never played. Cookware never used. Shirts or shoes that looked good under the influence of the fitting room and a clearance tag but somehow didn’t translate to the real world. Or grandma’s china set that was contentiously taken though, through hearsay, was promised to another. Some store their junk in the attic, like my father and his National Geographics. Others, like me, in the garage. Others in plain sight or in the little room beneath the stairs in the basement. Others in a closet in a bedroom no longer used or in a barn. Some have so much they have to pay to store it.
All my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles had junk, much of it not discovered until one died and somebody’d been left to get rid of it. And all my friends and cousins and their siblings have junk. But the younger generations, living mostly in apartments or still with their parents, don’t. They haven’t acquired the space for it yet.
And maybe that’s why we attack them. Maybe the youngsters sleep better at night, knowing there’s not a bunch of shit they oughta get rid of – take to Goodwill or the dump or put it out for a yard sale if they weren’t so lazy or afraid to. Or they sleep better knowing there’s not a bunch of trash they’re going to leave behind for somebody else to sort out when they’re dead or too infirmed to get rid of it themselves. Maybe their junk, by lack of sheer volume, is less burdensome and we can’t have that. Everybody needs to share a burden.
So we take our guilty consciences out on the younger generations for being weak and having easy lives, which we imagine allows them to sleep much sounder than us. We hope that maybe the guilt of living on easy street will give them a little more unrest, like they deserve.
As I inquire about all this junk, I notice how the older generations takes pride in much of it. With a wink and a nod down the family tree, we cherish our junk and the work ethic required to accumulate it and the space to keep it. We honor it. And because the deception’s not quite enough to ease the conscious of not tidying or unburdening it ourselves, we apply a little more salve to one another’s sunburns by piling on the kids. And that’s the lesson we teach. Don’t take care of it yourself. Forget about it and leave it for somebody else. And when the guilt of that can’t be eased by our mutual gratification and aggrandizements alone, we make somebody else the skapegoat. Make them feel like shit so that we might sleep better over the burdens of our own making.
My real junk is not on display. But I know I’ve got it. And I know the younger ones will too, someday. So I try to show them sympathy and a way of being humble about it. Not to go around playing a role poorly, like Vin Diesel attempting MacBeth. Or in our cases, playing the role of somebody who’s got most of their shit together when they don’t. At least I’ll never get nominated for a Razzie for playing the clown.
My cousin got divorced and when his wife left with the kids and moved outta town, he was stuck with their house and all its junk. As legend goes, he put it all in the basement to hide the reminders of what was hoped for but never came to pass. But the basement flooded and ruined everything so he threw it all out. And with the headache of the clearout of that part of his life, he sold the house to start with a clean slate.
That was thirty years ago and he’s still living in an apartment. The rest of the family doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want space of his own. Plus, you look like a middle-aged loser without owning property. But he told me he likes it. There’s not enough room in it to accumulate much junk.
At fifty five, my cousin still likes to drink and gamble a bit and sometimes chase girls half his age. So, in the eyes of our family, in addition to not owning property, he’s a two time loser. Guys his age shouldn’t be partying and chasing skirts. He needs to grow up and grow old normally. But I see it different. He’s got freedom. Freedom from all the junk, which I think makes the rest mostly jealous.