Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Who says you can't take it with you?

I am a pack rat. Always have been.

My mother says I clung to the placenta in which I arrived for a week after my birth, and wailed like a banshee when the doctor finally pried it away from my tiny hands.

Six decades later nothing has changed. I still can’t bring myself to part with things on the off chance I might need and/or want them someday, even though I know my children will, after I’m gone, curse me for leaving them to wade through belongings they won’t understand why I kept.

“WTF is this?” one will ask, pulling a musty multi-page document, stapled between two sheets of faded red and green construction paper, out of a box.

“I dunno and I don’t care”, the other will respond, grabbing it and hurling into a garbage bag the December, 1960, issue of Tiger Tales, the mimeographed school newsletter from the Auxvasse Elementary/Jr. High/High School for which I was personally chosen that month by my teacher, Mrs. Scanlon, to report the Fourth Grade Class News, one of the first bylines I ever earned.

I sometimes wish I weren’t a pack rat, especially now that my wife and I are packing up the Connecticut house in which we’ve lived since 1991 – more than one-third of our lives. It has sold and, according to the contract, we’re supposed to leave it “broom clean” when the buyers take possession September 26.

Fat chance. Maybe by September 26, 2017, but no way we're going to be able to cull through all that stuff in a month. We’re simply going to have to move it all to Florida with us.

While it’s well known that pack rats generally marry neat-niks who toss things they won’t be needing within the next week into the trash, our marriage is an exception. My wife is a pack rat, too. It’s just that we’re pack rats about different things.

She’s a pack rat about clothes. For instance, she is moving 300 cashmere sweaters – all of which look exactly alike except for slight color variations – to Florida. I point out it is hardly ever sweater weather in Florida ­­– even in January – and that, if she wears a different sweater on each of the 30 cool evenings Florida gets in any given year, she can wear a unique one each time for a decade. She ignores me.

Just as I ignore her when she complains about all the photos and documents I insist on bringing with us. So far I have filled five 18 x 24 x 12 boxes with them and that’s just from the second story – I haven’t moved down to the first floor yet. Amazing when you consider we haven’t taken a picture that has been printed on photo paper this millennium.

Dozens (and dozens and dozens) of those photos, naturally, are framed and I’m packing the frames, too, but it’s not like they’ve been on display. They’ve been stashed at the bottom of closets and behind bookcase doors. Most were moved in 1991 from our first house here in Wilton, Conn., to which they had been moved in 1985 from our condo in Norwalk, Conn., to which they were moved in 1983 from our apartment in Manhattan to which they were moved in 1978 from our Chicago high-rise.

I can’t bring myself to throw away precious treasures like the framed photo of our first dog, a corgi-dachshund named Sybil (who went to that big boneyard in the sky 27 years ago), and me accepting a ribbon for Sybil’s second-place finish out of a field of 80 dogs at a Chicago obedience school. She would have won first had she not suddenly sat bolt upright through her 60-second “down-stay” command. I was so proud – every bit as proud as when I later watched one son cross the stage to accept his law degree and the other his Master’s.

I have no photos of those events, naturally, because they took place in the digital age.  

But Sybil’s framed graduation pic? I’d like to be buried with it. Along with all the thousands and thousands of other photos and documents I’ve saved, from a photo of me finding the fire engine the Easter Bunny left behind the propane tank in 1954 to an insurance policy I’m pretty sure expired in 1992 but want to keep just in case it didn’t.

Which means, I suppose, that my final resting place will be a landfill.

Because that’s the only place that will ever be able to accommodate me and all my stuff.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Losing it

I’m a loser.

Specifically, I’m one of those people who loses his keys, wallet, sunglasses, etc., regularly. As in three or four times a day. 

I never put them down in the same place. Consequently, when I need to go somewhere I have to enlist my wife’s assistance to find them. This pisses her off. She has never lost anything and, at any given moment, knows where every one of her possessions is, from the crown she won as Miss Teenage Quincy 1967 (on the far left top shelf of the guest room closet) to the gold sequined uniform she wore as a college baton twirler (in a box labeled “Golden Girl outfit” in the attic).

You’d think that after 37 years she would have accepted she married a loser and would be cheerful about helping me find whatever I’ve lost but she never is. Sometimes she’s downright nasty about it. That hurts my feelings because she knows it’s not my fault. It’s genetic. My entire family – mother, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and (this is Biblical) her own children – are losers, too. Our penchant for misplacing things is attributable to a flawed gene inherited from my great-great grandparents who, legend has it, lost their dining room table, milk cow and one of their children while driving a covered wagon from North Carolina to Missouri shortly after the Civil War. 

None of my blood relatives sees the need to devote brain cells to remembering inconsequential things like the location of keys because we a) know they’ll eventually turn up and b) tend to co-habit with people who love us despite our penchant for losing things and are adept at finding them for us. 

This time I may have driven my wife over the edge. We’re packing up our house, which has sold and is scheduled to close late next month. Before we put the house on the market we rented a storage unit to stash important possessions  – boxes of financial records, plastic crates filled with the boys’ Legos, the 400 or so vintage advertising posters I've acquired over the years and the two six-feet-tall plush Bart and Lisa Simpson dolls our youngest son won at a school carnival 20 years ago. The realtor irrationally claimed they made the basement look cluttered. 

The key to the storage unit was carefully placed on an electronic “fob” that remotely starts our SUV. The SUV came with two fobs but I lost one the week after we bought it and, ever since, my wife has insisted on keeping the remaining fob in her purse.

Friday morning I needed to back the SUV out of the garage to make room for the 30 or so bags of stuff we’re planning to take to Goodwill. I took the fob from my wife’s purse and backed the SUV into the driveway.

The fob hasn’t been seen since. We spent hours looking for it yesterday when we decided to go clean out the storage unit.

The search is extra complicated this time because nothing in the house is where it's supposed to be. There are half-filled packing boxes in every room, along with all those bags destined for Goodwill in the garage. We’ve turned the place upside-down and inside-out but the damned fob is gone. We thought it might have somehow wound up in one of the Goodwill bags. My wife suggested that, because the fob emits a beam that starts the car, I could simply load the bags one at a time into the passenger seat and push the “start “button. If the car started, it would be a sure thing the fob was in one of those bags. I did but … no signal.

So, there’s an SUV in the driveway we can’t start and a storage unit we can’t access. If we don’t find that fob soon the buyer of this house will be getting a nice (but undrivable) 2009 Infiniti SUV and we’ll be paying in perpetuity the $350 monthly rent on a storage unit we can’t open.

Here’s my theory as to what happened: We were at the storage unit Wednesday. Someone must have walked past it while our backs were turned. He or she saw those stuffed Simpsons dolls … coveted them ... followed us home … broke in to the house Friday night as we slept … stole the fob with key to the unit from the table in the front hall where I’m almost sure I placed it … and was then, when exiting the house, eaten by a bear, one of which was seen in town within the last few years. 

That’s the only possible explanation. My wife isn’t buying it but I think it makes perfect sense.

Don’t you?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A tale for our times, inspired by Lassie's old-time radio show

My wife and I always borrow from the library a book on CD for the 1,320 mile, 22-hour trek up or down I-95 between Florida and Connecticut, which we make several times a year. We just finished a drive today.

This time we didn’t borrow a book. We borrowed a 30-CD compilation entitled The 60 Greatest Old Time Radio Shows That Transitioned to TV -- shows like Father Knows Best, Jack Benny, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Our Miss Brooks and Dr. Kildaire. The series was narrated by Walter Cronkite.

It was fascinating to hear the radio versions of shows we grew up watching on TV which, in many cases, featured the same theme songs and same actors/actresses. Some of the actors who created the characters on radio didn’t make the transition to the boob tube for obvious reasons. Short, rotund actor William Conrad was the radio voice of Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon. Lanky, square-jawed James Arness portrayed him on TV.

One of the old radio shows was an episode of Lassie, recorded in the 1940s. We listened to the entire 30-minute program and kept expecting an appearance by the Lassie we remembered – the one who later starred on TV and was so brilliant she probably, in her off-hours, solved algebra problems for fun and read Ulysses in Greek. But she never appeared as that Lassie.

At the end of the show we learned that radio Lassie had portrayed a mutt named Jumper, a role that required her to do nothing more than bark on cue. 

Here’s the plot of that particular episode, starring Lassie as Jumper.

A large, vicious cat has been seen all over town, and has wreaked havoc at a local warehouse whose owner has told the Humane Society warden he’ll pay a $25 reward to anyone who can catch her. The next day a poor boy, Freddie, and his beloved dog, Jumper, run across the cat, which is perched atop a baby carriage parked in a yard. The cat is about to attack the baby inside the carriage, whose mother is nowhere to be seen. Freddie tells Jumper to chase the cat away to protect the baby. Jumper does but, in the process, the carriage is knocked over and the cat escapes. The baby’s mother runs out of the house, snatches up the screaming infant, accuses Jumper of being dangerous and aggressive, and calls the Humane Society to take him away.

Freddie goes to the Humane Society and tells the warden what happened. The warden recognizes he is telling the truth but informs Freddie he can’t get his dog back unless he pays a $2 license fee which, of course, the boy doesn’t have. If Freddie doesn’t pay the fee within five days, Jumper will be given away. Freddie begs and pleads but the warden won’t budge. So, Freddie takes a series of odd jobs, including chopping wood, to earn the $2. When he shows up at the Humane Society he is a dime short, but the tender-hearted warden lends him ten cents.

The next day Freddie and Jumper again encounter the cat which, this time, isn’t just perched atop the carriage in the yard. He’s inside it, ravaging the baby whose mother, once again, is nowhere around. Freddie throws his coat over the cat, trapping it … pulls the cat off the baby … the mother rushes out and picks up the infant …  and Freddie informs her that he and Jumper saved her baby’s life. This time she knows he is being truthful.

The Humane Society comes and picks up the cat. Freddie earns the $25 reward, but gives the warden a dime of it because, honest boy that he is, he wants to pay back the 10 cents the warden lent him to save Jumper.

Here’s how the script would be written today.

Freddie and his dog, Jumper, encounter the cat atop a baby carriage. Freddie tells Jumper to chase the cat away while he calls 9-1-1 to report he found an unattended baby. When the police arrive, they take Jumper away for a) not being on a leash and b) being unlicensed. Social Services arrives to take away the baby from his/her mother who stupidly left him/her unattended in her yard.  The baby, in foster care, is forced to endure a series of painful shots on the off chance the cat, which might be rabid, drooled on him/her.

Freddie goes to the Humane Society to beg for Jumper. The warden informs him he needs a license for his dog and that, under any circumstances, Jumper is quarantined because he didn’t have his shots and, even if he weren’t rabid before, might be now that he has skirmished with the cat.

Freddie goes from door to door, begging for odd jobs to raise the two dollars needed to free Jumper from the pound (assuming, of course, he doesn’t turn rabid), but nobody will hire him because they don’t want to be accused of violating child labor laws and/or hiring non-union workers. Because Freddie can’t raise the money, Jumper is euthanized.  

Freddie’s little heart broken but, upon reflection, he comes to realize that all of this government regulation of his life is a good thing.

He grows up to become an ardent Democrat and goes on to attain a senior position within the Justice Department of the Obama administration which he holds until he reaches mandatory retirement age.

And that’s the way it is.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Dining with Tommy

My wife has been out of town for the last five days, visiting her mother.

We generally eat fairly well-balanced meals when we’re together – sandwiches for lunch, and some form of protein, a salad, and side dish for dinner. But when the cat’s away? Here’s what I've eaten. Every word, alas, is true.


Breakfast: 4 cups of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee with 2% milk.

Lunch: None.

Dinner (at Sweet Tomatoes, a buffet restaurant that specializes in salads):  Plate of green salad with ranch dressing and croutons, plate of Zesty Tortellini deli salad, side dish of macaroni and cheese, bowl of chili, two slices of pizza.

Snack: Two bottles Michelob Ultra.


Breakfast: Same as Saturday.

Lunch: Package of Stouffer’s Chipped Beef over two slices of wheat toast, topped with two slices of cheese and liberal amount of freshly ground pepper.

Dinner (at Kentucky Fried Chicken all-you-can-eat for $7.99 buffet): Two chicken breasts (original recipe), mashed potatoes, gravy, slaw, stewed tomatoes, three biscuits with honey butter. All my fellow diners would have described it this way: "Dos pechugas de pollo (receta original), puré de patatas, salsa de carne, repollo, tomates guisados​​, tres galletas con mantequilla de miel." 


Breakfast: Usual.

Lunch: Bowl of Cheerios with 2% milk, half package of Bob Evans’ Farms Mac & Cheese.

Dinner: Three bottles Michelob Ultra, cheeseburger, half a watermelon.


Breakfast: Usual except for milk in coffee (ran out after first cup).

Lunch: Half box of Anderson’s Pretzel Stix, remainder of Bob Evans Mac & Cheese.

Dinner: Large pepperoni pizza.


Breakfast: Usual. (Leftover pizza would have been good but there wasn't any.)

Lunch: Stouffer's Chipped Beef over toast with cheese.

Dinner: Cheeseburger (no bun), large container of Publix Macaroni & Cheese (meant to serve a family of four), bowl of fruit salad.

My wife comes home tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll still be around to pick her up at the airport.