From the Desk of
I once had a friend who went with a girl that kept a staggeringly cluttered apartment. Not filthy, mind you, or crawling with purposeful little lava-like streams of ants, but utterly dense with great sprawling high-relief mosaics of albums, books, newspapers, disused lamps, laundry baskets, crafting supplies, things that would never be worn, plastic cases of bobbins, hats bought with minimal reflection, great mingling obelisks of magazines both popular and otherwise, and, most curious to me, an opaque lidded tub with a masking tape label that simply read, “ANDY.” My friend’s name was not Andy. It was Charles Morgan Wren the Third, and the most I recall anyone ever deviating from that construction was when a bibulous classmate, late one Saturday evening at the campus beer-and-burger joint, called him Charles Morgan Wren the Nerd. While this was wholly merited by Charles’s general deportment, it doesn’t get within “Andy” by a mile. I imagined the tub to be full of ashes, and perhaps more unfortunate hats.
Her kitchen was quite the affair to behold, as well: not a millimeter of any horizontal surface could breathe free for all the boxed macaroni, stacks of plates, bags of apples, myriad cereals, yet more magazines, jumbled and tangled electrics, great parcels of unopened sponges, a deeply discounted beret covered in a glue spiral with metallic “sparkles” sprinkled on, et cetera. (This is truly one of the few times in modern exposition where “et cetera” is precisely merited. The phrase was made for this young woman’s sense of interior design.)
At the time I merely considered her messy, and perhaps unused to the narrow confines of university life. Charles painted a fuller picture one evening, over a pint of something cheering and opaque, after they’d been dating a while.
– – –
CORNELIUS: So, old poop! How are things with you and Vicki? Do you make love with her buttocks balanced upon leveled stacks of remaindered Zenith brochures and expired health coupons, or is the graffiti in the restroom stall once again nothing more than cruel and jealous conjecture?
CHARLES: It’s worse than even that, old man. I can’t so much as stay the night, because the half of the bed where the man would go is covered in “things that need to be ironed,” some shopping bags she’s never opened, a vacuum her mother in San Diego might be able to take and have fixed, and a basket of shoes that haven’t fit her since her sophomore year of high school.
CORNELIUS: Well, it’s not like she can stay over at your place. Zitty and Harris aren’t exactly candles, rose petals, and the opening lilt of Bolero.
CHARLES: Yes, but it’s not like I plan on keeping them indefinitely, in the way that she seems to ensnare virtually every physical object which crosses her path within her heart-strings. I tell you, the girl’s taken an enlarged sense of nostalgia and turned it into a permanent rummage sale that’s closed to the public.
CORNELIUS: Well, then. As you know, I have a bad track record with this sort of advice—
CHARLES: You mean, how you and Grant Berger can no longer simultaneously support Utilhall Downes, owing to the way you described his girlfriend—now fiancée—to him as, “an unabashed mustache with a frigid fanny in tow below”?
CORNELIUS: —Well, at my worst, I am all facts and no finesse, it may truthfully be said. I did enjoy Grant’s company, but the sight of that chilling witch’s barbed thumbs in his narrow chest—the barbs actually did point down and back from the sides of the thumbs—did truly serve to put me off him without reflection. More significantly, I miss the nights supporting the Downes boys. No other grounds ever put forth a finer grilled sausage and ale. And the baked potato! Do you remember it?
CHARLES: [Shakes his head] It doesn’t matter. The girl scares me. How could I ever have mother ’round to a home where every surface is covered in hare-brained “Tiki” equipment, unplayable vintage board games with catchy titles, or nests of wires that could be used to wire something one day?
CORNELIUS: Well, you can’t. I know your mother, and her jaw would set at the first stack of UP! Weekly in the foyer.
CHARLES: Exactly. I’ve got to let it peter out. She’s kind of a kick, but I sort of see her imagining a Collyer brother over my head whenever we make love. Sometimes both of them. You know how she likes clutter.
– – –
Do you know the Collyer brothers? They are our time’s archetypal case of hoarding. The sort of thing you read about in the Weekly World News, writ large. Unchecked men who died when their piles of busted baby carriages and Canoe Society journals finally collapsed upon them. (Well, one of them. The other one starved to death in his bathrobe.) To see them, or to think back upon Vicki, has inspired me to create this quick—but, I feel, rather informative—“Are You a Hoarder” questionnaire. Take it, and see if you don’t have a tendril or two of this psychosis gently slipping down into your own life.
1. You have a wooden chair. Lately, it has become a shambles of its former self, and is no longer usable (the back is delaminated from rain, and one of the legs has split in two). You lack the tools and funds to have it repaired. Do you:
a) Break it up for kindling
b) Place it at the curb
c) Keep it in the house, thereby protecting it from the unfeeling world for the rest of your lives together
2. There is a sale on a particularly horrid breakfast cereal at the supermarket. It is made of waxed acorn caps and features the entire roster of the United Nations General Assembly smiling on the box. Do you:
a) Ignore the product
b) Read the nutritional information, then place it back on the shelf
c) Buy it, because maybe you’ll make a friend, and if they came over, they might laugh about how funny of a thing it is
3. You are out for a walk, and you see a perfectly good used calendar sitting in a rubbish pile. The theme seems to be, “public domain pictures of vintage automobiles.” Do you:
a) Not habitually rifle through trash
b) Using a twig, lift a page or two to see if they’ve written anything juicy in it
c) Immediately snatch it up, with giddy dreams of the small bistro-type table to which you will one day lacquer a collage of the photographs
How did you do? If answers marked “c” in any way rent at your deeper recesses, you should probably go into your closet, find a shirt you haven’t worn in fifteen years (anything “Hawaiian” is a good place to start), and drop it straight into the kitchen trash. There. How did that feel? A little snag of remorse as it hit bottom? That feeling is your salvation. Come to know it, and embrace it, and recognize that it, like a burning muscle the day after a good run, is actually the feeling of healing.
Chris Onstad is the creator of Achewood.