I sit here staring at two big boxes of books. Books I’ve toted around for more than a decade, from province to province and house to house. Damn, books are heavy. Time to lose some paper weight.
What was I thinking? Look at these titles. Criminals, Idiots, Women and Minors: Victorian Writing by Women on Women. What. The. Hell. And this one, The Norton Anthology of African American Literature.
This is not a book. It’s a 2,600-page door-stop for a castle. A memento of a second-year English class at Dalhousie University. Why’d I keep it? Hmmm. To fondly remember the sculpted professor who looked more like a buff basketball star than a literature buff? (He’d recite Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech in class, and I’d be thinking the exact same thing.) For emergencies? One never knows when one might find oneself in dire need of some post-abolitionary haiku.
The husband calls me a hoarder. (Better than whore, I suppose.) This, from a guy who kept the bloody tissues from the day his dog got ran over. (RIP, Spook Murphy.) This, from a guy whose prized possession is his collection of over 200 beer bottles which lovingly adorn the walls of our basement. There are brown bottles in the background of all the photos from Max’s birthday party. If you ever thought I was a control freak, now you know how very wrong you are.
I’m a packrat. But some things are simply not trash. These books, for example. You can’t throw a book in the garbage. That’s just WRONG. To innovate on my mother’s go-to guilt-inducer when I was a child: Tsk tsk. All those children in Ethiopia with nothing to [read]… shockin’.
Besides, no matter how awesome the iBook, Kindle and Kobo are, there is just something irreplaceably cool about a book of the paper kind.
But for many of these volumes, The End has come. As much as I love the mildewy smell of their yellowing pages, they take up too much room in my life. And by life I mean basement. Besides, just because you OWN a book does not mean you’ve read it. It’s not like I can proudly stack them all on a shelf and wear a cigar jacket while I tell visitors how sophisticated and well-read I am. Yes, I confess – I am a writer who doesn’t read much beyond the cereal box. (That’s an exaggeration, but you get my point. I don’t even really like cereal.)
Most of these books are dad’s. Books I meant to read but never did because I was too busy seeking the right mousse for curly hair and boys who liked girls with big, orange afros. (Check back later and there’ll be a picture here of said afro. You know you wanna.)
I didn’t even read half the books on the reading lists of my Honours English classes. They were too big! (Be quiet, husband.) I will name my second child after he who helped me graduate. First name Cole, second name Notes. In my defense, who the f*ck has time to read Vanity Fair (fattest novel ever) in two days when you’re partying five days a week because God is telling you to? Exactly.
Bye-bye, books. Some will wind up at used bookstores, some will go to teacher friends, and others to coworkers who amazingly appreciate a book in the hand while an iPad sits idly by.
I will, however, keep a few books with a particular autograph on the inside cover. I open up a 65-cent copy of Hamlet and read:
It takes everything in my being to refrain from dialing this number.
A paperback survivor from the sixties, when dad studied English and Shakespeare and poetry and philosophy and cute girls at Memorial University. This book is a little piece of history, from what was surely one of the best times of his life. The very fact that he penned his name right here on this page I hold in my hand, before marriage and kids and responsibility and cancer were ever in his vocabulary… there is something profound about that. There is the ink. Still bright. Still there. Never fading. A metaphor if I ever heard one.
I will keep this book, and a few others. The husband can turn to page 69 and kiss my ass. Love you, honey. Beer bottles and all.
But the other shit I’ve collected over the years… it’s time to let go. I had a yard sale a few weeks back. It’s unbelievable what people will buy from you. One kid bought my Jeopardy board game, circa 1989. You know it’s old because Alex Trebek’s moustache is thick and black.
One lady bought a rusty pot for ten cents. I don’t even know what to say about that. She was also looking for an electric can opener for her son who just got his own apartment. I asked her – why an electric one? She said – because he is too lazy to turn the handle on the manual one. Wow. Our future is in excellent hands, folks. (But don’t expect them to actually USE those hands, except to jerk off all over our hopes and dreams for the future of the universe.)
I sold a big, pine box (not a casket) I built in grade nine industrial arts class. On the outside it looked decent – well-made, with a boy and girl carved into the top. But when you opened the lid, BOOM, it hit you in the face: VICKI 1993, scrawled on the inside of the lid in bright, red paint. I joked that I should have put a piece of sandpaper inside as a hint that this paint could come off; your name didn’t have to be Vicki to enjoy this exquisite box of awesomesauce.
No need. Just as I was packing away all the unsold crap, a young man pulled up in his car inquiring about kids stuff. I directed him to a box full of kiddy crap, with my wooden work of art sitting on top of the pile. He grabbed the pine box, said his little girl would love it, and asked me how much I wanted for it. With my aunt- and mother-in-law snickering in the background because I had exclaimed “He wants my box!”, I said “a buck.” He threw me a loonie and left with a handful of VICKI 1993. All you need is a handful.
Yard sales are nightmarish. At least Max helped by cleaning up and spreading some pre-Christmas cheer.
Hey, it was $300 in my pocket that would have gone to the Salvation Army, and don’t they have enough musical instruments already? Sheesh.
I admit, I like to hold onto some things. Hard to shake the teenage girl off completely. In high school, we kept everything, didn’t we? The REO Speedwagon sticker out of a Hostess potato chip bag because you were eating those chips when you met the first guy who ever touched your boobs. The beer label off a bottle of Red Dog that a really hot guy gave you because everyone knows what that label really means.
God teenagers are f*cked up. And I was one of them. No worries, all that crap is gone now. Except for maybe most of it. Stay away from that chest in my bedroom, mom!!!
My husband says I’m a packrat. But he doesn’t realize – the reason I have a lot of crap is because I left home when I was 18. Not much choice there, b’ys, if you want to do something more than work at the gas station or fish with your uncle. No offense to all ye who work at the gas station or fish with your uncle. I enjoy gas, as well as fish. Thank you.
So, from age 18 until the time I bought my house at 23, I was steadily accumulating things. Those five years were prime crap-collecting years for me, unlike my husband who lived with his parents until he met me. (When he moved in, he was standing on the front step with a brown paper bag full of socks.)
In my young adult poverty, I collected things from anyone who’d offer. Sure, I’ll take that old toilet seat off your hands; it could be a table with a hole in the middle. A doughnut table – innovative! Mom and dad replenished my bank account regularly (God bless them), but I couldn’t use that money for furniture and home décor. That was beer money! And what was left over was money for a new slutty shirt to wear to the Liquordome on Wednesday night. Yes, I said Wednesday.
As you move from piss poor to financial mediocrity you start to shed the crap and replace it with things of quality. Fewer, nicer things. But it’s a phasing out process. I’m still working on it. Obviously.
Here I am in the sweatshirt dad spilled tea on once as he tried to squeeze around me at the dinner table. It’s cute, right? A little bit of dirtbag, a little bit of Lady Macbeth: Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!
Call me a packrat, but this sweater, this stain, and this Hamlet, are not going anywhere.