Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Here's the thing: we learn what we are taught.

I don't really know how to clean. This is not to be wondered at, I suppose, given that I was never really taught it, growing up in this hoarder's house: it's difficult, after all, to get in the habit of hanging your clean clothes in the closet when all the closets are stuffed full of your father's shirts.

But it's not just that. Living here again in my childhood home, even though my hoarding father is no longer here, I find that there are things I won't clean. My own room, and my new studio room (which used to be the guest room), are one thing, and even though I'm truly just not a particularly neat person by nature, they stay reasonably clean—I get my laundry done and change the sheets regularly, I have been known to vacuum, that kind of thing. But when it comes to say, the living room, or the kitchen? I won't touch them.

I think it is because it is shared space. And what I was taught growing up was that shared space, though supposedly 'shared', wasn't. It always belonged to my father. Or, I suppose, my mother, as she vehemently fought for her own space to breathe in this house. But not mine. Never mine.

And so I feel it is just not my place to clean shared spaces. That, on some level, I don't actually have the right. You should see me in other people's, friend's, kitchens: I would never just get up and make myself some food, and I even hesitate to put a dirty dish in the sink or the dishwasher, though I know it is the polite thing to do. Because I don't live there, and the place is not mine.

And then I realized that underneath it all is fear. I am actually afraid to clean someone else's space. As odd as that sounds, it is true.

It makes sense. Hoarders not only tend to take over all the available space, they are famous for freaking out if anyone else touches their stuff. If anyone touched any of my dad's crap while he was there, well, there'd be absolute Hell to pay. You could argue until you were blue in the face, and all you'd get was stubbornness and screaming, with a big helping of invalidation to go with it, for he'd yell that it was HIS STUFF and no one had ANY RIGHT to touch it. It was HIS, and HE PAID FOR IT, so he could do what he wanted with it. Which extended to anything he paid for, by the way, including the food on the table and the clothes we children wore. No one else's needs were valid, never mind important.

Under these conditions, attempting to clean was the equivalent to starting a war.

Is it any wonder I am frightened of cleaning?

We learn what we are taught.

Plugging Away at the Cellar

Here's another thing we did today (besides getting rid of some tires), or, rather, here's something that Tara noodled away on while I watched (since I've been feeling a bit poorly lately): work on the cellar. It's really an ongoing project, and has been for years, but that's okay. Here's what the south end of the cellar looks like, and it is of course much cleaner than it used to be, O dear God trust me. (Tara the archivist may well have a picture of it when it was even more full of crap).

I mean right now you can actually walk through it. (Well, kind of.)

Poking around we found the usual sorts of crap—old (used, and rinsed out) paper coffee cups from Building #19 full of mis-matched screws, a can of knife handles without the blades, scary-looking wirey things that were once extension cords, rusty hinges, brackets, and pulley bits, cheap hacksaw blades still in the package, old saved fuses (we've had circuit breakers for years now), a tin of table saw blades labelled 'okay/dull', an old drill that made a fair amount of sparks whilst smelling of ozone, several really impressively rusty knives/potential murder weapons (if the stab wound doesn't kill you, the tetanus will in time), and stuff like this:

As you can see, however, it was labelled incorrectly, as it was in fact Chock full o' Bolts:

And then there were these. They'd almost be cool, in a vintagy sort of way, except for the fact that some of them have probably been sitting there since they were new. That, and who knows what carcinogenic-type chemicals, long since banned by the EPA, are in those cans and jars.

The Sterling Elastic Marine Seam Compound can was sticky when I picked it up. And what the Hel is 'parafin oil?'

The center bottom picture is (was) I think a couple of catalogs, though they are half-disintegrated with the damp and the rot. I suspect that if the guy on the white catalog cover were to encounter one of those hopped-up-on-Little-Yellow-Pills 1950s housewives who just LOVED! TO! CLEAN! it would be True Love. Don't you think?


Here's one of the things we did today: we got rid of (another) fifteen old rusty-rimmed mosquito-breeding tires. I'm not sure how many we've gotten rid of so far, but a few years ago we had a full gross of the things in the side yard to be picked up by the tire guys. That's right, one-hundred-and-forty-four of the damned things. And that was years ago now--since then we've made numerous additional trips to tire places, or the dump, and gotten rid of many, many, more. I'd guess easily another hundred.


Larry the Volvo all loaded up:

And the best photo of all: the beautiful beautiful after shot:


Where We Were, Part 2 -mid June 2010 - Life Raft from Underground

Easily the most useless thing that our dad brought home from the dump, a 15 foot rubber life raft from some sort of ship.

Behind the green once-Saab, under piles and piles of tires, was this "thing". A twisted mass of rubber and vinyl that had been employed as "ground cover" more than anything. I suspect dad thought he could use it to "cover something" or something like that.

It's impossible to tell what this thing was from the photos, and it had to be dragged out by chaining it to a car. Once out into the open yard, I laid it all flat and discovered it originally was about 15 feet long, with two layers of inflatable tubes, some sort of lights built into it, and divided into 3 sections. I think it also had some sort of flares attached to it on ropes, and all sorts of various directions and stuff. It was pretty old, as the lack of safety orange seemed to indicate.

Whatever it was originally for, it was now trash that was now nearly impossible to get rid of. It was partly under the root system of all sorts of horrible weeds and also very wet from the rainwater that had been basting inside the tires, now as a sauce in which a whole mosquito civilization had seen it's genesis. Utterly disgusting and useless (it was already full of holes 25 years ago), it had to be cut up into 4 manageable pieces and rolled up and put into 4 very large 40 gallon garbage bags.

Thankfully we were still on un-restricted garbage pick up (they have since changed over to buy-your-own town bags), and they picked it up no questions asked.. They were very heavy, to say the least.

Yet it still begs the question.. Why do we own this? Once again, he saved that?


Monday, June 28, 2010

Where We Were, Part 1 -mid June 2010

Truth be told, we should have started this blog 10 or 15 years ago, but alas the junk in the yard predates the internet. As big a project going through everything in the yard is, making sense of the thousands of pictures we have taken of the progress is a project in itself! So begins this series "Where We Were" - where we reach back in time to see what we already got rid of before Tetanus Burger came into being.

So let's work our way backwards, to see what went away earlier in June, 2010. Directly preceding the brown VW bus was this choice example of Swedish engineering.

It once was an early 1970's Saab 96. Some time between the early 1970's and now, it has become one with the earth, even so much so that a small tree had taken root on top of the car itself sprouting out from under the passenger side wiper arm. Nope, not through the car (as I've seen a lot of), but literally growing from the nourishing soil that had accumulated on the surface of the car!

This particular thing (which I really think you couldn't call a car anymore), had so deteriorated that I decided the best way to move it was to saws-all off the windshield pillars and try to wrangle it apart into two easier to move chunks. Even then the passenger door refused to unlatch and took another few days of wrestling with a crowbar to get it all apart. And even then the suspension in the front section was so attached to nothing, that the two tires would not point in the same direction.

The back half was easier to move, resembling a rickshaw more than anything at this point.

So we called around to places that would take this "car" away, and found it far more difficult than we had expected. Most places would not touch it since it had zero title or paperwork (and we had "owned" it so long without it ever being registered, and it was acquired during a period when you didn't need titles on cars more than 15 years old). In one telephone call I even argued with some idiot kid to told me that "without a title, how would we know it's not stolen", where he basically said that it must be stolen if it has no title! It's interesting that it's qualifies as "a car" to the town who wants you to clean up your yard, but not to the only people who can take it away.

Other places were not interested in it because it was so old, so rusty, or in two pieces, especially any of the advertised "Junk Cars removed for free" operations. Finally one junkyard agreed to take it, and even give us money for it! I then learned not to be quite so forward in the future with the condition of these said once-auto-mobiles (and since quite immobile).

Rather like the two fragments of the Titanic resting on the bottom of the ocean (no doubt in better shape than this car), the two sections waited for a few days until the junk man cometh! Thankfully they gave us some real money for it ($100 I think), which is absolutely amazing since I seem to remember that our dad bought it as a junk parts car back in like 1988 for $25. It goes to show you, things can appreciate with age, just not usefulness.

When the junkyard guy came by, he seemed a little disappointed that the iron content was so low (but percentage wise, probably more than a modern car, which has lots of plastic). To sweeten the deal we put the front half of the Saab on an old trailer, which was mostly iron.

But they were happy to take it away, and happy enough to take the Bus the next week, which we filled with fenders and other crap. In the case of the Saab, I made sure to take advantage of the 5 tires per car quota, and even tossed in a VW seat since one of the Saab seats was missing.

Yep, this car is stolen! Better call the cops on us! We're running a chop shop for $25 rusty cars. Right.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Auf Wiedersehen!

I can't get over how useful blogs are. Because yesterday I kept thinking about how I'd like to be able to put another blog post up here at Tetanus Burger. But I didn't have anything to show, really. So I went looking around the house for something to clean. Which, let me say, is deeply uncharacteristic of me. No, I'm not myself a hoarder, but neither am I exactly a neat freak. But I found a residual hoarding spot within the house that hadn't been hit, a bookcase full of my father's crappy WWII books. Including several volumes of Ballentine's History of WWII, which, checking Amazon, sell used for like $2, if you're lucky, and include a book written by one David Mason, who I could have sworn was the guitarist for Traffic. Anyway, out they went! Auf Wiedersehen, old dusty Nazi books!


It is such a wonderful feeling to throw things away.


Okay, I'm going to dive right in to what is arguably some of the nastiest stuff about growing up in a hoarder's house: the plumbing problems when I was growing up. Having bummed around with other children of hoarders recently I was shocked to find that plumbing problems were distressingly common. Because when something breaks in a hoarder's house, it does not get fixed. Either there is no money (an excuse, by the way, not necessarily a reality), or the hoarder can do it himself so won't let anyone else (but then never gets around to it, natch), or it's about some sort of mean-spirited control. All of the above, I think, in my father's case. At any rate it is rooted in the perverse perfectionism of the hoarder, or the person with OCPD; nothing can ever be done quite to the hoarder's standards, therefore nothing ever gets done.

First, let's make this clear, to myself, at least: it was not my fault. I was a child. The situation here was not, is not, and never will be a reflection on me or my character or worth as a person. It was humiliating, and embarrassing, and even sometimes physically dangerous, as well as something that was just not talked about. That kind of thing is so hard to bear, as a child, and as the adult who was that child (still is, in a lot of ways, unsurprisingly). But the bottom line is: it was not me. The responsibility lies entirely with my father. There was nothing, absolutely nothing I could have done to affect the situation. And trust me, I tried, even though I was a child.

Ugh. So. I will write as much of it as I can remember, here. As a purge, for my own health. Here goes:

When I was very young, young enough that the memory is a little hazy, the toilet didn't quite flush. At least I remembered that flushing the toilet was something the grown-ups did. I don't know quite what was wrong with the thing, but I'm pretty sure the grown-ups would periodically dump a pail of water in it to flush it. Which now of course makes me think it was something ridiculously simple—like a broken chain or the handle simply having come unattached. I wouldn't be surprised, you know.

There was supposed to be a toilet downstairs, too, in the crazy tiny little half-bath in the cellar; but that didn't get installed/working until I was out of college.

The faucets were spotty at best; I don't remember getting them all in working order till, honestly, I was in my thirties. The kitchen faucet, pretty much, did always work; but the bathtub, the upstairs bathroom sink, and the downstairs bathroom sink didn't, or only did so sporadically. If something leaked, my father just shut off the water to it. And then didn't fix it, and then, and this is key, wouldn't allow anyone else to fix it. On a couple of occasions when we got up the nerve to go against what he wanted, he would actually undo someone else's work.

There was no hot water here most of the time. (This automatically means that half the faucets didn't work, doesn't it?) There might have been when I was very young, but for pretty much all my school years there wasn't. Which meant:

That to get hot water for a bath it had to be heated on the stove and then brought upstairs (through several rooms) to the bathtub. When I was young I suppose my mother did it; but when I got to be a teenager I did it. Which means I was carrying pans of near to boiling water up a flight of stairs, through the piano room, through the living room, and through a hallway to the bathtub. And somehow (fear for my life, probably) I never spilled a drop. Even though the biggest (and so most useful one, as far as volume went) pan we had was some dump-picked thing with a broken handle, meaning on one side all I had to hold onto (with potholders) was the screw sticking out.

Someone somewhere along the line actually gave my father a water heater, a nice stainless steel number, which the original owner had had to get rid of since it was intended for a restaurant but didn't get the water quite hot enough to meet the board of health's standards for restaurant dish-washing. It was okay for a residential house, though, and so we got it. And then, of course, it sat there for years. There was always some reason for not installing it—the elements (it's an electric one) weren't quite the right size (and don't ask me how that worked, since as far as I know it was given him in working condition), or the entire house had to be re-plumbed before the thing could be installed. I remember great and incredibly frustrating arguments with my father where he absolutely insisted the pipes had to be done his way. They were copper, with brass fittings. But that was expensive and we didn't have the money. Or they had to be fitted together with the old-fashioned flare fittings, and they tended to leak, so he was the only one who could do it. Of course by that time the rest of the world had moved on to sweat-soldering copper pipes together, but my dad adamantly would not do that—what if he had to get into the pipe? Of course it's supposed to be a closed system and who the fuck needs to get into the pipes once it's all sealed off anyway?

The well tended to go dry in the summer, too. This is an old house—a 250-year old New England colonial, to be exact, and while it is itself a perfectly fine house, and quite excellently restored by, to give him credit, my father with the help from my grandfather, his father-in-law—the well is probably nearly as old as the house. If you look down it you can see it is not very deep, and is made of layers of stones set on top of each other, like the foundation of the house, and like the walls in the neighborhood. So it's quaint, I suppose. But often it was quite non-functional. We would go to the state forest up the street, where they had an artesian well, and fill milk bottles every few days in the summer.

And then there was the septic system. I am, frankly, embarrassed to talk about it because it was just so horrible. Like, puddle of horrible squishy stuff that no one wanted to acknowledge or deal with. Just mow around it. The grass around it was always really lush, of course, what with feeding on the raw sewage. And of course it smelled lovely, too. Only a very few select friends ever came over. Only one, for me.

I suppose this is a bit rambly, but it is what it is. Mainly it's about the absolute adamantine impossibility of my father, the amount of control he had over us, and the utter illogic of it all. There was no understanding it. He has always seemed to me to be completely opaque, and that one friend of mine, who was quite familiar with him, would get the same look of confusion and speechlessness I would when someone who didn't know him would ask us to describe him. Or it made no sense, at least, until I found out about OCPD, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder. I spent so much time as a kid and young adult trying to talk to him. I learned all his patterns, and all the ways of getting him to open up just a little, and somehow I had the patience of a saint; but in the end it did little good. Really, I could probably qualify as a diplomat with all that practice. I mean, if I actually had any patience left for it, which I don't.

As for the state of the house now: I still live here, with Mom, who, though she will deny it, is 83 and could use a hand; and it's now all in good working order. Well, the faucet in the kitchen is a bit drippy but that just needs a washer or something, and it's a refreshingly ordinary problem, all told. Otherwise, all the faucets are hooked up, both toilets work, there is a lovely (courtesy of Tara one Christmas) new faucet with one of those old-fashioned looking hand-held shower head attachments in the tub, we have city water so the well is no longer an issue, and several years back we actually qualified for a grant to get a whole new septic system installed. When they put it in the guy with the bucket loader just matter-of-factly filled in the old horrible wet spot, then drove over it. In about a minute in a half, with heavy equipment. Bless him.

And bless us, myself and my sister and my mother, for enduring all of this. It was not our fault.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bye Bye Bus!

Why hello there! Look who's here—our new mascot. What, he doesn't look familiar? You must not be of an age. Those of us who grew up in the 70s know exactly who this tow-headed cow-licked be-suspendered redhead with the pornstache is, and we also remember his catchy little jingle (sing it with me):

Hello Rusty Jones; goodbye rusty cars!

That last bit being our new motto round here.

So here is the rusty car that is scheduled to go goodbye! sometime tomorrow around noonish, Gods willing:

I believe it was once a VW bus, but don't quote me on that. Check out what's left of that groovy 70s brown and yellow paint job! You just know Rusty would've approved.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Why "Tetanus Burger"?

Well, why not?

Mainly since Thalia and I were brainstorming like crazy trying to find an appropriate name for this blog, and went through several good ideas that just didn't click. "Tetanus Burger" had us rolling around on the ground in laughter (until we cut ourselves on some rusty piece of rust embedded in the ground and had to stop).

Oh yes, some introductions are in order. I'm Tara, the other sibling of Thalia and Tara. And if there is anything resembling a "pro-hoarding voice", I'm probably as close as you will get to it. You see, growing up - I kind of liked some of the stuff, at least the mechanical things, and having a large collection of toys, bicycles. etc..

Of course, my slightly different opinion might have something to do with the fact that I don't to live there now, amongst all the crap. Or maybe I just have fond memories of my dad. And yeah, I sort of do like air-cooled VW's and interesting old cars in general.

However, there are many very important differences between my dad and myself. Or at least I hope so, since I think in reality many people would say some mild hoarding tendencies (that I hope get honed into a healthy "collecting" hobby, where you display your cool stuff and show it off to your friends).

One big difference is that I see the value in not having all that much stuff, so you can concentrate on the projects that you really want to do. And if these projects make you some extra money, or even get some of the stuff to someone who can have a better use for it, all the better.

Also, I enjoy getting rid of things. I love recycling, and I really love putting trash out on trash day. I get great satisfaction in clearing space, whether that's in the garage, or a new territory to mow in the yard that was previously overgrown with tires, or rusted solid engine blocks. Or whatever (and there really is "whatever" out there. We just unearthed a rotted old 15 foot long rubber life raft that had been a home for worms the last 25 years). "Oh god, why do we even own this thing?" is the mantra said over and over again.

But I digress...

It's almost inconceivable that we've spent about the last decade just getting rid of the stuff that is clearly and unquestionably trash. Things like tires (by my guess, over 300 - most on rusted out rims and totally bald) , 55 gallon drums of god knows what, beyond-restoration condition cars that were junk when our dad got them 20 years ago, lawnmowers, carpenter-ant-infested lumber, random size scraps of sheet rock, etc etc.. You will see them all in this blog, and weep!

Our dad would bring things home from the town dump, and then invent a use for them. And then forget about them. And there's some poetic irony there, somewhere- when you notice that there is stuff smoldering outdoors in the weather, and then deep inside the garage, untouched for 35 years, you uncover a cardboard box full of perfectly preserved baby food jars, with nothing in them. Or a random assortment of mismatched bureau drawers, completely full of nothing but air. Just taking up space. "Oh, that's a strong box that I can put things in" I imagine he would say. Yet he never put those things in them. There was never an organizational system for anything.

If only my dad collected things like Fabregé Eggs, or Civil War memorabilia, or Nazi gold bars, or anything with some actual value (and well, occasionally there's a thing or two that is valuable- we recently sold a broken early 1950's Porsche 356 radio for a couple hundred $, which ain't bad), but most of it is just crap. The guys at the TV show "American Pickers" would probably be very disappointed and go home in shame.

But really , the cool stuff could probably only fill up one room, not the two-story garage, or the two other garages built afterwards. Or the fenced in area years ago that held about 15 rusty VW's. Or all the attics of all the buildings filled with all sorts of stuff.

So yeah, "Tetanus Burger". Well, take two mosquito-breeding tires for the buns, perhaps a rusted out gas tank for the meat, some green carpet scraps that have been sitting outside for 40 years for the lettuce, a piece of garish 60's yellow linoleum for the cheese, and maybe some aluminum trim rings for the onions, and voila! Would you like a side order of termite-infested fence pickets as french fries? How bout a 55 gallon drum of parts cleaner to wash that down with? (or maybe a 55 gallon drum filled with broken glass).

So let the photos begin. Where to start? Perhaps we need to take the way-back machine back about 10 or 15 years to see this place at the height of it's clutter...


Monday, June 14, 2010

So Let's See

I suppose I should start off with some kind of overview of things, here. My father was a compulsive hoarder, born in 1923 and a child for the Great Depression. I say 'was', because, even though he is still alive, several years ago he had a stroke and now lives in a nursing home. He doesn't remember much. Perhaps that is just as well; he'd kill us if he could understand what we're doing to his 'stuff.'

My sister and I were born to either side of 1970; my father had, I think, already begun the hoarding before we were born. Although I, at least, am only just beginning to call it that, and recognize it as such: we just thought he was weird, or impossible, or hyper-controlling, or inscrutable or something. Nothing he did made any sense to me at all until I read about OCPD, Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder.

Unlike many hoarders' houses the inside of ours was mostly okay. I mean, sure, he piled newspapers and magazines everywhere, took over all the closets and stuffed them full to bursting with new shirts with the tags still on them bought for 19¢ at Building #19, and kept talking about building more bookcases to put his ever-growing collection of cheapo books in (some of which were ones libraries had thrown away); but, for the most part, the house was livable. Well, perhaps I should put that in quotes, 'livable'. Since plumbing, um, irregularities were de rigueur growing up. But that's a whole 'nother post.

I really think the inside of the house only stayed somewhat okay because our mother fought him tooth and nail to keep it 'livable'. There was a lot of screaming going on in here growing up. I shudder to think how bad he would have let it get if left to his own.

But the yard. Yikes.

He was a mechanic, you see, who worked on the type of car I of course hate most in the world now: air-cooled Volkswagens. Once upon a time he had been employed by a dealership, but somewhere in there (and I'm not sure what led to it; there are stories of him being fired from the dealership on Christmas Eve) he decided he was going to do it from his own garage.

And that is why he began, or that is all the excuse he needed to begin, to collect cars. Volkswagens mainly, of course, but sometimes that didn't matter; if cousin so-and-so was done with his crappy Datsun pickup truck, why that might be useful, right? And not just cars, either, but car parts--engines, transmissions, tires, hoods, doors, seats, axles, anything and everything car related he saved. And when he ran out of space in the garage, he built a shop. When he ran out of space in the shop and it was getting difficult to work, he started another outbuilding. And so then of course he also saved building materials--scraps of plywood, boards salvaged from other buildings, moulding, doors, windows, rolls of linoleum, cedar shingles, tin cans full of nails.

There was more, of course. But Rage is tapping on my shoulder, so I'll stop there.

He's been in that nursing home for four years now; and though we've been cleaning it all up, it's still slow going. For one thing, one does not clean up forty years worth of crap overnight. For another, it is very heavy emotional work which brings up all kinds of nasty memories and sets all kinds of negative 'tape loops' playing in the head.

We have done quite a lot already, understand. At one point I believe (and Tara would know better than I) there were eighty-eight cars on the property. It is down to twenty-five now. We have cleared out space and reclaimed land, had innumerable tires taken away, brought carload after carload of iron to the scrap yard, filled bags and bags and bags of the fifty-five gallon heavy-duty trash bags, and even rented (and filled) a dumpster once: and there is still more. Just the other day Tara moved a pile of hoods aside and discovered several more stacks of tires. We brought another twenty-four of the things to a tire place last week and by today's count there are still at least sixty left.

So then, this blog. I have made it a goal to get the yard clean by the end of the year, before 2011 rolls in. And this blog will be a way to keep track of it all and to help us see the progress we have, and will, make. Expect lots of before and after shots.

Also it will serve as a place to vent our homicidal impulses, if for instance we uncover yet another fucking milk crate full of cedar shingles and carpenter ants. Consider it a service to society.

Junk Mandala

Well here's one way to deal with it all: make art.

I put this one together last night from a picture I took of a bunch of rusty bolts, the same one I used for the repeating background. We have thrown away I'd guess thousands of these already, and I imagine there are still thousands more.