Thursday, September 30, 2010

Let The Sun Shine

It's so nice to have my camera back. I've started making plans to document all of the work we'll be doing in the garage, down to spray-painting spots on the floor (or the gunk on the floor, anyway) to mark a consistent viewpoint from which to take all the before and after shots I plan on getting.

But first. This thing.

As promised (or threatened), I got some pictures of it. I'm almost at a loss for words, honestly, describing it. It's been there in the garage since I was a kid back in the 1970s, which is when I'm going to guess my Dad got it new (or newish), judging by, well, by it.

I just don't understand it.

Okay, I can see painting up your VW bus in rainbow hippie-colors, and gluing olive green shag carpet to the entire interior space, man, but, though it was the 70s, and though my Dad was an actual Volkswagen mechanic, he was also born in 1923 and the hippies, as far as I can tell, left no impression whatsoever on him (not, I suppose, that much of anything else did either, to be fair). So it's not like my Dad picked it for its style.

It must simply have been the cheapest one. I can almost imagine it sitting on a shelf in Sears in 1973. Almost. But then my brain kicks back in and I'm like, really? Really???

Because, really, why the fuck would anybody design a shop vac that looks like this?

Duuuude, check out the close up:

I mean it's just so damned Age of Aquarius (or at least the Dawning thereof). And I cannot in a million years fathom why my father would have chosen this particular shop vac. Unless someone he vaguely knew bought it whilst high, then the morning after was like Whoa, man. And then had to get it the Hell out of the house because it was just freakin' him out, man, and he thought, Hey that guy up the street will take it, won't he?

Tara has named it Mr. Sunshine.

The craziest thing about it? It still works.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Yard Tour

Okay, this one is going to be pretty picture-heavy.

I figured that it might be a good idea to post some pictures of the yard and buildings as they are right now. Just so that you all (and us all) have an idea of what we are talking about when we say that my father was a hoarder and we lived in a junkyard. So I walked around today with my newly returned camera and got loads of photos. The attics and cellar, while also full of stuff, will be for another time.

The crazy thing is that walking around I was like, Oh this isn't all that bad. Why I can see plenty of grass/floor! Which sounds like a good thing, but not with the way my hoarder-trained brain twisted it around. Because instead of thinking Oh! Look at the progress we've made so far!—because believe me the fact that you can even see that much grass or floor is the result of our cleaning efforts—instead my brain thought, What are you complaining about! It's not that bad, so shut up already, so many people have it worse! Et cetera. Well, at least I realize that's fucked-up, right? Grrrr.

So, okay, let's take a tour of my yard, shall we?

We'll start with the garage, since that's what we've been working on. Here's a panoramic shot, taken from a spot by the stairs to the garage attic. The bench we got cleared off is on the left; the white pipes and other things on there now are some of my stuff we put there to get it out of the way.

And another view, from over by the door to the breezeway:

This next one is a panorama of the shop, the building my father constructed when he ran out of room in the garage because of the hoarding:

And another view:

Then several of the yard in back of the shop:

And around to the shed, another outbuilding, one which was never finished. Starting with a panorama of the interior of the thing:

It's a little hard to see, as these panoramas are by necessity sort of condensed to fit, but over there on the extreme left, under what is otherwise a gorgeous lilac bush, is a pile of broken concrete blocks. These are another one of those things that I don't actually know how to get rid of. The dump doesn't want them, recycling won't pick them up, you can't put them in with the household trash. Who will take them? What do I do with them?

Ai yi. So now to the stuff around the shed:

And to one of the big messes of the yard, which I've got in my sights right now to go, the old woodpile which I'm quite sure is home to an entire civilization of carpenter ants. Well, I'm afraid the Antpocalypse is nigh, sisters:

And approaching the downstairs garage:

And the downstairs garage itself, again in panorama form:

Then to finish up, the downstairs breezeway:

It really is so much better than it used to be. And, I will admit, I am still somewhat ashamed to show these pictures. But only a little. My anger right now is greater. Anyway, you know what they say about the disinfectant properties of sunshine, right?

Let this be cleaned, and healed.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Empty Bookcase Pictures

Got my camera back today, so I've been able to get some after pictures finally, though of course I didn't get the befores, and I do apologize. I took these without the flash so some of them are fairly grainy and dark; I ran them through Photoshop but they really don't have to be perfect quality, do they. (I have to say though I am a little suspicious about the camera, even though it works perfectly fine now—when I sent my camera off it had a rather distinct dent in it which has somehow completely vanished; also I got it back with an old piece of masking tape covering the brand name on the front which was not something I put there. Yes, the serial number is the same, but then again it's only on a sticker, not engraved into the case or anything. Odd. But it works, so I'm not really complaining.)

So. Bookcases. In the last couple of weeks I believe I've made four runs to the dump to dispose of books. Behold the nearly empty living room bookcase (what's left are actually ones that are worth keeping):

And the one in the hallway by the phone (the excess and outdated phone books will go with the next batch of recycling). We finally have a space to put vases of flowers where the cat can't reach them (it is a cherished hobby of his to eat cut flowers, then throw them up):

A couple from the piano room. That empty space with the bench and the lamp is not only a space that is now devoid of books, it is also now devoid of the bookcase that was there:

And the last one, on the attic stairs. This is opposite the one that had held all those dusty Nazi books not too long ago:

That's a lot of books that have gone, and a lot of empty space, which honestly I'm not entirely sure what to do with now. But so many of them were musty moldy things, so they would have had to go anyway. I think I am going to wash down the interior of each of the cases that remain, then paint the insides, to seal off any residual mustiness. The attic stairs/hallway I think I'm going to paint entirely, in a color of my choosing, since both my bedroom and studio room are on that floor.

A coat of paint really does work wonders.

Adding It Up

I'm pretty sure there are several missing; but I managed to find eighteen receipts, for at least seventeen iron runs (one of the receipts was for a returned battery). Adding it all up it comes to 14,560 pounds of iron that we have removed from the property, about seven and a quarter tons, over a period of two and a half years. The earliest I found was dated March 14th '08. (And between March 14th and March 20th of that year we took seven loads of iron to the scrapyard.)

And like I said I think there are a few missing, so I'd guess it's really approaching ten tons. This is not counting cars, either.

Still, even if it's 'only' a little more than seven tons, that's a lot of iron. And there's still more!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Iron Run

Now about that iron. For a few years now we have been taking carloads full of iron to the local scrapyard, big stuff like huge cast iron machinist tools from the industrial revolution (you think I am kidding, don't you) that we had to take apart piece by piece before we could have any hope of moving them, medium stuff like transmissions, flywheels, and brake drums from cars as well as, seriously, random hunks of just plain iron, as well as small stuff like buckets and cans and old refrigerator drawers (one of my father's very favoritest things to save) full of rusty bolts. Basically, anything somewhat solid and magnetic. We've been using Larry (and before that Leo, and before him Harry) the Volvo station waggon(s), which when loaded full hold about half a ton of stuff; and I'd guess we've made, what, close to two dozen trips so far? We have the receipts and I could count them, but I think that's about right. Which means we have so far taken somewhere around ten or twelve tons of iron out of here. Holy fuck. And I swear there is always more.

We loaded up the back of the car again last night with iron to take today. Full up, and an even 1000 pounds, so the receipt tells us. Just about all of it came from the garage itself, though Tara did scout about in other places looking for obvious stuff. But most of it was from the garage. I am really quite surprised typing that out; I hadn't realized just how much it was, and it doesn't look like we took all that much stuff out of there. Here's a shot of the back of Larry:

And another of the poor thing from the side:

He is not, actually, overloaded, though he's just about at capacity, according to the numbers on the inside of the passenger door, anyway.

So. We filled that up last night, to take today, when the scrapyard opened.

After Tara went home, I asked my Mom an important question I probably should have asked her before we started filling Larry up: did she need the car today?

She did. Uh-oh.

She had an appointment, it turned out. She said she would call and postpone it, though. I said I didn't think it would really be too much of a problem to take the car if she were careful with it; it wasn't that far, after all. She still said she'd postpone it.

I woke today to the sound of a ramp trunk and the clink of metal being thrown in the driveway. I throw some clothes on and see Larry up on the back of the thing, with the ramp truck guy pulling iron out of the back to make it lighter so he could get it off his truck.

Turns out Mom did take the car; and, Mom being Mom, and, honestly, not always the brightest crayon in the box, she'd managed to hit a curb parking him, and destroyed the tire, necessitating his trip home on a ramp truck.

The thing is she's done this before. In fact she's done it before on the very same curb in front of the very same place she had her appointment (my father's nursing home, actually).

Ramp Truck Guy took it upon himself to tell me that I shouldn't be putting all that heavy heavy iron in the back of a Volvo station waggon and that that was what caused the tire to go flat, all, incidentally, in a tone of voice that told me he thought I was just A Stupid Female. I gave him a withering look.

I called Tara. About fifteen minutes later she was here and I swear by the time it took for me to get up and walk out the front door to the driveway she had already changed the tire and was all ready to go. She really is quite good at this car stuff, you know.

After some mutual grumbling about Our Dear Mother, we were finally off to the scrapyard, where we rolled onto the big scales and waited for them to buzz to tell us they'd recorded the car's weight, then we drove around back and unloaded it into one of the giant piles of metal while a guy sitting in a pinchy-hand picker-upper giant yellow crane tractor thingy ate his snack machine lunch of some Reese's peanut butter cups and a bag of Fritos. Poor bastard. But he was nice.

Then back to the scales, another buzz, then we parked by the office.

I don't know if any of you have ever been in a good-sized scrapyard, but this place really is a kind of post-apocalyptic world unto itself. The place has huge piles of different kinds of metal, light metal, heavy iron, aluminum, piles of old rusty oil tanks that had been blow-torched in half, crushed-up cubes of what had once been entire cars all stacked up like something out of Wall-E, and lots of rusty iron mud and heavy equipment.

But just there by the office door? Was one of the best-looking rose bushes I've ever seen, I assume a grandiflora, taller than Tara, with huge hot pink double flowers the size of sorbet bowls completely packed with petals, blooming like crazy in late September. There's a metaphor for you.

We left that place with a decent wad of cash, as the price of iron has gone up again. Not a bad thing, you know; since somehow there is always more of the stuff in this place.

Garage Work

Now, though the getting the yard clean is still my priority around here, Tara and I (mostly Tara, honestly) have also started working on the garage. The idea being that sometimes it rains, or it's, you know, night time and so it is a good idea to have a dehoarding project that can be done at those times too (especially given the cooler weather and shorter days now that's it's autumn, which will eventually turn into winter. As it does).

I have this scheme to convert the garage into a wood shop. Right now the woodworking tools of the house are scattered all over the place—in the breezeway, the cellar, and the downstairs breezeway. There's not really any room in the breezeway (which really ought to just be a breezeway anyway), and the cellar and downstairs breezeway are really not good places to store power tools as they are very damp and metal pretty much instantly converts to rust. The garage would be a perfect place for a wood shop though—there are a lot of windows in there (six altogether!) and with the two garage doors that can be opened there's plenty of room to maneuver long boards and such.

Of course though the garage is currently full of my father's stuff, a good deal of which are old Volkswagen engines, or old Volkswagen parts, or parts of old Volkswagen engines. There are also two cars in there, though neither of them are actually old Volkswagens—a Saab and an old Triumph. And as is typical of any space that may have once come into contact with a hoarder, it is of course piled high to the ceiling with god-knows-what in quite a few places, though like the rest of everything we've slowly been picking away at it over the years and have made some progress. But it's still, really, quite full of stuff.

I am still camera-less, though I have been informed it is already on its way back to me, fixed. Tara did get some befores and afters with her phone but I don't have access to them just now; instead, again, you will have to take my word for it that we have cleaned. Against the back wall of the garage is this giant wooden bench soaked with oil and grime, just like the hardwood floor, which is caked black with the stuff (the house is built into a hill, so there is a garage on one floor, then if you drive around back there is another beneath it). It runs pretty much the entire length of the garage, something like fifteen or twenty feet. It had been covered with all kinds of stuff—engine parts, cardboard Oilzum cans my dad had cut in half (so as to make two containers, how efficient and frugal!) filled with the usual nuts and bolts, oil-soaked boxes of junk, 'new' Volkswagen parts still in the box, pieces of a bed my father had saved for the angle iron, car seats, as well as more than a few completely unidentifiable things and various frightening oddities like the occasional bottle of oh I don't know muriatic acid.

We got that bench cleared off, for nearly the entire length of it. The very end is a bit hard to get to, as there are wooden chests full of stuff in front of it, but still, Tara got in there pretty well. She filled two forty-two gallon contractor bags just with trash, and then there was the recycling (boxes, cans, plastics) and the stuff put aside for an iron run, which will be another post, since that's a story all unto itself.

So we did pretty well in there, I think. Progress was interrupted for an hour or two when one Sir Isaac Mewton (who is an indoor cat only, and who is very very bad) managed to escape and we had to go out into the night looking for him with an open can of tuna, but still. There is noticeably more light in there, even though we have put some things (mostly my own stuff, which will legitimately live in there one day but for now needs to be out of the way) back on the bench. We swept up, and vacuumed with the weirdest-looking (but working) shop vac you'll ever see, and no I won't describe it just yet because you truly have to see it to believe it.

I don't know how I'll ever get that floor clean, though. The bench I could probably sand down a layer to get to clean wood, but the whole floor? That's a big job, probably one for the professionals. But if it's to be a wood shop it will have to be clean in there. Oh well. We'll worry about getting the floor visible, first.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Well aside from working on the garage with Tara last night (and hopefully she'll post about that, since she has some very nice pictures on her camera of the progress we made, hint hint), I've been continuing to chip away at the musty old book contingent here at the Best Little Hoardhouse in Massachusetts. I've gotten all the books save a single antique several-volume set of The History of Rome out of the piano room, and Tara even took the bookcase that was behind the piano (with Mom's permission) over to her house to use in her library. I'm itching to fix up that Steinway now, since there is now room to play the thing.

That was the last load. This week I took all the ones from the last remaining bookcase in the stairs/hallway to the attic (which tiny space has three built-in bookcases!), and then I started on the living room ones.

The first things to go were a very musty set of Encyclopædia Brittanicas from 1939. Now, I had held onto these things myself as the entries on mythology were actually quite comprehensive, and mythology (Classical at least) is one of those subjects that was fairly well established in even the nineteenth century. The interpretations may have changed, but we don't really know any more of the facts about it (unless new texts have turned up, which usually they haven't). Which isn't to say they weren't otherwise very outdated. Adolf Hitler had a long article in there, but mostly it just said that he is (present tense) the leader of Germany and We Have A Very Bad Feeling About Him. So, no, not very useful.

They were in a cabinet, which I opened while I was considering whether I should toss them too. As soon as I opened the door I started sneezing. That would be a yes. They went.

Other books to go were the interminably old and outdated Life Science Library, one of those Time-Life series that you used to be able to buy in the mail one at a time. This one, which was a few years older than I am (I was just about alive for both the moon landing and Woodstock) had such wonderful titles as Giant Molecules, The Mind, Health and Disease, Machines, and, the one I find particularly annoying as a feminist, Man and Space. That last one is by one Arthur C. Clarke, which, while it gave me a moment's pause, was not, after all, enough to save it from the dump.

Another series that went was the Life Nature Library. The pictures are mostly black and white, the writing is dated, and I can easily find better information and pictures online. Nowadays if I need a photo of a cheetah I can find a hundred in less than a minute. It is not, in fact, entirely unlikely that I won't find live streaming video of some adorable cheetah cubs frisking in a zoo somewhere. Even better.

There is one passage in that series, though, which I would like to remember. It's in the Africa volume, and the poetry of it surprised me very much when I came across it some years ago. I will write it down here, as a way of remembering it, much like taking a picture of something while getting rid of the thing itself, a very useful strategy for de-cluttering if one is worried one might miss the original thing.

The book is from 1964 and is by Archie Carr (who according to Wikipedia was most well known for his work on saving sea turtles). It is about that famous bird from Madagascar, the long-extinct dodo. He wrote:

The dodo was first seen by Europeans when the island was discovered in 1507. One hundred and seventy-four years later the last dodo died.... Because dodos were big, easily caught and fair eating, they attracted ships that were running short of victuals, which ships in those days always seemed to be doing....

Anyway, all that remains of the dodo is a lot of bones and a pitiful scrabble of other relics, which Greenway inventories thus:

"A great store of bones has been found in a marsh, the Mare-aux-Songes, in Mauritius, and these are in the British Museum, Paris, Leyden, Brussels, Darmstadt, Berlin, and New York. A head and foot are preserved in the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford University.... The British Museum possesses a foot, and there is a head in Copenhagen, and a small fragment in Prague." A small fragment in Prague. That really sounds pathetically extinct, doesn't it.

Zoographically speaking, the man-made losses in Madagascar and her neighbors represent one of the greatest, per acre, the world has known. To me, the devastation of these amazing islands would not seem quite so bad if we had only kept the dodo. The ruin of the dodo stands as a symbol of mindless destruction....[N]o extinction by human hands can match that of this gross, inept bird. The passenger pigeon was, after all, a pigeon, and the world is full of pigeons. The extinct Carolina parakeet has kin left in the world, and the ivory-billed woodpecker, in slightly different guise, still chops at Central American trees. But nowhere is there anything remotely like the dodo. It was a fantastically vulnerable species....

A craving for the impossible gratification of seeing, touching, or hefting the sheltered, innocent bulk of a dodo comes over me strongly in my more whimsied moments. I suspect it must come over every man with any time to think. I believe our descendants will have more time of that kind. I know they will have a lot more dodos than we have, to yearn to have been allowed to see.

Archie Carr died in 1987, and so did not live to see that we were wrong about the ivory-billed woodpecker.

And now I can put that book in the car with the rest of them.

What A Mess

Shall we talk now about hazardous chemicals?

One of the particular intersections between my father's mechanic trade and his hoarding ways was that some of the stuff he saved was, well, to be frank, some really nasty shit. Like chemicals from, oh, thirty or forty years ago, back in the day when stuff like DDT was considered harmless, and a sign of good old 'Merican progress.

Like the bottle of muriatic acid Tara found in the garage the other day.

For those of you unfamiliar with the stuff, it is (was) used in cleaning masonry, like, for example, if you put down some tiles, then squeegeed some grout over them, then needed something strong to get that grout off the surface of the tiles themselves. Or if you'd had, say, some salts or whatever leaching out of a brick wall that you needed to wire brush off. Nowadays though there are other, far less potent things that may be used, and muriatic acid is generally frowned upon, or considered a last resort kind of thing. It is also used in etching, meaning, it eats through metal.

It does not eat through plastic, though, which is why the bottle we came across in the garage was made of it. And judging by the typeface and design on the bottle, it looked to have been from the mid-60s or so.

So. We've got a particularly nasty and caustic (don't ask what that stuff will do to your skin) chemical stored in a decades-old plastic bottle. What could possibly go wrong?

I'm not exactly sure what happened. I don't know if Tara just picked the thing up wrong, or bumped the inevitably quite brittle bottle with something or what, but next thing I know Tara is like OMG!! The muriatic acid is leaking all over the place!!!


So I ran off to get a bucket.

When I got back she had managed to divert it into the only container handy, a plastic jug that had once held cat litter. The only problem being that said jug also was half-full of old filthy waste oil.

Which created another problem, but we'll get back to that.

In the mean time I went into the house to look up what to do. And really, Goddess bless the internet and Google, because within a minute I knew that the solution was to pour a bunch of baking soda on the stuff. Logical, and kind of obvious, if you've ever made one of those vinegar + baking soda 'volcano' science projects, but not something I ever would have figured out on my own. Or at least not in a timely fashion, which was, oh I don't know, kind of important.

So I ran down to the kitchen and grabbed some boxes of baking soda; I came back up to the garage and started pouring the stuff on the spills, on the workbench, the floor, the stuff on the workbench, the stuff on the floor, &c. They hissed and foamed and then became a harmless salt. Which is a nice bit of work, really.

But back to that other problem. The internet informs me that the proper way to dispose of muriatic acid is to put a gallon of water in a bucket (preferably a big bucket, like a five gallon one), then mix a few cups of baking soda or lime (also a base) into it. Then, very slowly and very carefully, pour the acid into the water, not the water into the acid. ALWAYS THE ACID INTO THE WATER. VERY IMPORTANT. Because water and acid create a chemical reaction, and if the water is on top, the acid can sort of, well, explode out and spatter everywhere, since it's trapped under the water. I do believe that is what one might reasonably call not a good scenario.

The problem, of course, was that the muriatic acid was now mixed with a bunch of nasty disgusting waste oil. Which, luckily, had not itself reacted with the acid; but it was rather a mess. And I was out of baking soda, having used up all three of the boxes we had in the house.

So I ran to the supermarket, where I discovered you can actually buy the stuff in four pound boxes. Alleluia.

When I got back I put the water and baking soda in a bucket, and Tara poured the oil/acid mix into it. Not nearly slowly enough, of course, as it bubbled and hissed and then foamed up and over the rim of the bucket. Ai, yuck.

But eventually it stopped foaming, though given the relative densities of the three elements, which want to form into layers, we had to stir it a bit.

What a mess.

It's still sitting there today (this was all last night) in those buckets; hopefully we can pour out the oil, which should have settled down by now into a layer on top. But I'm not sure how separate it's going to be. In theory, water plus baking soda plus the acid becomes harmless and can be poured down a storm drain or the sink into a septic system; but I don't know that we'll get all the oil out. I guess it will probably just all end up going in the waste oil bin at the dump (recycling center); after all there's plenty of other gunk in it too that I assume they will know how to filter out, and the acid itself has been made harmless.

Still, a mess.

Thanks Dad!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Save Yourselves!!!

Came across this little picture today whilst surfing and let out a scream! It's not just me! This is irrefutable proof that National Geographics are evil! Evil evil EVIL!! See how they menace nearly the entire state of Ohio and parts of Michigan and Ontario too!?!?!

Run for your lives, Ohio and Michigan and Ontario!

Well we did our part yesterday. Tara took another several piles of the things, which had been in the upstairs garage, home with her to sort and/or toss. We also went through some books in the garage proper, which are loaded up again in the back of Larry, and which hopefully tomorrow I will be able to drop off at the dump, er, recycling center. Tara took before-and-after shots with her phone, since I don't have a camera. Boy it sure would be nice to see some pictures, wouldn't it? (Hint, hint, hint.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Gone Gone Gone

Well yesterday and today I started attacking some of my father's books that were still sitting in various bookshelves about the house. Now, I like books, quite a lot, but they have to be good books: ones that actually have some value to them. I mean, I know that is subjective, but they have to have either good pictures, up-to-date information, or good scholarship. The books my dad hoarded? Popular accounts of heroes from the 1930s, semi-sensational war tales, guides to mills of the Hudson River with just a scattering of small black and white pictures inside them, how-to books on taking good photos with few pictures in them (right, don't ask me how that works)—all this popular superficial stuff that was trash when it was new.

So last night I gathered them all up, from the remaining shelves in the piano room, and from the bookcase in the front hall over the phone. I threw them into the back of Larry the Volvo, where they sat a couple layers deep, and today I took them to the dump (sorry, recycling center). So much crap. As I was piling them in the swap shed I noticed that more than one of the books on Admiral Byrd (the famous Antarctic explorer) had Art Deco penguins on the covers; also, it came to me that 'Admiral Byrd and the Penguins' would be a fantastic name for a girl-band from the mid-60s. Or maybe a modern grrl-band, with a punk attitude and raucous sense of humor, preferably with a lead singer named Evelyn (Byrd's middle name, according to Wikipedia).

Anyhow they are now gone, though I am sniffling a bit again having handled them. And again, I apologize for the lack of before-and-after pictures, as I am still camera-less; I know how helpful they are, and, honestly, would love to see some myself. But they are gone now, and there are even more empty bookshelves.

I don't know what we are going to do with those empty bookshelves, though my mother has already claimed the one over the phone ('Go for it,' I told her). The ones by the piano were added in fairly recently, in response to his overflowing 'collection' of books; but they make it a tight fit around the piano. Now, the piano is in a bit of disrepair and isn't actually playable now, as one of the tuning pins sheared off and the dislocated string is affecting others; but I don't, actually, think it is a very difficult repair. And the thing is a Steinway grand, and otherwise a solid piece of work. I would love to be able to play it. Perhaps those bookshelves can just go themselves, and free up some space, since one does need a bit of room to play a piano.

All those crap books, though, got me thinking.

When my father was here he would sit and read those books on a regular basis. I don't for a moment think he read all of them, of course; I doubt there is enough time in a human lifetime. He had a lot of books.

I can't see that it ever made a difference, though. Let me explain.

When I read a book I am changed. I learn something. I acquire knowledge, or wisdom, or a new way of looking at the world; even if I disagree with what is said inside it, it makes me think. Even novels of a fluffy sort (though I tend not to read too many of those) alter me at least a little. But with my dad? As far as I could ever tell it just didn't. He read all the time, yet he learned nothing. He had all these books on, say, Charles Lindbergh, yet I never once heard him talk about him with any kind of expertise. You would think something would get in there. Well, if it did, it certainly never came out again.

Which isn't to say he wouldn't talk about these things. Oh he'd talk your ear off if given the chance—just it was always the same things, either the same stories of experiences you'd heard a hundred times already, or something very general about something he was interested in. If you asked him about, say, the Nazis, about whom he had many many books, on them and on WWII in general, he would just shake his head and say, 'They were very bad people.' I used to think it was because they were just so horrible he didn't want to go into detail, but now I don't know. I am realizing this makes him sound very, I don't know, slow, or something; but I wouldn't say he was. At least I always thought him fairly intelligent.

But he just couldn't change.

Nowadays, he is in a nursing home up the street. My mother brings him his Aviation magazine, and he sits there with his reading glasses on, and she flips the pages for him. From the outside it certainly looks like he is reading. But he isn't, and I know he cannot be, since after the stroke there is little left of his brain, and even before the stroke he was beginning to suffer some dementia.

Strange how so much of him was just a pattern. I don't think he has changed all that much.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


They went away! I can breathe easier now. I don't mean that metaphorically, either.

Today Tara took most of the National Geographics away to her house, to see about integrating them with her own collection. I personally think that's crazy, but, well, that's her business (and her house). My mother took the remaining three piles of duplicates out to her art studio, where they can sit on a shelf out there for years if she likes, since that is her space and it does not affect me, unlike the house. At any rate they are no longer in here, sitting around being dusty and moldy and contributing to the allergies I 'mysteriously' developed a couple years ago.

I'm sorry I didn't get any before and after shots; my camera is rather on the fritz. Lately it's been taking pictures that look like this:

As you can see, not very helpful. (Luckily it's a known problem with one of the chips in it, and the maker will repair it for free, though it's long since out of warranty. They even sent me a pre-paid UPS label to put on it, so I don't have to pay postage.) You'll just have to take my word for it that there is now an empty space on the living room floor, an empty spot on top of one of the bookcases in the living room, and three large empty shelves in one of the bookcases in the piano room.

And I already know, despite my worries about what to do with them, that I won't miss them for an instant.

Now on to the actual books.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Yellow Nemesis

I don't know why I should hate them so. They've never really done anything to me. And they are (potentially) more interesting, certainly, than the piles and piles and piles of crap books my father hoarded—books on WWII, the Nazis, airplanes, trains, Lindburgh, photography, &c. which are still safely inhabiting the bookshelves of the house.

And yet, just knowing they were there, obliviously sunny in their happy shiny bright yellow, well, it was like they were mocking me.

So, even though I still don't know what I plan to do with them, and even though my mother is probably going to fight it, tonight I gathered up all the National Geographics I could immediately lay my hands on, and dumped the lot in the middle of the living room floor. Though I pulled them from the hallway, piano room, and living room bookcases (and floor), alas, that's not all of them, for I'm almost positive there is also a substantial cache of the damned things in the upstairs garage.

Then I put on some prog-rock as soundtrack, plunked myself down on the floor, and started sorting.

I made a rule, first, though: absolutely no reading them. I don't know, honestly, if I have some of the hoarding gene myself. I do know that I get easily distracted and overwhelmed when cleaning and attempting to sort things; but this could equally be the fault of growing up in a hoarding house and being taught that you absolutely must go through everything in excruciating detail before you are allowed to throw anything away (in the hopes, of course, that the job will be as lengthy and aggravating, and therefore as inefficient, as possible, with the end result being that the least amount of stuff is thrown away), or, it could be that I am simply a very visual person by nature (I am an artist, after all). So, I made myself not look at them, except to check the dates.

I sorted them into piles by decade. The 2000s, the 1990s, the 1980s, the 1970s, the 1960s, and to my surprise, the 1950s. After a few minutes of sorting, though, I added, unbelievably, the 1940s pile. When my mother came by a little while later I showed her the piles, expressing my surprise at the ones from the '50s and '40s. She said, "But they're still good!" and my heart just sank. There are few things a child of a hoarder hates to hear more than the phrase "It's GOOD!" Trust me on that one.

Eventually I had weeded out all the duplicates, rather more than I had thought there were going to be. And I'd found out that there were still plenty missing. It's far from a complete set, though there are certainly lots of them.

Five hundred and fourteen of them, to be exact, assuming my math is correct.

Holy fuck.

When my mother came through again I showed her the three tall stacks of duplicates. "Oh," she said, "I can cut them up then." And she made to grab them, to put in her room.

Now, my mother is not the hoarder; however, we've all been trained to it by years of living with my father. None of us, really, have any idea what is normal. We are, I'm quite sure, exponentially more trigger-happy than my father was when it comes to throwing things away, but who's to say that our standards still aren't skewed towards hoarding? So I don't know.

I managed to shoo her away from them, by telling her, "NO" quite sternly.

But I don't know. When I was done sorting them, I did look through one, one that had an article on the Minoans. Now, I'm a big ancient history buff and have been on a Minoan kick lately; I have several books on them. But this article had good and unusual photos in it, ones I didn't have in any of my books (like some of the little house facade tiles from Knossos, of which I've only seen drawings in Evans's The Palace of Minos, Crete), or which I didn't have that clearly or that big (like the pictures of the Theran miniature ship-frescoes). There was another that had an article specifically on the excavation at Aphrodisias in Turkey, which is not really something you are going to find, in that detail, in any book. And I wondered if it was worth it to go through them and cut out the articles I actually might use.

Now I know that there is plenty available on the internet. I am also lucky in that I have access to JSTOR (the academic journal database); but that tends to not have a lot of pictures. I just don't know if it's worth it, to go through all that trouble. But it might be.

In some ways this whole process is like a microcosm of the issues I face in dealing with this house and the hoarding. What is valuable? What has worth? What is more important, the things or my time and energy?

Although, there is also this: I am sniffling and sneezing now. Not only were they dusty old things, but they were a bit moldy, too, that sort of dry but sticky mold that in this house is just taken as normal for books. I had to wash my hands repeatedly, and remember to under no circumstances touch my eyes as I was sorting. I plan on taking a bath, at least to rinse off, before I go to bed. For that reason alone they should probably all just go.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Hard Enough

Yesterday and today I did a little cleaning of my own. I am in the process of converting my parents' old attic bedroom into an art studio/sewing room for myself, my bedroom being the other attic bedroom (there are two main rooms in the attic, as it's the usual old central-chimney New England colonial layout). Years ago, when I first moved out, my parents took what had been my childhood bedroom for their own. Which was, and is, fine, as it's on the first floor and meant at the time that my father (who was beginning to have some mobility issues) wouldn't have to climb so many stairs.

So in moving stuff into my new studio I've started going through some old stuff of my own in one of the attic closets, stuff that's been there only (and yes, in this house it really is 'only') ten years or so.

But I ran into a problem.

It has gotten more and more difficult to throw things away. I don't mean that in a personal pattern sort of way, either, as if the lessons my father taught me about how it's ALL GOOD and must always always be saved have been gaining some kind of ground in me of late. No, I mean it is actually more difficult to get rid of things these days.

Used to be, you just threw everything in a bag and brought it to the dump. Everything. Not now.

These days everything is recycled. Everything has to be sorted first, per order of the town. My town, in fact, just made it a requirement that everything you are to throw away must be in the official town bags, which cost $1.25 (for a small) or $2.50 (for a large) a pop.

I mean I get it. I consider myself an environmentalist, certainly, and, have, for example, committed to growing my garden organically. (Though I am also of the Derrick Jensen school of thought, and believe the focus on individual recycling is a red herring that lets the corporations—who do upwards of 90% of the polluting and environmental damage—off the hook while simultaneously passing all the blame on to the rest of us.) But they just don't think, sometimes, about the effects things like this have.

You could argue that everyone has to do it, and so that's fair. Right?

Ha. First of all there's this little thing about economic disparity. For poor people, that $1.25 a bag is a significantly larger proportion of their income than it is for non-poor people. That argument, I do believe, is what we in the activist community call coming from a position of privilege. So right off the bat, um no.

Now, for those of us who are poor (hello! I'd like to introduce myself) and who are cleaning up after a hoarder (which action the town has been on our backs about for years), this is actually not insignificant. It makes an already difficult job that much more so.

One might also argue that, well, this will train people to just use less. The less you use, the less you have to throw away, right? If you have to buy a lot of bags it's your own fault.

Which handily bypasses the bit about how the hoarded mess is not my fault. It is, in fact, no one's fault but that of the man in the nursing home down the street, who is now 87 and doesn't remember anyone's name. But it has to be cleaned, and so it falls on myself, and my sister, and my mother to clean up after him. People, incidentally, one could argue are the victims of his hoarding behavior. And remember, this is literally forty years worth of junk, some of it huge, impossible, and bewildering. Remember that giant horrible rubber life raft? How many little town bags would that have taken? At $1.25 a pop? You're telling me it's going to actually cost me money to clean up after the bastard who perpetuated this neglect and abuse on me?

Then there's the recycling itself. What prompted this post was finding a box of my old medications, stuff like cough medicine, aspirin, and supplements as well as some old prescriptions. I must have just shoved everything in a box when I moved, and then not touched it. Yesterday I looked into that box, incidentally filled with the leavings of mice, as it had been in the mousey old attic closet, and nearly despaired. Because the way the town has set up the rules, I cannot just pitch the whole damned thing into a bag. I had to go through it all, and make decisions about each little bottle, each individual thing, and then figure out what was the proper thing to do with it. I had to separate glass bottles from their plastic caps (non-recyclable, since they had no number on them), then empty and in some cases wash the bottles out before I could do anything with them.

Those of you familiar with hoarders may recognize this. It's remarkably similar in practice to any of the million excuses hoarders have for not throwing things away. Because they simply cannot do it, their brains come up with all these impossible conditions that must be fulfilled, like in a fairy tale where Our Heroine must first separate out all the dust from a huge mound of poppy seeds. If you try to throw something away that belongs to a hoarder (and it ALL belongs to the hoarder), they will tell you, NO, you must do this impossible task first. And when you do that? NO, you must also do this impossible task. And if you do that? NO! again, and on, and on and on and on. Because if it's impossible, it can't be done, and then their stuff doesn't get thrown away, which in a hoarder's mind cannot be borne.

So I am not surprised that I looked into that box and felt a paralyzing despair. It's already hard enough. It has always been hard enough. It has always been deliberately designed to be hard for us.

I mean I did it, though I had to put it off until the next day. I am capable of doing it, I know. But it's already hard enough just as it is.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


My father's hoarding was not of course merely confined to the yard. Sure, the yard is probably the worst (as hoarded junk cars sure do take up a lot of space); but that doesn't mean the house itself escaped, oh ho no. It was all his to fill up, by rights, after all. The rest of us didn't have any right to the space at all, in his personality-disordered brain. Any room we claimed we had to fight for.

He's not here now, and hasn't been here for more than four years; still, though we've made plenty of progress cleaning up inside the house, there are still things that either slip under the radar (because we are just so used to looking at them) or things we just haven't had the energy (emotional, mental, or physical) to deal with. This is one of those things.

Now, I am not myself a hoarder, though neither am I a neat freak (oh no not by any stretch of the imagination! Honestly, my tastes run to detail, color, and richness of a Victorian sort); but here's a problem I'm not sure how to solve. Or not sure, anyway, which to choose among the many options available.

This is the problem:

As you can see, it's that favorite magazine of hoarders, the one so seductively laid out with articles of genuine value and unique information, usually with stunning pictures to go along with it, the magazine so worthy of saving that even non-hoarders hoard the damned things: the infamous National Geographic.

I think part of its allure is that it didn't used to be available on the newsstand; back in the day you could only get it through subscription. This, I think, has added to its mystique, or its exclusivity, or the feeling that these magazines (and by extension, you, the subscriber) are special. And, I guess, part of my confusion over what to do with them is in large part due to this special mystique. They aren't just any magazines.

But. That's a lot of them, pretty pictures or no (the cases alone hold a good nine years worth!); but I don't know what to do with them, and this worries me a bit. Has my natural, Gods-given, inborn, birthright ability to throw things away been so crippled by living with a hoarder for several decades that I can't even face it? Can I be fixed? I don't know. Because when I look at them, my mouth hangs open and my eyes glaze over.

Pull yourself together, woman! (Insert movie slap-across-the-face to snap me out of it here!)

All right. Let's try to define down some options. I could:

1. Keep them all and leave them just where they are (that's three separate stashes, two in the living room, and one the piano room); this is the option of denial. Easy, and seductive, and oh-so-familiar.

2. I could sort through them and figure out which ones are duplicates, then just keep one set (rather a long process that I'm not sure I have the patience for), after which I could:
2a. Throw the extras out (satisfying, but guilt-inducing)
2b. Donate the things to Goodwill (nice, but kind of a pain in the ass, and all it does is enable some other hoarder)
2c. Let Tara pick through them and see if she's got any gaps in her collection she'd like to fill (sounds nice but it'll take her a while to get to it and I want a solution NOW)
2d. Keep the extras and use for collage (which sounds like finding a use for them; however, do I really want them? And, isn't it sacrilege to cut them up?)

3. Or I could burn them burn burn burn!! them all! ALL!!! Mwwahahahahaha!!!

(You will note I have never claimed I wasn't crazy myself.)

I just don't know what to do. What is reasonable, and what is hoarding? I don't honestly know what that looks like. Any ideas?

Goodbye Rusty Sven

It's Rusty Jones time! And you know what that means, don't you, boys and girls? That's right, another one of those old rusty cars has left the property, leaving a lovely empty space behind. Ahhh, empty spaces.

This time, however, was a little different. Now I won't say this car wasn't a rusty pile of rust; however, this one was not so far gone that it had to be hauled out in pieces, nor did it have to be towed away. This old Saab (named Sven, and no, I'm not making that up), in fact, was actually driven out of the yard.

After some futzing with a clutch line that didn't want to bleed, Tara actually got the thing drivable. Or, drivable enough to take it over to her place, where she can then fix it up or do whatever she likes with the thing. The salient point being, from the point of view of this yard, that it is not here.

Behold! Here it is in the side yard (which is the sort of 'on deck' location, where cars pulled out from wherever they were originally hang out before they can be hauled away for good):

And here is Sven being driven away (you can tell it's an action shot because it's blurry):

And the lovely empty space left behind in the side yard (well, empty save for, what is that, an empty milk bottle? which has since been cleaned up):

Now, okay, fair enough, those before and afters are not quite indicative of the real state of the yard, as it's really the 'on deck' spot being filled and emptied repeatedly; however, here is a shot of the spot where it was. I'm afraid I didn't get a before of this one, but as you can see two cars have recently been pulled out from behind the fence, one of which was this green Saab (the other is still waiting in the side yard to be hauled off itself).

Yes, there are still another four Saabs sitting there, tangled in the jewelweed and goldenrod; but progress is progress.