Recently I found a turntable in my attic. It was new in 1984, but hadn’t been used since 1988, when my amplifier began producing a penetrating buzz like that accompanying those radio disaster warnings: “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system!”
The amp and speakers were long ago consigned to electronics recycling. I sold the turntable online in this strange new era where audiophiles prefer vinyl to digital.
Once the turntable was gone, I began to wonder why I was keeping my vinyl LPs, which hadn’t been played in three decades. I catalogued them and discovered that I had 160 albums including vintage Beatles, Stones, Dylan, and The Doors; also The Ronettes, The Marvelettes, and Smokey Robinson. I also had obscure stuff like The Zombies and The Human Beinz, cool but never listened to.
I took the lot to the Princeton joint that buys old records and unloaded 110 items. I can’t retire on the proceeds, but now I have a bookshelf that neither gathers cobwebs nor exudes an aroma of mildew.
When I told an old friend (so old he’s an ancient Egyptian) about this mass divestment, he suggested that I must be preparing to move on to the next world, that being the only explanation for getting rid of my worldly possessions. True to his identity, he had made arrangements for an appropriate interment by acquiring a modest pyramid where he expected to be ensconced along with all his worldly possessions, including his cat and dog, both of which he’d already had mummified.
Having begun the divestment process, I began looking around to see what other detritus was occupying space unnecessarily. Beginning in the subterranean portion of my house, I discovered five quarter-filled cans of dried out linen-white paint. Out they went along with a fish tank that years ago housed two robust eight-year-old goldfish until a friend volunteered to babysit (fish sit?) them for a week, put the tank in a sunny summer window and boiled the fish.
On the main floor, I addressed presumable valuables. My stamp collection, begun at age six, had lost value rather than appreciated. I had been saving mint sheets of U.S. postage guaranteed to make my fortune. Then, I found out that my accountant was buying up sheets just like mine at estate sales at below face value and using the stamps to mail out tax returns.
I had better luck selling old postcards at old postcard conventions. Was there a market for my old Mad Magazines or R. Crumb Comix? And why was I saving my Boy Scout merit badge sash and my eagle scout medal (solid silver) when there were so few occasions to wear either?
In the attic was a store of camping gear. I used to bike in the wilderness and sleep on a tarp in a sleeping bag. Now I bike on roads from one gourmet coffee shop to another and sleep in luxury rentals. I don’t really need a tarp or a dented aluminum mess kit.
Also in the attic was every letter that I ever received beginning in junior high school. Would anyone, much less me, want to plow through puerile writings from the fifties, sophomoric scribbles from the sixties, or pretentious reflections from the seventies (and then came email)? Do the letters have more utility for the memoir that I will never write or for the potential fireplace blaze that I just might light?
At least, I was storing nothing big, nothing that required a power saw to dismember. When my father-in-law moved to senior housing, he left in his basement an upright piano that had been neither tuned nor played in over 50 years. No one could figure out how it even got down the narrow staircase, and there was no way to get it up. In came workmen with a power saw. No child would ever be forced to take hated lessons on that keyboard relic.
Similarly, we had a neighbor with a 30-foot boat that sat in his front yard for years waiting to be rendered ship-shape. Alas, the owner went off to that great ocean in the sky before so much as repairing a single scupper. Shortly thereafter, muscled laborers attacked the S.S. White Elephant with a chainsaw, reducing the hull to scraps of lumber before winching the engine onto a flatbed truck.
One acquaintance likened the refuse we leave behind to the stereotypical caution given to young girls: always wear clean underwear in case you get into an accident. It’s never too soon to concede that your stuff is never going to be worth anything.
Your descendants will be more burdened than beguiled by your leavings. Might as well sell it or throw it out. Or build a pyramid.
Robin Schore lives in Titusville.