When Siddhartha sat meditating under a Bodhi tree for six years, he came to understand that the desire for worldly comforts was a poison. And that our need to constantly accumulate possessions was the source of all the miseries of mankind. After sitting under a palm tree on a Caribbean beach with a cooler for six hours, I came to the same conclusion. Having a bunch of stuff is dumb. Accumulating a bunch of junk has never made me happy and as I grow older, listening to my children fight over the iPad or the Wii has only put me more solidly onto the side of the Buddha. When I was about to get married, I gave my TV to my father-in-law, packed up a few things and chucked the rest of my belongings into a dumpster. The apartment my wife lived in had absolutely no storage space, so I just gave my stuff the Ol’ heave ho. I moved into our apartment with a bag of clothes, some cd’s, a photo album and two boxes of stuff. I recently went into my attic and opened the two boxes that I had packed 15 years ago just to see what was important enough to bring into the union with my wife.
Here is a list of the contents:
A shoebox of baseball cards worth almost nothing
A miniature wooden Louisville Slugger that my father bought me at my first Yankee game
An orange “The Juice” football, signed by OJ Simpson
A box of cards and letters
A rubber chicken
A few coasters
A framed photo of my wife and me in Tijuana drinking yards of beer
Four Bugs Bunny Coffee mugs (I don’t even drink coffee)
The 25th anniversary issue of Playboy that my brother stole out of my father’s Mail truck (*Bonus: The centerfold’s name was Candy Loving.)
I believe in some cultures, my wife’s family could legally stone me to death for bringing such a paltry dowry into the marriage. I might have gone in with nothing, but now I’m choking on junk. My wife and I constantly talk about the need to have a yard sale, but both of us are weary of the idea of strangers picking through our junk and being mean to it. “Hey old lady! That’s our junk! Treat it respectfully.” I may not like clutter or accumulating things but at the same time, I want to have a say in how we get rid of things and to whom my things go.
After we got married and bought a house we still kept things kind of sparse. When my mother died, I wanted to keep my house clutter free, so I passed up a piano and couches and a dining room set and took almost nothing. I walked out of my mom’s apartment with an old lamp table, a small porcelain boot and the paddle that in the good ol’ capital punishment days she used to hit us with. But even with my aversion to accumulating stuff, the house was starting to fill up.
Nothing fills a house with more useless clutter than all the stuff you buy for your kids. I have about 14 car safety seats in my garage. In my basement I have Pack ‘n Plays, Diaper Genies, Excersaucers, bungee baby bouncy springy walkers, baby’s first piano, baby’s first bowling set, baby’s first basketball net and baby’s first MRI machine. On top of that junk, I have a ton of Thomas the Tank Engine toys, plastic ones, metal ones and the expensive, collectable, wooden ones. Some of the wooden trains and pieces were turning into a lucrative side business. I would see a woman in a store with a small boy holding a wooden Thomas, or Gordon or Duncan and knew I had a mark…er, a, I mean a sale. I would start up a conversation about how my boys used to love those toys and then like the little engine that could, I’d move in for kill. “ You like Thomas the tank engine?” “Yes.” The boy would say. “Well I’ve got a ton of that stuff and if your mom and dad want to come by I would gladly sell it to them for a good price.” The mom, knowing how expensive the wooden toys were at Toys R Us, would contact me and arrange to do a transaction. They would always show up with their tough looking husband or father or boyfriend and try to intimidate me into handing over a Thomas the Tank engine windfall. “I’ll take the Thomas Log Splitting station for $30 bucks if you throw in the Thomas Water Pump and Refueling Depot,” They would say. Where these Moms always went wrong was that even though they brought a tough guy along with them to haggle, they also brought the kid along with them. This meant easy money. After grandpa or dad would do his, “Gimme your stuff for free spiel”. I would look into the child’s eyes, smile and softly say, “Do you want this awesome Thomas Refueling Depot?” “Yes!”- the child would eagerly say. “And do you want this really cool Thomas Log Splitting Lumber Yard?” “Yes, yes!” The child would scream. “And how about this really big, Cranky the Freight Loading Crane?” “Yes!!” The child would squeal with glee. “Then you better tell gramps to open up his wallet or you’re leaving here with nothing!” I’d growl. “Waaaaa!” The bawling would begin. That’s when I had them. A few fifties in my pocket later, they were gone and so was my junk. This worked out really well, until one day when my wife told a friend of her mother’s that she could take a few items to give to her grandson. When we turned around this sticky fingered Thomas -grifter had taken advantage of our kindness and looted the whole pile of wooden choo- choo gold. I was quite put out.
The loss of Thomas revenue may have angered me, but it did not come close to the rage I felt after what is now known as “the great roast beef giveaway”. A few years ago, we had a birthday party for one of my sons. Among the many food items we brought in was a tray of roast beef subs. During the party, I didn’t really get a chance to partake in the feast, but in the back of my head I knew that once the guests were gone I could dig in and enjoy the leftovers. Around 10 o’clock that night while watching college football, I grew hungry and desirous to try one of the many roast beef subs that I knew had gone uneaten. I got up and went into the kitchen. I looked in my refrigerator and could not see them. I looked in my dining room. Not there. I began to get frantic. I looked in the freezer, I looked in cabinets, I looked in the bathroom, I looked in the garbage can, I looked everywhere. Finally I knew I had to go to the source of all missing items; my wife. I called up the stairs and woke her up, “Karen, have you seen the roast beef sandwiches?” She stirred and I heard her move, she was awake but then it became quiet…too quiet. I knew this to be a bad sign. I heard a low voice start to speak. “I…uh, I gave them to my brother.” “What? I yelled. “I didn’t hear that.” She spoke more confidently now, almost defiantly.“I gave them to my brother.” “All of them?” I asked incredulously. “Yes” she replied. I was trying my best to hide my anger but I was seriously beginning to lose it. “Just how many sandwiches did you give them?” I said with a heaping side of bile. “Around ten,” she shot back. Friendly Gerry was gone– and spitting mad, hungry, angry, mono- syllabic, Cave Man Gerry had replaced him. I began to yell, “Why you give all away? You not think to save one for me? You trying to win giveaway contest? Why your brother take all my sandwiches? Why he need them? He gonna eat them all by himself? What I ever do to him? Who gives away ten sandwiches? Who takes ten sandwiches? What wrong with you? What wrong with your family? What happen to your brain? WHY YOU GIVE AWAY ALL MY FOOD? ” She waited a minute and then spoke up, “I know you don’t like all the clutter.” I had lost. Again.
Gerry McGuire took his love of history, trivia, comedy, literature, music and film and turned himself into a pop culture quoting, chat machine. He is like Cliff Claven from Cheers if Cliff Claven was stunningly handsome, awesomely funny and unbelievably humble. He fancies himself what the French would describe as a raconteur or what Americans call, a loud mouth. Gerry writes for Milford Living Magazine, sings in the Celtic rock band The Butcher Boys and is a stay at home dad.