A journey through my junk: happy Down the Rabbit Hole day!

As previously mentioned, today is "Down the Rabbit Hole" day, when bloggers are encouraged to post in a different style from their accustomed one. I don't think I can manage a whole day of that, but I'm willing to kick in one post, anyway.

I don't normally write much about my personal life here, partly because I'm pretty jealous of my privacy and partly because it's just not the kind of thing we do here (but that's the point of Rabbit Hole day, of course!).

Last November, Alice and I had our big, grand wedding in Toronto, and invited all my friends. Now, I haven't lived in Toronto for nearly ten years, but for most of that time, I've had a storage locker there, filled with the memories of the three decades I spent in the town of my birth before I left, first for California, then for the UK, then for California, then for the UK again. I've delved into the locker on three occasions, attempting to figure out what I had in it and what I was going to do with it all. The first time, I confronted the incredible, jammed-together mountain of junk and boxes, opened a few, and gave up (it didn't help that the rest of my family had filled all the remaining spaces with their unloved junk). The second time, I showed up with more resolve: I was going to sort through everygoddamnedthing and figure out what I was shipping to London, what I was giving away, what was headed for the dumpster and what needed to be shredded.

That was last spring, when we went back to Toronto with the baby for her first visit to meet her Canadian family, over Passover week. I spent a dusty afternoon, opening boxes, looking through them, sorting them into piles and putting them back together. It was an incredibly emotional experience. The boxes hadn't been packed very intelligently: years before, I'd come back to the warehouse loft I'd shared with my ex, and stuck all the junk I thought I couldn't part with in boxes. It was miserable. The stuff was filthy, and there was so much emotion in this stuff, which felt more like the wreckage of a past life than the memories thereof, that I just lost the capacity to be careful and discriminating, and by the end of it, I had some 80 boxes of random and assorted crapola that disappeared into the locker for most of a decade before I saw it again.

There were enormous piles of books, of course. I'd worked in libraries and bookstores from the age of 12 to the age of 23, and I'd amassed some 10,000 of the little wooden bastards. I had previously believed that these books were my identity, that you could know a man by the books he kept, that I'd be able to read their spines and find in them a palimpsest of all the people I'd been on the way to becoming the person I was. But once I'd been separated from them, I discovered that I barely missed them. Now and again, I'd need to reference something in one of them and I'd find it on Amazon, usually for less than a buck. The books went to my brother's school, where they've been integrated into the school library. Books should be read, not stored, and there's plenty there to make normal kids into happy mutants.

There were boxes of cassettes and VHS cassettes, including a trove of fantastic mixtapes that I'd exchanged with friends and as a courtship ritual over the years. Ten years before, I'd been unable to part with them. Now, it was easy: off to the thriftstore with them. I can download that stuff whenever I need it.

There were boxes of t-shirts, and these, weirdly enough, were harder to get rid of. I find myself sentimentally attached to a shocking quantity of tees. The Rocky Horror tee I wore every Friday for years to the Roxy theater in Toronto. The shirt from Grindstone Island is part of a small trove of memorabilia I have from the place (including a hammered-together chest made from old fruit boxes, and a complete run of WHOLE EARTH CATALOGs) that, to this day, is the place that I think of when I want to imagine perfect peace and happiness. Sometimes, I wonder if my life peaked at 17, there on a 12-acre island in the middle of Big Rideau Lake, listening to the loons and swinging in the hammock on Moonwatcher's Point, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and talking all night long.

There was some art, and a few wardrobe pieces from my teens and twenties, including my beat up old punk leather jacked, covered in chains, worn to shreds, with stencils on the back. Maybe Poesy will wear it someday. Angry leather jackets never really go out of style.

There were my files -- all my juvenilia, the stories I wrote in elementary school and high school (including Tommy the Toenail Tarantula, with some damned good illustrations by Toby Muller -- where are you these days, Toby?). A truly fantastic quantity of photocopied material about Disney World. A thick folder of anti-fascist material from the John Brown/Anti-KKK League in San Francisco, whom I used to send away to for stickers, fliers and other material. And correspondence -- all the letters and postcards, the lovenotes and snapshots.

The snapshots deserve their own paragraph. One thing I realized: I dressed a lot better in my teens than in my twenties. Partly that was the fact that teenagers can get away with some pretty daring fashion. Partly it was that I spent my twenties trying to figure out what someone who had suddenly found himself working real jobs for real money wore (I went from working for tiny wages in a bookstore to doing Internet work that paid as much as my parents earned pretty much overnight, somewhere around 1993). Partly it was that I gained a ton of weight when I was about 23, and kept it on until I was about 32 and I discovered Atkins.

Another thing I realized: the girls I dated in my teens were knockouts, absolutely out of my league. And not just me, either. When I look at the photos of all my pals in their couples, the teenaged boys look lumpy or gangly, unfinished, with bad facial hair (shocking realization du jour: I look terrible with giant sideburns). The girls, by contrast, look pretty much fantastic. They're put together, confident, striking. All the couples look like beauty and the beast.

What else was there? A complete set of original Star Trek action figures and an Enterprise playset with the cool-ass transporter/spinner thing. The original, absolutely fabulous Haunted Mansion board game. A pretty good selection of Disney-attraction-themed boardgames and tin lunchboxes.

Tax docs. Bags of receipts. An entire carton of dead SCSI drives that had to be sent for secure disposal.

The next time I saw my stuff was a few days before I got married in Toronto. I had movers from Hudson Movers meet me at the locker. They were fabulous -- took the charity shop donations, the school donations, the art supplies I sent to Klockwerks, and all the stuff to ship to London away. They packed the shipment, filled in the customs forms, and put it all on the proverbial slow boat.

Two weeks ago, the boxes showed up at my office here in London, and I had a much longer pass through the stuff. By this point, it had been whittled down to six boxes. The books went onto the shelves, the t-shirts went into the storage closet, and a trove of my chewed kids' books and stuffed animals went back to the flat for my daughter.

The locker in Toronto is gone (well, technically, it's still there and filled with my family's junk, but that's their problem, not mine) and the goods are sorted and put away. Funnily enough, even after three or four passes through a "do I want this?" filter, I still had three boxes of garbage and donations out of the eight boxes that sailed the sea to London.

It's liberating. I feel lighter. For years, it felt like there was a weak and persistent nagging gravity tugging at me from Toronto, a needling, wheedling kvetch from all those unregarded possessions that I had responsibility for but no use for.

There's still a locker in LA -- well, in the desert outside of LA, it's one of those outfits that forklifts a storage box onto your lawn a week before you move; fill it up and call them and they forklift it back to some remote location with zero humidity until you request it again. I only have a dim recollection of what's in there, but I'm pretty sure it's almost all framed pictures that we had no room to hang in London but couldn't bear to part with. That and a couple of really good office chairs and a Danish dining room table that Mr Jalopy rescued from the garbage and refinished. Someday, if we move back to the States, we'll have instant decor. In the meantime, there's some of that nagging gravity being exerted by the box in the desert, too.

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