Storage units are funny things. I mean, not really funny like haha. Funny like they are metaphors for a lot of shit. I actually hate storage units. I mean, the idea that we have too much stuff to keep it with us, in our daily rotation is really pretty absurd. George Carlin sort of nailed it way back when.
But aside from the obvious point that storage units clearly demonstrate that we have far too much stuff and are wasteful and greedy and driven by consumption, they are also our ball and chain, our scarlet letter, our mark of Cain, our niggling memory, our constant reminder of what we were, what we wanted to be, what we could have been, what we started, what we didn’t understand, what we wanted to forget… but in spite of it all, what we could not let go.
Add to all of this philosophical speculation that since I was old enough to acknowledge stuff, I have been almost obsessive about keeping track of it, organizing it, cleaning it, cataloging it, and managing it, and you may get a small glimpse into the insanity that having stuff all over the greater Western US was engendering within me. So, in spite of a ridiculous schedule and an ominous to-do list, I decide to fly up to Reno on Monday to empty out my storage unit.
I was totally ready.
Or, so I thought.
On arrival around 10:00 a.m. I walked into a dirty, dusty, disorganized collection of evidence of several of my past lives. With no car and the knowledge that I would have to find a place for anything I chose to take with me, I did not even know where to start. I thought I might start by collecting what I knew was trash. It seemed like a good place to start. But, the storage facility had no place to dispose of trash and would not help me to find any place to dispose of it. For the first time in the more than six years these people have been holding all my stuff (or the odd collection of stuff that #4 put together for me, often more baffling than anything else) they were totally unhelpful. I have no idea if Jessica was just having a bad day at the front desk or if her less than enthusiastic attitude was exacerbated by what could only be described as raw panic that was rising within me (Reno inspires something akin to PTSD for me), but it was not helpful. Next I asked if they had any suggestions for places to donate stuff. “Try Google,” she said.
I went back to the unit noting the receding line of shade.
What to do?
I had let some of my former students know that I would be up there if they wanted anything, but of course, this offer had initially been made nearly a year ago, so frankly I can’t imagine too many of them were really all that fussed. But there was stuff in there that was not trash, even though it no longer fit in my life or style in any way whatsoever. Golf clubs. A mountain bike. Prom dresses. Bridesmaid dresses. Ski boots. Office supplies. Sports equipment. Bags. Balls. Bedding. Burning Man gear. Stuffed animals. Hats (had I ever really wanted *that* many baseball hats? Really?) A custom oak desk my dad had made for me in another lifetime. And then there was what I had come for: Books. And the contents of my classrooms and curriculum for more than a decade.
I sat down and looked at what was splayed out before me.
It was heavy. In every way.
And then my phone rang. I looked at it and saw that it was one of my former students from Incline. We keep in touch, and at this moment I thought right away of her sharp wit and efficient nature, both of which I had noticed on the first day I met her as a sophomore in World History class in 1999. But, she lives in the Bay Area, why was she calling? L1 explained that her mom might be interested in some of the stuff and was near (ish) up in South Shore.
- Yeah, really, my mom loves this kind of thing. I’ll have her call you when she is heading down.
- Okay. Wow. Cool.
Huh. That was interesting. I looked around and immediately was stuff-conscious. This was not even stuff I wanted to keep or had great attachment to for the most part, but suddenly I felt like I had to explain what it said about me, and worried that it wouldn’t be good enough. Seriously. I am insane. Who knew?
Still, I figured I should start moving things around, at least identifying what I definitely would be bringing back to the City with me (especially as the trash option had been vetoed and no charities were interested in coming to collect anything.) And so it started: The Shifting of Piles. I have always been really good at this. I decided I would make a pile for school, for home and for – yes, this is serious – my SF storage unit. [At least where there once were many there will now be only one.]
I did sort of get into a groove. And by groove, I mean sweaty and filthy and sneezy, but I managed to clear a couple of pathways. Then I looked up. Standing in front of me was L2. I had not seen L2 since she graduated in 2004. She was a junior when I came to her school and I had not been her teacher, but her coach. She has always been beautiful and shy and notably self-possessed. She had been one of the kids I had hoped to see and there she was, just like I thought she would be – exactly the same but totally different. A mom. A wife. Still lovely and funny. We shared a bunch of sort of self-conscious laughs about people we had known and the stuff in this storage unit. But there were somethings she could use, some of the stuffed animals. Bedding (how had I collected so much of that stuff?) Sports gear, a television, DVD and VCR, even a couple of those baseball hats I think, all went her way. As we were looking at funny old photos and laughing at some of the dresses I have worn, the phone rang again. L1’s mom had arrived.
And let me just say, when Zippy arrives – she really arrives. She is like some kind of force of nature.
Suddenly I was looking at two Jeep Cherokees and two women who were totally there to help. To help me. Zippy said we needed to make a pile for the Goodwill and a pile of trash. I told her that I agreed with the concept but I had no way to deal with all of it – I had no car and was not even sure when I was going to be able to get the U-haul I needed. That was no problem, she was there to help me and we were going to get it done.
A binder fell open and I saw L1’s mugshot from that long-ago sophomore year. Who knew? I took out the picture and handed it to her mom. She smiled and said, “Aww, look at her! Hasn’t changed much has she?” I had to admit it was true.
We were really making progress. I looked over at Zippy and told her there really was no way I could thank her enough for what she was doing for me, with the help and the off-loading and the driving and the jokes and the energy and tenacity.
She looked at me and said, “Oh, honey, don’t even worry about it. You paid it forward, you know? My daughter says wonderful things about you and my kids are everything to me.”
As L2 was saying goodbye my phone buzzed. I looked. It was Ivan. I had to smile. My favorite disgruntled optimistic rebel with too many causes was here. I went out to meet my third Jeep Cherokee of the day.
The pace kept up and we were really making progress. I was unsure of what Ivan might want from the strange miscellany within, but hoped there would be something.
The thing about the desk is complicated. It is not like the stuffed animals that I struggle over because of my weird compassion for inanimate objects, or like the debate about whether or not I want to keep the same things in my classroom in 2011 that I had in 2005 – for continuity or nostalgia or some justifiable combination of the two. The thing about the desk is that my dad made it. It is a custom piece of work. And it has a green top, which was always my favorite part. He had asked me what color I wanted. And I don’t really see my dad much anymore, and he is not making things – desks or otherwise – anymore. So, you see, the desk really embodies all those reasons as to why we have storage units. Just. Cannot. Let. It. Go.
But Ivan needed, wanted and had been looking for a desk. The entire set of circumstances could not have been more perfect.
Ivan and his cousin added another style of levity to the day and suddenly, we were ready to get the truck. Zippy would be taking the bike, the golf clubs, a ton of stuff for the snowboarding association she runs and lots of other things for her boys, their school and her husband. She was also going to help me get rid of the trash and drop off a load at Goodwill. What had been vastly underestimated initially, leading to a near catastrophic emotional meltdown five hours earlier, was now almost a done deal. My gratitude for these people cannot be expressed in words.
Lunch, goodbye to Ivan, Goodwill (I did change my mind on that one polar bear I had put in the GW pile – I just could not let it go), truck pick up, back to the storage unit and we were loading the truck.
At 5:30 p.m. Zippy pulled out of the storage unit and waved goodbye while I punched my exit code in for the very last time and I said goodbye. I drove out into the bright Reno sun and realized that for the first time since 2003, I did not feel like I was about to suffocate and die for being in this town. I drove across town to see PeeWee and grabbed the polar bear as I jumped out of the truck. When I handed her daughter the polar bear, she immediately claimed it as her own with a giant hug.
I could totally relate.
After I said goodbye for the fifth time that day I made my way to the 80 and headed home.
Pay it forward. Yes, do. And always keep it real.
Thorsen: I thanked him and there were some very specific orifices in which I was told to shove my thanks. He told me, “Just pay it forward.” Three big favors for three other people. That’s it.
Chris: So it’s like a pass-it-on thing, then. Wait a minute. You and this lowlife are in this chain of do-gooders, some kind of Mother Theresa conga line? That’s a little New-Agey for you, isn’t it? Sort of Tibetan? What, are you in a cult?
Thorsen: If you mention my name, you’ll be selling your kidneys to pay for your lawsuit. Cult.
The objective of this day would never have been accomplished were it not for the efforts of L1, L2, Zippy and Ivan who all completely embody the notion of paying it forward. And I think this matters.
This is dedicated to Lindsay, Laura, Linda, Ivan and Celia, and all the other people who have been there for others just because they could be.
Photo: August 24, Valencia Street art wall.