Thursday, June 28, 2007
Your Possessions Own You
As I've mentioned before, Tuesday's rainstorm here in Chicago put about a foot and a half of water in our basement.
It cleared out pretty quickly and I was able to go down and assess the damage pretty soon after the rain ended. The damage was miraculously light, considering that I had to tip the dryer over and empty water out of it.
The basement has flooded in the past, so I have nearly everything down there in big Rubbermaid bins. Still, there were a few things I was worried about-- my two electric guitars and my Blood Feast poster.
I cleared out some stuff and got to the guitars. They were in the back of the basement (which is the front of the house), where the water was only 4 or 5 inches deep. They were up on guitar stands, so only a couple of inches were wet. I rinsed the bottoms of the guitars off and set them up to dry.
I had to move some stuff to get to the poster. I'd put it downstairs at Kim's request when she and her daughter moved in here, until my stepdaughter was older-- the poster is pretty gory.
Blood Feast, the subject of the poster, was directed by Herschell Gordon Lewis, and is a classic. The poster was a gift, along with 3 other B-Movie posters from someone over 20 years ago. I had them framed about 16 or 17 years ago. I'm not hung up on material things-- I drive a 13 year old truck, and dress in jeans and t-shirts most of the time. But I do love cool kitschy things, and these are the coolest, kitschiest things I have.
When I put the poster downstairs, I thought I had waterproofed it. I was wrong.
I got it out and saw that the corners of the frame had made small tears in the plastic bags I'd wrapped it in. The bottom 8 or 9 inches of the poster were wet.
I was not happy. I took the poster out of the frame and remembered something.
In 1986, while the Chicago Historical society was undergoing construction for adding to the building when a water main was damaged, causing massive flooding, inundating areas in which historical papers were stored. I remembered reading an article in the Chicago Reader about it-- that it was not water that damaged papers per se, but the mold that attacked the paper quickly after it got wet. If the paper can be dried quickly, the damage is minimal.
I grabbed Kim's hair dryer and went to work. Once the poster was dry, my sense of panic subsided.
The bottom of the poster is wrinkled, but it can be steamed and put on a new board.
After saving the poster, I went downstairs and was amazed at how lucky I was. I salvaged a baby picture of my great-grandmother. Other than that, most everything that got wet was something I didn't mind getting rid of.
One of the things I was most glad was safe was something I'd coincidentally put up on a shelf a week or so ago. It was a Czechoslovakian political poster my late friend Mark had brought back for me on his 1991 trip to Europe; it was from the first free elections Czechoslovakia had after the Berlin Wall came down. He knew I was a political junkie and that it was something I'd treasure as a piece of history. And of course I now also treasure it as a memory of him. I'd taken it down last year when I was painting and hadn't yet hung it back up.
As I cleaned stuff out and up, I got to thinking about our possessions.
When Kim and I met 2 1/2 years ago, one of the things we discovered was a shared love of kitsch, and particularly Airstream Trailers. We decided long ago that one of our goals was to eventually live in an Airstream, travelling around, living light.
Over the last couple of years, then, I've tried to get rid of "stuff." Material things. My target is to whittle down my stuff over the next 20 years or so to where I can fit it in an Airstream. Hell-- I'm even getting rid of my vinyl (don't worry TenS-- all the vinyl was safe in plastic bins, and you still have first dibs on it!).
It made me think about my relationship with my material possessions. And frankly, it made me think of New Orleans, and how it must have been for people after the flood there.
It made me think about what is important, and what I can and cannot live without.
They say that your possessions own you. I laugh when I see a yuppie slow down to creep his $45,000 SUV over a one inch bump in the road. Yet I had a basement filled with stuff I felt I couldn't get rid of-- until it got waterlogged. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
Bubs had a great post recently about letting go of a canoe he'd been working on. He'd made plans to refurbish it, but at some point realized that it was, realistically, never going to happen. He found someone who not only had an appreciation of the uniqueness of the canoe frame, but also had the time and inclination to renovate it, and sold it to him. Sometimes it's liberating to divest ourselves of things.
We gather our things and make our plans. But, to quote the old proverb: "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." Nature, fate, chance-- they all conspire to rearrange and even trash our plans.
I remembered my old roommate Chris, when I lived in the Edgewater neighborhood 20 years ago, ribbing me about how few material possessions I had, and kidding me that someday I'd start accumulating them. I laughed at what he said-- I lived light in those days. I could move in one car trip.
I've lived in this apartment nearly 9 years-- longer than I've ever lived anywhere in my life. This is the fourth time the basement has flooded. Each time, I've had to divest myself of possessions. And each time, I've been amazed at how little I missed the things I lost. Maybe someone is trying to tell me something.