Saturday, April 6, 2013

gazette column

What follows is a rewrite and expansion of an earlier blog post that the local newspaper printed yesterday. Their title was:


For a long time, I have had a fantasy about a company with a tractor-trailer that comes around to my house, attaches a large hose to the open front door, opens the back door and then ... turns on its humongous vacuum cleaner that sucks everything out of the house.

One man's porch in all its cluttered glory

Looking around the porch where I frequently sit ... well, it's the perfect example of why this fantasy refuses to die. There is stuff ... tons of stuff ... and that's just on the porch. Books, old writing, fishing rods, paint thinner, tools, photos, an air conditioner, mink oil, grade-school art, kindling in plastic boxes, a sleeping bag, a broken skate board, baseball bats and shoes, snow shovels, a filing cabinet, a kite, flower pots, dead wasps ... the stuff goes on and on, some beloved, some emotion-neutral, some betokening a sheer laziness about the prospect of moving or discarding it.

Like anyone else, I have my excuses at the ready: Three kids grew up in this small house in Northampton and the results provide exculpatory evidence: "Look," I wheedle, "if there hadn't been three kids, I wouldn't need the tractor-trailer vacuum cleaner."

Yes, I know, it's limp reasoning, but the alternative -- getting to work and cleaning it all up -- is too daunting.

What I need or dream of is someone or something that will gently but firmly override all my yes-but's and simply suck the stuff out the door. Whooooosh! If it turns out that I actually miss one thing or another, that pang will be worth the price of admission: Imagine! -- a clean floor, an open space, and no need to find a need for what was so imperiously needed in the past.

The tricky part about any fantasy, of course, is not that it goes as far as it does, but that it never goes far enough. Fantasies are long on delight and short on doing the dishes.

What would I do with all the immaculate space that I envision and savor?

And the dismal truth comes up to greet me like some medieval sea serpent: If I had all that immaculate and well-organized and roomy space -- all that space free of stuff -- the first thing I would probably do is rush out to get more stuff to fill the space. Newer, better, more-desirable, less-outmoded, more-imperious ... stuff.

The fact is that I am habituated to seeing open space in terms of what's not open about it at all -- the stuff that fills it or lives in it. I can fantasize all I want about open, immaculate  space, but my fantasy is half-baked since it relies on what is not open space. Somehow, I never learned to enjoy the open space I claim I would give anything to enjoy. I am like the person who loves to imagine winning the lottery, but seldom if ever digests what happens to those who actually do.

But enough of all this mental mastication! Not for a moment do I intend to give up my trailer-truck fantasies. It's too enjoyable. A little dreaming -- no need to get too serious about it -- never hurt anyone. No sense in elevating or disdaining it. I didn't say any of this wasn't childish. It's just that the older I get, the more childish fantasies like tractor-trailers seem to make some sense.

Fearing fantasies just emboldens them.

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