For any Obsessive/Compulsive among my audience I think I ought to toss out a few words about my unfortunately addiction-prone personality. I think I have been addicted, at one time or another, to everything a person could fall under the spell of, except for drugs.....a thing for which I am profoundly grateful. I can't really take much credit for having avoided that pitfall.....it just happened that Pot did absolutely nothing for me and I was simply too impoverished (and I guess too cowardly) to get involved in the really bad (or, depending how you look at it, the really good) stuff.
Not only have I been a Guinness Book-\of-Records Cigarette addict, but during my long lifetime I also tried out being a borderline Alcoholic, a Food Addict and also, possibly, a teensy bit of a sex addict.........referred to in the nicer circles as Harmless, Youthful, Hippie Flower Girl Promiscuity.....well, I mean, after all, when one finally discovers the delights of sex and has carte blanche to misbehave,(one of the really good things about being an "Artist"), how can one NOT become something of an addict?. And then of course, there is my often mentioned more shameful and more incurable addiction to.....being a Pack Rat.......I think it is now referred to by the more genteel term of Hoarding.
First, you must remember that I was a child of the Depression and while we never went hungry the motto in the family was definitely, "Waste not, want not". Every penny counted and in those days a single penny was a valuable commodity...........five pennies would buy a loaf of bread! Whenever I think of pennies I think of the "beggars" who came to the door daily.........sad out of work men who had to resort to begging for pennies door to door to feed their families. When the doorbell rang my Mother would make me go to answer it hoping I would spare her the heartache and innocently send the caller away. She should have known better....I had inherited every morsel of the Blumenthal push-over-ness and added some color, depth and curlycues of my own. One look at their drawn faces and shabby garments would send me rushing damp-eyed back to the kitchen (where Mamma and Grandma were hiding) begging for a penny which they would hand over with a sigh and I would deliver with a tremulous smile wishing it could be more.
Some people may have been able to put that behind them but I am not one of them so I still look upon waste as a horror, a crime and a cardinal sin. This by itself might not have been so damning, but as an adult, having huge wants and no money forced me to chose between a life of crime or one of becoming ingenious to the nth degree. I had absolutely no idea how to go about developing a life of crime and making it pay but I noticed I had oodles of ingenuity just lying there waiting to be tapped. Consequently, any discard that could be salvaged and made into something useful absolutely compelled me to rescue it and convert it to something beautiful or usable. It became not a choice but an irresistible need. I was driven to use any tool at hand to achieve my ends........Even if I didn't quite know how it worked I made it a point to learn. Before long no discarded object, languishing at the curb waiting for the trashmen, was safe from being rescued and transformed by me. Of course, being a starving artist made this sort of compulsion all the more relevant since, if there was anything I wanted I certainly couldn't afford to BUY it and my only chance at having stuff of any kind was to create it out of junk, which I did, with amazing diligence and, if I say so myself, great success. The only trouble with having the ability to make something out of nothing was, I found, that it quickly became not a choice but an obligation......I simply HAD to do it. Simply driving down a street where there might be some discard at the curb became fraught with sinister ramifications. Would I be able to get to the end of the block and turn the corner, or would I find my car pulling to the curb of its own volition in spite of me. Every cast off chest of drawers or discarded chandelier acted like a magnet drawing me helplessly close presenting me with challenges I could not ignore. If I did not rescue this piece of worthwhile flotsam....(or is it jetsam?) who would? (rhetorical question...........sob.)
In those days almost everything I dragged home with the vow of making it into "something wonderful" eventually became.....well, something wonderful. Consequently there was no build up of salvage. That came later and therein lies the rub. A couple of things happened........First, I eventually had rescued enough cast-offs to have a fully furnished abode and enough "beautiful stuff" to satisfy the most avid and gluttonous collector. Secondly, when I morphed into my second life in the computer world and abandoned being a starving artist I finally had a bit of spare change with which to actually BUY a few things if I still needed anything. So you would have thought that I could simply cease and desist from rescuing discards and go on my merry way junk-less..........NOT. For years after the need disappeared the compulsion remained and flourished and the shelves in the garage and in every closet filled to the overflow state. Pretty soon, the creeping menace progressed to occupying floorspace in the corners and finally I had to stop letting people into the house out of pure shame and self loathing.
The very threat of someone coming to visit created waves of hysteria involving days of running around like a crazy person forcing piles of stuff into the floor-to-ceiling intricately balanced mess in the garage and cramming anything left over into the already bulging closets, under beds etc. Once I even found myself tossing stuff into a bath tub and covering it with a board, a lovely woven tapestry and a few throw pillows.....(it was so successful I kept it for years.) Ah, ingenuity it can get you into a lot of trouble, but once in a while it can get you out of it. Anyway, what had once been a means to an end became a character flaw so monstrous that I felt like Dorian Grey and worse yet, the attic was too full of junk to hide the hideous portrait there.
I wish I could say that I have totally conquered this addiction, but I haven't. Thank heaven I no longer allow my car to back up to some unloved but promising chiffarobe reclining alluringly in a driveway.....not that I don't notice it, but I firmly avert my gaze, grit my teeth and drive past. (takes huge exertions of will) The major remaining problem is that I have not developed any skills in getting rid of stuff already collected and stored..........once in a while I have been able to mercilessly go through the garage and get rid of tons of stuff that I know I cannot use in this lifetime......but in the overall scheme of things I have barely made a dent. Perhaps I will be able to develop the missing skills before it is too late. In the meantime, as they say.....oh, well...........nobody's perfect.......
The New Yorker covers: July 7 & 13, 2008
9 hours ago