It occured to me, when I heaved open the heavy metal door to the storage unit that has held most of my possessions for the past eight months — unveiling disarray, peppered with mouse poop – that what was revealed wasn’t just a metaphor for my life.
It was my life — up to now — in a box.
Virtually all my worldly possessions, except my dog — and, though he’s worldly, I don’t really possess him — are in there.
Cash value? Not much. Emotional value? Depends on which box you open. Overall importance? Given the fact that I didn’t miss any of it in eight months, next to nothing.
But when I moved out of my house in Baltimore to hit the road with my dog last May, I packed it all, and hauled it all, and stacked it all and secured it all with big strong lock.
Because, for me to be truly liberated, all my stuff had to be incarcerated.
We in the free world are slaves to our stuff. We are slaves to our jobs, which allow us to get more stuff. We are slaves to our mortgages, and utility bills, and the Internet and other technology we grow to depend on. Most of all, we are slaves to health insurance.
That, maybe more than anything — especially for those 40 and above — is why we stay in jobs we hate. Sometimes we hate them so much it makes us physically sick — especially when our workload quadruples so that stockholders can get a second yacht. But that’s OK because we have health insurance.
Unable to afford both health insurance and housing, I’ve opted to go with an alternative health plan whose protocol will be followed in the event of serious illness. It’s known as CIACAD (Crawl Into A Corner And Die.)
For my dental plan, I’ve chosen LTARAFO (Let Them All Rot And Fall Out).
For vision — it being more important than to me than life or chewing — I’ll likely pay my own way, as opposed to going with SAGAMG (Shutup And Get A Magnifying Glass).
I need to check into all these health insurance reforms, but my guess is whatever Obama-care benefits might apply to me probably, with my luck, are scheduled to kick in the day after I die.
But this post isn’t about death. It’s about life, and how we choose to live it — and how that, for most of us, is in a really big box, divided up into smaller boxes, some with plumbing and appliances, and all, of course, filled with stuff.
I started off loading it in a very organized manner, but running out of time, sped up to the point that much of it isn’t organized at all. Some boxes are labeled; others are mysteries. There are many boxes that say books, but there are only four or five books I need right now, and going through 20 boxes to find them – all of course trapped back at the very rear of the unit — would be a real time absorber.
So how is my storage unit a metaphor for my life?
First, it’s in disarray. I’m guessing an x-ray of my brain would look a lot like the inside of my storage unit. My stuff is not organized, not immediately locatable. My stuff is in limbo. My stuff, like me, has no idea where it will be a year from now.
There are some treasures in there. A baseball with Willie Mays’ autograph; photos of my son arriving from Korea; the goofy white cap I had to wear at my first job, selling burgers; my Pulitzer Prize (it’s just a sheet of paper); yellowed newspaper stories written nearly 35-plus years ago.
There are four or five boxes of strictly sentimental value. They contain memories. But I don’t remember where they are.
The stuff I need — certain books, forks, long underwear — are all buried somewhere at the back of the unit. The stuff I have no use for right now – my bicycle, golf clubs, tennis rackets — are all right at the front.
Part of me thinks it would be nice to have a place of my own, where I could unpack my stuff and organize it and live amongst it. Part of me thinks that would again make me a slave to my stuff, and all those previously mentioned other things that tie us down.
Here is what I am wondering — after the eight months Ace and I lived in a boat, trailer, tent, my car, cheap motel rooms, and the homes of friends and strangers as we traversed the U.S.:
Is what’s stuffed in that big metal box my life? Or, is my life over there, down that road winding into the horizon?
Do we treasure our past and present to the point that we shortchange our future? Is it possible, for those eking out an existence — as opposed to rolling in money — to have both security and adventure? Is it possible to properly nourish relationships with friends and family — in more than a superficial Facebook kind of way — without living right where they live?
In a way, it should be less complicated for me, having no “partner,” except for my big fuzzy one; having not just an empty nest, but no nest at all.
I should be able to figure this out.
If you’re wondering who that woman is in the back of the storage unit, that’s my beer sign lady — a cardboard cut-out, who, like much of my furniture, I rescued from a Dumpster. I picked her up last winter, but, in the months that followed, found her a bit one-dimensional and not at all good at conversation.
When I moved my stuff into storage, I assigned her the task of watching over it all.
She did a lousy job.
Somehow, all my (mostly) neatly stacked boxes started leaning, and teetering, and falling. She did nothing, and apparently wasn’t much help in scaring visiting mice away.
I think, when I finally do locate myself, I will get rid of her.
The bigger decision, though, is where I belong — warmly ensconced in a home of my own, or among the realm of vagabonds, like those RV nomads who kept their wanderlust in check until retirement kicked in and have been happily rolling along ever since?
When the road calls again, and I’m sure it will, will I answer?
Posted by jwoestendiek January 18th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, adventure, america, animals, baltimore, beer, belongings, box, boxes, cardboard, decisions, dogs, health insurance, home, lady, liberated, life, lifestyles, memories, organize, pets, possessions, road trip, rv, security, sentimental, sign, slaves, storage, storage unit, stuff, things, travel, travels with ace, vagabond, value, values, wanderlust
Of all the oddball places Ace and I passed through in our recently completed 22,000 miles of travels across the U.S., none came close, in that particular category, to Baltimore.
In other words, there’s no place like home.
Sure, there may be some small pockets of pretentiousness in Baltimore, but all in all it’s a city that doesn’t put on airs. And that is what I like about it – its honesty.
On Friday, during my first full week back in the city, I kept running into that theme — “yes I have warts, would you like to see them?” — as I checked in at the old storage unit, dropping off a few unneeded things and picking up some others to spartanly furnish the housing I have finagled for the month ahead.
I’ll tell you more about that next week; for now suffice to say: Federal Hill, rooftop deck, downtown view … from the hot tub.
It’s a much more well-heeled area than the part of town my stuff is in, but then my stuff isn’t too choosy, having come from humble origins. Much of it was discarded on a sidewalk, thrown in Dumpsters or donated to Goodwill before finding a forever home with me.
It was in my stuff’s neighborhood that I ran into the well-bundled-up fellow above, at Patapsco and Potee, a highly alliterative intersection in Brooklyn frequented by people seeking handouts, most of whom carry a piece of cardboard briefly explaining the dilemma they allegedly are in and what they are willing to do to get out of it.
Rather than bore drivers with his life story, this guy drafted a sign listing only his short term goal. I’m not sure how much his “transparency,” as we like to call it nowadays, paid off, but it worked on me. I forked over a buck.
It’s an interesting little place — half liquor store, half seafood deli. I’m not sure if the warning sign on their front door was meant for mice or people. It gave me some second thoughts about getting lunch there, but I proceeded to order a crab sandwich, anyway.
As I waited for my order, I visited with some of the blue crabs, piled up in bushel baskets, partly covered with towels, almost as if they’d been tucked in.
Tempted as I was to lift their blanket for a better look, I didn’t want to wake them. Besides, another sign warned against it: ”Please do not play with crabs. May be crabs get stress + die earleier. You might get bit also.”
I also learned that at the Blue Crab Xpress, credit cards aren’t honored.
I ate my crab cake sandwich — quite exceptional — in the car, parked next to an Utz potato chip truck whose driver was slumped over the steering wheel taking a nap.
Fortified, I went next door to the storage lot — something I’d been putting off doing partly because it has been so cold, partly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to find what I was mainly looking for, some warmer clothes.
I made a few withdrawls from it – my futon mattress, some chairs and tables and one unmarked box, chosen at random. I decided it would be fun to open it up later and see what was inside.
Since I need to go back to the storage unit, anyway — for it is in major need of some reorganization and, perhaps, a warning sign telling mice to stay away — I thought if the box turned out to contain useless stuff, I could always bring it back or toss it.
Into my storage unit I tossed by rooftop carrier and its contents, some stinky tennis shoes that need a month off (and might drive away the mice) and other things, like camping gear, I won’t be needing anytime soon.
Back at my temporary quarters, I opened the box and discovered I had made a lucky pick. It contained two jackets, a spatula, a can opener, a coffee cup and my winter coat.
I will wear it today when — taking a break from decorating my house (think early college student) — I go over to the Lighthouse Tavern to watch the Baltimore Ravens beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mainly, though, I am going there to renew my bonds with old friends, because friends are so important, and such relationships should be … Oh the heck with it.
Why lie? I need a beer.
Posted by jwoestendiek January 15th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: america, animals, baltimore, beer, beggars, belongings, blue crabs, crab, crabs, dogs, federal hill, friends, handouts, home, honest, honesty, i need a beer, mice, mouse, no place like home, pets, possessions, ravens, road trip, seafood, signs, south baltimore, steelers, storage, stuff, travel, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, unpretentious, why lie
Here’s my theory: The more ghost signs a town has, the more ghosts it probably has, too.
Butte, Montana, it should come as no surprise, has plenty. Of both.
Here are some of the ones that, during just 30 minutes of driving around town one day this week, we came across – touting cigars, beer and hotels that have all been long outlived by their hand-painted advertisements.
Flor de Baltimore was a cigar brand that appears to go back at least a century or so. I’m not sure if its named after Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland, or the city. I’m guessing Flor means flower, which isn’t the first thing that Baltimore brings to my mind, but maybe the imagery the city evoked was different back then.
Most of the signs are for hotels — long since gone, but luxurious in their day, and even fireproof, which was a good thing considering all the mining executives who were probably lighting up Flor de Baltimores in their beds.
Now, only about a third as many people live here. Mining, though it still goes on, is nowhere near what it once was. You can’t find a good whorehouse when you need one (and they say the defunct one is haunted). And nobody’s drinking Butte Special Beer. It was brewed by a company that, more than 100 years old, closed in 1963.
There’s a big difference between what was in Butte and what is in Butte. Some look at Butte and see a depressing town; some see a fight-hardened survivor, a town that’s testament to man’s resiliency. Some see only its rough edges; some see its rich and colorful history, faded over time.
The New Tait hotel is not only not new anymore; it’s non-existent, but the old sign remains, as does the building, since converted into apartments.
Butte is the hometown of Evel Knievel. One of its tops tourist draws is a huge mine pit, part of a Superfund site that encompasses the historic district as well. If towns can be eccentric, Butte is — and quite proudly so.
But it’s also haunting — a place where the sun and clouds cast shadows that crawl, tarantula like, up and down its high hills; where mining has left poisons lurking, zombie like, beneath the surface.
Today, Butte is equal parts defunct and funky; gritty and, if you look hard, graceful. The ghost signs bring back memories of the freewheeling greatness that was; but they also are reminders to Butte that, in some ways, it’s a has-been.
But has-beens — and I know some, personally – seem to love regressing to the glory days, recalling better times. When the present’s not so great, the past seems more worth revisiting.
The trick is to not get stuck there — to appreciate what was, but keep looking at what could be … all, of course, while not forgetting to appreciate what is.
Before it fades away.
Posted by jwoestendiek November 3rd, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: advertisements, advertising, america, animals, beer, butte, cigars, dog's country, dogs, dogscountry, environment, fading, flor de baltimore, ghost, ghost signs, hand painted, history, hotels, legacy, memories, mining, montana, nostalgia, painting, pets, road trip, signs, traveling with dogs, travels with ace, west
I’m going to poop on this party.
A dog collar that can open a beer bottle may be mildly funny the first time around, but I’d think the novelty would quickly wear off this novelty — even among frat boys.
On top of the whole dog-as-appliance indignity — among all the noble purposes dog serve, I wouldn’t rank opening your beer too high among them — I would think there could be safety concerns as well.
The Bark4beer website seems to say as much: “Please use with adult supervision as this product is not intended for children. Bark4Beer, L.L.C.. shall not be liable for any special or consequential damages that result from the use of, or the inability to use, the materials on this site …”
If something’s not safe for children, I don’t want my dog wearing it.
The idea for the collar came at a pool party, where two young entrepreneurs were forced to use their dog’s collar to open a beer bottle’s non-twist-off top.
“After months of product testing, we are confident to release our revolutionary invention,” their website says. The inventors add, “Essentially, we can turn your favorite four-legged friend into the ultimate party animal ensuring that there is no shortage of tail at your next party.”
Posted by jwoestendiek December 23rd, 2009 under Muttsblog.
Tags: bark4beer, beer, bottle, christmas, collar, dog, dogs, gift, ideas, invention, inventors, opener, party animal, products, video, what i don't want for christmas, what i want for christmas
The Maryland SPCA is holding a Wine & Wag happy hour this Friday, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $10 per person in advance and $15 at the Maryland SPCA, 3300 Falls Road. Dogs are admitted free, but only one per person.
You can buy tickets online until 4:00 p.m. this Friday.
Activities include a treasure hunt, musical chairs, tours of our adoption center, paw painting, a canine pool party and off-leash play in the fun runs. Complimentary hors d’oeuvres will be served courtesy of Lebanese Taverna. There is a suggested donation of $3 for beer and wine and $1 for other beverages.
If it rains on Friday, details on rescheduling will be posted on the Maryland SPCA website, or you can use the tickets at the next two Wine & Wags — August 14 or September 17.
For more info about our Wine & Wag happy hour, please contact Tami Gosheff at email@example.com or 410-235-8826, ext. 138.