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Possessed


Sun, Oct 29th, 2000
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Monday, October 30, 2000

Author Moritz Thomsen writes of his house in an Ecuadorian jungle: "At first it is infuriating to discover what is going on beneath your nose; the books rotted; the phonograph records green with mold . . . boots turning to penicillin . . . prints by Gauguin hanging wetly across the walls turning into hallucinations by Max Ernst. . . . But underneath this rage there is something else; I can feel a mystic and highly complicated--what? It is a kind of satisfaction, a kind of acceptance that I feel with the destruction of my possessions."

My house has more rooms than I thought. One room leads to another. Each room contains possessions I have forgotten about: clothes, dishes, photographs, books, beds, tables and couches. Each room contains a walk-in closet with more possessions. I have to sort through these possessions, but I can't make any headway and my mother is watching me.

This dream has almost played itself out in real life. Three years ago, a big wind blew some shingles off our workshop. We patched the resulting leaks thinking we would soon return to make permanent repairs. As time went by, we had various excuses for not starting what we knew would mean re-roofing the entire shop. In the meantime, our patches failed and we shoved the problem to the backs of our minds, which, of course, gave rise to dreams of rooms, possessions and guilt.

Last summer, my husband fixed the leaks by installing metal roofing. When that was done, we began to work on the shop's interior. The ceiling was in tatters; paneling hung down in chunks; pink fiberglass insulation with black paper backing hung down in strips like giant batwings. Bats slept in nooks and crannies. Mouse feces covered everything, including Art's rusting tools. The drawers contained nests and raccoon tracks
appeared along the walls.

First, we sorted through our possessions in the loft, which stretches over half of the shop. Art also did some preliminary testing of his tools, finding most of them salvageable. The loft contained canning supplies I hadn't touched for ten years, a rotting rocking chair, nests made out of fabric scraps, a broken table and mirror, glass that we saved for window repair, oak and cherry lumber, some of it savable, a desk, two bicycles, two porta-potties, a bookcase full of woodworking supplies, a large painting of a very gloomy man and more.

After completing this job, we had a shamefully large heap of trash and a 36 x 12-foot loft that looked good enough to live in. Our next job was to pull down the batwings of insulation from the high open ceiling. This work looked impossible at first, but we had put the insulation up there, so it surely was possible to take it down. We managed, working as a team, with Art doing the most skilled and dangerous part and me doing the grunt work, that is, wrapping my arms around the scratchy feces-laden fiberglass and stuffing it into black plastic bags.

Next, I scraped the mixture of old sawdust, oil, mildew and who knows what else off the cement floor while Art sorted all his nails, screws, bolts and small tools, including those he inherited from my dad, a former woodworking teacher.

Finally, it was time to call Tony Severson, of S & S Sanitation in Preston, to haul away our trash. Tony came here twice with two pickup trucks and a trailer. He, his brother-in-law and Art piled our junk into his vehicles. Tony's six-year-old son and I helped too, but mostly we looked for butterflies and birds. As I watched our shameful pile disappear, I thought, a trash hauler can learn a lot about the personalities of his clients.

In Fillmore County, no one finishes a job and just walks away, so when we had the trucks and trailer loaded, we stopped to visit awhile. We talked about the possibility that Waste Management, Inc. (WMI) will take over the Resource Recovery Center in Preston and Tony's fears that WMI would drive him out of business. We tell him we are happy we didn't have to hire WMI for this job; their price would certainly have been higher and we would have missed out on the satisfaction of dealing directly with the owner and crew of a small business.

Unfortunately, my dreams of rooms and possessions continue. Perhaps, if I sort through the possessions in our house--the pots, pans, dishes, clothes, books . . .

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