Pushed back into hoarding scraps

Posted: January 06, 2005

I forgive you, Jacqueline Urgo. Even though your cute feature story in The Inquirer swirled my New Year's resolution right down the drain - I forgive you.

On the surface, it was a harmless idea: a story about a man who gathers old car parts and rusted debris, and turns them into whimsical sculpture capturing public acclaim.

It probably never occurred to you what that story would do to readers like me - people who see creative potential in every scrap of material, empty cereal box, worn-out sock, or broken tool that should be destined for the trash heap.

Our attics are full of bags of Christmas cards from decades past that await happy scissors when the grandkids stop by. Our basements bulge with glass bottles in cute shapes and myriad sizes - fodder for some flower arrangement, sand candle, or other centerpiece of the future. Our closets and bureaus overflow with buttons rescued from worn shirts and long-gone sweaters; ribbons, beads and flowers salvaged from gift wrappings; china cups with just one tiny chip in them . . . you get the picture.

Unfortunately, imagination too often outpaces motivation. The precious raw material for that recycled masterpiece sits untouched, awaiting transformation. Meanwhile, we develop large thigh muscles from stepping over crates and piles, and huge arm muscles from stuffing odds and ends into boxes already too full.

Probably your sources never whispered to you about our kind, trapped in the dark underbelly of creativity, where artistic vision battles common sense. We don't hoard for the joy of accumulation. We don't catalog our collectibles' similarities and differences. We're just lured by the siren songs of thrift and possibility.

Maybe it's hard for you to imagine our type. But be assured that right among your friends and fellow workers, there are scrapaholics who pass for regular folks. Want to find them? Mention something with a tiny part that needs to be fixed. They're the ones who spout: "I've got just the thing. Give me a day or two to find it in my attic." They don't buy milk-crate furniture at Ikea; they still have milk crates they stacked into bookcases in the '70s.

Like Volkswagen owners, we can spot one another in a crowd. During my college years at a girls' school, I attended a dorm-room birthday party and came back with a pretty paper plate cherished for its Betty Boop graphics. I wondered whether my roommate would scoff if I taped it to the wall as pop art. But then I looked at her desk and noticed that she had already tacked up her plate from the party. We've been friends ever since.

Granted, once in a while, a stash yields results. Like the time I rescued gold foil notary seals from an office cleanup. Armed with scissors and string, I snipped them into lightweight tree ornaments. And last year, when my husband suggested that we needed something to stem the draft at the bottom of the sun-porch door, I hauled out a box of old wool socks, shrunken sweaters and fuzzy clothing from winters gone by. Taking cues from some article I had read in a women's magazine, I turned the scraps into a squishy snake-shaped "draft dodger." Unfortunately, the experience only confirmed my inborn belief that everything has a second purpose if you hold on to it long enough. Great if you own a scrap heap, but not so cool in a suburban Cape Cod.

Occasionally, our type feels the longing for a clutter-free life. Even then, like perennial dieters, we resolve to change but rarely do.

This year, though, I thought I'd turned the corner. After all, didn't I pack up all of the fat cylinder candles whose wicks were burned down to the base and admit that I'd never remelt the wax to create new candles? And didn't I personally sacrifice a whole grocery box of empty spaghetti-sauce jars with lovely vines and flowers embossed in the glass, to a friend who actually preserves food in jars?

And - most hopeful of all - this Christmas, when my husband noticed that one of our $3 sets of blinking mini-lights was only partially working, didn't I resist the urge to salvage the tiny plastic flower parts surrounding each light? Instead, as a start toward someday seeing the floors of my rooms and the tops of my bureaus, didn't I urge my husband to discard the whole string quickly, before I could change my mind?

And that, Jacqueline Urgo, is precisely when your story struck. As I scanned your dangerous words, I envisioned a phrase resounding at breakfast tables throughout your readership area. "Honey (substitute name of spouse or housemate), the trash man didn't come yet, did he?"

With a couple of hundred words, you sent my fellow craft-maniacs rushing to the Dumpster to retrieve would-be treasures: single earrings missing their mates, purses with broken straps, sweaters with just a tiny hole in two or three spots, rickety chairs minus one leg, and more. So much for my personal reformation.

I'm not asking you to apologize or even to promise never to write a story like this again. But the next time you have an idea that involves turning trash to treasures, think of readers like me, and count to 10. Or at least grab a trash bag and stop by my place.

Ginny Marcin writes from Westmont.

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