Sunday, July 31, 2005

 

In Which We Study the History of C.R.A.P....

Case study:

End-stage infection of Chronic Regenerative Acquisitional Proclivity (C.R.A.P.) in a 62-year-old Caucasian male

A classic sign of a C.R.A.P. infection is the one-way flow of items into the life of the afflicted. A C.R.A.P. sufferer always acquires, rarely divests. In the unlikely event a C.R.A.P. sufferer can be persuaded to part with an item he has gathered, it's only in exchange for more items. In its advanced stages, C.R.A.P. causes patients to demonstrate the ability to gather objects whose immediate usefulness is not only not apparent, but would require an unlikely combination of events for them to ever become useful.

Let us take, for example, the case of an anonymous patient we will call "Dad." In the mid-1970s, Dad acquired a bundle--approximately 20 feet in length, roughly four feet in diameter--of Victorian-era crown molding. This molding was constructed of wood with an overlay of ornate metalwork, of a design that brought to mind the interior of a brothel (and indeed, such may have been its origin). The reason Dad gave for bringing this bundle home (which he found at a nearby landfill, a location commonly frequented by C.R.A.P. sufferers) was that the metal in question was, he believed, lead, a pliable material which did have some value on the secondary scrap market, but which was an outright health hazard when used in the home. However, Dad could not bring himself to strip the metal from the wood and sell it for scrap, his reason being that the bundle represented an architectural antique that would be much more in demand among restorers of historic homes than its intrinsic value would dictate. When no such restorers materialized to purchase this bundle, the lead-covered wood was dispatched to a distant storage shed on Dad's property. It remained in Dad's possession for the next three decades, and was moved no less than six times before finally coming to rest in a barn in New Hampshire.

A condition that can sometimes exacerbate the C.R.A.P. virus, however, is a scenario in which impossible luck can and does favor the sufferer. In the case of Dad and his bundle of hazardous woodwork, eventually a restorer of historic sites in the New England area found out about Dad's cache of Victorian molding and further discovered that it was of sufficient square-footage and era-appropriate design for his projects. A transaction was agreed upon and the restorer carted off the molding while Dad recouped $250 on the bundle which, by conservative estimates, cost him approximately $1,400 to store and transport cross-country over the years. Despite the fact that he would have earned substantially more had he simply placed the same amount of money in, say, Microsoft IPO stock or even a simple interest-bearing account at the time of acquisition, Dad nevertheless viewed the transaction as validation of his tendencies. No amount of logic or mathematics would dissuade him from this viewpoint, yet another hallmark of intractable C.R.A.P. Syndrome.


So much for the medical literature.

As for me, I confess I had a similar moment, although thankfully it didn't involve 350 pounds of lead-laden trim. When Thomas was barely out of toddlerhood, he was fascinated with action figures. He was forever arranging them in elaborate scenarios--scenarios which often included dismembering or breaking the figures, alas--and then begging me to photograph the numerous tableaux he would create. Not wanting to discourage this father-son activity, yet not having the funds to buy brand-new figures for destruction, I took to purchasing boxloads of miscellaneous action figures at yard sales and flea markets.

At one point, I was sifting through debris in the bottom of a recently acquired box, when I came across a flat, black plastic lid which, God help me, I recognized as the hatch to a specific kind of Batmobile, the only Batmobile that could seat both Batman AND Robin at the same time (of course the Batmobile it went to was long discarded). Well, Batman and Robin were my son's favorite figures and--mark this--he already had a perfectly good Batmobile, but it was only a single-seater (and only a cad would suggest that Robin sit in Batman's lap whilst they went about their crime-fighting duties).

Naturally, this two-seater Batmobile had been off the market for a couple of years and had achieved a collectible status in that time. Of course, you know what I did: I saved that fricking lid against the day I would find a lidless two-seater collectible Batmobile at a reasonable price.

Although small in size, that lid very nearly ruined my marriage. Her Lovely Self just couldn't get over the fact that I was hanging on to this "lump of plastic" against pretty steep odds of finding its vehicular mate.

In the end, when we were getting ready to move to the house we now occupy, I broke down under the combined pressure of endless haranguing and conjugal embargoes and sold off bags and bags of action figure parts, as well as that damn lid. It actually ended up getting $12.50 on eBay.

The first week after we moved into our new house, our neighborhood had a community yard sale. And what do you suppose the kid across the street--across the street--was selling?

(All right, he lived across the street and down about eight houses, but still...)

There was no camera to capture the look I gave my spouse at that moment, no device to record the strange guttural squeaking that emitted from my throat, but the combined audio-visual spectacle must have been sufficiently horrifying enough that Her Lovely Self ended up buying the lidless Batmobile I found that day (cost: $2). And when I recovered the power of speech, I heard myself saying the words that are ever the precursor of a long-term C.R.A.P. flare-up: "I am NEVER EVER getting rid of anything again!"

And so here we are.

To be fair, my condition is not as severe as my parents', not yet anyway. Not long after we were married and moved into a new home, I brought my young bride up to the wilds of New Hampshire, partly to show her off to my relatives (many of whom, I'm chagrined the say, I did not invite to the wedding. These were the truly intractable C.R.A.P. sufferers, the kind of people who would have made off with the cake centerpiece and the votive candles). But mostly, I used the trip to make off with a load of, well, crap.

That's one of the fun things about a family of C.R.A.P. sufferers. You're always taking each other's stuff, whether it's given to you or not. That Johnny West figure in the picture the other day? Okay, fine! It WAS my brother's. But possession is nine-tenths, right. And anyway, who nibbled off the kung-fu grip on my GI Joe and then started calling him "Knuckles," huh? Well?

This personality trait among C.R.A.P. sufferers is especially pronounced after a member of the family has perished. When my grandfather died of a heart attack in the early 70s, some of his children didn't even wait til sun-up the next day to raid the house and the numerous sheds, looking for the old gingerbread clock, the Shaker dresser, the only known tintype images of our Abenaki grandmother, and dozens of other legendary items.

And so it was that one of my uncles crept up to the house at 4:30 the next morning, slid in through the side window of the house, intent on getting into my dead grandfather's bedroom, probably to make off with the coin collection, or the Amoskeag musket, or the wooden box full of Dick Tracy cap guns that the kids were only allowed to fire off on the Independence Day.

I know. Appalling, isn't it? And we know for a fact that he did this, because as this person was creeping through the darkened living room, he tripped over my dad, who had been hiding behind the sofa ever since he heard the window open.

As they sat their in the pre-dawn gloom, bickering, they saw a small pick-up coast into the barnyard, its lights off, its motor killed. It was their sister! Hastily, they came to terms: One got the cap guns, one took the musket. They both squeezed out the side window with their acquisitions just as Sis was opening the front door. They didn't find the coin collection, but that was because the eldest child--my aunt Barbara--had dispatched uncle David to retrieve it (for safekeeping) approximately 45 minutes after my grandfather's body had been discovered the day earlier. Or so I was always told.

And now here I was, about 300 yards up a hill from that old farmstead, in a two-story storage building my dad had constructed himself. Here were all the prized possessions of my youth: the bulk of my comic-book collection, my toys, a collection of child-sized polyester leisure suits of the style worn by The Six Million Dollar Man, which my mom had sewn for me when I was a boy (I regret to inform you that NO photographic evidence of that unfortunate sartorial era has survived into modern day).

While I happily puttered about upstairs, gathering my things, Her Lovely Self remained downstairs, assisting her new in-laws as they checked on their belongings. After a while, she became silent and pensive, almost withdrawn. Eventually, I gathered the 40 or so boxes I was planning to transport to our new home. It took an hour to load it all up, and during that time, Her Lovely Self scarcely spoke a word, looking paler by the second. At last, we climbed into our vehicle and followed my parents back to the house.

"Now what's the matter?" I asked, trying not to be defensive, but when you have C.R.A.P., sometimes you can't help but walk around with your back up.

Her Lovely Self gazed at me with troubled eyes. "I know this stuff is important to you, and I'm happy to move it home so you can go through it. But if you ever get as bad as your parents--"

"Oh God, what?" I asked. "What did they do?"

HLS shook her head. "Your mom said she was going to go through some of the older boxes and throw things out." She paused for breath. "I saw her open this one box, and do you know what was inside?"

I tried to think of the most bizarre possession my parents had. "Was it the stuffed dog? The Civil War bedpan? The syphilis needle?"

She stared at me a long time, wondering if I was joking, but not daring to ask. Finally she said. "No. In the box there were two things: a crochet blanket that some squirrel had turned into a nest, and a giant rock."

I hated myself for saying, simply, "And?"

"And your mother started winding up the loose thread from the blanket. Covered in squirrel pee and whatever! And I said, 'Please don't tell me you're going to save it!' I really think she was, until she saw the look on my face."

"But--" I said, "she threw it out."

"Yes, but she put the rock back in the box! Who saves a 50-pound rock?"

Well, I guess you have to have C.R.A.P. to understand C.R.A.P. ...


Comments:
It was a very special, sentimental rock I'm sure. :)

What will be interesting is to see which way the kids fall out in this - will they have inherited the C.R.A.P. tendencies...?
 
I have come to the conclusion that there is an underground society for C.R.A.P. sufferers. As MM alluded to - they communicate through eBay and word of mouth. That's why it makes perfect sense to hang onto even the most obscure item. Someone, somewhere, someday will need it, and probably be willing to pay for it.

Perhaps it's even built into our DNA. A trait more prominent in some than others.

Isn't C.R.A.P. the reason why we have attics, basements, sheds and garages?

George Carlin's bit on "Stuff" says it best.
 
I have proof - I AM proof that C.R.A.P. is handed down from parent to child, just like hair color, eye color and Aunt Bertha's nose.

What's scarier still is that by the tender age of 7, Twinkle could no longer leave the house without bringing along everything she owned in a giant mesh bag. She not only has the C.R.A.P, she also has D.R.A.G (Drags Raggedy-Ass Garbage) syndrome. Those who are afflicted with D.R.A.G. nearly always have the C.R.A.P., however the inverse is not always true.

What those of us with C.R.A.P really need is more understanding. And more storage.
 
I have a whole box of rocks, and another of shells. C.R.A.P indeed!
 
In answer to HLS question, "Because you just never know!"

Alas, my C.R.A.P. ran full force into my S.A.L.A.P (spend as little as possible) gene last year, and anything I hadn't used in 7 years got hauled to the curb so I didn't have to pay one penny more than I had to in order to move several thousand miles. It was horrible throwing out all those notes passed back and forth in high school.
 
I do think that C.R.A.P. is passed down from generation to generation... I am trying very hard to not let that happen to me... My mother God bless her soul... was the general of C.R.A.P. She saved everything... From what I have been told just in the past 2 years since her death... The C.R.A.P. my father and my brothers have pulled out of that house is huge... AND THEY STILL AREN'T DONE... and now they are sending me the C.R.A.P. thinking that I want it... I keep saying don't send it to me don't send it to me... But that little voice in my head says... Yes you do because C.R.A.P. will follow you where ever you go!!
 
- C.R.A.P -
Carrier Route Arrangement Program.

Its has the same MO ... it drags the lifeforce out of us all.
 
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