Thursday, August 12, 2010


In Which We Load the Trunk...

So I’m moving again.

Sadly, that preface must also serve as my four-word apology for being absent from here for so long. When I was a kid, moving--which we did a lot--always struck with the suddenness of an environmental disaster. That’s how it seemed to me anyway. One day you’re sprawled on the blue shag rug in your bedroom, lazily pushing your Batman action figures out onto Lake Shag, where Mike Power, the Atomic Man and GI Joe are stranded in their amphibious vehicle, unable to restart the engine because your Big Brother nibbled off their little kung-fu grip fingers (not that Batman’s any help because he’s got two big blue oven mitts for gloves, but never mind). Next day, you’re standing on a bare wood floor, Lake Shag rolled in a corner, Mike Power and GI Joe are trapped somewhere in a gulag of stacked Mayflower cartons, and your mother is screaming at you in the distance, as though a tornado or a tsunami or killer bees were on the horizon and closing fast.

Actually, mostly Mom yelled at us to “Load Your Trunks!” My brother and I each had a sturdy little metal footlocker, complete with lock and key. Our parents had told us to pack into them only the most special possessions that we couldn’t bear to have lost or broken in a move. It was one of the wiser parenting decisions they made, as it forced us early to take responsibility for our stuff, to make discriminating (and often hard) choices about what was most special to us. And to get us used to the idea of a nomadic lifestyle.

Our parents had given one to my brother. Mine was more special, because we had found it in a crawlspace of the first house I can remember living in. It was a thing of great mystery, hidden way in the back of the eaves, a drab green box, locked tight. Dad had carefully picked the lock with a paper clip and a toothpick (a feat that impressed me then and impresses me still) only to find inside a few pennies, a coverless comic book (Donald Duck) and--you guessed it--the key. But I loved that trunk. Dad cleaned it up, painted it shiny black, and gave me the key on a keyring I still carry in my pocket. When moving time came around, I always packed that trunk with the same things: a short stack of my favorite comics, my Batman action figure (and his Batmobile), my favorite personal accessories (at first, it was usually just a baseball cap or a favorite t-shirt. Later, I would include my fastest tennis shoes, Boy Scout-issue shorts with their awesome pockets and clips, and my Mobile Crime Lab from my Boy Detective days), my lucky arrowhead, and my baseball glove. Packing the trunk was the longest part of any childhood move, and it usually took less than 20 minutes.

Now moves take longer, and heavens are they time-consuming. Especially if you are living in one state, engaged in a prolonged house-sitting situation, while your actual house--the albatross formerly known as the Magazine Mansion--sits hundreds of miles to the west, empty and unloved. Also unsold.

This last little fact has weighed heavily on the mind of Her Lovely Self, whose father is quite possibly the greatest amateur realtor of the 20th century. This is a man who has sold every house he’s ever owned at asking price (or higher, if he got a bidding war started, which apparently he often did), usually within a few weeks of putting it one the market, but sometimes within a few days of just thinking about putting it on the market.

So, economic conditions notwithstanding, it’s come as something of a shock to my wife that our own house has been somewhat slow to move. It hasn’t helped that we had the misfortune of choosing a realtor who appears to have gone into semi-retirement shortly after taking our listing. Some weeks ago, we finally got fed up with his laziness and broke our contract with him. This coincided with the impending end of our sweet housesitting deal, and a lucky break finding a cheap rent in a nice apartment complex, which we will call home until we can sell the old place and buy a new home.

All of this necessitated a return trip to the Magazine Mansion, which we hadn’t seen in six months, not since we closed the place up for the winter. It didn’t look like the same inviting house I remembered leaving back in December. I wouldn’t have wanted to buy the place. The kitchen looked dark and small, the yard looked patchy and woebegone. Mud-encrusted footprints from a long winter of showings were embedded in the carpets. Something bad and leaky had happened to the dishwasher. The sheep were in the meadow, the cows were in the corn.

So it was a painful, exhausting few days of Extreme Makeover, the MM Edition, as we repainted, shampooed rugs, pruned hedges, and fired realtors. I had to fiddle with the water supply and in the doing of it discovered many impending plumbing problems worse than the dishwasher, although the dishwasher was pretty bad. Here’s a tip: If you think you can remove an old dishwasher and install a new one all by yourself, think again. Especially when it comes to jockeying the thing into position in a space under the kitchen counter that is precisely one-quarter of an inch too small for the new unit. Your fingertips will thank you for it later. Because you will still have all of them. Unlike me. Now I know how Mike Power and GI Joe felt.

And that was really just for openers. We got a new realtor--a real firecracker whom I dearly wish we’d met six months ago. He hit the ground running, showing the house twice within 72 hours of our signing him on. He also brought some realtor tough-love down on us, and made us realize that it was long past time to get our stuff out of the house and into storage or, as it will turn out, into our new rental pad.

In fairness, we managed to empty most of the living space of the house before we closed the place up last Christmas. But we had lagged in emptying our garage and, of course, the Incredible Basement of C.R.A.P. Our new realtor pointed out that when it came to selling points, storage was huge, and the fact that our house is the only one in its price range with a three-car garage was nullified by the fact that we had it partially filled with boxes. So we got a U-Haul and Thomas and I spent the hottest day of the year hauling boxes to an unventilated storage unit. While we were gone, Her Lovely Self divested us of the last of the Basement of C.R.A.P. junk, literally giving it away to neighbors and passersby. I think she went a little crazy that day, because she also started giving away our furniture. As Thomas and I returned, I saw three burly college kids hoisting our beloved sofa onto the back of a truck, along with my favorite LoveSac.

But I didn’t have long to lament their loss. I was too busy reloading the U-Haul with beds and furniture and my Emergency Stash of C.R.A.P., long hidden in the crawlspace over the garage. While Her Lovely Self was engaged in a distant part of the house doing loud things with a carpet shampooer, I smuggled the very last of my C.R.A.P. down into the garage and well into the back of the truck. It was, it must be said, a pretty small collection of stuff, the smallest it’s been in years: Just two Mayflower cartons of old toys, a plastic bin of assorted electronics, a bag containing the belt from the Mobile Crime Lab, and my last 27 boxes of comic books.

When I was done, there was just one thing up in the crawlspace: my old metal trunk, its shiny black finish long since scuffed off. I fished the old key off my keyring and opened it. Inside were a few old newspaper clippings, a handful of spare change, a Red Sox cap and the severed forearm of my old GI Joe, his maimed hand splayed on the floor of the trunk in a sad little five-knuckled wave. I hunched there for a moment under the eaves of the Magazine Mansion, sweat running off the end of my nose. Then I clambered down the ladder and returned with an armful of items such as I thought a young person might like to find. I dumped them all in, tossed in whatever loose bills and spare change I found in my pockets and then--what the hell--flipped the key in too, locked the trunk and shoved it into the deepest, darkest corner under the eaves.

It seemed like an appropriate offering to a house that has been good to me and mine, that had sheltered me after many illnesses and incidents of self-injury, that had welcomed me home after many a misadventure, that had seen the arrival in my family of the Éclair, and of Blaze before her. And that, last but not least, had witnessed the birth of this blog.

So I wish them well, whoever finds that trunk. I wish them many happy and healthy years in that house I once called home.

But mostly, I just wish they’d hurry the hell up and buy the place.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

What a wonderful, wistful post. Moving is hard. Harder still when you have so many memories tied to a place. Good luck with the selling. I hope some kid finds your treasure soon. (Glad I checked your blog today!)
moving is horrible, even when you want it to happen. i only liked my apartment, and i still cried over leaving it.

cool that you left your trunk. i don't think i could have.

happy real estate sales!
Great story, good luck and God's speed
Grand to see your return to this space, even if the impetus was provided by something melancholy. Nice job leaving the trunk for some other kid to discover :-)
Welcome back!
That was a lovely gesture, and generous too. You deserve a quick sale, though I know that wasn't why you did it.
that's such a nice thing to do! you're going to make some kid so happy.
What a sweet surprise for somebody! Sorry your house isn't selling as fast as you'd like. My dad is a realtor (the professional kind), and I know what a heartbreaker it can be for families to leave their beloved home only to feel like nobody else appreciates it. Good that you had someone who could give you the tough love and help to get someone into the house to enjoy it like your family has.
May it sell quickly. Our last home sold the instant we moved all our stuff out.
Thanks for the update and sorry the house hasn't been moving. Tough times all around. My un-employed brother finally found a job only to realize that it might not last for long.

It's still tough times.
hurray, you're back!--even if to lament more madness and unsold homes and nomadic times. I actually enjoy reading your laments and frustrations. see how talented a writer you are? you can make a horrible, sweaty home redo into a sentimental event. I've moved lots and lots of times, and that's not easy to do. kudos.

hope the place sells NOW. you did the right thing, getting rid of flotsam. and happily, an old home, unseen and recalled romantically, can only become a more attractive and romantic host of your memories as years pass.
I always liked the story about the guys who painted "Have you found the body?" on the subfloor under their new carpet, and planted a grave-sized flower bed in an odd place.

Your 'surprise' sounds much better.
So glad to "hear" from you.
I always marvel that you can recollect events from your childhood so brilliantly. Hopefully your trunk will go on to many new adventures.
Glad you found a better realtor. His motivation should get your old place sold.
Always, ALWAYS, good -no, make that great -to read a post from you again. Reading this, my mind wandered off into space, day-dreaming, sort of, about how difficult it would be if I were ever to have to empty out this old house that has been my home for sixty plus years, belonged to my grandparents for 40 some years prior to that and the attic here still holds relics, I'm sure, from all the previous residents within my extended family! Nope, I don't ever, ever want to have to move ANYTHING, ever again! But I am hoping that whoever lands in your former home and finds that trunk you left behind, realizes what a treasure trove was put there!
So glad to see a new post! Good luck on the house selling and moving. :)
That's a really great thing to do. If only we could read the story of the person that discovers it!
Good luck with your move and your home sale.
MM - I notice you don't mention the upside-down, facing-the-front-door statue of St. Joseph (patron saint of home sales) buried in the front yard...You've got nothing to lose at this point!

I've dug up one near the mailbox shortly after moving into each of the houses I've bought...there must be something to it.
loved the story of your trunk. We have one upstairs the your big brother put the key into and than locked. Sure would have been great to know that your dad could pick locks, would have had him come and see if he could get that one opened. The only treasure in it is the key. Hope the old house sells soon. Have missed not finding you here. Have enjoyed reading the magazine. JAG
Hey MM, good to see you back, and good luck on getting the house sold. This is a good time of year for house-selling, I think. We sold my Mom's old house, the place where I grew up, soon after she moved here, and it was kind of emotional letting go. But quite a relief after it was done.
It's almost time for October Moments!!!! It's almost time for October Moments!!!! Please please please, the ouija board one! Pleeeeeeeeeese!



Damn, where's the Kleenex when you need them?
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