Art in Paradise: Pandora and Me

On a recent night of epic duration, I opened the now-flimsy cardboard I folded shut six years ago. Inside, a 1978 Battlestar Galactica colonial viper nestled amid the detritus. A tire gauge rested against it, and it sat on a bill long paid and something scrawled in my handwriting—the first, bad draft of a poem I’d long forgotten. I was going to come back to it. Maybe not years later, but hey, now I know it’s bad, beyond hope, so I won’t waste any more time. And there? Hey! The tape my band recorded in 1994.

Where to take it all? Should I examine every piece? Should I just hurl it all into a dumpster? This is my life right now, over and over, endless variations on the same theme.

Maybe you recognize this old tune:

I’m gonna go to the supermarket.
I’m gonna go to the liquor store.
I’m gonna get me some cardboard boxes.
You know what them boxes are for.

That’s Loudon Wainwright’s “Cardboard Boxes,” a fine example of his cheeky brand of folk balladeering. The chorus goes “We’re gonna move. We’re gonna move, yeah, move.”

And moving is what I’m up to right now. I’m up to my neck in cardboard boxes. The things smell like irritation mixed with a hint of wet dog. The liquor store boxes add a touch of oak-aged dankness. It’s getting so I can tell the difference before I see the things.

There’s nothing like packing all your worldy possessions (and, inevitably, a few of the dustbunnies that insinuate themselves between the LPs from the bottom shelf) into boxes and trudging back and forth until your blisters have blisters before you head out for parts unknown. Or, in this case, a different part of our fair Valley. Not that you can pack the china with any less care—five miles or 5,000 is all the same to a crystal vase.

But there’s more to the endeavor than first appears. Open a basement door to a room full of boxes from the last move—this makes my 22nd, a number I don’t like to think about—and a spike of stress hormones is likely to jet its way through the system. Suddenly, the countdown to launch, standing at T minus 12 days, looms like a grinning specter. Unpacking these boxes from the last move was supposed to happen by now. The one with the Star Trek stuff should have gone to eBay, and that radio, well, the tubes could probably be salvaged. But it’s too late now.

As Wainwright says:

Give it to the Salvation Army or the Goodwill.
We’ve got so much junk it’s a joke.
…Don’t throw that away; it’s a family heirloom.
I’ve had that ashtray for 15 years.

It’s always the same story. Maybe just a peek at that box, maybe a quick flip through the old vinyl records. Two hours later, you’re splayed out on the couch reminiscing about college while Jim Morrison goes all apoplectic about lizards and what-have-you in his baritone. And those boxes you brought home? Still empty. Then it’s T minus 11 days the next morning.

In the end, though, those moments splayed on the couch are invaluable. Giving up your digs for new ones can be a pleasure itself, despite all those spikes of stress and worry, despite the 2 a.m. blear of looking for the packing tape that’s fallen behind the couch. But moving is a window into the life you’ve lived so far, bad, good and otherwise.

The bottom of some humble box that’s gone neglected behind the oil tank might hold a note from a departed friend. The bin beside the ski boots might contain that long-lost screenplay you knew would take Hollywood by storm. Maybe it only took you by storm until page 30 got the better of you, but there it is, and it might yet spring to life.

All that taking of inventory becomes internal, impractical in the midst of all the practicality. Is there really any need to keep the coat that never quite fit? Will I ride that bike I haven’t ridden for six years? Will I write the novel clearly described in a 10-year-old scrawl on a napkin? Can I even write that novel now? What have I done with those 10 years? What will I pack away now and forget about until I move again?

Maybe it’s better to just grab the tape and leave those boxes untouched, to be time capsules for the older me. It is, after all, T minus 10 days ’til, like Loudon says, “We’re gonna move.”

Author: James Heflin

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