By Rosalie Tirella
(editor’s note: This column is dedicated to the late George Carlin; he recently passed away – shortly after performing in Worcester – one of his last gigs. This column was inspired by Carlin’s comedy routine “A Place for My Stuff.”)
I never thought I cared so much about stuff until I started moving stuff, losing stuff, accounting for stuff … seeing people’s stuff! It all began four months ago, when I decided to forsake my inner-city apartment of 11 years for the Worcester ‘burbs. I was burned out from the inner-city noise, the crowdedness of my street, the pain-in-the-ass teenager who lived downstairs and played loud music at night. His music was his stuff. But his stuff was my shit!
So I decided to take all my stuff and move it to a new place in a nearby town. My boyfriend “Mario” (he asked me to give him this silly pseudonym) said, “Rose, it’ll be a brutal move – you’ve got a ton of shit!”
I said, “Mario, it’s not shit! It’s my stuff!”
And there begins the adventure, maybe the conundrum: Where does one’s stuff end and someone else’s begin? When does your stuff become shit? When does someone’s shit become stuff? It’s an interesting question, one that I have been answering daily for four months! You see, the guy who was supposed to fix up a place for me to live in the ‘burbs decided (after I moved all my stuff out of my old apartment and moved it into his place) that he did not want to build a bathroom for me in my new space (it had no bathroom) – thus depriving me of a place to place my stuff – shit to him!
“I hate him!” I screamed to my mother, when I visited her the other day. She had moved to a smaller apartment years ago, when she retired – so she doesn’t have a lot of stuff. Like the missionary style solid oak bedroom set that I have and love so dearly, or my funky coffee table whose top is made up of hundreds of little mirrors that look like they’ve had acid thrown on them. Also: the hundreds of books and lps – great lps like the Beatles’ Rubber Soul – from the 1960s! But now, locked up in this guy’s space (I do have a key), my stuff has become this guy’s shit. Junk he’s storing for a friend whom he left high and dry.
“Sue the bastard,” Mario said to me the other night. Mario is very litigious and sues all kinds of bastards every week.
“No, I can’t sue Fred,” I said. “He meant to do the right thing,” I lied. “He just doesn’t want to spend a couple of grand putting in a toilet, bringing up pipes – you know.”
“What’s he gonna do with your stuff?” Mario asked.
“Store it until I find a new apartment,” I said.
“This is turning into one big mess!” Mario said.
I turned to Mario, who helped me move all my stuff into Fred’s space and said: “It’s funny how you ended up with my gorgeous vintage green velvet sofa- the one with the thick braided cords and tassels strung all over the bottom! It looks like something straight out of Sunset Boulevard, something that William Holden sat on for Gawd’s sake! It’s funny how it’s in your house with your stuff. It should be at Fred’s – with my stuff.”
“Don’t get delirious!” Mario snapped. “Besides, Fang (a pseudonym for his 95-pound German Shepherd) loves it.”
“What?” I screamed. “You let Fang sleep on it?! Like some gigantic doggy bed?”
“He sleeps on it when I’m at work,” Mario answered proudly. “I covered it with a tarp.”
So my jewel of a sofa had become Fang’s bed. “Put some boxes on it!” I said to Mario.
And then Mario started screaming, too. He started screaming how Fang never really had a great place to sleep downstairs – after he peed on Mario’s old sofa, the one he still keeps in the living room (minus Fang’s urine-stained cushion).
And so we fought – loudly. I felt Mario was turning my precious stuff into his dog’s shit!
“Don’t worry!” Mario said. “Dogs don’t piss or shit where they sleep.”
This is why all my friends say: “Don’t ever live with that man. Don’t ever move your stuff in with his stuff!”
They are probably right. We shouldn’t mix stuff.
Still, I have had to spend some nights with him – amidst his shit, er, stuff. Like the porno magazines on the floor in his bedroom and the porno pictures on his walls and the picture propped up on a little table in the bedroom.
“This is such shit!” I tell him, looking at the picture of the naked blond bent over showing a shaved you-know-what.
“I’m in love with her!” Mario says of the blond in the photo. Clearly, the lady in the photo is not shit to Mario. She is more than stuff, too.
But does she make Mario shit? A shit-head? I mean, he did offer to put me up … .
And then, of course, the question becomes: If I am transient while I look for an apartment, what stuff do I take when I visit everyone? What’s the stuff I need when I’m on the run? The answer: lots of black stuff. Black sweaters, black tights, black boots, black shirts, black socks, black winter scarves. Black is so elegant! It never looks dirty! It should be the color of the homeless!
And let’s not forget: soap, deodorant, toothbrush, shampoo, hairdryer, a few magazines and a book. And a pocketbook. Black, of course. As I drive to Mario’s or my Uncle Stan’s I try to remember where all my stuff is: most of it stored in Fred’s place, but my lovely sofa is at the Mario’s. A few boxes of vintage dishes (they belonged to my Grandmother) are at my mother’s place – some clothing at my Uncle Stan’s. I am getting anxious over my stuff -I wish it were with me. I wish we were all together again, under one roof – me and my stuff. Stuff. Your personal stuff. It makes you feel safe, gives you direction. Stuff tells you WHO YOU ARE. It chronicles your life. It helps you remember special events – the way the candle and rosary help you remember your First Holy Communion. Stuff triggers memories of special people, like my Mom.
Men – or at least the men I know – have stuff but they don’t know how to present their stuff for maximum effect, even though it may have sentimental value. My Uncle Stan has presents – stuff I gave him three Christmases ago, still in the gift bags in which I placed them. Plus all the gifts – stuff – that his friends and family have given him over the years: sweaters, tee shirts, coffeemakers, even Old Spice cologne. Stuff. There – in his cute little cottage. But not used. Weird. It’s as if he likes wearing his old stuff more than he likes wearing new stuff. He likes stuff that he’s worn for years and years and years, stuff others might consider, well, kinda … shitty.
The first thing I do when I go to a friend’s or relative’s home is out my stuff! My toiletries and magazines and black clothes. Phew! It feels great to have my toothbrush and my toothpaste and my moisturizing soap on their sinks! And there go my shampoo and conditioner in some special nook or cranny in their bath tub/shower. Then I hang up my clothes in the six inches of closet space that I am given and take a deep breath. I can calm down now. The universal order is restored! My stuff is out!
As I drive to Uncle Stan’s I look out the window of my car and see houses and apartments – places filled with stuff! Containers with a lid – a roof!
My Uncle Mark just passed away. His little house, which he shared with his wife, my Aunt Mary and their four kids, was filled with so much stuff! Now he is gone! My Uncle Stan has some of his stuff – stuff that most people wouldn’t think so valuable, like Uncle Mark’s light blue dress shirts. But I cry when I look at them, now hung in my Uncle Stan’s closet, next to my black clothes, my stuff.
Uncle Mark was a grammar school principal and wore those robin blue shirts to work. He was a big, tall guy – he played football in college and could have gone on to play pro ball. But he wanted to be a teacher. He was the gentlest person. He loved kids. He was the kind of parent – even in the buttoned-down Eisenhower ’50s and ’60s – who smooched his kids goodnight, played football with them, monitored their school work.
He always joined in when we all sat in the basement rec-room to play board games. I still remember that rec-room of the ‘70s. It’s walls were covered with brown wood paneling and we – my mom, my aunt, my uncle, my two sisters and three cousins – would sit on sofa and chairs and play Bingo. There was my Uncle Mark, a graduate of Fordham University, with two Masters degrees under his belt, laughing and laughing. He was being mischievous, teasing us kids – reading the Bingo numbers in funny ways, saying B-knee-gee-coo! instead of B 9 or B 10.
“Dad!” his kids would say, looking exasperated!
“Yeah, Uncle Mark! What’s the number?” I’d say. “I’m one away from winning!” (the dollar bill!)
But Uncle Mark just kept shouting out silly, make-believe numbers – giggling and having more fun than we were. He was a man who loved his wife and his family – including nieces and nephews – more than anything in the world.
When I was a kid, my mother and my two sisters and I would go over Uncle Mark’s and Aunt Mary’s house for a cook out. We’d all be eating burgers and hot dogs and potato chips – and my Uncle Mark would survey his big backyard in the north end of Worcester, with the whiffle ball and bat, basket balls, big red rubber dodge balls strewn on his lawn, the picnic table over run with kids and and say, to no one in particular, to everybody really: “Togetherness!”
It was just one word, but Uncle Mark had declared his love for everything that ever meant anything to him.
So I look at those baby blue dress shirts and cry. I know that Mario’s stuff and my stuff will never come together the way my Uncle Mark’s and Aunt Mary’s stuff did – in a kind of sonnet to domesticity.
And I know now more than ever that stuff is … tricky stuff.