MR. CASTEN’S CLUTTER – Rich Paschall

Stuff, by Rich Paschall

Only his neighbor Jorge knew the old guy was sick.  In fact, Mr. Casten had been failing for almost two years.  Whenever Jorge saw the old man, he asked if there was anything he could do to help.  When Mr. Casten was not seen for a week, Jorge would go knock on his door.  If the old guy felt well enough he would stand in the doorway and talk for a while.  If it was morning, he would invite Jorge in for a cup of coffee.

By the time Casten had passed away, Jorge probably knew him as well as anyone.  Their little chats on the stairs, in the doorway or at the kitchen table revealed a lot about an old guy who had lived alone in the same small apartment most of his adult life.  The place was stuffed with memories and memorabilia.

Mr. Casten had collected and saved things throughout life, but in the last few years he tried to de-clutter his small existence.  He gave things away to charity resale shops.  He sent pictures he had from his parents on to other relatives.  He even sold some items on eBay.  It was all too late to clean up the house, however.  Mr. Casten’s small efforts were not enough after a lifetime of accumulation.

Since there were no siblings, no children, and no mate, the matter of cleanup and disposal was left to a crew of cousins. Jorge knew just who to call because Mr. Casten had prepared a list of contacts in case of his untimely demise. Although Mr. Casten was only in his late 60’s, his death arrived right on schedule the way Jorge saw it. Mr. Casten had gone as far as he could.

When the cousins arrived one Saturday morning to clean out the apartment, Jorge was waiting with the key that had been entrusted to him by Mr. Casten.  Four cousins and two of their teen age sons figured they would make fast work of the four room apartment.  They figured wrong.

“Oh my, who knew one person could collect so much stuff,” cousin Raymond declared.  “This could take all day!”

“Mr. Casten said to tell you guys to be sure to take for yourselves anything you want, then give anything else that is still good to charity.”

“And did you take something, Jorge?” cousin David said in a rather accusing tone.

“Yes,” Jorge replied calmly.  “I took the coffee cup he always gave me to drink out of.  It was the only thing I wanted.”

“Well, I heard he had a good baseball card collection,” cousin Jeff chimed in.  “I would like to have that if we can find it.”

“He’s got a lot of CDs here,” Raymond said in amazement.  “I think I will see what I need.”

“Hey dad,” one of the teenagers shouted out to David.  “He’s got a lot of DVDs. I am going to see if he has anything decent to watch”

As they randomly picked through the goods, cousin John grabbed one of the teenagers and said, “Let’s get to work.  With those guys working so hard out there, we will never get out of here!”

So John and a bored teenager went to the kitchen in search of large garbage bags.  “Under the sink,” Jorge instructed.

Armed with a box of bags, Jorge, John and the teenager went to the bedroom to empty closets and drawers.  John told the teenager to take everything in the closets and put it in bags for donation.  If it looked in bad shape, he should put it in a separate bag for the garbage.  John decided to do the same with the dresser.

As John and Jorge took items from the dresser, they found many new things in each drawer.  There were clothes with tags, new socks and underwear in packages, pajamas that were never worn and sweaters that looked new.

“I thought the old guy could not afford much,” John said in amazement.

“I think he was always afraid of running out of something,” Jorge said.  “He told me more than once that he was afraid to be poor and have nothing, so he kept everything and did not use anything until he needed it.”

“If he lived another 10 years he would not have to buy any clothes,” John said somewhat incredulously.

“Yeah, I think that was the idea,” Jorge noted.

Mr. Casten’s mother had grown up in the Great Depression.  She had nothing, so in her adult life she saved everything.  Anything that had value or possible use, she would save for whenever she might need it.  Of course, she had many things she never used, but they were there “just in case.”

When Casten was young, he knew they did not have much and he saw how his mother managed to get through the years with what they accumulated.  He naturally took on the same habits.  While everything may have seemed a jumbled mess to outside observers, especially cousins who never came to call, it was an organized home for Mr. Casten.

After many runs to the resale shop and the outside garbage cans, the crew had made a good deal of progress.  John declared he would return with one of the boys to finish the job the next day.

“That box in the corner marked pictures should also say ‘Cousins’ on the top,” Jorge remembered to tell them. “You should take that with you.”

“What would we want with a box of old pictures?” David said rather sarcastically.

So Jorge explained that collection.  “Mr. Casten thought that maybe someone would want to see them at a wake or service to remember how he looked, since he had not been invited to any family event in years.  I would guess you guys would be in a lot of those pictures from long ago.”

The cousins said nothing.  John grabbed the box on the way out.

Jorge closed the door.

See also: “The Accumulation of Stuff,” Reducing Clutter

DANGEROUS BLACK TRASH BAGS

When Garry and I were first married and before we owned a home, we rented a tiny, adorable, over-priced apartment on Beacon Hill. Since it was on the ground floor, privacy decreed window coverings. I bought curtains and drapes for all the windows. The building dated back to the early 1800s. The ceilings were high, the windows tall.

The windows were the best feature of the apartment along with a fireplace in the living room and a beautiful marble bathroom. I could have lived without the other residents of the flat. Cockroaches. Who had apparently been there since Paul Revere made his ride. Big ones, the kind one addresses as “sir.” Regardless of sex.

Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash.
Parking is a real issue on Beacon Hill. So is trash. We lived up the street on the left, ground floor.

I put all the new curtains in a black trash bag and warned Garry — or thought I warned Garry — “This,” I said “is NOT trash. It’s our new drapes.” That’s what I thought I said. Regardless, it wasn’t what Garry heard.  We had just moved in and there was a lot of trash waiting for disposal, all in black trash bags. I’m sure you know the punchline.

By the time I realized the drapes had been taken to the curb, the scavengers of Beacon Hill had snagged them. Everybody on Beacon Hill, rich and poor alike, scavenges. While we were still moving in, people kept coming by trying to take our stuff. I’m not talking about poor homeless people. I mean The Neighbors. Several times I had to remove lamps and other items of furniture from their clenched fists.

The drapes were gone in a nanosecond. Still in their original wrappers, price tags attached. Whoever took them had to know they were not trash. In Roxbury, where we later lived — a poor, mostly black neighborhood — I’m sure they would have returned the drapes. They would have gone door to door until they found the right house. But Beacon Hillers have a different way of looking at things that reminds me of an old childhood chant “Finders keepers, losers weepers.”

I had to buy new drapes and the second set wasn’t as nice — or expensive — as the first. I’d used the money and couldn’t spend it twice.

Over the years, my penchant for storing stuff in black trash bags has cost us dearly. Christmas presents, out of season clothing, household items intended for the attic — have all vanished. Who done it? Me? Garry? One of the kids? It could be anyone. I’m inclined to blame the terriers. They are always sneaking around, up to no good.

As a family, we have a knee-jerk response to black trash bags. We throw them out. It could have been anyone. (I still suspect Bonnie, the Scottie.)

As the weather turned chilly, I decided to put our down comforter on the bed. It should have been easy enough to find, stored as it was in a big black trash bag. Except it had vanished. This is not an item one can easily overlook. A king-sized down comforter is big. Fluffy. It had considerable bulk, if not heft. This is not like looking for a piece of missing paper. This should have been easy to spot. And it should have been in the bedroom — but wasn’t.

I checked the closets and the attic. Nothing. No black trash bags. None at all.

When finally the dust settled (I really liked that comforter) and I had ordered a replacement from Kohl’s, I apologized to Garry for accusing him of perfidiously disposing of our bedding.

“I have to stop storing things in black trash bags. This isn’t working out,” I said. Garry readily agreed. I’m pretty sure he’s still pissed off at me. I can hardly blame him.

Do they make big bags like that in clear plastic? Just wondering.