Monday, March 11, 2013

My Stuff is Shit (or Soylent Green is People)

My Stuff is Shit (or Soylent Green is People!")
By Pam Victor

People tease me about my RV dreams. They make jokes about white trash and NASCAR and being a doddering, elderly lady in a tropical mumu walking an equally doddering, elderly pocket-poodle, greeting people with a creaky, "Another day in paradise, huh Stan?" while adjusting my Depends. Nevertheless, my desire to live like a turtle persists. I long to carry around all I need on my back (and since I have an ornery back, my shell is on wheels.) And not one of those humongo RVs that turn into a ranch house when you let it exhale. I want to a modest RV. Just enough room to eat, watch a movie, write a best seller, and sleep in comfort. Not so big I can’t drive it. Not so small it leads to divorce.

Maybe this desire is fiercest now because it’s the end of winter, I’ve been buried under silk long johns, multiple layers of cotton, scarves on top of scarves, soft socks under scratchy wool socks, the around-the-house-only long sweater that my daughter mockingly refers to as my “bathrobe,” the equally bathrobe-shaped down coat, boxing glove-sized mittens, the requisite ugly but warm hat. I long to shed it all, strip down to my skivvies, and bask my bare skin in the warm sun of summer. That’s why I want to live in an RV. I am freezing cold buried under our stuff, all the layers we think we desperately need to warm our souls. My skin longs for the feel of toasty sun and gentle wind.

Last night while sitting around the dinner table, my husband, 14-year-old daughter and I were discussing Graham Hill’s recent piece in the New York Times called “Living with Less. A Lot Less,” which details his acquisition of glorious, fancy, opulent STUFF after he sold his dotcom company for more money than he could imagine during the great ‘90s bubble. As you can guess, he discovered that all his spectacular possessions were making him miserable. Not to mention harming the Earth. (He says it very succinctly and entertainingly. Please read the article. It’s fantastic.)

“That’s why I want to live in an RV,” I said passionately to my family. “I don’t want it. None of it. None of this stuff.”

We three slowly looked around. We sat in our great room, the one, large room of the house that holds the kitchen, dining room, and kitchen. Where we do the majority of our living and loving and fighting and eating and relaxing together. The great room is the greatest room in the house. We scanned it for valuables we couldn’t live without.

“I definitely don’t want any of THAT,” I dismissed with a wave the entire wall of shelves holding knickknacks acquired through the years, vases and candlestick holders from our wedding 21 years ago, books, doodads and trinkets.

“What about the photo albums?” my daughter pointed to the shelf literally bowed under the weight of our memories. 

“Yeah,” I conceded. “We’ll have to keep that. We’ll have to find a place to put the photo albums. Maybe we’ll need a storage unit.”

“The article talks about the uselessness of storage units,” my husband reminded me, tapping the newspaper.

“You’re right,” I quickly agreed, realizing that storage units are toilets that haven’t yet been flushed. “No storage unit. You kids can have the photo albums.”

Our daughter continued to scan the room, looking at it through my callous eyes. “What about the little table I made at camp?” she asked, pointing to a small, beautifully hand-painted end table. I looked at it, remembering the little girl she used to be before she grew to be all long limbs, gorgeous flowing hair, 5’9” womanchild. She made that table when I could still hold her in my arms.

“You keep that,” I said softening. “You can take it to college.”

None of it. I want none of it. A comfortable bed, a computer, and a small, spare living space pleasing to the eye is all I require. And – ok, yeah – my iPhone too. But that’s all, I swear.

As always, I find truth in comedy. George Carlin was the first one to hip me to this idea back in the day in his famous “Stuff” routine. Carlin preached, “That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff. If you didn't have so much stuff, you wouldn't need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you're taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody's got a little pile of stuff…That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff!” And my favorite part about how we view other people’s stuff, “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff?”

When I look at all my shuff… no, my SHIT, I can calculate the real value of it, , figuring in the burden, the cost of its disposal on the Earth, and getting the sum of zero. Or worse. I feel like screaming movie quotes to the world, “It's people. Soylent Green is made out of people…. You've gotta tell them! Soylent Green is people! We've gotta stop them somehow!” The big secret we’ve been brainwashed into forgetting is that when we consume all this stuff, we are consuming ourselves. Crate and Barrel is an expensive, empty bucket of fibs. Old Navy is a red herring. Walmart is full of lies, people.  You’ve gotta tell them. We’ve gotta stop them somehow. Your stuff is shit. And you’re consuming it.

Pam Victor is the founding member of The Ha-Ha’s, and she produces The Happier Valley Comedy Show in western Massachusetts. Pam directs, produces and performs in the comic soap opera web series "Silent H, Deadly H". Pam also writes mostly humorous, mostly true essays and reviews of books, movies, and tea on her blog, "My Nephew is a Poodle." If you want to stay abreast of all the geek out action, like the “Geeking Out with…” Facebook page!

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