Wednesday, February 29, 2012

COLLECTOR'S EDITION Excerpt #6: The Return of the Milk Crates

As with most people, the migration from my parents’ house to my own domicile was a gradual one. As I shared houses and apartments with multiple roommates in Lancaster and Philadelphia for a few years, the bulk of my collections remained in my childhood bedroom while I merely brought the essentials along with me. “The essentials” being primarily the pop culture books, a box or two of favorite comics and—most importantly at the time—all of my records.

But since the wall unit my father and I built for my bedroom wasn’t going anywhere, I had to cobble together new shelving for each new apartment. I started using whatever wooden boxes I could find, painted black and turned on their sides, stacked in some kind of uneven mosaic to hold as much of my stuff as they could. Those wooden boxes were supplemented with the standard shelving used by most newly-emancipated young Americans: stolen plastic milk crates.

Over the next few years, as long as I had roommates, most of my books stayed with me in my bedroom, but with each new home, they graduated more and more to their rightful place: The centerpiece of the home, the living room.

Those of you with domiciles large enough to feature a den or separate library are lucky, but even if I had the space, I’d still keep many of my books in the living room. While I find it fairly risible when people use books they would never read as mere decoration in their homes, a library that truly reflects your personality is a key part of an interesting décor (and a great conversation starter, to boot).

Any time I visit someone’s home, the bookshelf is always one of the first places my eyes travel. There are fewer shortcuts to understanding someone’s personality more effective than checking out their library. Oh, I see you enjoy the works of Ann Coulter, Thomas Kinkade and Mary Higgins Clark? I think I’ll just go ahead and declare this friendship incompatible.

But at least those disagreeable titles would still indicate a proclivity for reading. Few things freak me out more than a home that’s bereft of any books whatsoever. Let me share a tale from a life past, when my then-wife and I were shopping for a house in Lancaster, PA. Her uncle, a realtor, was of great help in finding homes within the miniscule budget of two twenty-somethings with low-paying jobs. One of the houses we viewed was being sold by a professional couple with a few kids, and I was struck by how screamingly dull the décor was… there was absolutely no sign anywhere in any room of any interests these people may have had. The only books and videos I saw belonged to the children, the few pieces of artwork on the wall seemed like they came with the 100-year old house. A modern treadmill was the only item in a spare bedroom. The entire home left me with the impression that this couple was about a decade older than I, but as we exchanged small talk, I realized that I had graduated High School with the husband. We were the same age.

My wife and I ended up buying the house, which meant I was now officially too much a contributing member of society to get away with using milk crates as furniture. So I asked my Dad to help me make new shelves, two-and-three-level units that would again start with my basic schematics, then become enhanced by my father’s superior woodworking skills. The men in my family were never really into sports; I never played catch with my Dad. He was 35 when I was born, so we never hung out the way that so many younger fathers did with their kids. As such, working together in his woodshop, building these pieces, was maybe the closest bonding we did. I knew I wanted to commemorate each piece, so I took to writing the date and occasion of manufacture on the back of every one, a tradition I continue to this day.

The house was big: Three stories with a basement and a mudroom on the back. Sadly, the living room was one of the smallest spaces in the home, and so most of our books went upstairs in an office space next to the bedroom. My comics and nerdier books were placed on shelves that circled the studio space I made in the attic. We spent months setting up the house, but in the end, it was a waste of time. Nine months after we moved in, I—alone—moved out, into an apartment by myself for the first time in my life.

It was of some consolation that I was finally able to set up my living space exactly as I saw fit, and so I did. Unlike the sizable but cramped house in which I’d just resided, my new bachelor pad was a sprawling—if bland—converted warehouse space, and there was more wall expanse than even I could handle. But figuring out how to spread my shelving and its contents around the apartment was a lovely distraction during a horrible time in my life.

The apartment may have been big, but the town was way too small. So at the end of my lease, I left Lancaster for Hoboken, NJ, just across the Hudson from New York City, a longtime goal finally met. Of course, my living situation changed again, and in two huge ways. First of all, I was squeezed into a small railroad apartment less than half the size of my last Lancaster digs, and secondly, I was back to sharing it with a roommate.

Luckily, it was a good roommate. Unable to afford to make the move by myself (having no job and no money is not the optimum way to move to New York), I had convinced my good friend Rob to make the journey with me, and we both welcomed the challenge of the big pond. Pond? Hell, ocean!

It may have been a giant leap forward as far as my life overall went, but I was suddenly again living like a teenager. Much of my stuff was left in storage at my parents’ house back in PA, and I once again found myself stacking milk crates as shelving to house the 1996 version of “the essentials.”
from the forthcoming book, COLLECTOR'S EDITION: Confessions of a Pop Culture Obsessive-Compulsive
by and © Karl Heitmueller Jr.

No comments: