Killeen & Ft. Stockton, Texas – Days 5 and 6
Something there is that doesn’t love a well-packed car.
At some point in any road trip, organization begins to unravel. In my case, entropy set in on the evening of the second day. What started out as Tetris quickly devolved into the truck from the opening credits of the Beverly Hillbillies.
When everything went into its place at the beginning of the trip, what I hadn’t taken into account was having to use those things. And then it became difficult to put everything back where it had come from because things weren’t as handy once they were put away.
It takes discipline of steel to keep putting things back where they originally came from. We all have the urge to spread out, but almost no one has unlimited space. There are now at least three things that I know are “in the car somewhere,” but I would be hard-pressed to lay hands on them if I had to.
The other thing you don’t really count on is the dust, which is everywhere. On a few occasions, plagued by flies, I’ve opened all the windows at 75 miles per hour to blow them out. But that doesn’t fully account for the layer of silt that covers the dashboard; the boxes, suitcases, and bins in the back; and, presumably, me.
Dirty clothes are another problem. There never seems to be any good place to put them. They can’t go back into the suitcase with the clean clothes, but if you put them in a bag by themselves, waiting for the next motel with a laundromat, that bag is one more thing that takes up space in a car in which space has been allocated with determination if not necessarily with foresight.
Anyway, at the beginning, you spend a lot of time thinking about what might be useful on the road and, depending upon the vividness of your ability to imagine both contingency and catastrophe, this also means that the well-packed car is claustrophobic. Things that might be useful tend to suck up your space. And that is why I am traveling with a corkscrew, a tape measure, extra packing tape, a first-aid kit, and a bottle of gin. So far, I’ve only used one of them.
The things you pack for a long road trip—and what happens to them as the trip progresses—share certain metaphorical similarities with the things that turn up in a house being emptied in preparation for a move. As you sift out all of the belongings that are truly important or that you know, without ambivalence, should be kept, you find yourself with a collection of random objects, the flotsam of your life, whose purpose you are not always sure of and whose provenance you may no longer remember: Postcards. Coupons from the grocery store. A refrigerator magnet from the plumber. Random screws. A tube of glue. Extra shoelaces that you’ve never used.
A lot of the debris that float to the surface at the end of a move are things that you’ve never used, but which you might. Some day.
Food was especially hard to throw away. After the movers had come and gone, I was semi-paralyzed by the small amount of leftover food in the fridge. At one point, I found myself standing at the sink, trying to finish off a half-jar of sweet gherkins. I’d made it through two-and-a-half when I realized that I didn’t really want pickles. But it isn’t as though you can ask a friend to take half a jar of pickles off your hands, and so I threw them away. They joined a stick of butter. A bottle of salad dressing. Half a loaf of not-very-good bread that was in the freezer against the possibility that I would one day turn it into stuffing.
I understand why people hoard—or, at least, in this moment I think I do. I understand why old people die with their houses full of useless things. People think hoarders can’t let go of the past. I think hoarders are thumbing their noses at the future.
Everything they keep will come in handy someday. The day will come when they will want to find an article in those old newspapers, cook something from a recipe in one of those old magazines, see a photograph again, sew a button on a shirt, put something in a plastic sack. Their “stuff” represents a stake in “some day.” It is an act of defiance against “the end.” The day will come.
The idea that things will be useful someday, will have a purpose, is like throwing a grappling hook into the future and hoping it will catch, giving you both something to climb over on and something to keep you tethered so you don’t float entirely away.
Filament, filament, filament said Walt, willing the ductile anchor to hold.
Some day the silver cord will break, / And I no more as now shall sing went the old hymn by Fanny J. Crosby, who seemed to have written most of our church’s hymnal. I remember hearing one of my teachers sing that particular song, so sweetly. This is fifty years ago.
There will always be a some day. There will always come a day when things are useful. Because there will always come a day.
Which is undeniably true, right up until it isn’t.