Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hoarding Memories

This column is an expanded version of a letter I wrote to podcaster Mark Maron in response to a recent episode, where he discussed visiting his girlfriend's storage space.

It really is difficult to let go of things from the past.

Let me describe an experience I went through, circa 1999-2001.

My wife and I purchased a house in 1998, after living in a small apartment for four years.

Like many "grown and flown" children, I left a large collection (magazines, books, and comic books) in my old room and the attic of my mother's house.

To my chagrin, soon after my wife and I bought our house, my mother announced she was selling HER house and moving into a smaller space that was easier to maintain.

I felt some shame that my first emotions were annoyance and anger, both from the fact that now I was going to have to either relocate my collection or have it unceremoniously thrown out.

Many of the books were snatched at a pittance at a yard sale that she threw in the spring of 1999 before she moved. But I took the magazines and comic books and put them in my basement, where 18 storage boxes used a large chunk of valuable real estate.

Once we started a family, my wife planned to stop working and we needed to generate every scrap of extra income.

ebay had become a national sensation. After pricing some of the comics that did not have any emotional attachment, I started selling my collection. The first two years I made $16,000. Pretty good money for stuff that had been sitting in my mother's attic for at least a decade.

But the money was seductive. I sold a copy of X-MEN 12 for $20, which slightly aggravated me, since the price guide value for that condition was $45. Then I pulled the comic from the box and saw what I paid for it in 1979...$2.20. Pretty good markup from original purchase.

I got so involved in the actual process of selling that I became emotionally detached. I forgot why I had stored/hoarded many of these things for so many years.

It all came to a head when I sold some old MAD Magazines from the 1970s. People were paying good money and I had double copies of certain issues. But when those were quickly purchased, I went further and listed issues where I only had one original edition. Those were soon claimed as well.

That night, I opened my MAD storage box and pulled out an issue. All the memories from the magazine came rushing back: Late summer 1973. I'd just gotten my allowance. We went "back to school" shoe shopping at a little strip mall in New Jersey. While my mother dealt with my younger brothers, I walked across the parking lot to a stationery store and bought issue 161.

The magazine stayed with me when we moved to Long Island and survived 27 years between myself and three younger brothers. And now I was selling it - and all those memories - for $6.

I instantly regretted listing my MAD magazines. But now I had sold this one and was obligated to ship it. Which I did.

Then an amazing thing happened.

My sister in law worked for an insurance company. An elderly woman whom she helped settle a claim wanted to repay her. The old woman's apartment had caught on fire. She wanted to give my sister in law a collection of comic books that had belonged to her son, although many of them were smoke damaged or partially burned.

My sister in law asked if I wanted the collection. Since I was selling comic books on ebay, I picked them up. I asked the old woman what happened to her son. Why didn't he take the comics when he moved out? She explained that he suffered from depression and sadly, killed himself. These were his things, but now after the fire, she was cleaning out her apartment of its sad memories.

Her son had been four years older than me - had gone to the same college I attended. We even had the same major and belonged to some of the same clubs (newspaper, radio station). He had graduated, just before I got there, I never knew him. It cheered her up to know that the memories of him, that she had hoarded, were going to me.

I got home, put on gloves, and went through everything. In the end, I threw out more than I kept. From what I kept, I sold everything. Except for the copies of MAD magazine.

I got back my MAD magazines.

And I have kept my MAD magazines.

And I have the memories associated with those MAD magazines.

And oddly enough, I now have two other people's memories along with them.

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