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Columnist Phil Reisman Cleans out Clutter During COVID-19

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The COVID-19 scare has inspired me to do something I never thought would be possible: I’ve cleaned out my junk-packed attic.

Okay, I lied. I’ve only started to clean out my junk-packed attic. But wait.

This is a Herculean task, tantamount to an archeological dig requiring a careful sifting through layers of ancient detritus and dreck collected over decades. Because I am frozen in the self-incarcerated present and trepidatious about the viral future, I have retreated to reviewing the tangible past — and literally tossing a lot of it into the dustbin of personal history. I find it to be oddly therapeutic.

Anyway, I don’t do jigsaw puzzles.

The attic was a hoarder’s dreamscape. So, the first task was simply getting the door open by delicately pushing aside a tower of boxes containing Christmas ornaments. The second task was adjusting to the stale air, a stifling miasma as old as the house, which dates to 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt was president and the scourge de jour was typhoid fever.

Armed with Hefty bags and a determination to resist sentiment, my wife and I went to work. Squinting in the dim light, we cut a narrow path through the clutter and assessed the situation.

The first item to be pitched was a toddler’s winter coat that had been worn many, many years ago by both our sons — one now married and the other forced by social distancing to postpone his wedding, originally scheduled for May 29.

A lot of the stuff had belonged to the kids, broken and scattered toys mainly, though the inventory included a box of highly coveted MAD magazines, a Yankees-Red Sox novelty chess set, the home game of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” and a rubber shrunken head. There was an astounding number of youth-league sports trophies of all shapes and sizes, relics of an age when building self-esteem mattered more than winning. Amusing perhaps, but since they held little or no meaning, we tossed them, too.

Photo by Stefan Radtke

“This is a Herculean task, tantamount to an archeological dig, requiring a careful sifting through layers of ancient detritus and dreck collected over decades.”

One thing worth keeping (or maybe not) is an old NHL table-hockey game with moveable players. Tucked under the eaves and barely visible behind a mountain of crap, it is for the present unreachable without hazarding a broken ankle.

From neglected lamps to worthless furniture, there was just so much… junk. I found two broken printers, a keyboard, and a computer that must have been from the dial-up modem days. In one corner there was a pair of crutches and in another a snowboard.

I found two barely salvageable vinyl records — the Young Rascals and the Concert for Bangladesh. In the same heap was a torn Knicks pennant autographed by Walt Frazier, my all-time favorite basketball player, who was the guest speaker at the 1970 Elks Club track-and-field dinner in New Rochelle. (I placed second or third in the half-mile.) “Clyde” charged $5 per autograph.

There were boxes upon boxes of stuff. Several contained long-forgotten analog mainstays of knowledge — encyclopedias. They were pitched.

I know it’s a cliché right out of Antiques Road Show, but we also discovered a Saratoga trunk in the attic that, for no good reason, I bought at Chatsworth Antiques, a used-furniture store in Mamaroneck. I still don’t know what is in the trunk. I’m almost afraid to look.

I found a moth-eaten sleeping bag and a cheap aluminum-frame backpack that I got in 1975 from E.J. Korvettes in Port Chester. That summer, I hitchhiked much of the American West — from Billings, MT to Juarez, Mexico — and that backpack, which must have cost me 20 bucks at most, served me well. But I had no use for it anymore, so I placed it curbside with an old rocking chair and an obsolete, cast-iron tree stand, which, despite its weight, was effortlessly seized in a one-handed sweep by a city sanitation man and taken away by truck.

It’s good to do this — to try to sort out the miscellany in my cluttered world before somebody else has to do all the dirty work. Despite the cherished memories things hold, I can’t let them accumulate to the point where I’m a candidate for a reality-TV show.

So, yes, it seemed wise to clear away the past to make way for the challenges of an uncertain future.

I am holding on to a few things — among them a Christmas tchotchke, a small snow-covered house made of porcelain with a chord and plug. I rescued it from a long-lost box of broken ornaments.

I plugged it in, and the light came on.

It still worked.

A small miracle. It still worked.

The opinions and beliefs expressed by Phil Reisman are his alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Westchester Magazine’s editors and publishers. Tell us what you think at edit@westchestermagazine.com

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