Packing/Unpacking Montage

I haven’t been around these here parts much in the last 2 weeks. I moved to a new apartment on February 1 (and the move was somewhat unexpected. It all happened – finding apartment, applying, getting approved – in a 24-hour period 2 weeks before the move-date. So, yeah. Whirlwind.)

In packing up, I discovered many possessions I forgot I owned, possessions that made me think: “OOH. Time to revisit.”

I didn’t have enough wall space in my old place to hang this poster, a poster that, to me, is the equivalent of comfort food. I have more room here. I look forward to “visiting” this poster on a daily basis.

During the couple of days I spent boxing everything up, I noticed a certain … restlessness-slash-stillness in my cat, Hope. She knew something was up. I don’t know what people are talking about when they say cats don’t have facial expressions. Look at this. I know exactly what’s going on with her right here.

I call this one Portrait of Loneliness. I also call this one: Spot Elvis’ Head in the Background.

See what I mean? Maybe it’s just because I know her every move, but I look at this and all I can see is panic and confusion. A sort of taut inner ENDURANCE of impending change.

Suitcases and cats have an intimate universal connection. Again, she perched on it like a little Cornish hen, not moving, not purring. Just watching. Thinking: “This is BAD. I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s BAD.”

I took all my stuff off the walls and stacked it in my little front hallway. It was a nice tableaux of inspiration.

Goodbyes are hard. I have had this beauty for 20 years. It is falling apart, granted, but I love it so. There’s no room for it in the new place. Plus: it’s rickety as hell. A tough farewell.

What my library looks like off of the shelves. Waist-high. It reminds me of that fact that if everyone in New York came out of the buildings at the same time, there would not be room enough on the streets for them. We saw that in action during the 2004 blackout.

My good mojo T-shirt. Gift from Dad.

I made up my bed in the new place. Hope leaped upon it. She knows that “place.” But still, her body language was taut and alert. She kept looking at me. Again, I look at her here and I know that she is freeeeeeeeaked OUT. Also, she just spent a couple of hours yowling in her crate. I had to keep her out of the way. It was a tragic day for her.

Much later that night, after doing preliminary organizing of all of my stuff, I walked into my bedroom and saw this. I was so proud of her. She’s very resilient.

During the move, which was done by 5 burly (GOR-GEOUS) Russian men, there were a couple of humorous moments. I had them pack my books. I have 1500 of them. I couldn’t face it. It was so worth the extra cash. At one point, I went into my main room and a huge guy, taping up a box, says out of nowhere to me, strong Russian accent: “What’s your favorite Elvis song?” He had been quietly packing up my Elvis shelves. I told him probably “My Baby Left Me”. He said he likes “Jailhouse Rock” best. Later, I watched an enormous Russian man carry my Elvis doll – still in the ceremonious package (gift from Charlie) out to the moving van. I love incongruity. On the other side of the move, once they left, I pulled a random box to me to get started on unpacking. I opened it and saw this … First box. A good omen in the middle of what is already a dreadful year? Nah. But still: fun.

Many of you will recall the legendary day my bookshelves were built in the old place and how all of my friends came over that night to help me put away my books because I was in the midst of having the biggest crack-up I’ve ever had in my life. (I should have been in the hospital). It was an act of pure love on their part, and I didn’t even have to ask them to show up. They organized it behind my back. Finding an apartment big enough for my library (and also that I could afford) was my biggest worry. But I did it! I had to have the bookshelves dismantled by Mike (who had built them in the first place) and then put back together on the other side. Until Mike had time to come over and re-build, here is what my life looked like in my kitchen. And there were 7 boxes in the other room too. So you see the problem. The only thing I own that matters to me – really – are my books. They come with me wherever I go.

It’s this stage of packing that is the most stressful. Packing paper, piled up, to be dealt with later. The whole “Okay, we’ll deal with that later” part of packing – which is still going on for me – is the worst part.

Unpacking a box filled with my random notebooks and writing paraphernalia, I found a tiny leather day-book dated 1929 with the words “Lest We Forget” embossed on the front. My old boyfriend and I had bought it at a flea market and used it to take down all of our jokes. I forgot I had it. I forgot its existence. The morning after the move, I sat down on the floor and read through some of it. I was amazed at how I have no memory of any of these jokes but then I came to something and started laughing so hard I could no longer speak. It’s super stupid but that was our sense of humor. He and I drove cross-country. We lived in a van for months. We had moved out of our apartment. We had no address. The trip was epic on many levels, the major one being that by the time we reached California (we took 3 months to do it) we had broken up. All I remember is the slow continental-breakup. But the day-book tells another story. We were still compiling jokes all across country. Early on, we were driving through Wisconsin and decided we wanted to pull off and buy some fruit. We had a hankering for berries and apples and peaches. We went to the first grocery store we found off the highway and it was like the store in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The store sold very little and it sold no fruit whatsoever, fresh or otherwise. We left disgruntled. And promptly made up a song about our experience, which we sang at top volume as we careened north. I’m sure Beloit is lovely. But on that day, it had no fruit, and it is for that fact alone that we memorialized it in this song. The tune came back to me too. I sang it in the shower later. I read this, weeping with laughter.

A house is not a home without
1. Elvis paper dolls sent to me by cousin Liam and
2. a 2nd edition copy of Ulysses – that would be the 1922 Egoist Press edition – after the 1st Shakespeare & Co edition – so delicate it needs its own special box – given to me by dad at the end of his life. Bookends of my world.

Bookshelf construction morning! I was in a mild state of anxiety until I could start putting my books away.

Kitchen bookshelf! Mid-re-loading!

A scary ballerina I drew while I was on hold with the Internet company.

Another re-discovery: When I was 11, 12 years old I wrote a 250 page novel – by hand – about Andrea McArdle’s rise to fame. I was a very strange and very driven child. I did some research on her back then – as much as I could without Internet – but I just made up most of it. I always assumed I’d lost it somewhere along the way. Today while unpacking, I opened a folder inside another folder and saw a very thickly packed Manila envelope labeled: I will post some excerpts eventually once I get the courage to re-read it.

I call this one Unpacking Obsession. 1. John Wayne. 2. Anne of Green Gables.

Holy shit, look what I found.

These three framed objects tell you everything you need to know about me. 1. Elvis kissing his booty call in a stairwell in 1956, photo by Alfred Wertheimer, given to me by cousin Mike. 2. The Proclamation by the Provisional Government of Ireland in 1916 after the Easter Rising, bought by me in the bookstore at Trinity College in Dublin. 3. Me in Arthur Miller’s After the Fall at Circle in the Square Downtown.

The bookshelf now loaded up in my “sitting room.” It definitely needs some work. I lost the top shelves because the ceiling here is lower, so it’s very crowded.

The first DVDs I unpacked was this box set of noir classics. One of my favorite movies of all time – Gun Crazy. Another good omen? Nah. I don’t believe in those, especially not now. But still: it made me feel good that these were the first, and not, say, Dodge Ball, although I love that movie too.

Sunrise and my fire escape.

Winter twilight outside my kitchen window. I can live with that view.

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13 Responses to Packing/Unpacking Montage

  1. Jeff Gee says:

    Do you pronounce the ‘t’ in ‘Beloit’? Just in case somebody felt like singing the verse to the tune of “Theme from the Beverly Hillbillies” while they were waiting for their bagel? Asking for a friend.

  2. Sheila says:

    Hahahaha Yes! With a T!

  3. Stevie says:

    Wow, the new place looks awesome and Hope is handling it well! To handle the whole thing in 2 weeks is pretty damned impressive, my friend – great job! :) Love, Stevie

  4. Helena says:

    Woohoo! What a whirlwind!

    Hope that you’re feeling settled in, the pictures are on the walls, the books on their shelves, the cat on her mat, and that all that annoying packing detritus is gradually disappearing.

    And I love the tags on this post: Elvis Presley, Gun Crazy, Hope, John Wayne, Quantum Leap, Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, Ulysses. Because of course.

  5. Clary says:

    Congratulations on your move! How exciting to have a new place where to put the books, the furniture, the posters.
    And saying goodbye to old items, hello to new morning panoramas from the window and meeting again old friends inside boxes, which you didn’t remember you had. Poingnant moments besides the laughter.
    Have a happy life there!

  6. mutecypher says:

    I hope it’s a good place for you and Hope.

  7. Your new nest arrangement is looking good. I’ll be doing the same thing next month. I’ve got 20 boxes of books and 15 or so paintings and almost nothing else. Oh, I do have a comfy computer chair. I won’t have burly Russians, though, just one 73 year old (me) and one son. Looking forward to when the move can be referred to only in the past tense.

  8. Wren Collins says:

    Wow, good luck with your new place. I love the sheer quantity of books you have.

  9. Bethany says:

    Moving is one of the most stressful “ordinary” things I’ve ever done. My roommate has mentioned finding a new apartment for us that is closer to our work places, but just the thought of all the boxes is enough to deter me. You are courageous and resilient, and so is your cat. :) That book collection is one worth fighting for.

  10. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Sheila, I have moved so many times in my life, and it’s always hard. Hope did really well! But I’ve seen those looks on my cats, too. She’s such a good girl. I moved from NJ (for the last, and I hope, final time) to NH with two feral cats and they are thriving. But I never want to spend six or hours in a car with them again! I moved from a shared house to a 576 square foot one bedroom. I still have 15 cartons of books I haven’t unpacked and I moved up here in May 2010. Now I go to the library. I’m reading the Andrew Solomon book on depression that I actually own, but this copy is from the Keene library. Sometimes it’s just easier, you know? I LOVE your bookshelves. I’d kill to have them. The view from your kitchen is lovely. Are you still in NJ? I wish I missed it, but truly I don’t. Every once in a while I read a review of something off B’way, or on, and I think, “I’d like to see that.” Then I move on. I have to. Good luck in your new digs.

  11. John McElwee says:

    I recognize that neat Euro poster for “King Creole.” Hope you found a good place to hang it.

  12. Maureen says:

    Your new place looks very nice, I hope you enjoy it there. Hope is such a sweet girl, I’m so glad she seemed to settle in by nightfall.

    I loved the picture of the box of books with the John Wayne, Anne of Green Gables, and of course the older edition of Eight Cousins. Classic!

    What a great box set of film noir-Out of the Past is my favorite from that set, with Asphalt Jungle a close second. Robert Mitchum, Sterling Hayden…heaven :)

    Sheila, have you ever thought of writing a memoir? You have such wonderful stories.

  13. Natalie says:

    //Holy shit, look what I found.//

    OMG, I just died laughing. VC Andrews strikes again!

    My mom and I recently went to a used book sale at the library, and I found a 25-cent copy of Heaven (complete with the stepback keyhole cover). Of course I had to buy it. It was for the library!

    I love your kitchen view.

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