Thursday, May 5, 2011

Cleaning the Mental Attic

Spring cleaning brought an exhaustive amount of rummaging around, moving boxes and turning over things left undisturbed for many years. The spare bedroom I affectionately labeled the “junk room” had a thorough cleansing and is becoming a work in progress. I own an abundance of useless shit; old books, trinkets and mementoes from youth, scraps from happier days and bizarre crap conveniently ignored. So much weirdness in one room. It resembled an Archie McPhee catalog overstuffed with puppets, novelties and graphic novels.

Case in point: a cattle skull, fez, glass banker’s lamp, wind-up toy nun and California state flag.

I can’t believe I own so much useless stuff. Yet there it is, strewn about in boxes and in sloppily arranged piles and neat little bundles on the carpet.

During my excavations, I unearthed letters from several acquaintances, friends and lovers. Before e-mail turned everyone into potential candidates for penis enlargement spam, people wrote letters on paper and sent them through the postal service. In my youth, I corresponded with several Armenian writers popular at the time, as well as intellectuals and friends.

Write enough letters and you eventually become adept at the art of writing, picking every nuance and honing your craft with witticisms and expressively turning phrases. I became particularly good at writing letters.

As far as writing letters to girls, well, I don’t like to brag, but back in the day my words could melt hearts and dampen panties, sending many a young woman’s heart aflutter. I was Casanova with a typewriter.

Anyway, while cleaning out the junk hole, I found an old letter from a former girlfriend. She expressed sorrow at our last meeting and apologized to me, and wanted to continue our friendship. A very poignant and bittersweet letter, but one written with longing and regret.

I turned over more treasures from the past, delving deeper and mining the heap for correspondences from lost loves.

I recently had dinner with a former high school friend who told me she had a crush on me when we were students. She recalled an incident 24 years ago when we were walking outside together. She complained about the cold weather and I removed my jean jacket and gave it to her. It fit snugly around her and nestled her hands in the jacket pockets. She told me she felt comfortable wearing my jacket. We returned to her house and talked a bit before I left. She told me she wanted to get high with me in her room and make out, but I had already left. She feared smoking some doobage might freak me out.

In high school, I wasn’t a stoner. Hell, I thought people who smoked weed were smelly hippies with poor hand-eye coordination and a penchant for repeating themselves. Back then I was totally oblivious when girls showed any interest in me. Looking back, I could have been the John Holmes of Cherry Hill East High School. I could have been up to my elbows in young vajayjay, but the times were against me. Reagan’s ultra-moralist goon squad frowned upon teen sex in America, as such loathsome and unclean things ruined our national character and emboldened the Soviet Union. So I muddled through my teenage years, dating girls and scoring as little as possible. For those keeping track at home, 1988 was a really good year as my naked girlfriend and I ran around my parent’s house and did things that would make any upright, God-fearing person burst into flames.

You never realize what you had in your youth until many years later, when you’re middle aged and rifling through letters written at a time when things were brighter and cynicism unheard of. In our youth, the whole world was ahead of us and we eagerly anticipated the future; in our middle age, we wistfully recall the past and hungrily want to relive those days.

I realize I can't time travel back to my past and relive my teenage years all over. This isn’t The Butterfly Effect, thank God. First of all, hurdling backwards through time is impossible and possibly dangerous to the time-space continuum. Secondly, nowhere in my past did Ashton Kutcher appear, and if he did, I’d have to kill him to make sure he didn’t make The Butterfly Effect, which would in turn create its own thorny paradox.

Remember when you were a kid watching those old farts who jawed on and on about their glory days in high school? You thought they were sad relics afraid of growing up and evolving. Now I realize I am one of those old farts, fondly reminiscing with friends about a time long ago when we were young, thin and full of promise.

The secret is to have no regrets. None. Banish your doubts and understand things unfold the way they do. Youth is not easy. Hell, life isn’t easy, but it does get better. Conditions will improve eventually. Life isn’t fair and there are no guarantees you’ll have a blessed, carefree existence. You could spend years of toil and torment, lugging that boulder up the hill like Sisyphus, only to have it roll back and squash you. Treasure your past because it’s unique. There are memories only you have, and they don’t have to be as momentous like winning the big high school championship game or performing the lead in the school production of “The Fantasticks”. The memory can be something subtle and seemingly insignificant: the pleasant aroma of your girlfriend’s perfume, driving your old car at night through your neighborhood, attending a midnight screening of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with friends. These are things you lock up in your mental attic and retrieve them whenever you need to remember.

Sometimes you forget these anecdotes and need a friend to jog your memory, whether a recollection of a good date where you were particularly witty or chivalrous, or a time where you said something seemingly trite which had a profound impact many years later.

I forgot all about the jean jacket incident until my friend reminded me of it. She carried that in her mental attic, stored among the cobwebs and dust, undisturbed for decades.

1 comment:

beachman336 said...

Eric,

This is absolutely a great article. We all have those pangs of lost youthful opportunities and a yearning for a return to "those exciting days of yesteryear"; and, yet the pangs of those lost opportunites and experiences remain as hollow feelings in our psyche. You've tapped into something here that I personally feel; and I suspect many others, also less reluctant to admit it, also feel. Thanks!

Jim H.