Ralph Gardner Jr: a space of your own
Tuesday was bittersweet. I bid farewell to my storage locker, the one I’ve rented since May 2019. It’s been over forty-eight months. I needed the space for about sixty-five boxes of things that I had put together after cleaning the apartment where I grew up and where my parents lived for sixty years.
I’m not one of those weirdos you’ve probably heard of who turns his storage locker into a man cave, although I admit the affection I felt towards the receptacle might not have been so different than some guys have for their basement tiki bars with their naugahyde lounge chairs, multiple TVs tuned to ESPN, and sports memorabilia.
I never had time to decorate the walls. Never even occurred to me. But part of its appeal was that it was my domain. Even though my wife is the person who found it for me – a short drive from our house – I don’t remember her ever coming. She intuitively understood that this was my space. Plus, I think she was grateful that the garbage it contained stayed there as long as possible, rather than migrating to our basement.
Let me describe the locker although it doesn’t really require a description as it looked like any other storage locker. It was a modest 5 ‘wide x 10’ long, similar in size to a walk-in closet, with a concrete floor. Access was through a metal roll-up door. At the warehouse’s suggestion, I purchased a stainless steel disc-shaped padlock that slips through the latch on the door. The lock was just in case there was a cohort of thieves passionate about things like porcelain figurines or photos from my grandparents’ cruise to Corfu in 1937.
I suspect I don’t make my storage locker particularly enchanting, but it was for me. I had never owned a storage locker before, or rather rented one. But as long as I paid the monthly rent on time, it felt like mine. He even came with a sight. Storage facilities aren’t usually associated with the landscape – there are probably some, myself included, who would see them as a bane to the landscape – but mine overlooked Highway 9H in Columbia County, a thoroughfare. very busy but still retains its bucolic charm.
But the main attraction of my storage locker was the contents inside. My brothers and I had to move out of my parents’ rental apartment in just three months. I wasn’t allowed to dwell for long on individual pieces of family history before I was forced to make a decision: throw it away or throw it in boxes and send it upstate. ? When I opened these boxes, I felt like I was exploring their contents for the first time. I knew something of what British archaeologist Howard Carter must have felt when he discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. While there aren’t any priceless beetles or pet mummies, the boxes did have some pretty cool stuff.
I was informed by my wife that cool is a subjective term and that few people other than me would have considered the contents of the boxes to be worth keeping longer than it took to locate the nearest dumpster. I have no desire to enlist supporters by my side in my valiant and fruitless struggle with my spouse over the desirability, archival value, and aesthetic merit of individual objects. But let me mention a few of the amazing things that these boxes contained:
- Every piece of personal correspondence my mother received dates back to her teenage years after moving to the United States in 1939; it is a virtual picture of life in New York in the forties. Just to prove that I’m not a collector, I threw away dozens of boxes full of Christmas cards from the early fifties. OK, so I saved a selection of cards, but mostly for their vintage design value.
- Several copies of “Horatio Alger or the era of American heroes”, a book my father wrote in 1964. Frankly, I don’t know what to do with them, but I think it would be sacrilegious to send them to the landfill of the city.
- A large box filled with nothing but audio equipment. These are the remains of an author interview show that my father, a journalist who became advertising again and again, hosted from his apartment in the 70s and 80s. I also have the recordings of interviews with literary types such as ‘Isaac Asimov, Susan Sontag and Erica Jong. I do not feel the same responsibility vis-Ã -vis the tape recorders and associated accessories that I feel vis-Ã -vis the Algiers bios. But eBay is full of this stuff for sale. As far as I know I am sitting on antique gold sound recording.
- Dozens of books that my father had these authors sign. My brothers and I divided the best – I had Kurt Vonnegut’s Slapstick signed with a bang on the writer’s 54th birthday, as his entry noted; as well as a copy of the works of the poet Allan Ginsburg bearing the inscription “Overlooking Central Park in the mist” and signed “Empty Head”. But is anyone looking for an autographed copy of “I Didn’t Do It Alone” by Art Linkletter? I did not mean it.
The latest boxes to leave the storage locker – they’re now in our basement – include my mom’s children’s books, decades of 16mm family movies with a Bell and Howell projector for viewing, and the albums originals of series like “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Carousel” and “Kiss Me Kate”.
Once I loaded the last box into my car I swept the storage locker, it wasn’t necessary. I did it as a coda, a form of closure. Because the locker was more than a space. It was a place to meditate on the dead. This period is now over.
Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com
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