The Phoenix

When I want to exert control over my environment, I indulge myself  in therapeutic organizational binges that are staged in the forgotten corners of the house. Possessed, I systematically root out anything that is not nailed down, intent on either throwing it away or consigning it. These objects, innocently biding their time in the black holes of our house, are  abruptly rounded up and sorted like cattle at a livestock auction.

Because I operate on a higher frequency of intolerance for clutter and ugliness than most people I know, I enjoy a reputation among my family as a calculating, unsentimental arbiter of all that Is Not Beautiful.

Years ago, I got into an organizational trance and filled up several boxes with things like old VHS tapes, ugly vases, CDs and dishes that had not seen the light of day in many years.  When I was done, I felt very centered and pure, like someone who had just flushed her system with antioxidants and then enjoyed a  cleansing enema. Unencumbered by hidden pockets of clutter, I confidently moved the boxes intended for the consignment store into the trunk of my car and headed to my favorite store of all time, The Phoenix.

During it heyday, The Phoenix  circulated more interesting objects through our neighborhood than a tornado in a trailer park. My dishes are from The Phoenix, as is our bedspread, our linens, countless vases, incredible outsider art and useful vintage kitchen tools for which there is no modern substitute. The Phoenix was the alpha and omega of reasonably priced, recycled coolness.

I gravitate toward the old and the beautiful because I grew up in a family run by an artist and a writer. There was nothing really ugly in our house until the 80s, when my parents lost their bearings and installed a hideous microwave oven in the center of our beautiful, old fashioned kitchen, and then committed a few other egregious visual offenses, all in the name of modernity. Because of my inherent visual snobbery and a freakish need to rid myself of objects, I dictate what enters and leaves our house like a museum curator.

The Phoenix was so excellent, that my brother would reliably make it his first stop before turning up at our family house for a long weekend. Because he is an artist, he is always on the lookout for interesting objects for his still life paintings.

Historically, my brother and I have always been the two siblings who cared the most about music and shared nearly identical musical tastes, but there was one notable exception involving a band known as The Proclaimers.

Like missionaries preaching The Good News, my brother and sister-in-law bestowed upon us the entire Proclaimers opus for Christmas. Try as I might, I could not find in myself the same enthusiasm for the band, and so the trio of Proclaimers CDs languished in our CD shelves, taking up an entire inch and a half of space. As you might guess, the Proclaimers were placed into the box destined for the Phoenix.

When Thing 1 made his first plastic, magic marker plate with its sweet childish scrawls and crudely drawn stick figures representing our happy and harmonious home, I did the motherly thing and put it into circulation with our regular stable of  pretty dinner plates. After a respectable amount of time had elapsed, I stealthily moved the adorable plate into pantry limbo, where it languished for months, maybe even years, before it fell under my ruthless eye and was deemed Not Pretty Enough.

An organizational fit can be, counter intuitively, somewhat spontaneous and disorganized, which is how Thing 1’s melamine plate found its way into the same box as the Proclaimers, destined for a fresh start at the Phoenix.

While I am described by my family as ruthless and absolute in my  visual tyranny, there exists in my universe,  a middle ground for items that really don’t belong in the dump or the consignment store. That place is commonly known as the attic, a perfect place for not beautiful, yet sentimentally valuable items like melamine plates and tie racks made from driftwood. In the attic, these items are permitted to exist unmolested and available for future generations to get sentimental over. This is where Thing 1’s plate was meant to go, but didn’t.

In a scene that can only be described as made for TV, I happened to be driving through town, when I spotted my brother’s van parked outside the Phoenix. I had not know he was going to be in town, and a spasm of anxiety stabbed at my gut as I realized that I had just delivered to the Phoenix the box which contained those pesky Proclaimers. As he fumbled with his son’s seat belt I frantically tore Thing 1 and Thing 2 out of their car seats and roughly marched them across Main Street and into the Phoenix, excoriating myself for having been such an idiot.

As the proprietor made polite small talk with me, I nervously scanned the store for signs of the Proclaimers CDs. Spotting one, I sidled over and casually flipped it over before placing a vintage eggbeater on top of it. Striving to remain polite and engaged, while mentally cursing the store owner for scattering the CDs throughout the store like fairy dust, I glanced out the window and gratefully took note of my brother’s struggle with the devilish car seat.

Gauging the seconds before he would walk into the store with my nephew, I scanned the store for the two remaining CDs and made my way over to them. To my dismay, the owner, in an organizational trance of her own, was following me through the store and obliviously undoing my handiwork.

I circled back to the first CD and hid it under a table cloth while the owner busied herself by tidying up the area where I had just hidden the second CD, before following me to the next CD. Just at that moment, with all three CDs now in full view, my brother and my nephew entered the store while I silently surrendered myself to whatever would come next.

As if on cue, my brother spotted the first CD roughly two seconds before his son spotted the second one, and then the third. As father and son exchanged knowing and somewhat gleeful glances, Youngest could be heard in another part of the store sounding out the words  “Mmmmom…Daaaad…..Thhhhing won….Thhhing tooooo?”

Holding up the melamine plate that Thing 1 had made for me for Mother’s Day or some other similarly loaded faux holiday, Thing 2 asked “Mommy, why does the plate have our names on it?” Thing 1 and his cousin galloped over to where Thing 2 stood holding the plate aloft, while my brother arranged himself more comfortably on a faded chaise longue to better enjoy the real life sit-com that was serendipitously unfolding before his very eyes.

I like to think Thing 1 believed me when I told him, truthfully, that I had not intended to sell his plate for a nickle. Having a phenomenal memory, Thing 2 remembers every detail of this sordid tale and will invoke it to this day. For my brother, sister-in-law and nephew, my recycling initiative  at the Phoenix is the stuff of family legend.

As the curtain closed, my brother was last seen purchasing the three Proclaimers CDs for a very modest price, as I slunk out of the door with Thing 1, Thing 2, and the melamine plate.


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  1. Kathy says:

    Alas, I am one of the sentimental ones, and I don’t think I will ever change! But it’s nice to read about how it looks to everyone else! Great story, as usual!

  2. Andrea says:

    oh god. I have been in a similar situation with my mother. I try to get rid of the boatloads of goods she bestows upon us, (which she often often finds on the side of the road or in thrift stores), and then she either finds them in the trash or sees them in the thrift store again. Now, there’s nothing wrong with gifting found objects. I just don’t have any more room in my house for stuff.

    1. admin says:

      Ha and you so successfully eluded my attempts to give you a bag of fabric scraps! Clearly we are frighteningly similar!

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