St Packrat at Clutter/Hoarder Conference

IN which a certain Marin hunter-gatherer heads off (late as usual) in a CAR –a very messy, junk-strewn one at that–to get to San Francisco’s St. Mary’s Cathedral on time for…..the SFMHA’s Hoarding and Cluttering Conference 2007 – Progress Not Perfection: Improving Health, Safety and Comfort Through Harm Reduction.
(Gasp for breath)

Before putting the bike in the car –a precaution I nearly always take –I reflect, “do I really need to go? I’ve been to these conferences in other years, I know what to expect.”
“But then you can ‘t write about it” my blo-gacious half reminded me. “Besides, you need to hear stuff about ten times to absorb it anyway.”

In goes the bike, on top of the old fax machine, three sets of shoes to be donated (and one set left in car for easy running in case stuck in impractical shoes with impassable gridlock), the pretty hand made rug from the sixties, with the peace dove on it, a few plastic bottles with water (unopened), the squeegee for dusty windshield disease, warm jacket ‘in case’ and gee, you might have to read for another ten minutes to get the gist of what is in that station wagon. Allow me to spare you.
Within one mile of Taj Mahovel I could tell nobody was going to be on time for anything.

Parked at Fairfax Theatre, yanked out the Breezerbike, blew a kiss to the Bluebaru and raced off past hundreds of idling motorists at 7:50 a.m. prime commute time.

Between our place and the Golden Gate, there are roughly sixteen schools and each of them has hundreds of cars tying up traffic…I decided to hop on a bus partway there, and a bus came along in 20 minutes….thank goodness. Then when the bus got stuck in traffic, I hopt off and pedaled away.

And right on cue, the gutters of Gough street (where the cathedral sits on top of one of SF’s fabled hills) began flashing me with treasure…. : a pearlescent pink ball, the size of a baseball.

Told meself: “ignore! No plastic on board!”

Picture a helmeted 50+woman bent nearly double over her handlebars, on a rather ordinary looking bike with blue canvas panniers wagging behind…pulling hard up a heinously steep hill, which has about ten flat segments where there are cross-streets. Her nose is nearly touching the front tire, tongue nearly wrapped around the front hub. The older I get the more strange this must look. At some point I’ll have to push-bike but so far, so good.

A block after the pink ball winked at me, a nice long dark blue scarf, probably acrylic, but very soft, lay just outside the door-line of a fancy car. A rational person would leave it there (might have just fallen out of THAT car). Just one ‘pollution issue’: a blob of tahini seems to have been stomped into the scarf. My handy shopping sack can contain that disaster…

I succumb to the call of the junk, and the score is is tied one to one.
It’s 9:30 by the time I arrive, about fifteen minutes late. I sneak into a packed auditorium under the church’s main floor. At least 300 attendees are riveted on the overhead screen’s Power Point, which lists Commonly Hoarded Items
Paper (check)
Containers (check–in my case it’s baskets I”m crazy for)
Clothing (check)
Plastic bags (check)
Shoes (check)
Cardboard boxes (yep)
Food (check.. my personal favorite!)
Books (check)
Objects from other people’s trash (shhh! That’s supposed to be a secret!)
Pens, pencils (check)
Handouts, brochures (check mate)

Our speaker, Dr. Michael Tompkins, has a message about patience and understanding, without which you can scare a hoarder back into their lonely dark hole.
Technically, hoarding is aquisition of, and failure to discard a large number of posessions that appear to be useless or of limited values. Hoarding’s pathological, clutter affects millions but it’s not as lethal (real hoarders can set fire to their apartments by just allowing clutter to tumble into the kitchen burner when they’re trying to cook..

I spy Jeff Bell in the program, I didn’t know he was speaking. This year he published a very moving memoir called Replay, Rewind, Repeat, which inspired a fan note, and nascent correspondence.. At the break I told him about my book, he was very kind, then tried to tell his business partner Robin that I’m the greatest biker that ever lived. Hmmm.

The majority of attendees are therapists. Probably wrestling with the condition. When it’s time for questions, a line forms, and I lean over to the young woman near me and say, “Wait’ll you hear the Three Part Questions!”
She grinned. Maybe a veteran of these things.

See, the questioner is perishing for an audience themselves, and sometimes, given the rapt attention of the three hundred folks, it becomes the Chance To Squeak Your Mind. And since there really isn’t a two minute rule (maybe not a bad idea!), the person on stage is engaged, then begins to add words and simul-talk to what the squeaker’s saying, and pretty soon, everyone in the audience is thinkng “when is this person going to actually ask a bona fide question? The preamble snowballs into the person’s narrative, and we’re off and rolling in a collectively experienced Too Much Information moment.

I am fascinated by these, and think, hell, my writing a book is scarcely any different. The reader can put me down if I go on too much, though, and so there’s some volition there….

I have to also tell you, my gentle rider/reader, that my book has been kept under wraps for sixteen years because of the gag order my poor dad issued and silly me honored, despite the relative inocuousness of the contents.
I used to have a comic-strip illustrated T-shirt that said “Oh, no, don’t beat them. They’ll only write a book about it”


THe last item the street yielded up came as I wheeled away at two thirty on a clear sunny SF autumn day. It was a black nylon down jacket, the ideal thing for my ultraskinny mate who uses down jackets in the machine shop, and they become flaccid rags without any loft by the time he’s finally willing to part with them. As in: ten years of heavy wear.

He’ll be so delighted.

Only one problem. It’s black and his color’s green.

~ by jacquiephelan on October 19, 2007.

3 Responses to “St Packrat at Clutter/Hoarder Conference”

  1. […] Meanwhile in San Francisco – “Between our place and the Golden Gate, there are roughly sixteen schools and each of them has hundreds of cars tying up traffic…I decided to hop on a bus partway there, and a bus came along in 20 minutes….thank goodness. Then when the bus got stuck in traffic, I hopt off and pedaled away.” […]

  2. Interesting stuff. I like the part about “patience and understanding” that you mentioned from the speaker you saw. Keep posting. This was an interesting read.

  3. Enjoyed this!! CAme here from Packrat Minimalist

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