“I held her emotional hair, while she vomited up her closet.”
If you’ve ever seen that show, hoarders, you’ll know there’s some crazy shit people hold on to. Books, kittens, candy bars, junk mail, cat turds from long deceased cats. Deceased cats. Some people have a complete inability to throw ANYTHING out and so they basically make a human nest of their own junk, and barricade themselves behind it–as if their junk could protect them from the Adult Protective Services people when they come knocking. It doesn’t.
My Grandma Flo was a hoarder. She was a severe, Austrian woman with prominent cheekbones, who wore a turban and wrapped her checkbook in 100 plastic baggies. When she died, she left us with a legacy of fascinating artifacts, ranging from a pyramid of empty saran wrap boxes, to bags of expired halloween candy from the 70’s. At the end of her life, there was only a narrow path from her bed, to her sitting chair where she wept and read her portals of prayer. The rest of her house was piled sky high with junk.
Most people do not hoard to the extreme as the show Hoarders, or my Grandma Flo. But unless you’re a buddhist or something, I’m guessing you probably have some things in your closet you could bear to part with. You can tell alot about a person by the things they stubbornly hold on to. People make all kinds of ridiculous excuses to keep things that don’t work or because they hope to make them work someday when XYor Z happens. But XYZ never happens. “When I lose weight I can wear these jeans again,” or “All this broken dildo needs is some duct tape, and it’ll be ready for action again.” (side note: the Mighty Duct Tape Dildos would be a great name for a roller derby team) However, in the spirit of self care, I’ve grown to learn it is always good to have less things, but that the things you do have, be solid, cared for, and in good working order.
Find a purging friend.
While You CAN do your very first closet purge alone, I wouldn’t recommend it. Especially if you’ve been consuming illicit substances. You could find and old store receipt and take a trip down memory lane to that day when you bought vagisil and redbull and give yourself a psychosomatic yeast infection. You could try on some old pair of pants and weep at the sight of your withered muffin top. You could get frustrated at the closet itself, chug some whiskey impulsively throw EVERYTHING out, burn it, laugh, and then sit silently in the empty closet like a golem and refuse to come out.
A first purge is a friend activity. But it has to be the right kind of friend. You are about to embark on a highly intimate act! Don’t invite someone over who has a history of making you feel bad about shit. Don’t invite someone over who’s bored or distracted all the time. And definitely don’t invite your mother. The purging friend is ideally an older friend who has seen you through some trouble and still loves you. Perhaps they were with you when you put your cat to sleep. Perhaps you accidentally ingested a skull-melting dose of cannabis cookies one day, after having spent the night being jackhammered by a hot carpenter and now you have no idea what year it is, or why you are at a leather daddy fair, or where you bought that painting of floating bicycles that you’re now carrying around.
These are simply examples.
I was pretty nervous when Adriana came over for my purge. Opening up my closet was a whole new level of intimacy for our friendship. And, since I’d never actually purged, I wasn’t sure what would come up.
“Dude, kudos to you for wanting to take this step,” said Adriana, as we shared a pre-game drink. “ You’re very brave! I think you’ll find the process is actually more fun than you think.We’ll put on some groovy music. It’ll be okay. You’ll have fun! You’ll see”
I gulped. And then, I opened my closet door, and a slew of bats flew out. Next, we were hit with the mysterious smell of testicular cheese.
“You’re sure you don’t have a body in here somewhere?” she asked. “how is it that your closet smells like scrotum and you haven’t gotten laid in like three years.”
“Okay. Well, the first step is, We’re going to go through your closet piece by piece, and sort everything into piles. Pile one, we keep. Pile two, we give to goodwill. Pile three, Trash. Ready?”
“Sure, why not?”
With each item I pulled out, Adriana had a list of questions she’d ask:
- What is that? (Clothing? Shoes? Old snacks? Abandoned art project?)
- (if clothing) Do you actually wear that? Is it stained? Ripped? Shrunk?
- When was the last time you wore it?
There were many many revelations that evening.
We started our purge, with shoes.
“Man, you’ve got hella lesbian shoes up in this bitch” said Adriana.
“These are comfortable!” I proclaimed, lifting up a beat-up old Keen. “These shoes got me through film school.”
“Those shoes are a metaphor for your vagina,” she said. “Do you think a guy would want to stick his dick in that?”
“The right type of guy.”
“Maybe a guy with a ponytail who wears Guatemalan pants and likes camping.”
“I like camping,” I said.
“No you don’t.”
“You’re right.” I sighed “ I hate camping. It’s time to say goodbye to these shoes.”
It was time to move to the lingerie and pajamas.
“Holy shit. What did you do to all of your bras? Why are they all stitched up like that? And is that a blood stain?” Adriana asked, holding up a pink bra with drunk, sloppy black thread stitching on the straps and a strange red smear.
“They got stretched out. The stain is lipstick.”
“Well, why didn’t you go get a new bra?”
“Because I’m poor.”
“Too poor to buy a bra?”
“Look, if I stitch them up, they’re just as good as new again. The only reason to get a new one is if my nips start poking out.”
“Ay yi yi,” she clucked. “Frankenbras.”
“What’s the big whoop? It’s not like anyone can see them.”
“Do you even know your actual bra size?”
“I donno–double D I guess.”
“Have you ever been properly fitted for a bra?”
“I think you need to get fitted proper-style for a bra, mama. They do that for free, at Macys! You can go with your friend Julie to do that cuz that’s a straight girl activity. But really. I think you’ll just feel so much better when you have a proper fitting bra–especially because your cans are so enormous.”
I looked at her skeptically.
“I’ll think about it.”
Charlie Grogan’s Pajamas
I lifted up a moth-eaten, torn pair of pajamas, with garden gnomes printed on them.
“I’m sure you know which pile those go to,” Adriana said, tossing her head to the junk pile.
“No way, hell no, these are CHARLIE GROGANS pajamas!” I cried, clutching them to my chest.
Charlie Grogan was the name of the main character in my student thesis film, “The Broken Heart of Charlie Grogan.” It’s about a man who gets dumped by his live-in girlfriend, goes home to his mother, puts on his childhood pajamas, and crawls into bed for three months. During this time, he is visited by ghosts from past, present, and future, (a la A Christmas Carol). In the end of the film, the characters take his bed out to the street, and there he strips off his pajamas, and walks naked into the world again. (Of course you know I’d have some gratuitous male nudity in my film!)
The film was more than just a student thesis project. It was THE SYMBOL of my ability to triumph over great odds. For no sooner had I finished writing the Charlie Grogan script, than my live-in boyfriend dumped me and suddenly fiction became all too real. It was the kind of break-up that was so shitty, I had to pack my bags and leave immediately. Unfortunately, I could not go home to my mother, because she lives way the hell in Minnesota. And so, I crashed on friends couches and cried myself to sleep, wondering how the hell I’d be able to finish up film school with no place to live, no job, and a broken heart of my own.
After one particularly dark evening having spent the night on a scabies infested couch, and kept awake by a PBR hipster vomit party in the room next door, I staggered into a film school faculty meeting weeping, and scratching myself absently.
“I’d like to drop out,” I announced to the staff. “I just can’t do this. My life’s a mess. I’ll come back next year. Goodbye.”
The director of the school pulled me aside, and delivered a riveting pep talk. “You gotta stay!” He said. “You’re right here, at the top of the class! Only two more months to go. I’ve seen what you can do, and you can do this.”
I know he was only blowing smoke up my ass, but his pep talk was enough impetus for me to dig my heels in and finish the damn film. From the dedicated actors, to the outstanding crew, the project was, and is still in my mind, one of my greatest successes. My parents even flew their asses out from Minnesota to watch it on the big screen at my graduation. Good times!
After graduating, I held onto the pajamas, and wore them devoutly, even when they started to fall apart. They were a reminder to me to keep trying to make films, no matter what happened.
“I’m sorry, I–I just can’t let these go.” I said to Adriana.
“Okay,” she said slowly. “I understand. So, I have a suggestion. Why don’t you make a new pile category for “costumes” and put them there. “Or, you could make something out of them, like a small handbag.”
“Okay,” I sniffed. “I need another drink now.”
“Okay. Let’s take a break.”
After we came back from whiskey on the back patio, we started in with shirts and pants.
As far as style goes, my signature look via 2011 was what I call “Peek-a-boo grunge” I’d wear a torn flannel shirt, for instance, with a lacy camisole under it. Some of the lace might be coming apart, and that’s okay too! As long as there’s plenty of cleavage showing, I can rock anything. Plus, I worked in the Tenderloin of San Francisco at that time—a place where people wear plastic bags as hats, and crack pipes as earrings. Who the hell cares? Am I really trying to impress anyone?
“But it’s kind of sexy, no?” I said to Adriana, holding up a flannel. “Like, does anyone wear a shirt with just the armpit ripped out? This is CUTTING EDGE fashion CUTTING EDGE.”
“You know, just because you work with hobos, doesn’t mean you are required to dress like one.”
I gulped, and nodded. The torn flannels went into the trash pile.
Adriana then picked up some long sleeved t-shirts and examined them. “Also, why is it that nearly every shirt you own has a hole in the back of the neck.”
“Oh, because I rip out the tags.”
“why do you do that?”
“I donno. They bother me.”
“But those tags have the washing instructions on them.”
I looked at her blankly.
“Good lord, I’ve got my work cut out for me. Well, you know the rule…Nothing with holes gets to stay with you.”
“Okay,” I said. “Death to the holey shirts.”
There were some items Adriana insisted I try on first before deciding which pile they go into. This was the first speck of light in the dawn of realization that I was wearing clothing that was too small for me, hoping to look somehow smaller. It had the opposite effect.
“Look at the pockets of these pants,” she said. “Diagonal pockets make curvy women look bulky. You need pockets that go straight across.”
“Whoa dude, really?” I asked, removing a packet of mustard from one of the pockets, before throwing them into the Goodwill pile.“I have never heard of such a thing.”
“Really. And another question: Do you have ONE pair of pants that aren’t safety pinned at the bottom?”
“Nope,” I said. “I mean, who the hell is noticing the cuffs of my pants anyway?”
“People notice. Maybe they don’t stare at the cuffs because they’re staring at the hole in your armpit or your giant cans. But It’s part of an overall effect–do you want to look like someone who’s generally well put together, or someone who just doesn’t give a shit?”
“I say, either have them hemmed properly, or don’t wear them.”
“Okay, I’ll have them hemmed,” I said. Adriana watched me with curiosity, as I pulled all the safety pins out, tossing them absently on the floor like chicken bones.
“Looks like the cuffs of each one of those pairs of pants is also stained, crusty, and frayed at the bottom.” She said. “You’ve probably got tenderloin spores and tweaker jizz all caked on to them.”
“Well, the tailor can just cut those parts out, right?”
“Why don’t you just budget for some new pants, and learn to actually take care of the things you buy? I’ll go with you. We’ll make it fun.”
“Well….actually…I am due for a big tax refund,” I said slowly. “But….I was going to use that money to buy a new video camera, and maybe a ukelele. Oh! And some canvasses for a new series of paintings..”
“Maybe you could use it buy yourself some newer, better fitting clothes instead”
“Christ, how am I ever gonna make it as an artist, if I don’t even have any tools?!” I cried. It was the second outburst of the evening.
“You know…I don’t wanna sound too woowoo about all this purging stuff,” Adriana said. “But sometimes, if you empty out space in your house, and learn how to really take care of yourself, and the things you have, you become a magnet for good things to come to you. Remember, you told me you wanted to change how you lived your life. Changing shit usually requires sacrifice.”
“I donno,” I pouted, trailing off into a grim vision of my future. A future where I was nothing but a well-dressed working-class stiff. Cutting through the shit-strewn streets in my brand new, sensible, tailor-hemmed slacks. Handing stacks of social security paperwork to a jacked-up tweaker in my smart-fitting tootsie blouse. Instead of going home to shoot a video of myself queefing backwards, I would hang up my clothing, do a few simple stretches, and prepare my outfit for the next day.
You see, my whole life, I’d lived with a deep dread of being an Ordinary Person. Just another silently seething piece of meat squished on a rush hour train to resignation-land. Livin’ for the weekend. Grunting through my tasks. Blowing my brains out with cheap cocktails at every happy hour. What would it mean, to forego (even temporarily!) my deep attachment to being known as a Weirdo Artist Chick?
I looked at my pile of frankenbras, torn flannels, and shitcuffed pants, and felt, below the sadness and terror, a strange surge of giddy excitement. It really is true, when you’ve hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up.
I looked into my friends eyes. She knows me better than anyone, and I trusted her completely.
“Okay,” I croaked. “Let’s, like… be chicks and totally go shopping for clothes.”
Adriana hugged me. “I’m really proud of you. I told you this would be tough! You’re doing great.”
The Exorcism of Smokey Jack
There was one remaining surprise item in the very back of the closet! A cloth human torso, with a pillowcase head attached.
“What the…..I thought you said there were no bodies back there.”
“I never said that.”
“Is this the old hobo who haunts your room and makes you use torn pieces of fabric as lampshades? Is this Smokey Jack?”
It had been so long since I saw the actual back of my closet, I was puzzled at first what it was for. Likely, I created it while stoned.
Then I suddenly remembered!! This man was, in fact, George Clooney! Or, I should say…He was a makeshift George Clooney I created out of rags, while working on one of my many unfinished screenplays. This abandoned screenplay was entitled “Making out with George Clooney” It’s about a failed filmmaker (Played by moi, of course) who gets a tattoo of George Clooney on her ass one night, while intoxicated. Eventually she is convinced that the tattoo is communicating with her, and commanding her to write a script for George Clooney to star in. However, of course, he doesn’t show up, and she has to substitute a man made of old rags as the romantic lead. Until, of course…Through some wild set of coincidences he REALLY DOES show up at the end and they/we both get to make out.
“One question. Have you done anything…. sexual with this cloth man?”
“Of course not. I mean, just frenching.”
“Ew. Get rid of it!, Een!”
“Okay, but I need one last moment with him.”
And so, I cued the Luther VanDross, and slow jammed one last time, with George Clooney AKA Smokey Jack.
Then I threw him in the trash pile.
And thus concluded my very first closet purge.
The next day, I opened my clean closet, admiring how orderly and empty it was. It was subtle, but i really did feel a shift–I mean, internaly. The stuckness I’d felt for the last several months felt a little bit…less stuck. There was a small pinprick of light in the belly of the whale. I smiled.
Then, I went to pick out something to wear, and made a ghastly realization. I texted Adriana.
“Adriana. I have no pants.”