ColumnsWhat A World

What a World: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Reflect

Nancy Ford

When it comes to closets and memories, an occasional purging is necessary

by Nancy Ford

I spent some time in the closet last month.

Spring cleaning. Calm down.

First, let it be known that I am not a hoarder. I’ve seen snippets of that TV reality show on A&E where interventionists rescue folks from the mountains of whatnots and doo-dads they cling to with white-knuckle devotion. I love my whatnots and doo-dads, but that’s not me.

Sure, I possess plenty of bent Christmas decorations. Outdated electronic equipment. Enough coaxial cable to run a line out to the curb, in case I ever want to watch TV while waiting for the bus. And—ooh, baby—if these comforters could talk!

I am not a hoarder, but a recent Sunday afternoon devoted to spring-cleaning my bedroom closet made me wonder: at what point does an item cross the line between simply being old and being a candidate for Antiques Road Show?

Boring boldly into the closet, I marveled at strata of ages gone by, largely undisturbed for God-only-knows how long. A queer paleontologist’s dream, the top layer consisted of an historic tribute to our glorious LGBT culture: innumerable Pride and AIDS Walk T-shirts. A gaudy pink-and-green madras plaid shirt accompanied by color-coordinated socks. A lavender button-down Oxford which, if it were human, could have voted for Bill Clinton for president. Twice.

Just beyond a SpongeBob SquarePants T-shirt there emerged a surprisingly large representation of other sparkly, rhinestoney apparel. Although anyone who knows me well will tell you I have never been one to bedazzle openly.

Then, beaming like a Holy Grail through the Harry Smith colon-like tunnel, a shaft of light burst through the darkness. It was the blinding illumination of the Liza-ish sequined push-up bustier I had worn under a tuxedo jacket for my 40th birthday. Ah, mammary memories. . . .

Hanging from second-tier rods were many items from the Irony Collection, as I like to call it. There was the Boy Scouts of America troop leader’s shirt, discovered in a thrift shop at the height of the no-gays-in-the-BSA controversy. The Betty Ford Clinic and a D.A.R.E. to Resist Drugs and Violence T-shirts worn to Mary’s patio shows. A Milli Vanilli T-shirt worn on karaoke nights.

There was even a dress. On the other hand, there was enough men’s clothing to make me wonder about the difference between dressing for comfort and full-on cross-dressing. If I were to suddenly leave this mortal coil, a perusal of this closet, with its proliferation of tuxedo jackets and snappy T-shirts, might prompt rummaging survivors to think I had either transitioned or was sharing closet space with Bruce Vilanch.

I said good-bye to a red wool blazer that would have been perfect for running for office and making sure the camera found me in the crowd. I said good-bye to all of the smaller-sized clothing I optimistically vowed to fit back into one day. We dream, we hope. . . .

But perhaps as much can be said about the items I chose to save as the items I chose to discard.

Question: How many faded plaid flannel shirts does one lesbian need?

Answer: All of them.

Another item spared the charity heap is a beyond-distressed sweatshirt. To say it is worn out is an understatement. Holey, chewed, ravaged, even nuked, is more accurate. It used to be sea green; now I’m not sure what color it is. Sinus-infection yellow, maybe? Despite not having been worn for years and years, it has achieved an otherworldly level of softness, like comfort food to the touch.

I remember the day I bought it. The Ex and I had been driving from San Antonio to Austin, and had stopped at the Nike store at that outlet mall in San Marcos. The sweatshirt hung on a clearance rack of irregulars. If they thought it was irregular then, they should see it now.

Earlier that morning, we had experienced some car trouble along the road. A total stranger stopped to assist us little ladies in getting our car to the lone mechanic at a tiny, one-stoplight town, the name of which now escapes me. He repaired the car while we ate indescribably tasty enchiladas in the adjacent, rustic, madre-y-padre Tex-Mex restaurant.

Car trouble and all, I remember it as a good day. I wonder if she does. I’m keeping that shirt.

And several years ago a very old, very frail, very sweet Chinese man used to live in my complex. We called him Pajama Man, because he used to shuffle around in his pajamas, regardless of the time of day. Other than exchanging a friendly nod, we had little contact. One day I was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a single Chinese symbol when I passed Pajama Man in the courtyard. He pointed to my shirt, smiled, and simply said, “Health!” That was the only thing I ever heard him say.

He passed away. I’m keeping that shirt, too.

Eventually, I reached the back wall of my closet, my mind racing with memories brought on by all this trash and treasure. Exhausted yet satisfied with the purging, I turned off my miner’s headlamp, only to realize my excavation had transformed my bedroom into an explosion at the Lane Bryant factory.

Somebody call A&E.


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