You Can’t Hoard Your Way into the American Dream
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In terms of helping people throw out unnecessary shit before a big move, my father’s my crowning achievement. His garage. Ziggurat of yogurt containers. Six-foot pyramid of Folgers cans. Worm farm. Dollhouses, boxes of bullets with no gun, three passenger doors (all different colors) for a 1993 Toyota Camry. No need for the full catalogue.
He cried when I held up can after can and pronounced them dead, things devoid of spirit and history. Like a plastic surgeon wielding a scalpel, I excised his memories from the objects I’d excised from his garage with an expressionless slash.
My amateur diagnosis, unkind: You have succumbed to the capitalist nightmare—prevented from earning anything of value, you cling to the useless like a child to its reeking security blanket.
As a child, he lived in a shack on stilts, near a reeking shore in Hong Kong, sharing canned corn with six siblings. Now he is an auto mechanic in the state of Maine who eats seconds for every meal and eats too many meals besides. It’s that old saw, the immigrant story.
The muchness is the problem, I try to explain. Listen it’s sad about the corn and the filthy water, but if you carry that everywhere, you’ll die of sepsis. Corn does not digest in the human stomach. Realize you can’t strap stability to your back. You can’t trade Toyota doors for a new house when yours gets ruined in a flood. You can’t pack your wife’s clothes into yogurt containers after the chemo stops working.
I’m ruthless because I’ve seen the other way of doing it. My (white) friends’ parents never hoarded cans, car parts. The stability is invisible. How much space does a bank account occupy? A will? A trust?
Make friends! I say. A friend at the movie theater can get you a ticket. A friend in the police can erase your tickets. Friends store themselves, very space efficient. Call them with your expensive string-and-can and ask them for a favor. If they’re rich (the right kinds of friends) they’ll give you what you need. Everybody I know who’s anybody (and that’s everybody because I make the right friends) has friends and their friends have friends and they’ve all got money.
Please meet these kinds of people? Before you’re too old to be conveniently stored.
When I finally throw everything out and drive the moving truck to the new house, I give him commandments: Keep the garage clean. Inside of it, store a new-used (Volvo) sedan. Smile at passersby from your driveway. Accept invitations to drink at the Irish bar with your co-workers. Yes, it starts with drunks. Even drunks have connections—the right kinds.
Despite all I’ve done, tried to do (for him!), he slumps his shoulders at me.
“How did I make you so ashamed?” he asks.
I can only cluck my tongue:
Not shame. I know I’ve told you things like the air we breathe is commodification and the water we drink, Eurocentric hierarchy, but I learned that in my liberal arts college. Our president wore a bowtie. My roommates’ grandfather invented the fucking barcode! I nearly lost my scholarship money for mispronouncing Goethe, but I endured such humiliations to get here, this level of clarity. If only you could see the cornlessness of my digestive tract.
Where I live, the auto shops are tucked tastefully away. Where I live, they don’t sell canned vegetables at the grocery store, never mind corn.
No, no shame on my end. Only care. A desire to see you…progress.
Go now. Was that a Lion’s Club bumper sticker on your neighbor’s Volvo? And the name of the little pub on the corner? O’Sullivan’s? You are the horse and this neighborhood, your water. I can’t do it for you. The point is, these people will be here when I can’t. And I don’t mean it cruelly, but I will not be here.
I also migrated. And like you, I’m lucky if I make it back on holidays.