Just wait, you'll need a recliner one day ...

chair from the trash My husband and I had a bit of an argument over this chair. If you recall, back when I was actually putting words out on the Internet, my father was affronted by a teenager with a gun in his front yard. As our family likes to say, if it were anyone else, the story may have stopped there. I may have had an update about the police report or maybe even the good news that they caught the kid. But instead I'm going to tell you about this blue chair in our laundry room.

A week ago, my mother looked out the kitchen window and noticed two police officers parked across the street and heading her way. She scrambled to both find my father and put on some presentable clothing but by the time she got to the door they were gone. She called my father and told him they were there, but we didn't know why.

My father had found out earlier that week the police were not going to file a report because they said no crime had been committed. Apparently even if this punk had reached into his pocket and withdrawn it empty-handed, that wouldn't have been an assault but just rudeness. So since no shots were fired and no items were stolen, the police claim it was just a disagreement in my parents' front yard. They even confused the story with another report that evening and said the kid must have been trying to hide in my parents' yard from another incident down the road.

So my father called the police station and complained, working his way up the chain there. He made a stink at the local civic league meeting, calling out the Norfolk police for their ridiculous behavior. And then mysteriously, we got a tip from another neighbor that the police were coming to investigate the clutter in my parents' yard and were going to bring the fire marshall and others to "crack down" on the junk he had. This is not the first time my father has complained at a civic league meeting and had sudden unwanted attention from the police. But like all the times before, it has the potential to be catastrophic for the family.

So Monday of last week began a frantic effort to clean up the yard at my parents' house. My father was raised on a farm in North Carolina, and both of my parents are dyed in the wool pack rats as well as children of a depressed economy so few things are thrown away in their world. Add to this that my parents' lot is 3/4 an acre in the city and they have a lot of yard to clean up.

My father had a van and pickup truck towed from the backyard, leaving two more cars in the back. A scrap metal man came to our house last week and took away eight washing machines (in one truckload, I might add, which was a site to see). We moved my oldest brother's john boat to another property and my other brother's VW Jetta to his house. My mother's minivan (which needs repair) is in hiding in our garage right now, like a vehicular Anne Frank. And we've sorted and moved more plastic tubs than I care to recall.

To those outside our clan this must sound like some reality TV show. You might even scoff at my family's junk and can't imagine why people would keep all this crap around. Just before we left for vacation, my brother Perry found out I was leaving and packed up a cardboard box of necessities for the week at our beach house. It included post-it notes, band-aids and antibiotic ointment, a headlamp, two water pitchers, some candles and a lighter, a pair of men's thick socks, engineer's graph paper, chapstick, and a dozen hand towels. Each of these items was individually sealed in a plastic bag using Perry's new impulse sealer to keep them sorted, clean and dry. Perry is recently single and I told him his box was really a window into his world. Instead of writing up a tedious profile he should just take a picture of it and post it to Match.com. If a woman were intrigued by this collection that showed a lot of promise. However, if she wrinkled her nose and said "why would anyone buy multiple Brita pitchers?!" then he shouldn't even waste his time.

I took the collection to the beach house and everyone had a good chuckle over my brother's quirks. But over the course of the week, each of his items became more and more handy so that by the fourth day or so if someone asked about an item, they knew I could produce it along with the extra tidbit that "my brother packed it for me." Suddenly the weirdo guy with half a dozen coffee makers is making a name for himself in preparedness for a trip he didn't even take.

My family has always been this way. I navigated my childhood through paths in our home. There are enough non-perishable groceries in my mother's kitchen to last at least a year if not two. My father has always been able to cobble together a lawnmower for me as well as every bicycle I had as a kid from parts he found on the trash. We were green before that term even existed. But in some ways it's like coming from a circus family. Everyone in the troupe looks out for each other, but it's hard to bring a date home and explain that you live with a bearded lady, the Amazing Fish Boy and about a dozen trapeze monkeys. Not many people understand. My mother's friend at work with similar hording habits even said that she doesn't even try to explain her house. She just said, "if they understand there's no need to explain and if they don't understand nothing you say can make them."

As an adult I have tried to bridge the divide between the best qualities of my family and the rest of world "outside the circus." In many ways we all act like ambassadors to our own subcultures to the outside world. Both have their extremes, and I hope to take the good from all of them. This has been hard on Rich, though, because as much as he loves me and my family and wants to support us, he didn't grow up in this subculture and it's as hard for him to adapt to as me adapting to his family's subculture.

When I was packing for our trip to the beach, I carried Perry's box of wonders intact. Rich looked at the collection suspiciously, mostly because I was stressing about what to pack and he was just ready to get on with relaxing. I found myself starting to pack things and then putting them back because I was afraid Rich would fuss about them. One of those items left behind was our spare knife set (that Perry gifted me with last year) because I figured it would make Rich frown. And for an entire week, I wished I had at least one decent knife to cut an apple.

Last Tuesday evening, Rich and I went for a walk with the dog. Since Wednesday morning is trash day, there were several cans already out around the neighborhood. When we had almost gotten back home, we passed by a blue recliner on the side of the road. I stopped to look at the chair and Rich looked confused. I leaned over and sniffed the chair for signs of cat pee or cigarette smoke and Rich looked concerned. I moved the bed railings out of the way so I could sit in the chair and make sure the reclining mechanism still worked and as I rocked on the side of the road, Rich stared at me like he didn't even know who I was anymore.

Rich didn't want to pick up the Garbage Chair and I proceeded to pout the rest of the way to our front steps. By the time we got home he begrudgingly agreed to go get "that damn chair", helpless to my pitiful laments about someone else's trash. We drove around the corner and loaded the chair into the back of the car. And as Rich was pulling his hand away, he got his fingers caught in the reclining mechanism. That's when the evening went sour. He wrestled his hand free of this random chair he didn't want, exclaimed something about just "putting the fucking chair in the car," slammed the back of the car shut and headed towards the driver's seat. For a moment, I wondered if I was welcome in the car or if I would be better off just walking home. But I got in and it was a long silent drive around the block back to our house.

The blue chair is now in our utility room. Originally it was until we verified it was cootie-free (and the sight of it didn't make either of us roll our eyes) but now it's kind of nice having a chair out there. I've inspected the upholstery and the recliner bits and they're all in great shape. It doesn't even creak when you rock in it. And even if we don't need it, now that his hand no longer hurts, I can probably convince Rich to help me take it to the thrift store. If nothing else, the kitties are enjoying it.

It's really about way more than just the chair. For me, it was a defense of my family's way of life in the face of so much apparent junk. I don't want to have an overstuffed home like my parents do. I don't need a dozen washers in my yard. But I refuse to send usable things to a landfill. We as a society can't just load up dump trucks and then shoot them out into outer space. When I saw that chair, I thought of all the shitty furniture I had as a poor college graduate and how I would have loved a chair like that. And I was still mad about the knives - the knives I never asked Rich if we could pack but assumed he would veto based off of other comments he'd made. The knives that I way over-thought if I should bring them or not - if I was going to be just as bad as my family in over-packing or if they were reasonable, but scripting that Rich wouldn't want me to bring them.

I was pretty adamant about this piece of trash furniture, and for all Rich's desire to understand me, it's just not really how most people work. Rich has been busting his ass for years to understand this "use every part of the buffalo" aspect of my world (one that runs so deeply in my personality that I can't even see it myself). While I really appreciate that, I didn't just want Rich to humor me about the chair. I wanted him to agree with me that the chair was important and that we should save the chair, just like it were a stray dog hit by a car on the side of the road. Once he mashed his hand, though, I knew he wanted nothing to do with it and probably not very much to do with me in the short term.

I'm having a hard time these days with balance - funny since that was my resolution word for 2008. I know that Rich is on my team and the president of my fan club, but it can be hard sometimes when I feel like I'm trying to support my family as well as the man I married who loves my circus troupe but is really freaked out by clowns. Rich is in an awkward position too, in that I'm free to bitch about the trapeze monkeys but dammit they're my trapeze monkeys so he better not complain about them. Some of the crap my parents collect is insane. But when one of their tenants couldn't afford groceries, they cobbled together a week's worth of food for him from the shelves of their own kitchen. Those are the kind of people I came from and I don't ever want to be embarrassed about them, no matter how many plastic tubs are in their back yard.

So if you have any need for a gently used blue recliner, Rich and I would both really love to find it a new loving home.