On a long soggy walk today through Garrett Park, the town I grew up in and moved back to twenty-five years ago, I come upon four police cars and a dump truck. The authorities are once again forcibly removing large abundant junk from the front yard of a man I’ve known since elementary school. Indeed, one of the cops routinely sent out for this abatement procedure is also an old school friend of both mine and the junk guy’s — the police dispatch him hoping a familiar face will make the operation less ugly. Less threatening to the junk guy.

Who, given the complexity of human beings, turns out to be a lot of things besides an angry (KEEP OUT signs are everywhere on the lawn) white male. For decades he’s been the town handyman, circulating in his rusted gray pickup and mowing lawns, repairing machinery, whatever. Although his appearance is a little unnerving – à la late-stage Howard Hughes – he is the soul of sweetness and does much of his work around Garrett Park for free (even though almost everyone here is wealthy). He did quite a bit of raking and mowing for us ten or so years ago and we’re still waiting for the bill.

Garrett Park is a very small town and I’ve known it intimately forever. My old friend Bennett’s mother still lives across the street from the handyman, who helps her out with everything all the time. The house on one side of the junked place burned down a few years ago, and a remarkably large number of townies donated money to get the family in it back on their feet. Rebuilt in a chic woody eco sort of way, it recently sold for about a million dollars, and UD figures the new owners would dearly like to see the end of the handyman.


And how does ol’ UD, notorious for energetically picking up trash on her walks, feel about this town eyesore, kept by a belligerent old acquaintance?

I always say to Mr UD, “When you get old, everything about you gets worse.” He disagrees, in his pollyannish way; but you know what I mean. The pack rat the junk guy used to be is now, age 65, a mad hoarder, made madder by what he sees as neighborhood and police harassment. When you stand in front of his small house and really contemplate his junk (cars, car parts, mowers, trash cans, plant containers, tables, chairs, rakes, snow shovels, radios, tires, piles of jumper cables, loungers, a trampoline, fake flowers), you perceive the expressivity it represents. None of it is placed arbitrarily. This is an aesthetic gesture — something to do, I guess, with his life work — the gathering up and staging of his accumulation, over many years, of unwanted objects from all of us. We’d walk by its display in MOMA with a shrug.

Ja, ja, of course I want the police to take it away. It makes you laugh, but after the giggle subsides you’re basically appalled. No one should have to look at that.

Like a lot of aesthetic gestures, it has plenty of aggressivity against the world behind it. But it also expresses that thing all of us are desperate to express. I. Exist. Here. This is my private history, my personal truth, my hard-won, hard-salvaged ship.

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