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A nation of junk junkies


As Americans, or perhaps humans on this planet, we have a fascination and obsession with junk. We are literally in love with junk and without it have no life and little else to live for—it is possibly more important than books or movies and sometimes friends and relatives, takes priority over almost everything and makes the world go around.

We love to shop for junk. We love to get good deals on junk. We love to walk away with a sly, smug grin after a transaction for some especially coveted and valuable junk and notify our friends that “Boy, did I get a deal on this latest piece of junk. I stole it!”

We are very sensitive and protective of our junk. If somebody does not notice our junk, or is not as impressed with it as we are, we feel offended, almost resentful, maybe depressed. We are baffled when nobody likes or cares about our junk; and even more disturbing is a person who despises all junk (especially state-of-the-art junk owners standing guard over their junk like grim sentries) and castigates it for what it really is—junk.

My own history of junk, and, worse, transporting it, is probably minimal compared to most citizens of the world. In the beginning, from 1967 until 1970, I lived a gypsy existence, bumming around the country, moving everything I owned either in a backpack as I hitchhiked, or in a sputtering VW bug. Then I settled in Hermosa Beach and lived in a studio garret from 1970 until 1978, and when I moved to a bigger studio in Manhattan Beach I needed only to borrow a station wagon and move all my junk in one trip. In 1980, I moved into a two-bedroom apartment with a friend, and this time I had a station wagon of my own and had accumulated some yard sale furniture, so it took me two trips to move further north in Manhattan Beach.

Six years later I moved to California’s Central Coast and it took a caravan of two pickups and my station wagon to move my junk to a one-bedroom bungalow in Shell Beach. After 2 1/2 years there I had to make several trips over several days with the aid of a friend to move all my junk further north to Cayucos—my first real ordeal.

In Cayucos, I lived in a one-bedroom cottage for over four years. Moving my junk four blocks north to my next one-bedroom cottage on the luxurious “Riviera of Cayucos” of Pacific Avenue proved to be one of the most brutalizing experiences in my life. It took me a week! I filled an entire dumpster behind the local market with junk. I was seething and raging at myself for amassing the mountain of junk I had to deal with. I hurled it angrily out the door onto my lawn, cursed it, kicked it; tossed it in my old pickup, muttering to myself like a madman. There was no end to my junk. I had a yard sale and my girlfriend laughed at me along with those weekend junk scavengers who shook their heads and motored off, not one of them offering me as much as a dime for my junk! I tried finally to give it away, but nobody wanted it. People shrank from my junk as if it were a putrefying, lethal disease, for it was some of the most worthless, useless, ugly junk I’d ever laid my eyes on. How had I allowed this to happen to me?

Five years later, I moved further north near downtown Cayucos and it took two friends and me only a couple hours to move. I no longer collected junk. I drove by all yard sales and thrift stores with blinders. I bought only what I needed. I found myself jettisoning junk as soon as I inspected a smidgen of clutter and felt instant relief and gratification upon its extraction. Nowadays, I sometimes find myself refusing to buy junk my girlfriend insists I need, for I am still shell-shocked from my ordeal ten years ago.

Recently, I watched people move out of the two residences across the street. They were ‘60s people, meaning ancient non-operational motor homes in driveways used exclusively for storage of junk or occasional guest lodging. There were always a few old VW buses, usually non-operational, clogging the streets and driveways and yards. One neighbor had a shed, the other, in a two story abode, a garage. I anticipated their possessing a lot of junk, but was thoroughly flabbergasted when both parties moved within a month of each other.

The couple with the garage moved first, began extracting junk and piling it in the driveway, yard and along the street—a literal mountain of junk such as I’d never observed in my life. They held several yard sales after sorting through their junk, over which the expert junk junkies sniffed and bartered, hauling off the more serviceable items early; then returning later for passable freebies. These friendly neighbors tried to give me some of their junk as I perched on a chair watching them, but I refused to go near the place and was content to watch the parade for days. Every time I thought they might run out of junk, they managed to extract more and build a new pile and have a new sale. Eventually, the sight of this spectacle caused me to further downsize, especially when the entire family pitched in to load up the largest moving van rentable, filled it up, and then filled the last VW bus that would be towed by the rental to Oregon, where they were going to rent many acres and a barn in the wilderness to stash their junk.

My other neighbor, a single female artist, took a month to move, and managed to give me a chair, typing paper, and a cat. I got off easy. With the help of a huge cadre of friends, she extracted junk from the shed, the motor home and created a pile to rival that of the ex-neighbors, who were replaced by folks with a reasonable amount of state-of-the-art junk now that the neighborhood had been gentrified by the influx of wealthy city people from LA and San Francisco. The artist’s yard sale drew the usual junk junkies who swooped early to haul off the good stuff and then returned later for freebies, and finally, when she could no longer give any of it away, she paid a real junkman to haul the rest to the dump.

The moral of the story, and my final contention, is that junk will eventually be the end of us. It won’t be the population explosion, global warming, plague, pollution, famine, nuclear war or terrorist attacks that will end our existence—it’ll be all this goddamn junk! Where the hell is it going to go? How deep are our landfills? How vast our oceans? Sooner or later we’re all going to be smothered under a massive slag heap of junk.

And if this doesn’t kill us, well, fighting over the junk will. Crime is up because we steal and even kill for it. Countries hate us because we’ve got too much of it as well as the most sophisticated junk ever manufactured by man. Divorcees squabble, war and sue over junk. People are jealous and bitter because the other person has superior junk, so it breeds malevolent feelings toward fellow man. Worst of all, a person often can’t die in peace without worrying about how much damage his children are going to wreak upon one another over divvying up their junk.

When all is said and done, we are no match for the junk, and when the world is finally rid of humans and animals, and junk prevails, a perturbed and confused God might view the earth as a testimony to the destructive nature and soullessness of junk, as well as man’s pathological desire to possess it, and either laugh or cry at His experiment. §

Dell Franklin, founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, composed this essay on a junky computer.