Slipping in Unicorn Puke

In the early part of the fourth century BC, a historian by the name of Ctesias returned to his native Greece after traveling through India and Persia, where he served a number of years as physician to the royal court. When he got home, he set to work writing about his travels in his great works Persica, which like many of the era’s works of history is somewhat dubious in nature, and Indica, which among other things, describes India’s native unicorn.

The unicorn, he wrote, was as large as a horse, with blue eyes, a red head, a white body, and a horn on its head measuring at least a foot and a half. It was also very strong and lightning fast.

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For a while rumor had it only a young virgin could successfully catch a unicorn because the creatures were attracted to purity. By Domenichino – Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ctesias offers us the first written account of this elusive animal, but he certainly wasn’t the only “scholar” to write about it. Among those who mention the beast are Pliny the Elder, Saint Isidore of Seville, and Marco Polo. The unicorn even gets a nod in some translations of the Bible (I’m pretty sure the LSD translation is on the list).

Of course none of these writings seem to be eye-witness accounts, and the descriptions vary (some may more closely resemble a rhinoceros, which definitely is real), but for a good part of human history, there was little doubt of the unicorn’s existence. Its horn has been pulverized to make an antidote for poisons, it’s been used as a religious symbol of purity, and it’s even graced symbols of state.

Today’s unicorn is a little sleeker, a little sparklier, and a little more make-believe (though I hear Animal Planet is planning a show called Hunting Unicorns, which will air just as soon as they find Bigfoot). The unicorn of today also seems to have a hard time holding on to its lunch (which I have to assume is made up primarily of Skittles) because the creatures are frequently depicted puking rainbows.

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Yep. This sure makes me thirsty for something with sugar and sparkles.

I have to wonder if that’s what Starbucks was hoping to call to mind when they introduced their Unicorn Frappuccino last week. The multi-colored sugar bomb lasted only five days, and was even sold out at many stores faster than that, proving as difficult to catch as the unicorn itself.

I’m certainly not complaining. As a more or less non-coffee drinker, I have one Starbucks order I’ve convinced myself I enjoy when I occasionally have to meet up there, and the Unicorn Frappuccino isn’t it. But if they were still making them, then for the purpose of thorough research I suppose I would have gotten one just to take a picture. I might even have tried a sip so as to not anger the barista who just spent the last hour making 437 of them and is starting to take on a strange pink and blue hue.

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Since I didn’t get the drink you’ll just have to use your imagination. Picture this in a cup topped with whipped cream and pink and blue sprinkles.

So I didn’t catch a unicorn myself, but for a few days there I sure did hear a lot of rumors of their existence. I see from the Internet buzz that some Starbucks stores are now offering a Dragon Frappuccino made with green tea and magic and probably also a lot of sugar. I think I’ll pass on that one as well, but perhaps you’d like to try it.

If you tried the Unicorn Frappuccino, I’m curious, what did you think? Should Starbucks bring it back and make it a permanent offering, or did it make you puke rainbows like a unicorn?

 

That Gift in the Top of Your Closet

In February of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln followed up on a letter that had been sent to his predecessor by Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongut, the king of Siam. The king had made a generous offer to the people of the United States, suggesting that he would be happy to send a gift of a sufficient number of elephants to breed in the wilds of the nation. And it certainly wasn’t the bizarre offer it might seem like today. Highly intelligent and useful in transporting goods and raising circus tents, Asian elephants enjoyed a long history as generous gifts.

President Lincoln crafted a highly diplomatic response, explaining that America did not offer environmental conditions conducive to wild elephant success and that when it came to transporting goods, we were scraping by okay with our newfangled steam engines. But he was also careful to thank the king for his very gracious offer.

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Consular Flag of Thailand, featuring an auspicious elephant. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Because some elephants, particularly the rare albino ones, have long been considered sacred in Siam and throughout Southeast Asia, given their relationship to Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha). The story goes that Gautama’s mother dreamt of a white elephant descending from heaven on the very night she conceived her son.

So white elephants (and some not-so-white ones that are found to possess other traits earning them the title of “auspicious elephants”) have long been considered the sacred property of the reigning king in Siam. On occasion, the king also may have chosen to honor deserving courtiers by giving them the gift of trusting a white elephant to their care.

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Royal Elephant Stable where the King of Siam used to keep his White Elephants (today: The Royal Elephant National Museum, Bangkok) By Hdamm (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
It was a generous gift, but there were drawbacks. The amazing and rare creatures were too sacred to be put to work raising circus tents, had to be specially housed, and had to eat. A lot. A white elephant gift from the king, then, was not exactly something to be desired. It could easily burden a man into poverty. And it was a gift that couldn’t be refused.

Allegedly this is where the term “white elephant gift” came from, to refer to something you might give or receive that no one really wants. I don’t know about you, but over the years, I have been to my share of white elephant gift exchanges (also referred to as a Yankee Swap, or a Naughty Santa, which is NOT what it sounds like). These events usually come complete with rules that allow participants to trade the terrible gift they receive for someone else’s terrible gift. The idea, of course, is that one man’s trash may actually be another man’s treasure.

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Another man’s treasure. photo credit: sukigirl74 teacosy top view via photopin (license)

And who knows? Perhaps you have been searching for years for a tea cozy that’s the perfect shade of cerulean, and maybe your friend Ted has been just dying to get his hands on the Duran Duran cassette gathering dust in the top of your closet since the early 90’s.

But if your exchange doesn’t result in you taking home a gift you actually kind of want, don’t fear. You had a good time with friends, enjoying some laughs as everyone attempted to steal the same ceramic Yoda m&m dispenser. Besides you can always shove your unfortunate gift in the top of your closet and dust it off for next time.

Because over the last few years, the notion of re-gifting has gained some traction as a way to both rein in Holiday spending and create less waste. There are helpful re-gifting etiquette guidelines online and in October of 2008, then governor of Colorado, Bill Ritter declared December 18 as “National Re-gifting Day.” Frankly, I’m not sure the governor of Colorado has that kind of national authority. 

At least some people agree with me because a quick Internet search reveals that National Re-gifting Day can also be observed on either December 15, or on the last Thursday before Christmas, which to be fair to Governor Ritter will sometimes fall on the 18th. But I suppose it doesn’t matter when you mark it on the calendar because as other important festive occasions approach, National Re-gifting Day is a holiday that you can always pull off the dusty top shelf of your closet, stick in recycled gift bag, and celebrate again and again.

Scary Stuff: The Attack of the One-Eyed, One-Horned Alligator in Short Shorts

I’ve mentioned before that Halloween is not my favorite time of year. Not that I don’t like a fun costume or a good sugar high. I just really don’t enjoy scary things. Horror movies, haunted houses, and Ouija boards are not for me. If something frightening startles me, I’m likely to scream and punch (scary clowns be warned).

And as far as monsters go, unless they live on Sesame Street or spend much more of their time in philosophical reflection upon their own nature and creation than they do engaging in actual scaring, then I’m not a big fan. But I do have a soft spot for one particularly friendly rock ‘n’ roll loving, purple people eating, flying monster in short shorts from my childhood.

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The Purple People Eater isn’t scary because he only eats purple people. At least I hope that’s right.

Because I have fond memories of setting the needle of my Fisher Price record player on a Wacky Winners record and dancing around the living room to Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater.” (Once in a while, my actual age startles me, and I’m likely to scream and punch.)

The story goes that the son of one of Wooley’s friends came home from school with a joke one day: “What has one eye, one horn, flies and eats people?” The answer, so obvious to us now, was, “A flying purple people eater!” The joke struck the funny bone of the kid’s dad, who shared it with his friend Sheb. He liked it so much, the actor/songwriter sat down immediately to scribble some lyrics.

Then in 1958 (and just to clarify, that was long before me and my Fisher Price record player came along), Sheb Wooley had a hit on his hands, with “Purple People Eater” becoming the only novelty song to ever to sit in the top spot of the Billboard pop chart.

Wooley went on to record a number of novelty songs, and had a run of successes as an actor, particularly in western films. But while he is certainly best known as the voice behind everyone’s favorite pigeon-toed, under-growed flying monster who plays a mean head horn, his voice has been heard most in something else.

Because most likely the songwriter/actor is also the man responsible for the most famous scream in the world. Performed in a sound studio for use in the 1951 film Distant Drums, the scream was a response to the need to fill in the sound a guy would make if he were suddenly attacked and dragged under water by an alligator.

Personally, I think Wooley nailed it.

And apparently so did a lot of filmmakers, because after the unique scream became a part of the Warner Brothers sound library, it got plopped into a whole lot of movies. So many movies, in fact, that a group of film students at the University of Southern California took notice and set out on a quest to uncover the first movie that ever featured Wooley’s well-used scream.

The earliest they found was a 1963 western movie called The Charge at Feather River, in which a character named Private Wilhelm takes an arrow to the leg and lets out a scream that, to my mind, sounds a lot like the noise a guy would make if he were being attacked and pulled under water by an alligator.

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Sheb Wooly. If this man is attacked by an alligator, he will scream like a falling storm trooper. By OMAC Artist Corporation, Bakersfield, CA. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Of course the film students were off by a few years, and who knows how many movies, but the sound clip took on the nickname “the Wilhelm scream” anyway. And that might have been the end of a fun little story, except that among the USC classmates that discovered the unique little piece of movie sound was Ben Burtt, the sound designer who worked on a unique little movie called Star Wars.

As a nod to his friends, Burtt decided to include the Wilhelm scream in the movie, because it turns out the sound a storm trooper makes when falling down a chasm is pretty much the same sound a man makes when getting attacked by an alligator.

In fact, the sound makes it into every Star Wars movie, as well as each Indiana Jones. And basically all the filmmakers you’ve heard of have picked up on the joke, too. Wooley’s iconic scream has been included in The Lord of the Rings, Toy Story, Titanic, and Pirates of the Caribbean. Some estimates put the number of films that have used the clip close to 300. I would attempt to verify that, but there’s a good chance at least a few of those are horror movies.

Nearly 300 Hollywood folks have been attacked and dragged under the water by an alligator because of the otherwise harmless purple people eater. And that’s pretty scary stuff. Man, I hate Halloween.

A Troublesome Apple and an Ample Supply of Butt Glue

It all started with an apple. Or perhaps it started when Eris, the goddess of discord got her toga in a bunch because she wasn’t invited to a wedding. The problem with offending the goddess of discord is that she’s pretty good at causing trouble. The story goes that Eris crashed the wedding, but only long enough to present a golden apple to the fairest of them all.

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The world’s first beauty contest, maybe ever so slightly more risqué than the swimsuit competitions of today. The Judgement of Paris by Enrique Simonet, 1904, Pubic Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Three formidable goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite) stepped forward to claim the prize. Zeus wasn’t about to wade into that hornet’s nest by declaring a victor, so he passed the responsibility off to Paris, who faced a very difficult choice. None of the goddesses was keen to hand over the title of fairest and so they bribed their unfortunate judge. Hera offered him the opportunity to rule, Athena offered him victory on the battlefield, and Aphrodite offered him the love of Helen, who was quite a beauty queen herself.

Paris chose the pretty girl because, like Aphrodite, she appeared well-poised and graceful in a swimsuit and high heels and could clearly benefit from a scholarship. She also wanted world peace and “like such as, uh, South Africa, and, uh, Iraq, everywhere like such as…”*

Alas, world peace was not to be, since Helen was married to Menelaus of Sparta, and he didn’t agree that Aphrodite should be given the title of Miss Olympus. War broke out and because the Trojans couldn’t resist a good looking giant wooden horse any more than Paris could resist a pretty girl, it didn’t end well for Troy.

Given the bloody history, then, it isn’t all that surprising that outside of a few small May Day festivals, there really wasn’t much in the way of beauty contests for thousands of years. Then along came P.T. Barnum who, in 1854, thought it would be a great idea to parade women in front of a crowd to judge their beauty.

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Margaret Gorman, 16-year-old, 1921 winner of the Bather’s Review, and the first Miss America, without even a single glob of butt glue to keep her swim suit in place. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It turned out it was a pretty good money-making idea, just a little ahead of its time. But what ended in angry protest in 1854, started to catch on almost seventy years later in Atlantic City, as the Inter-City Beauty Contest in which women competed for applause and a chance to parade around in their swimming suits the next day in the “Bather’s Review.”

From these humble beginnings emerged the Miss America Pageant, which is ongoing and will wind up with the crowning of a new beauty in a glued-on bathing suit this Sunday, September 11.

Now, I’m not a big pageant fan myself, and I have never competed in one (frankly, it just wouldn’t be fair to the other ladies), so I have mixed feelings about criticizing them. I do think that, with a few unfortunate exceptions, the contestants of most of the larger pageants today, are smart, talented, and highly-motivated women who are working hard to find a platform from which to make a positive difference in the world.

I don’t begrudge them that opportunity, but here’s my question. If we have so many smart, talented, and highly-motivated women in the world (or even the universe, though I think that pageant is rigged as only Earth girls have ever been crowned), why is it that we need to see them in a bathing suit and high heels? Does their poise and athleticism while half-naked make them somehow more likely to be forces for positive change? Or does their successful application of butt glue somehow make them more worthy of college scholarships?

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Homer: a practical history blogger before his time. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Tough questions, I know, and not easily answered by world peace and, like um, South Africa. Too tough for me, a lowly blogger of all things historical, and, evidently mythological. Because, yes, in addition to being among the four fifths of Americans who can identify the United States on a world map, I am also aware that the Trojan War may not have happened at all. And if some version of it did, it most likely didn’t start with an epic godly beauty pageant.

But then again, on the rare occasion that I have flipped on the television and watched part of the Miss America Pageant, I have usually found myself asking if it’s for real, too.

 

*Actual excerpt from an actual response given by a contestant in the 2007 Miss Teen USA Pageant while answering the question, “Recent polls have shown a fifth of Americans can’t locate the U.S. on a world map. Why do you think this is?” In her defense, it was a pretty high pressure situation and a FIFTH OF AMERICANS CAN’T IDENTIFY THE U.S. ON A WORLD MAP! Likely this beauty contestant is not among them. I suspect she can also find, uh, South Africa, and, uh, Iraq.

The Pokémon Pandemic is Upon Us…Go Wash your Hands

In February of 1512, a Spanish Conquistador named Juan Ponce de León received a royal commission to pillage, plunder, and claim the rumored islands northwest of Hispaniola. King Ferdinand specifically wanted this honor to go to Ponce de León, a Spanish son of a good Spanish family, because he did not want to cede any more power to Diego Columbus, the uppity son of that silly Italian fellow who’d done all the exploring for them in the first place.

Ponce de León had travelled to the New World initially on the second voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1493. Though it’s not clear what he did in the meantime, by 1504 he became the right hand man of the appointed governor of Hispaniola, Nicolás de Ovando, by effectively squashing a rebellion by the native Taínos.

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Juan Ponce de Léon, pillager, plunderer, and Pokémon Trainer extraordinaire. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Thus began Ponce de León’s widely successful career of murder and exploration. He soon set off for the island eventually known as Puerto Rico in search of riches rumored by the Taínos, in exchange for which he enslaved many of them and gave the rest smallpox because he never washed his hands. He did find a great deal of gold, but by the time he returned to Hispaniola, Ovando had been usurped by the pesky Diego Columbus and a power struggle soon raged.

So when King Ferdinand suggested Ponce de León go exploring, he was probably pretty happy to oblige. He was the kind of guy who would jump at the chance to gather slaves, glory, and eternal youth, even if it meant wandering into a dark alley at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Because, yes, I think it’s safe to assume that if Ponce de León were alive today, he would be pretty obsessed with the game Pokémon Go. Now I don’t know where else in the world this game may be at this point, but here in the US, it made its debut earlier this month, and I’m telling you, wash your hands, because the pandemic is coming. If you are in the US and you don’t know the game yet, it’s what those people wandering aimless through your neighborhood while staring intently at their phones are doing.

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There’s one! Oh wait, no, that’s just a toy. photo credit: 对阵/Versus via photopin (license)

I was just a few years too old to get caught up in the Pokémon craze the first time around and I’m going to sit it out this time around, too, so if you one of those obsessed (and I’m betting you’re not because you wouldn’t be wasting time/cell phone battery on reading this post), then I apologize for the following explanation.

As far as I can figure, Pokémon is a game in which you capture little powerful creatures and make them fight each other for your entertainment. In the late nineties, you did this by buying or trading Pokémon cards that you would play against your friends who would try to counter your attack with whatever cards they bought or traded for.

Now it’s gone mobile and realistic-ish, because through the magic of Internet mapping, Pokémon (the critters) can show up anywhere at any time and in order to capture them, all you have to do is throw Pokéballs (whatever those are) at them or hatch them from an egg by walking around like a crazy person.

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Ah the good old days, when Pokémon was just a game that everyone was obsessed with. Oh, wait…

 

And if that’s not exciting enough for you, yes, you can make them fight, and you can take over “gyms” from other Poképlayers (a word I think I just made up, but probably not).  The “gyms” are located in real-life public spaces, businesses, and even private properties that were once designated as something else, without any permission whatsoever given by the property-owners, or any recourse for those who don’t want their property to be a part of the game.

Did I get this about right?

And people have become absolutely obsessed with this game. I know because when I first heard about it maybe three or four days ago, it took over my Facebook feed, where so many of my otherwise pretty rational friends began posting screenshots of all the funny little places they’d found Pokémon, like in the bathroom stall at work. I would say an equal number of otherwise rational friends began railing against the posts and the crazy people stumbling about staring at their phones in places they ought not to have been, like the bathroom stalls of someone else’s workplace. Then I turned on the radio and the dj was droning on and on about Pokémon Go and I realized that even though I didn’t understand a single word, she assumed all her listeners knew exactly what she was talking about. And they probably did.

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Virtual Pokémon in the non-virtual world. I admit, it looks pretty fun. Thanks to my multiple FB friends who, when I put out a call for a pic, obliged quickly and enthusiastically.

 

So why are people so obsessed with the game? All I can think is that they are reliving their childhoods, searching for a little bit of that wonder they felt in their youth, and hoping that by scouring a dark alleyway at 2 o’clock in the morning, and taking over new lands (or “gyms”), perhaps they can find it.

The great rumor mill of history suggests that that’s what Ponce de León was after as well when he stumbled into Florida. In addition to gold and slaves and glory, he was searching for the famed fountain of youth. Of course there are no contemporary sources that suggest this was the case, and even if he was seeking it, he never found it. In 1521, the conquistador was shot by poison tipped arrows fired by native inhabitants of his new land. Sapped of the strength even to throw a Pokéball, he died shortly after. And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

But despite the possible private property issues and potentials for abuse, which will need to be worked out, the game seems innocent enough. I wish all the Pokéballers (another word I think I just made up, but probably not) good luck on their quests for youth. But seriously, go wash your hands.

 

Bloggy McBlogface: Appeasing Poseidon and the Boat-Loving Internet Trolls

This week I was reminded that even in the era of Donald Trump, people are still capable of taking voting seriously. Because a few days ago my attention was drawn to an exciting ongoing voting process on the Internet.

In case you’re not familiar with this incredible developing story, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the UK is in the process of designing a new boat. The 287 million dollar polar research vessel is a serious piece of nautical equipment expected to launch in 2019 in order to engage in serious nautical work.

But as everyone knows, a good boat needs a good name. And when I say everyone, I mean even the Ancient Babylonians. As early as the 3rd millennium BC, people heading out onto the water were taking the task pretty seriously, launching their vessels with elaborate ceremony and a carefully chosen name.

The Egyptians did it, too, as did the Greeks and Romans. Ships were most often named in honor of the gods and goddesses sailors felt the need to appease and appeal to for safety on the water. These were important names.

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This boat obviously does not belong to a boat naming historian. photo credit: NS-00388 – Who Cares via photopin (license)

As the tradition continued to develop, ships most often took on feminine personas, either as a natural shift from the use of goddess names or as an outcropping of the feminine assignment in most European languages to la boat.

Some boat naming historians (yep, that’s a real thing) suggest that by giving a woman’s name to a ship, sailors and captains are more likely to take loving care of the vessels in their charge. And as a bonus, should the ship run into danger on the open sea, a feminine entity speaks more to the  comfort and care of those who are at the mercy of her strength.

I don’t know about any of that, but what I do know is that finding the right name for a boat is serious business. And I know that putting the Internet in charge of naming your boat is risky. That’s the painful lesson the NERC is now learning. A few weeks ago the Council appealed to the public to recommend names for the new research vessel and then vote in support of favorites.

The NERC got the ball rolling with a few possibilities, including the RRS Shackleton, RRS Falcon, or RRS Endeavor. Fine names to be sure, but the one that has really caught the imagination of the voting public was proposed by James Hand, who added RRS Boaty McBoatface to the list.

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I think Laryssa may have her work cut out for her protecting this precarious boatload. photo credit: Cages via photopin (license)

 

Mr. Hand’s idea caught on, and soon jumped to the top of the list, with over 100, 000 votes. And it turns out his suggestion was only one among a long list of very creative (and pretty funny) choices, including the RRS WhateverFloatsYa, the RRS I Like Big Boats and I Cannot Lie, and the RRS Immacrackdatice.

The NERC has actually been pretty cool about the whole thing. In public statements it has expressed thanks to an enthusiastic public for their humorous and overwhelming level of engagement.  The Council will, of course, have final say over the name of the ship, and it will most likely not choose to go with BoatyMcBoatface in the end.

Still it seems the public has spoken, and as everyone knows, changing a ship’s name is about the dumbest thing you can do. Again, by everyone, I mean everyone who knows anything about boats, going back millennia.

Because tradition insists that Poseidon himself records and knows the name of every vessel on the sea. If he has to go scribbling them all out in the Ledger of the Deep, it leaves his records messy and confusing, and makes him all discombobulated and cranky. So if you must change the name of a ship, it’s wise to tread carefully.

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What will Votey McVoteface come up with next? photo credit: Voting via photopin (license)

 

Personally, I don’t put any stock into such warnings, but then I am not a boat owner, or sailor, or boat naming historian. I’m also thankfully not part of the Natural Environment Research Council, which after the polls close on April 16th, will be tasked with deciding whether it’s better to allow a serious vessel to carry a lighthearted name, or to risk irritating a discombobulated sea god or worse, incurring the wrath of the Internet trolls, and those who take the power of their vote super seriously.

Because one need look no further than the US presidential race to know that people love to vote for ridiculous things. And they get ridiculously upset when you try to reason with them. I’m pretty sure a cranky sea god is the least of the NERC’s concerns.

Going Tiny in a Very Small Way

In a few weeks I will celebrate the third anniversary of moving into my current home. This most recent move, from Salem, Oregon, was the fifth in my fifteen years of marriage, and I’m sincerely hoping it is the last for a while. I’d like to let my sons go through school with a consistent group of friends. I’d like to think that when someone asks them where they are from originally, they might know how to answer. And despite all the bad press of the last few years, St. Louis is a wonderful place and we are very happy to be living so near our favorite city.

But lately I’ve also been thinking about the one big disadvantage of staying put. Because I’ve become obsessed with the television shows that highlight the tiny house movement. There are several different ones, but each focuses in on a person, or couple, or sometimes even pretty good size family that is looking to either build or buy a home that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 square feet or less.

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Tiny house. Big bludgeoning risk. photo credit: IMG_6224 via photopin (license)

I’ve tried for a long time to figure out what appeals to me about these shows. I know for certain that I do NOT wish to live in such a home. As much as I love my family, if I had to live on top of them every minute of every day, someone would get accidentally bludgeoned to death.

I think the reason these shows appeal to me so much is because of the stories of the people. Almost all of them say the reason they want to “go tiny” is, in part, because they want to rid themselves of the extra stuff in their lives and live more freely with less.

Doesn’t that sound amazing? So I’m a little scared to not be looking ahead to a move now that it’s been a few years, because every time we pack up to move, we pare down. And it’s amazing.

Without a move looming, the drawers are getting a little cluttered, the closets a little crowded, and the tower of boxes in the basement of outgrown clothes and toys and books that should be donated is beginning to teeter dangerously.

I’m afraid if this goes much longer, we risk becoming like Homer and Langley Collyer, a well-to-do pair of brothers that lived together in their family’s 5th Avenue Harlem mansion, along with all the leftover equipment from their deceased father’s medical practice, the possessions from their deceased mother’s separate house, stacks and stacks of newspapers, and fourteen pianos.

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So my closets don’t look like this. Yet. photo credit: bric-a-brac via photopin (license)

On March 21, 1947 the police received a call about a smell of decay emanating from the house. They dug their way in and discovered Homer Collyer dead. Nearly a month later, workers uncovered the body of Langley Collyer, crushed under the junk. Around 120 tons of debris was eventually removed from the house. The few salvageable things fetched $2000 at auction and the dangerous house was razed, making way for the small Collyer Brother’s Park at the corner of 128th and 5th Avenue.

There’ve been attempts to have the park renamed, in order to honor someone or something perhaps more noble than the famous hoarders, but as then NYC Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe pointed out, “Not all history is pretty — and many New York children were admonished by their parents to clean their room ‘or else you’ll end up like the Collyer brothers.’”

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A teetering tower of donations. But no pianos, so that’s something.

I think it’s safe to assume there were some underlying pathological issues that led to the lifestyle and tragic demise of the Collyers, but I’m going to try to learn a lesson from them anyway. I’m not facing an impending move, and because I love my family and would hate to have to bludgeon them, I am not going to attempt to live in 400 square feet.

But what I am going to do is make a concerted effort to pare down as if we were planning a big change. Call it my 2016 resolution if you will. I will sort out the junk drawers, reorganize the closets, and haul off that teetering tower of donation boxes.  I will rid myself of the extra stuff and live more freely with less.

And it will feel amazing.