----- EDITOR'S NOTE: Burton Cole is on vacation. While he rests up from all his napping at work, we present this Cole Classic that originally ran April 2, 2000: -----
I dug furiously through the desk drawer trying to find a working pen.
One after another, I tossed dried out and chewed up pens back into the drawer and rummaged for the next one.
"If they don't work, why are all these pens still in the drawer?" I bellowed, throwing another inkless wonder back into the pile.
They're there every time because instead of throwing them into the wastebasket, I, like many patriotic Americans, put them back.
Maybe it's the same theory as the reaching for the last cube in the ice tray or the last glass of Kool-Aid, only to recoil and flee: If you empty it, you have to refill it.
So instead of throwing things away, our homes become cluttered with masses of nonworking parts. And I personally do not need that kind of competition.
But really, why do we feel compelled to save things we will never use again?
OK, those pants in the back of my closet don't count. I will slim down to svelte again someday, just you wait and see. And then I will need those pants. So those aren't useless and shouldn't be considered as part of this argument.
And that drawer of T-shirts, so what if I only wear the top layer or two? I might need the ones on the bottom. You never know. They've hardly been worn and so should be perfect for formal events.
Besides, most of those T-shirts hold special meaning. They're souvenirs. Give me a day or two and some hints and I probably can remember exactly what memory most of them store. So they don't count as part of the useless stuff we keep, either.
But my point is, we all keep some useless stuff around, like pens that don't write but scratch holes in otherwise nice, clean documents.
Of course, one can buy refills. It might be cheaper than replacing the pen. Perhaps I should price them some day. I know it's got to be environmentally friendly to refill a pen rather than toss it into the trash to feed somebody's landfill or toxic waste dump.
Besides, maybe next time the pen will write. Maybe it was just the angle it was lying and all the ink ran to one end. There might be one more paragraph or one last signature in those pens. No, better keep them, too. The point of my argument is other stuff, useless stuff. Why do we keep it?
I bet almost every house has a laundry basket without handles or broken ribs or both. You can't carry it anymore without hugging to your chest like an overgrown baby. And a smelly one at that, one who reeks like dirty dish rags. Why keep a laundry basket that has to be carried so close to the nose?
Of course, it does still hold laundry and one never knows when an extra basket will be needed. When it comes time to strip the bed sheets, that always adds to the usual capacity. So yes, it is good to keep the basket around.
The same can't be said for the single shoe in the closet or the six single socks in the drawer. C'mon, it's been three years. Face it, the mates aren't going to show up again.
OK, it was the comfortable shoe. And it is possible that I will find one just like it but for the other foot and in a size 13 at a yard sale someday. And you know the other will show up as soon as I throw the first one away. Then I'd be stuck, knowing that I really had thrown away a perfectly good, comfortable shoe.
But the furniture people have stored in their basement or garage, what's the point? Why did you put it in there in the first place? Because it was broken. Or you acquired something better. In other words, you'll never used that chair again. You think someday you'll get the urge to slither into the far corner of the basement and sit in that chair in the cold dampness of cobwebs?
See, I've made my point. Why do we feel the need to keep useless stuff?
Of course, there's a good market out there for restored furniture. Antique is best. So letting my old furniture season a little longer in the basement actually is an investment just as good as any folio Merrill-Lynch could build for me.
Besides, when my daughter grows up and gets her first apartment, she's going to need furniture. She'll probably want this four-legged chair with three legs still intact as a memento of home. Cozy comforts are important.
But really, I think we all know if we'd be honest with ourselves, that we all keep useless stuff, things we'll never use again, stashed around the house somewhere.
I realize now that I have valid reasons for everything I have. And I will write them down on a checklist to cram into the filing cabinet with all the other extremely necessary gobs of papers stored there - as soon as I can find a pen that will write.
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