Is the nest ever empty when it’s full of junk?

Greg Bean

My wife and I are now officially empty nesters, but when the last child left recently to take an out-of-state job, we came to a shocking realization: You can’t have an empty nest when the chicks leave all their junk behind to clutter the place up.

I don’t know how it is for any of you other empty nesters, but I figure I’m going to have to rent one of those industrial-size Dumpsters to get rid of all the stuff my various children have left me to deal with while they’re larking about in greener pastures.

This is not a complete inventory, by any means, but if you were to take a walk through my garage this evening you’d find:

+Two tool carts, but no tools.

+A large metal tank for one of the gasses used in welding (oxygen? something worse?), but no welding equipment. I figure it might be the equivalent of having a bomb out there, but the tank might be empty for all I know.

+A homemade disc-golf apparatus made out of purloined potato chip racks and aluminum tubing on coaster wheels. No discs.

+Multiple half-empty cans of assorted auto products. No lids.

+Multiple single gloves. No pairs.

+Multiple paint brushes, all ruined.

+Two bicycles with flat tires that don’t belong to anyone in our family.

+Three snow boards, all broken.

+Large power saw, but no blades. Large power drill, but no bits, no cord.

+The bumper from a crashed Honda Civic.

In the garden shed, you’d find a full set of tires, hubcaps and rims for a car that was sold for scrap two years ago.

And in the basement, among other interesting archaeological specimens, you’d stumble over:

+Several paintball guns, but no paintballs.

+A dart board, sans darts.

+Many stuffed animals received as gifts from former girlfriends, most missing appendages or stuffing.

+About 1,000 assorted sports trophies.

+Several hundred out-of-focus photographs.

+Two television sets, neither cable-ready.

+A mini-fridge.

+An East Brunswick High School letter jacket. Worn no more than twice. Purchase price, about $200.

+Two broken VCR machines, no tapes.

+Various power cords that go to no appliance I can find.

+A bush hat, helmet with visor and camouflage gear (see paintball guns).

+Several dozen torn, taped posters and flags. I’m told that one of the posters was used to hide a trap door leading to a crawl space under the porch. I was also told that were I to look there, I’d find “many” empty beer cans. So far, I haven’t looked.

+Several items that could probably land my fledglings in hot water if they were described. All I’ll say on the matter is: South River, if you’re still looking for your ram mascot, we could probably work a deal.

When I asked the kids to get rid of some of this stuff, they actually laughed at me.

“Why do we have to get rid of those tires? Are they bothering you?” one asked. “What do you want to do? Go out in the garden shed and stand in the empty space? Breath the empty air?”

No, I said, but all this garbage is seriously messing with my psychological feng shui. Besides, if you don’t haul it away, I’ll have to do it myself. And I’m old.

“Get over it,” they said. “We’ll come and get it eventually.”

But they never will, and we all know it. And to tell the truth, we probably did the same thing to our own parents.

About a year ago, for example, we came home one evening to find a large UPS box by the back door. Inside was a whole cornucopia of junk my wife left at my father-in-law’s house when she moved away from home 30 years ago, including the trophy from a beauty pageant she’d entered in college and two broken-down backpacks that had been taking up room in his garage for all those years.

Those backpacks are now hanging on hooks in my garage, because we can’t seem to throw them away. I don’t know where the trophy is.

A few years ago, when my mother died and we brothers gathered to go through her belongings, there were about 30 boxes in her garage filled with stuff we’d left behind, stuff she’d been storing for decades. Boxes she’d paid movers to haul across several state lines when she relocated from our hometown to Arizona. In one of those boxes was a painting of a psychedelic eyeball floating in the clouds I created when I was 17, and a plaster cast of my fist, painted metallic gold. The box also included:

+ A set of old license plates (1968).

+A (fake) human hand and arm bone that originally came from the study skeleton in anatomy class.

+A kazoo.

+Ignition keys to a 1956 Studebaker President.

+A sheriff’s badge and plastic six-gun (part of a Halloween costume).

+A stuffed monkey made from old socks (gift from former girlfriend).

+A Perelli Tire calendar (remember the Perelli Tire girls?) from 1965.

+A copy of Iron Butterfly’s mega-album, In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, from 1968.

And that was just the first box I opened.

Poor woman. Waiting all those years for me to come get that eyeball painting and those other treasures. Letting it take up space in her garage. Lugging it from pillar to post.

At one point, I think she even paid to store our junk, including the giant eyeball, at a warehouse. And all because I didn’t think enough of it to take it with me when I left home in the first place.

Now, it looks like the shoe is on the other foot. Karma squared. Wherever she is today, I’m pretty sure Mom is looking down on my “empty nest”. . .and laughing like crazy.

Gregory Bean is executive editor of Greater Media Newspapers. You can reach him at gbean@gmnews.com