By Joel van der Veen
Our office microwave oven — a bulky, magnificent beast complete with fake wood trim and a green electronic display — finally gave up the ghost a few months ago.
To take its place, a sleek, silver model was brought in to warm up leftovers and instant dinners for our daily nourishment.
Last week, I was wandering around the building seeking inspiration for a column when I came across the old one, sitting in a dark room awaiting its fate.
I stood there sadly, staring at the aged appliance. I don’t understand how an ugly machine could stir up feelings of pity or remorse within me, but somehow, it did.
According to the label on its rear, it was manufactured by Hotpoint in October, 1983. Following the dictates of that era, it is massive, easily large enough to cook a modest Thanksgiving turkey (for that classy holiday touch).
Now, after decades of (presumably) faithful service, it will be discarded.
Rightfully so, you may say, for it is garbage. It serves no purpose, unless you are in need of an oversized digital clock with an illegible readout. It may even be hazardous.
But goodbyes have always been difficult for me, even with inanimate objects. Whether it’s a sign of steadfast loyalty or a symptom of escalating insanity, I couldn’t say, but I have an inexplicable attachment to the relics of yesteryear.
Compounding this problem is my addiction to yard sales. As an adult, I’ve made some progress, and I’m no longer likely to carry home boxes of 5.25-inch floppy disks or a garbage bag of blank VHS tapes (true stories!) just because they were free.
Every once in a while, though, I’ll stumble across a stack of Western People magazines or a pile of Password games, and that urge will rear its ugly head.
It can’t be nostalgia, since most of these artifacts predate my own birth. So what is it? A stubborn compulsion to preserve? A fascination with a bygone era? A bizarre form of rebellion against a mother who didn’t want her basement heaped high with junk?
(Sorry, mom, I really am. I swear, someday I’ll drive out east and bring all those LPs back to Moose Jaw with me, and you’ll be forever free of that musty smell.)
I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t hoarding. My apartment is not crowded or messy. I can throw things out or donate them to the Sally Ann once they’ve served their purpose. Rather, I’d define it as a desire to rescue what others have cast aside.
And I’m not the only one who struggles with this. Maybe you remember the IKEA commercial that depicted a forlorn red lamp, discarded by its owner and left to sit next to a garbage can in the rain.
“Many of you feel bad for this lamp,” says a narrator, speaking directly to the audience at the commercial’s conclusion. “That is because you’re crazy. It has no feelings, and the new one is much better.”
Perhaps someday the psychologists will catch up with us and classify these emotions. Medication will follow. I can already picture the commercials: my fellow sufferers and me, emerging from our homes, carrying our manual typewriters and rotary telephones to the curb in triumph.
For now, I will try to keep my compulsion in check, resisting that yearning to salvage the debris of past decades. I will struggle, but I will tell myself, “No. That 8-track tape of Ringo Starr’s Goodnight Vienna album will have to wait for someone else.”
Besides, I already have one.
Joel van der Veen can be reached at 691-1256.