Freak Show TV

Last night Russell was home and had control over the TV remote. So, from my vantage point flat on my back on the couch with my left foot balanced on a tower of pillows, I acquired a new perspective on the world — because we spent the night watching TLC.

The first show was about a grossly obese, bed-ridden woman with a husband and young son who had an operation to try to become normal-sized. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the discipline to change her habits and do what was necessary to lose the weight, despite having a no-nonsense doctor who wouldn’t coddle her or sugar-coat the health problems she was causing for herself. We followed her as she was shuttled between hospital room and home, being lifted by teams of paramedics, watched her tears and efforts to blame the lack of weight on her scales, and were treated to embarrassing footage of a person encased in enormous rolls of fat, unable to stand for more than seconds at a time, arguing that she was a better mother than a working woman who spent 10 hours on the job.

The next show was about a hoarder — a doctor who might as well have lived in a dumpster. His house was filled with piles of garbage and was appallingly infested by vermin, with hundreds of roaches skittering everywhere, including on the man’s clothing as he explained his circumstances. His sleeping area was like a rat’s nest, with limp bags of rancid food and roaches covering every blanket and surface. His family members, exterminators, and a family counselor tried to convince him that he had a problem and needed to get rid of the debris. Fortunately, by the end of the show he had left his hovel, was living in a clean apartment, and was interacting with his granddaughter.

The next show in the TLC lineup was about a “man with a 132-pound scrotum” — seriously — but I had had enough.

My night with TLC reminded me of my first visit to the Ohio State Fair, in 1971. In those days the Midway still had an area that Fair regulars called the “freak show.” It featured garishly painted signs about a woman who turned into a gorilla, “alligator boy,” a miniature pony, and other “curiosities.” It was all very intriguing to a 14-year-old boy, so I fished out the entrance fee and went to one of the shows. When I saw that some of the “curiosities” were people with terrible deformities, it made me feel bad for them and bad about myself.

After watching TLC for a few hours last night, I had the same feeling. I don’t think I’ll be watching that channel again.

In Our Basements, We Are All Hoarders

Everybody needs a winter project.  This year, our project is underground.  Yes, that’s right:  We’re going to try to do something about our basement.

Our basement is unfinished.  It’s been used primarily for storage — lots of storage.  The problem with an unfinished basement is that it gives you the luxury of seemingly infinite space.  There are acres of concrete floor and cinder block walls down there that are just crying out to be cluttered with things.

It’s easy to go down there and put a box of unwanted stuff on the floor.  Rather than tossing out, selling, or giving away the VHS recorder that you haven’t used since the Clinton Administration or a computer monitor from the dawn of the PC age, you store it downstairs because, after all, somebody might have use for it some day.  The clutter doesn’t bother anybody because no one goes to the basement, anyway.

And then, one day, you walk downstairs, find the basement crammed to the rafters with random, cobwebbed boxes, bags, and junk, and say to yourself:  “What is all of this stuff?”  By then, the task of rational organizing seems overwhelming — but if you don’t do something, it’s just going to going to get worse and move you squarely into disturbing hoarder territory.  In fact, who are hoarders but people who have, unfortunately, applied the basement storage approach to their entire houses?

I took this picture when we started a few weeks ago. We’ve made good progress since then.  It’s liberating to get rid of stuff you don’t need — and sometimes you find interesting things that, perhaps, really didn’t belong in the basement in the first place.