A regular op-ed feature from earlier editions of this newspaper

from 1997


by Richard B. Harper

       I bought a work shirt in a local store recently. The cashier offered me the hangar, too, but I declined. We all know what mischief hangars beget in the dark recesses of a closet.

Harper's first law:
Junk expands to fill
the available space.

       Our new neighbor arrived last month with moving van brimming. Moving can bring great joy, but it also unearths every blemish in your household inventory. We somehow carted 31,000 pounds of flotsam from a 3 bedroom "colonial" to a 13 room farmhouse. It took two moving vans to tote the acres of cartons and piles of polished wood. Rows of boxes wound up in the barn. The rest still hides in the loft and in the darkest corners of our closets.
       Bedroom closets are not our only repositories. This is the age in which we add millions and millions of words to that closet of our collective memories, the beige-tinted box that also fills our desks and colors the world. Computers are not the only reason our world is staining beige, but they are a major player. Most folks use the computer to play Solitaire, the rest need it to process words. I'm in the second category.
       While junque growth is obvious for computer memory and hard drives, for those manila-shrouded papers that jam our desktops and cabinets, and for the stuff we store in barns and attics, one might think that wordsmiths would be immune. Wrong.
       People of words demand majestic personal vocabulary growth.
       17 actors overdosed on the medications prescribed in the 62 new TV hospital dramatic productions last week alone. Nobody has taken a simple pill on a soap opera since 1975.
       Does your job description demand more pizazz? Trash collectors became sanitary engineers in New York, New York, and garbologists in North Puffin, Vermont. But what about the lowly mechanical technician sniffing sneakers in Nike's biology lab? The word plumbers at Popular Science coined "biomechanician." I don't think they meant Machiavellian machinations in a genetics lab. Did they?
       Each and every Sunday New York Times contains more words than Thomas Jefferson's entire library. Of course, Jefferson's library had very few full-color advertising inserts.
       Writers on the Internet post (and other people download) 7 techrascazillion bytes every second to fill their local hard drives.
       Steven King's last novel weighed in at 12 pounds.
       I plead guilty as well. Bernie Ball, a close friend of my mom's, created "finiptitude." Its definition and pronunciation are literal. I used it finiptitudinously in an English paper a couple of decades ago and haven't looked back since.
       Maybe one man's junk is another's cliche. I can't even wish for a barren closet or plainer prose. As a nation or as a family, we never throw anything away.
       Special corollary to the First Law: if you don't succumb to spring garage cleaning, perhaps new junk will have no room to sprout.
       "Fat chance!" said Anne who knows the precise contents of the closets.


Note: Anne and I test these laws in northwestern Vermont where gravity is a little skewed. The third "law" of civilization will appear in the coming weeks.

      This column were appeared in the Burlington Free Press in May, 1997. It is Copyright © Richard B. Harper, 1976-2014. All rights reserved.
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