Monday, October 1, 2007

An engine to go. . .

It's Saturday morning and I'm standing in a self-storage unit with my friend Chris Cheeseman. He has rented this unit to store a sundry of Volkswagen paraphernalia that his land lord finds unsavory. Cheeseman has it so crammed full that it's hard to move around inside. There are seats, engines, bumpers, a roll-away MAC tool box, a cherry Mark II Jetta, a classic pre-80 Rabbit and a bunch of other stuff. In short, it is a secret grotto filled with the kinds of treasures that only a real VW nut can appreciate.

Now, this has me fantasizing about all the other self-storage units at this facility. If I could see through walls, what would I find? Does the next unit over conceal a covert gun-smugglers cache or is it a clandestine film studio for some subversive anti-government organization. Or, perhaps, Michael J. Townsend - recently evicted from his secret mall-apartment in Providence, RI - has set up shop in the deluxe suite three units down. I think probably not. If I did have x-ray vision what I'd see would be a lot of old furniture, un-used exercise equipment and un-wanted Christmas gifts.

The self-storage industry in our country is huge - an institution, you might say, with its own professional subculture. If you don't believe this bold statement, check out this self-storage blog:

In fact, according to the Self Storage Association, within our nations borders are 40,000 self-storage facilities offering 1.875 billion square feet of personal storage. That's a lot of space. Now consider that most of these facilities are reporting 90 percent or more occupancy rates. It's clear that these austere metal boxes- which are strung together in rows of 20 or more - are as much a part of our consumerist society as Walmart and double-pleated toilet paper.

What's really in these self-storage units is the detritus of a spoiled and material inundated America. Never in our history have we had so much cheap, whirling, shining crap. Crap that is obsolete on the shelves of our department stores before it is purchased. Yet - though a better model has been acquired - we seemingly can't live without the old one so we throw it in the garage. But, soon the garage is full and so isn't the attic and all the closets and even that space under dead aunt Edna's wheel chair. Well, of course, the solution is to rent a storage unit where we can stash our year supply of Mach III shavers - can't use them now that there's the Quattro - and while we're at it we'll store our life-time supply of garbage bags that are specified to fit a trash can only sold on the other coast. Besides, we can justify the storage rent because we also need the extra room for those dusty, high school bowling trophies and for that mint-in-the-box Star-Wars-Edition Monopoly game that someday may be worth a fortune. What the hell - even though we may never look at it again - we can't throw this stuff away, that would be a waste.

Surely, we are wasting our lives, our time and ruining the planet when we participate in such mindless materialism. But self-destruction is a basic human trait. It is the trait that motivates us to continue to burn fossil fuels, stock pile atomic weapons and snack after we brush our teeth.

I am, however, not writing this to scold. My business, this day, is to purchase a low-mileage, 2.0 liter Audi 3A engine block from my friend. It seems that Cheeseman needs the extra cash in order to pay for his self-storage rent. And so, like any junkie needing his fix, Cheeseman needs to part with this particular item to finance his addiction. I, equally addicted, am more than willing to help him out.

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