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Pack Rats

While working on a  basement remodel project, around the clutter of goodies stored there, I was reminded of this piece from my personal archives. Enjoy!

What is a pack rat? According to Webster’s dictionary the #1 definition is: a large bushy-tailed rodent of the Rocky Mountain area that has well-developed cheek pouches, and hoards food and miscellaneous objects. The #2 label in noble Noah’s pantheon to proper vocabulary states: one who collects or hoards especially unneeded items. BINGO! This explanation is by far the most accurate. I know because I’ve studied pack rats for 67 years, tutored under my father––a Pack Rat Emeritus––and excelled in his absence.

The more dominant pack rat comes in all shapes and sizes, and moves about on two legs. Despite the furry, four-legged variety’s considerable proliferation habits, the bipedal version has those critters both outsized and vastly outnumbered. After all, the cuddly phylum exists in a limited range, while the more robust category is found everywhere.

Although heredity figures in to a large part of a pack rat’s development, true packers are never born, they’re groomed. Genetics plays no distinctive role. Generation by generation, the ability to achieve stashing success is carefully taught and learned, despite negative influences that may occur from within the branching family tree.

The Rocky Mountain Pack Rat communicates through chirps and whistles, while the upright strain boasts more extensive skills. Witness the call of a Suburban Maximus Pack Rat and his mate. Pay particular attention to the distinct differences in tone between the male and female.

Male: “Why are you throwing that away?”

Female: “BECAUSE IT’S BROKEN!”

“But it can be fixed.”

“WELL THEN FIX IT!”

“I’m not sure I have the right tools.”

“THEN GET RID OF IT!”

“No, gimme that. There’s still good stuff on it.”

“BUT YOU ALREADY HAVE TONS OF ‘GOOD STUFF’ YOU NEVER USE! EVERY AVAILABLE SHELF IN THE HOUSE IS CRAMMED FULL OF YOUR ‘GOOD STUFF’!”

“I’ll find a use for it someday. You wait and see. Remember the fire starter I made from the dead microwave’s blower and the power cord from my old 3/8” drill?”

“I GIVE UP!”

Obviously, female bipedal packers afford great disdain for their species and a low tolerance level for their counterpart’s opinion. The lack of imaginative foresight by his mate, however, encourages the male to dwell in a near constant state of frustration. Following a “good stuff” confrontation, he typically gathers his prize and retreats to his den––commonly referred to as garage; basement; workshop; or crawl space (often a combination of two or more)––totally bewildered by his spouse’s lack of inventive vision.

This is not to say the female is beyond creativity. On the contrary, she may excel at cleverly disguised packaging and stealth. For example, masquerading the electric can opener that just crapped out inside one of her shoeboxes atop other trash in the can, leaves the male perplexed. Why would he dispute his mate pitching one of her many pairs of shoes?

The shrewd lady also knows tying a trash bag before her hubby can inventory its contents will stymie him every time. Many “good stuff” items regularly and mysteriously disappear in this fashion. When the male asks, “What happened to…?” the female bats her eyelashes and coos. “Gosh, I don’t know.”

But two-legged packers are not without revelry. Any time the male gives in and tosses a piece of “good stuff,” his spouse is ready to congratulate him. The atmosphere compares to a National celebration. Hoorays and halleluiahs abound. Horns and confetti might seem appropriate. Of course the merriment is typically one-sided, but recognition for a job well done inspires the pack rat king to grin as well. Unfortunately, these momentous occasions too often fade when the queen coos once more. “That was great, honey, can you get rid of more junk?”

“Junk? What do you mean junk?” The insult tears at a serious hoarder’s soul and forces him to burrow in.

A true pack rat’s glory days commence when his accumulation extends beyond the immediate household’s walls to include the back and/or front yard. The display qualifies him for the prestigious Fred Sanford Award and the auspicious title “Sanford’s Pack Rat.” But woe is the day when relocation looms in a scrap lover’s future. The thought of transporting his store, or worse yet having to dispose of it, can send a die-hard packer into fainting spells. Nightmares including visions of a massive moving van parade, or front loaders dumping his wares into a caravan of trash trucks can haunt him for weeks––before and after the move.

Of course there’s the inevitable day when a pack rat passes on to that overwhelming pile of useless debris in the sky––the day he truly finds heaven. But what about his pack rat wife and his understudies?

For the lady of the house it’s easy. “CHUCK IT ALL, I NEVER WANTED IT IN THE FIRST PLACE!” But for heirs to the king’s throne, it’s a befuddling experience. Mixed emotions cram their minimally experienced packer brains. The admiration for their father’s acquired wealth of leftovers amazes them, but also poses the ultimate admission in a pack rat’s life. “What the hell am I going to do with all this junk?”

The unexpected query brings tears of joy to the maternal packer. She views her children’s outburst as a sign of hope that the gene pool will correct itself. No longer present to defend his stash, however, the dearly departed king can only gasp, roll over in his grave, and lament, “Where did I go wrong?”

 

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