By Michael G. Ankerich
Okay, I’m coming clean. I am finally able to make a confession.
Several months ago, while packing the house to move across town, I began asking myself, “Do I have a problem with letting things go? Is it possible that I could be a hoarder?”
I was ready to admit that I had some sort of OCD when it came to books. I packed 30 boxes of film biographies to go to my new library. That did not include film reference, signed first editions, classic literature, and modern day smut. I spent several agonizing days discarding some of my treasured biographies.
Who really needs 14 biographies of Elizabeth Taylor? I got rid of three or four. Who needs one on Anna Nicole Smith? Out it went. I made some concessions, but I wouldn’t budge on my 15 Bette Davis bios. They all go with me! End of discussion.
Moving forward, relocating to a new home, prompted me to look back over my life and the artifacts that I kept along the way. I found my ID badge from the 1970s when I was a bag boy at a grocery store. Keep it? Pay stubs from 1985 when I was a newspaper reporter fell from a folder. Those slips of paper went in the shredder. There are the neck ties that I wore back in the 1980s when I tried to be a fashion plate. They called me Mr. GQ in college. They were easy to let go. What to do with the stubs from train tickets we used to cross Italy for the first time in 1995? What about the anniversary, birthday, and Valentine cards Charlie gave me over the past 23 years?
Underneath a big pile of clothes way back in the closet, I found my Greta Garbo tee-shirt from the early 1990s. Oh that memory! I was wearing that shirt the day Charlie and I were in line at an Atlanta art supply store. The elderly cashier smiled when she saw it. “They used to tell me I looked like Garbo.” I didn’t see it.
What to do with the floppy disks which held files from my first book, Broken Silence: Conversations with 23 Silent Film Stars? They are the ones I grabbed when my apartment caught fire early one Saturday morning in 1991. Thirteen years later, what do you do with floppy computer disks? Put them in the Smithsonian? Use them for coasters?
I discovered a box of my grandmother’s belongings. I hadn’t looked at them in the 10 years since her death. I found get well cards from the 1970s and a pair of false teeth. What do I do with a pair of Mama Sue’s false teeth?
Through this ordeal, I kept thinking of Maxine Elliott Hicks, an actress I interviewed for Broken Silence, that day in Burbank when we had breakfast and went through her trucks full of stills and contracts and letters. She loaned me what I needed for the book, but needed them returned. “They’re all I have to prove who I was.” That’s kind of the way I felt throwing away my past.
In the middle of all this packing and sorting, I had to jet out to Los Angeles to film an episode of a television show (more details soon) and do a bit of research for Hairpins and Dead Ends, my new book.
I spent some time reflecting on all my stuff and whether I should classify myself as a hoarder.
Cycling along the coast from Santa Monica to Hermosa Beach left me with nothing but a damned sunburn and irritation at two religious fanatics on the Santa Monica Peer shouting through megaphones that most of us passing by were going to hell.
“You liars are going to hell.” The other translated in Spanish.
“You gluttons are going to hell.”
“You adulterers are going to hell.”
“You drunkards are going to hell.
“You lesbians are going to hell.”
“You homosexuals are going to hell.”
“You fornicators are going to hell.”
“You covetnous are going to hell.” Oh, hell, I wondered, does that include hoarders?
As I passed by, I couldn’t resist. “Well,” I said to one of them, “it looks like you’ve just about covered all of us.”
My life certainly felt uncluttered on my hikes in Griffith Park high above Hollywood or on my trek through Malibu Canyon.
I certainly didn’t feel shackled by stuff the day I went to Rosedale Cemetery to look for the graves of Louise Glaum, Marshall Neilan, Hattie McDaniel, and Evelyn Nelson, a victim of suicide in 1923 and a subject I’m researching for Hairpins and Dead Ends.
I sat sipping wine one afternoon in Duke’s, my favorite restaurant in Malibu. As I recorded the events of day in my journal, I wondered who would ever read these memories.
I had boxes of journals I had written during our travels over the years. Maybe I should go through and send them to the dump. Then I remembered what the beloved Mae West always said, “Keep a diary, and someday it’ll keep you.” I kept writing.
Back home in early June, I dove into the clutter and made some tough (for me) choices. They say a man’s home is his castle, his kingdom. For me, home was my “hoardom.”
With everything I touched, I had to ask myself five questions. Do I:
Haul it to the street?
Put it in a yard sale?
Give it to Goodwill?
Friends, I must have made a million decisions since I began this grueling self examination. The good news is that we are settled in our new digs.
The office is in order and I’m back to writing. There are still boxes piled in what will one day be a spare bedroom. I am committed to tackling their contents and making rational decisions about what to keep and what to throw away. Through all of this, I’ve decided I will no longer associate stuff I’ve stored away with me or my past. I don’t want any part of me to live in a closet or the bottom of a drawer. I am more than a box of old pay stubs or birthday cards going back half a century.
A close friend tried to console me. “Michael, you’re just sentimental,” she offered. “There’s nothing wrong with that!
I am sentimental, that’s true, but I also unconsciously collect things that don’t make a whole lot of sense. I confess, I am a hoarder, but a recovering one, committed to tackling my disorder one floppy disk, one dry ink pen, one old and yellowed magazine at a time.
Oh! For the record, I kept Mama Sue’s false choppers!