Goddess mug shot

The Goddess Speaks

By Nadine kam

Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Tossing out stuff
is hard, especially
for a pack rat

Spring cleaning? What's that? Unfortunately, I got a huge dose of it over the past month as the Star-Bulletin prepared to move to Restaurant Row.

Newsrooms are not the neatest places in the world, but my desk was among the top three messiest. Stopping in one Saturday, someone from the Advertiser asked me how the move was coming along and I told him about my cleaning.

"Are you a pack rat?" he asked, and my "Yes" brought a smile and "ahh" of recognition.

Over 12 years I'd built quite a fortress of newspaper clippings, magazines, photographs, personal cards and letters, plus the building blocks of stories in more than 40 steno pads, filled front to back, flipped over then filled front to back again.

Ken Ige / Star-bulletin
Nadine Kam's desk at the old Star-Bulletin
office was a pack rat's dream.

I had to inspect each little scrap of paper that conjured so many memories of friendships, hardships, bad meals, laughter, you name it.

I probably wouldn't have turned to "collecting" if I had any faith in the hard drive that is my brain. Studies of crime scene eye witnesses have shown that human hardware works more like spongy software, subject to glitches and erasure. Memories, alas, are fluid and unreliable, prone to change with simple suggestion.

So while many of my co-workers were into wholesale dumping, I started slowly, taking time to read each magazine before dropping them off at the library, absorbing the image of each photograph and piece of artwork, and I had some strange stuff, like a picture of Mother Teresa and a postcard featuring the image of John Singleton Copley's "Watson and the Shark." Why I kept those things I didn't know then, and don't know now.

I thought I was making good progress, but casual observers couldn't see any difference when they looked at my stacks Monday morning.

One Friday night I had a huge scare. Pack Rat No. 2, in the business department, made a big show of carting out four boxes of paper and said he'd be coming back for more.

"Oh no, don't do this to me," I begged. "Don't leave me, man."

It was about 11 p.m. and, discouraged, I went home. The next morning I dreaded peering into his cubicle, afraid of the pristine environment I might find. I held my breath as I turned the corner, and ...

It was still a mess! I was elated and reinvigorated. I proceeded to convert the contents of four boxes beneath my desk into one.

Over the next few days though, Pack Rat Nos. 2 and No. 3, from city desk, would take turns taunting me, even though they had never set up any formal alliance.

"Nadine, come, come. Come look at my space."

"Ha!," I would say. "Still a mess!" Then they'd pull out each desk drawer.

"Empty! Empty! Empty!"

We had all adopted the same tactic of working from the inside out, just so our task would appear to be impossible. In the end, we imagined, we'd do a quick sweep of the tops of our desk and onlookers would be amazed that we pulled it off.

And there were a lot of onlookers. People asked to know when I'd be cleaning so they could watch. I could have sold tickets and used the money to fly to Seattle or something. They imagined I was harboring some treasures, but none were to be found that had meaning for anyone but me.

It probably would have been best to leave my desk as is. I considered it to be an anthropologic wonder, an archaeologist's dream. A competitor once remarked, not in a nice way, that I never missed a fad or trend. Better than being clueless, I think.

Years from now scientists wishing to learn about pop culture at the end of the 20th century would have found the following:

>> An "unofficial" guide to tamagotchis. Remember those?

>> Star-Bulletin POGs.

>> A book about Marky Mark, before he became an actor.

>> A mugshot of an imposter gray M&M.

>> A check from Gannett for $97, dated 1992, before the company sold our newspaper.

>> One Chupa Chupp, which I discarded before I checked out the flavor.

Yet in spite of my social aims as a pop historian, my collecting was really an act of selfishness.

Nothing in my stacks had any intrinsic value, but picking up an old menu, I immediately recalled being waited on by an old couple who had probably been together too long. While they were kind toward guests, they'd bicker the whole time they were in the kitchen. I never wrote about that, but it was there in the menu, along with the memory of an exquisite shrimp burger.

It was journal-making in 3-D, which, unlike a notebook, you can't take with you.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
and is a column by and about women, our strengths, weaknesses,
quirks and quandaries. If you have something to say, write it and
send it to: The Goddess Speaks, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, P.O.
Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802, or send e-mail

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