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Russell Frank: Help, I’m Being Staged!

by on March 23, 2012 6:00 AM

I got into bed the other night planning to read myself to sleep like I always do. But I couldn’t find my book.

In the morning I went to take a shower like I always do. But I couldn’t find the towels.

I thought I’d do a little beard maintenance. But I couldn’t find the scissors.

I wanted to set up an appointment with my mechanic. But I couldn’t find the phone book.

That evening, I decided to cook some rice. But I couldn’t find the measuring cups.

My mother, prophetically, used to call me the absent-minded professor. But this is not that. Nor is it the early onset of dementia.

My problem is that my house is being staged. Staging, for those of you who don’t speak real estate, is the art of getting your house to look so livable, so homey, so clean and bright and move-in ready, that it will sell the second you put it on the market.

After 16 years, three kids, two cats, a dog and a brief and unhappy relationship with two guinea pigs, my house needed a lot of staging. And so I brought in Jessica Dolan, professional stager.

The great thing about using a stager is that she is the enemy of clutter. She has no emotional attachment to anything in the house and she is totally immune to the impulse to hang onto stuff one might one day find a use for.

Her goal is to get as much stuff out of there as quickly as possible so she can move from Stage 1, decluttering, to Stage 2, painting and cleaning. Stage 3 is arranging a few well-chosen sticks of furniture and objets d’art in an inviting fashion.

Early in the process, Jessica and I stood in the workshop, contemplating a laundry basket full of camping gear. We’re not talking tents, sleeping bags and backpacks here. This was a collection of old pots and potholders, old spatulas, old coffee filter cones and the like. In Jessica’s mind’s eye, the cache was already curbside. I hesitated, then realized this was exactly what I needed her for.

From now on, I told her, anything like this that you think I should get rid of, just get rid of it. Don’t even tell me about it. And so every day, when I come home from work, I see a satisfying heap of silver trash bags on the curb.

Jessica is not just about throwing stuff away, though. She found a vintage clothing store to take my vintage television. She found a home for the piano. She’s sending mountains of serviceable goods to Goodwill.

But as a result of all this upheaval, I can’t find anything. I feel like I’m sitting in one of those revolving restaurants where if you leave your drink on the window ledge, it has soon revolved away from you, never to be seen again.

Complicating matters, the painters have taken the mirror off the bedroom wall and the blinds off the windows, which is forcing me to shower in the dark and shave blind.

The hardest thing so far, predictably, has been sorting through the books. I knew I wanted to keep the poetry. I thought I’d better hang onto my mini-research library of literary journalism. I couldn’t bear to part with classics from writers like Joyce and Hemingway, or the works of local friends like James Morrow or the late Tom Rogers. But what of the contemporary novels or the baseball books? To Webster’s they went, along with a pile of LPs. Not sure what’s become of the CDs I decided to ditch.

I worry that I’m not going to have enough books to line the walls of wherever I’m going to live next. I know this is a groundless fear.

Inevitably, too, I have stumbled on caches of photographs that caused my eyes to mist. I raised my kids in this house. The other afternoon, while reading the paper on the back porch, I experienced a keen moment of doubt. I love this place, I thought. Why am I leaving?

Little kids were cavorting in the adjacent yard, just as my kids used to. I realized it’s not the house I’m going to miss; it’s this stage of my life, the parenting stage. My son was a year old when we moved to State College. This spring he graduates from high school. I could stay in the house, but that sweet stage of life has revolved away from me.

The next afternoon, the Woo people were playing some unusually grating music and I went back to cheering the silver sacks on the curb.

“When I get through with your house,” Jessica told me before she started, “you’re not going to want to move.”

“Oh yes I will,” I said.

A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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