Feral furniture

Anger issues?

There’s feral furniture, and then there’s smashed furniture: the innocent, castoff victim of some anonymous party’s uncontrolled anger issues. I snapped this photo in Cambridge on my way home from the Zen Center on Sunday. I’d stopped in the bitter cold to photograph something else then was struck by the poignancy of someone else’s smashed chair. There but for the fruit of Zen practice go I.

Blogging has taken a temporary backseat to other demands: today is the first day of classes at Keene State, I’m getting ready to go to a west coast wedding this weekend, and my online classes are solidly settling into the stride of their eight-week term. Life is busy, but busy is good. Being busy pays the bills, being busy keeps me out of trouble, and being busy leaves me no time for unnecessary crack-ups.

Snow on fence

No sooner do I get home from Ohio, it seems, but it’s nearly time for me to go back to school: another example of time slipping out of my fingertips.

In one sense, I’ve already been back to school for more than a week. My new online term started last Monday, so two classes of students and I are well into the second of our eight weeks together. But for me, “back to school” refers to face-to-face classes, and those resume next week. In the meantime, I’m trying to figure out where half of December and January have already gone. What happened to the long winter break I’d looked forward to during a busier-than-usual fall semester?

Feral in the snow

Time has a way of slipping away regardless of the traps and snares I set in its path. Yesterday I sat down with my Book of Lists–the notebook I use to organize teaching and other mundane tasks one to-do list at a time–and made the first set of lists for the new semester. For each day, a page; on each page, a list. Today, tomorrow, and the day after: here are the tasks, chores, and errands I have to do between now and then.

I have almost an entire book filled with such lists, and time slips away still. Do you know how many times I’ve lamented in occasional scribbled journal entries (some kept in the Book of Lists, and others elsewhere) about how I need to “tame time” through more efficient list-making, scheduling, and other time-management techniques? Despite all my organizational tips and tools, time refuses to slow for me. No matter how many times I make my lists and check them twice, time still continues to fly.

Tangle with tracks

Time, I’ve decided, is a wily creature that delights in wriggling from our grasp, creeping away into any tangle or thicket where we with our calendars, to-do lists, and time-lines cannot follow. Yesterday as I made yet another set of lists and noticed how my current Book of Lists is nearly full, I wondered whether I should keep it once I’ve moved onto its successor. I keep my journals–I have a portion of my bookshelf where they stand numbered and dated as they keep the time written within their leaves. How much more indicative of my days, I thought, is each day’s to-do list with its assortment of tasks Done and Still Undone?

They say Saint Peter stands at heaven’s gate with the Book of Life, a list he checks for the souls of the saved, their names appearing like a entries in a maitre d’s reservation book. Isn’t Saint Peter’s book merely a mythic version of my own Book of Lists, a whole lot of lives chronicled in his while mine keeps track of merely one? Time can’t be tamed, but it can be tracked, noted with each line-item like a snow-stamped footstep. Where have my days gone, and what (if anything) did I accomplish with them? Only the Book of Lists knows, if I dare page back and double-check the checked.

The second photo in this entry is intended as a visual reminder that even in the snowy wintertime, furniture sometimes chooses to go wild.

More feral furniture, Keene, NH

One of the upsides of living in Detour City, NH is the increased ease of drive-by photography that sitting in slow-moving traffic affords. I spotted this feral couch on Grove Street in Keene: a usually quiet residential street that lately has become a clogged one-way thoroughfare responsible for detouring downtown-bound traffic around one of two massive rotary-construction projects. Grove Street is an apparent breeding ground for feral furniture. I shot this picture on Grove Street not long after students left and the detours began. If you’re a student looking to get rid of trashed furniture, it’s a smart move to stick it along a road where a steady stream of cars is slowly cruising by. Eventually, someone will take your trash.

There’s always an upside to everything, even construction traffic. One day last week I had to take a meandering detour to accomplish an otherwise simple chore, and while I was steaming at the thought of extra effort, Reggie was in the backseat relishing the enjoyment of an extra-long car ride. Years ago, I remember passing a car broken down on the side of a busy highway. While the driver sat impatiently waiting on the roadside for help to arrive, his dog lay flopped on the grass beside him, a huge goofy doggy grin belying his master’s angry expression. You could tell the driver was thinking “Why me” while Fido was thinking “Hooray: let’s sleep in the sun!”

Words of wisdom, Keene, NH

So in honor of both Reggie and that happy roadside dog, here’s another tidbit gleaned from a spell of traffic-sitting, again on Grove Street. I’m not sure why the Chabott Oil Company saw fit to post words of wisdom in their Keene office, but I might not have noticed much less photographed this sign if I hadn’t been stuck in detour traffic. (Click here for a cropped closeup of an important message the folks at Chabott Oil want you to know.) I guess construction traffic counts as “petty stuff” you shouldn’t sweat…and maybe an antsy, left-in-the-car dog is a (non-)sweaty thing you shouldn’t pet.

Free to a good home?

And while we’re on the topic of lessons learned in traffic or elsewhere, let me share these words of wisdom: if you’re looking for fine feral furniture, avoid anywhere called “Detour City.” Instead, if you’re in the market for a second-hand leather sectional sofa, you’ll have better luck in a big city suburb like Newton, MA than you will in a college town like Keene, NH. Don’t sweat the petty stuff, don’t pet the sweaty stuff, and go to where the good goods are if you’re looking to trash-scavenge.

Thanks to Dave, Leslee, and rr for their “public service announcement” posts directing folks to my new blog-digs. One of the sad outcomes of this week’s sudden blog death is my (current) inability to post any announcement on my still-defunct main site. At some point, I plan to redirect my Hoarded Ordinaries domain to this one, but before I can do that, I need to migrate most of the many photos I’ve blogged over the years, which still “live” on my old host’s server. So until I can do a massive migration to flickr, my old, dead-in-the-water site will live on, if only to house old photos.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying the learning curve of tinkering with this new WordPress site and think I’ll be happy blogging here. As a Buddhist, I know that “impermanence surrounds us,” but sometimes it’s good, I think, to get shocked out of the usual complacency. Blogging is by nature an ephemeral genre: every day, yesterday’s post gets superceded by today’s, which is how days themselves work. The initial panic I felt on Thursday afternoon at the thought of losing any of the entries I’d not saved–and I’d been woefully irregular when it came to making backups–points to an interesting desire for permanence on my part. Blogs are not books: blogs consist of mere electronic blips that can be annihilated at any moment. Although books can burn, their paper-based technology seems so much more lasting than cyber-ephemera, which tells me I should revisit the blog-to-book project I’d begun and then abandoned last year.

In the meantime, I thought I’d offer a different sort of Public Service Announcement, this one displayed not anywhere in Ireland but in my favorite weekend lunch spot in West Newton, MA.

Not good for you

If Guinness is good for you, it must be a sorry state indeed to be Guinnless.

One sure sign of spring here in Keene, NH are the large trash piles left in the wake of departing college students. The house next to mine contains several rental units where countless students have moved in, out, and on during the half-dozen years I’ve lived here. When one batch of students moves in, they bring an assorted pile of stuff that largely stays within their overcrowded apartments…but when that same batch of students leaves, suddenly there’s a proliferation of stuff left over: some of it in dumpsters, some of it in yards, and some of it simply cast off into any available spot.

Feral couch, Keene, NH

It is this latter category of cast-off furniture that runs the risk of becoming feral, inching into empty parking lots and hunkering down on the sides of roads, immovable for the long haul. What use does anyone (apart from one furniture-obsessed blogger) have for an abandoned couch? It’s not likely that a middle-aged married couple will happen upon a badly shredded sofa with several missing seat cushions and say, “Honey, that would look great in our den!” Dens of the middle-aged and married (i.e. dens of the parents of college kids) are where college apartment furniture comes from; it’s not where this furniture goes to die after it’s been spilled, puked, and made-out upon. Salvaging used furniture is one thing; salvaging really used (and abused) furniture is another. Who wants to claim a slightly soggy, seriously shredded sofa from a spot where it almost inevitably smells like trash? Perhaps you’d prefer to sit on the floor.

Abandoned couch, Keene, NH

And yet, there always seems to be someone who claims even the most adventurous feral furniture, and not only when that furniture is in excellent condition like this sofa from last November. The Zen temple where I used to sit in Ann Arbor, MI had a locally famous annual rummage sale which consisted in large part of cast-off furniture from each year’s departing students. At the end of each month, semester, and school year, diligent Zennies would cruise student neighborhoods in a truck, retrieving and then storing in a garage all the wobbly desks, three-legged chairs, scuffed tables, and shredded sofas they could find.

Over the course of the summer, those diligent (and religiously frugal) Zennies would fix the furniture they found in time to hold a huge back-to-school yard sale where returning students would buy recycled, refurbished versions of the same goods they’d trashed months before. In a perfect illustration of the incessant cycle of samsara, the same Zennies would sometimes find themselves fixing, re-fixing, and re-fixing again the same desks, chairs, tables, and sofas, each time garnering a temple “donation” from the students (and students’ parents) who were willing to re-buy the same recycled furniture every year.

Furniture, especially sofas, wanted, Keene, NH

Given the recent abundance of abandoned furniture here in Keene, it’s curious to note that one downtown thrift shop is virtually begging folks to sell their old furniture on consignment, with used sofas being in particular demand. I guess Good Fortune isn’t in the market for the really ragged wares found on the sides of roads and abandoned in the middle of parking lots these days: if you’re choosy, a good sofa is much harder to find than the rough-around-the-edges feral kind.

As for me, my approximately ten-year-old, dog-fur-upholstered sofa is perfectly suitable for my somewhat post-college, somewhat pre-middled-aged lifestyle. So I suspect you won’t find any of my furniture At Large in the big, bad, outside world anytime soon.

This is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Large.

The last of my spring semester grades are due by noon today, and as usual I’m working down to the wire. No matter how organized and pro-active I am, each semester it seems to take forever to complete the last bit of grading, as if the final push is more demanding than any that came before it.

The photo above illustrates another kind of final push. Lacking a car, how would you cart a couple boxes of wine from a liquor store in Somerville, Massachusetts? Perhaps a wheeled office chair (the latest in my fascination with feral furniture) would serve nicely as a makeshift shopping cart…or not. The fact that this chair was abandoned right around the corner of that Somerville liquor store, plus the fact that the boxes, minus their contents, had been left behind, suggests that the final push is indeed the hardest.

Of course, you could simply steal, er, borrow a shopping cart to get your goods home, as I suspect happened with this errant CVS cart, which I spotted in Newton, Massachusetts last month. You don’t suppose it rolled itself here, do you?

Dressed for success...during a snowstorm

Who cares what waif-thin supermodels are wearing as they strut the catwalks of Paris and Milan…the real question is what average-sized New Hampshire bloggers wear on dogwalks during a February snowstorm. As I’ve blogged before, Reggie insists on his daily walk regardless of the weather, so on Wednesday when the snow fell all day and the wind grew increasingly impertinent as afternoon deepened in to night, I opted for the “layered eclectic” look, donning boots and knee-high gaiters; puffy down coat topped with a Gore-tex shell; and scarf, hat, and hood to keep me (relatively) warm and dry.

It’s not an elegant look…but it gets the job done. And given the relative lack of walkers cruising the snowy streets of Keene on Wednesday afternoon, when Keene State cancelled classes and roughly half of the businesses downtown closed early because of the weather, it’s not like many people saw much less cared what I wore to walk the dog.

Although it’s difficult (and dangerous to one’s digicam) to snap many photos during near-blizzard conditions, the aftermath of any winter storm promises to be picturesque…at least once you’ve dug out from said aftermath. I eventually shoveled out my car, driveway, and a walkway to and from my front door…and my upstairs neighbor took a saner path, hiring a snowplow to clear our driveway parking spots after I’d finished clearing mine. They say that she who hesitates is lost, but in the case of driveway-shoveling, she who hesitates is freed from frost by the skillful manuevering of an attentive plow-guy.

If nothing else, February snowstorms provide yet another reason why you shouldn’t let feral furniture spend the winter outside, even under the shelter of a front-porch roof. Can you say “snow-fa”?

Snow on sofa


I’ve been largely offline this week, losing patience with the dismally slow dial-up Internet access at my parents’ house and checking on my online classes during trips to Panera that are limited by the staying-power of my laptop battery. Even if I had a lightning-fast Internet connection at my unlimited disposal, though, I probably wouldn’t be blogging much, feeling singularly uninspired. Columbus, Ohio is the place I grew up, but it’s also the place I left when I went to college in Toledo, moved to Boston for grad school, and then settled “for good or the time being” in New Hampshire. Columbus is the place I’ll always call home, telling folks who ask me where I’m from that I hail from Ohio, not New Hampshire…but it’s a place that no longer feels like home, life here in the quietly monotonous flatlands feeling exceptionally far removed from the hubbub of stimulus that is my life in the hilly Northeast.

It’s not so much that I’m bored in Ohio since I brought plenty of papers to grade and other things to keep me busy. It’s just in the presence of so much homework, I feel simultaneously tied to and entirely separate from home, wherever that is. I’ve written before about the curious sensation of being betwixt and between I feel whenever I leave my New Hampshire home to visit my Ohio one, and this trip is no different. Although I thought that coming “home” (or to my “home home,” as I started calling Columbus when I was an undergraduate in Toledo, thereby distinguishing it from the “home” that was my University dorm room) would provide a much-needed jolt of inspiration to the NaNoWriMo “novel” that I’d turned into a spiritual memoir, the exact opposite has happened: now that I’m “home home,” the last thing I want to do is think and write about the weirdly wending path that led me to my curiously Zennish existence in Keene, NH. Feeling uninspired to blog, I’m also uninspired to write, figuring I might shelve this current memoir-ish thing until a time when I actually feel inspired to write something rather than continuing a vain attempt to make-up word-count to meet an admittedly arbitrary goal.

Given my current uninspired state, it seemed fitting to post the above picture of a trashed sofa. Whereas in the hilly Northeast, we stash our unwanted couches in front of our homes, here in the Ohio flatlands, we stick unwanted furniture in the alleys out back. Maybe a forgotten back alley is exactly where I should leave my currently inactive Muse.

Feral sofa

Here’s the latest installment in my apparently ongoing series of abandoned couch images. Yes, this is the same couch that appeared outside a neighbor’s house at the beginning of the month, only to be covered in frost several days later. When I’d seen two college girls carrying the couch around a corner several days later, I assumed they’d “adopted” it for a nearby apartment, but recently it’s re-appeared on a dead-end roadside near a local factory, having acquired a dead bouquet of flowers in a jar of vile yellow liquid.

This morning, the couch had collected a lounging house cat as well.

Feral sofa with cat

I’m eagerly awaiting the spontaneous arrival of more roadside couch accoutrements such as a beer-chugging guy with a television set or a bathrobe-swaddled woman in curlers and bunny slippers.


By this morning’s first light, I discovered everything outside had been covered with a crisp layer of frost…both newly fallen, light-as-air leaves and a heavy, recently rain-sodden couch.

Frosted and feral

This is my submission for today’s Photo Friday theme, Light. This morning after snapping these first-light pencam shots, I found outside my front door a package that had been delivered last night: my Lumix digicam, back from the shop after its recent gravitational mishap. Here’s hoping for a mostly sunny day to test out its newly repaired features.

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