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The Mast-Head: The Importance of Things

Wed, 03/27/2024 - 18:10

The Star office has been bustling this week with a crew of workers wiping the soot off every single surface. This follows the morning earlier this month when The Star’s basement oil furnace up and died, filling the building and the neighborhood with clinging gray smoke. A giant roll-off waste container from Mickey’s in the driveway for the cleanup has been an opportunity for us to toss many years’ accumulation of half-broken chairs, government handouts, and the lord knows what that builds up in newspaper offices. This massive deaccession has also prompted a bit of soul searching of the Marie Kondo sort.

For those who do not yet know the ubiquitous Ms. Kondo, I need to explain that she has emerged as perhaps the leading voice in decluttering. The million-selling author and Netflix personality advocates a strict regimen: If something does not “spark joy,” toss it. After the birth of her third child, Ms. Kondo accepted the inevitable gravity of parental messiness, but that is not important for the present matter.

My great-grandfather Everett J. Edwards had 153 Main Street in East Hampton Village built around 1900 — about the end of the Victorian era. It housed the Edwards Pharmacy on the first floor, along with a steamship ticket office and his own village water company. Upstairs were apartments. Somewhere in the back was East Hampton’s first telephone exchange; a ridiculous tangle of wires that might date to that time remains in the basement. Workers in and out of there during the ongoing cleaning have remarked on the still-solid wooden posts that hold up the first floor to this day.

I have been too busy with other things to start tidying my own office. The former second-floor bathroom with cracked plaster and peeling paint remains an oasis of 20 years’ accumulation even as the other rooms improve. A famous actor once here for an interview said it reminded him of “a graduate student hovel.”

Before the disaster-mitigation crew is allowed inside, I will have to deal with my windowsill “museum” of found objects. Actually, the entire space will need a rigorous going-over first. Among the items on view mostly for my own pleasure are my kids’ artwork, a watercolor of Georgica Beach by a friend, a photograph of Carl Fisher, another of Peter Matthiessen apparently taken by Carl Safina, photos of the kids, bronze hand-cut nails found while snorkeling, shells, bottles, bones, glass watch crystal from the old Sag Harbor factory, a stone pestle found near Montauk Point, a dried fish head, bird skulls, and the greatest of all, a yard sale painting of a girl feeding demonic-looking rabbits in a wood.

I am afraid that I am a maximalist when it comes to the sparks of joy of things. Their talismanic power takes me back in time. Objects that compel us to contemplate the nature of existence are important. They ask us to think of things more important than ourselves.

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