The Museum of Stinginess

October 16, 2010

In the summer of 1999, I found a mattress leaning against the Dumpster behind my apartment building.  There was nothing wrong with it—no unsightly stains or rodent nests—so I put it on my back and carried it Sherpa-like up the stairs.

“What the hell is that?” asked my roommate, Megan, as I pulled the large, rectangular object through the doorway.

“It’s either a really soft tombstone with springs in it or a mattress,” I said.  “I’ll need to perform a few more tests before I know for sure.”

Megan folded her arms over her chest the way I imagine Mussolini used to right before he ordered an execution.  “And what’s it doing in my apartment?” she said

Both of our names were on the lease, but that didn’t mean it was an egalitarian arrangement.  Megan favored democracy when it came to government and reality television shows, but her personal life was less Bill of Rights and more Mein Kampf.  For tasks like vacuuming or taking out the trash, Megan considered me her equal, but when I proposed we paint the bathroom black because I wanted to feel like I was taking a shower in outer space, suddenly my ideas were “impractical” and “borderline psychotic.”

“Why don’t you just buy a mattress from the store like a normal person?” Megan said.

“Do you have any idea how much a new mattress costs?” I replied.

“I don’t know, two hundred dollars, maybe three hundred.”

“Two hundred dollars!  I’m not going to spend that kind of money on a stuffed quilt.  Are you out of your mind?”

“Right,” said Megan.  “You’re going to sleep on a piece of trash like a hobo, but I’m the one who’s crazy.”

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Megan eventually abandoned me for a graduate school in California, but she left behind a pile of belongings to remember her by.  Dishes, towels, pans, a microwave, and her old futon.

“Get rid of that disgusting mattress,” she said.  “And buy some real furniture, for the love of God.  You’re living like a refugee.”

As the years went by, this kept happening.  Friends would get better jobs, move to better houses, and inevitably they would give me their used belongings.  A television with no volume control here, a lamp shaped like a hula dancer there.  They knew I was too lazy and cheap to purchase these things on my own, so they passed them along, pretending the reason for these gifts was because I was a good friend instead of a hopeless charity case.  Cups, vacuum cleaners, coffee tables, nightstands.  I am thirty five years old and I have never purchased a single piece of furniture.  I still sleep on the futon Megan gave me more than a decade ago.  My couch was a gift from Megan and her husband Chris.  The coffee table came from Megan’s mom.  My entertainment system was once owned by my friend Travis.  I have a bookcase that was given to me by my old roommate Paul.  My ex-girlfriend Ashleigh provided two of my four pillows.  The others were taken from my mother’s house.

Nothing in my apartment belongs to me.  It was all stolen, scavenged, or given away as a hand-out.  My apartment is a museum of stinginess.  I am surrounded by other people’s lives, taking naps on their hard work.

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