The Great American Garage Clean-up!

First, I'll share some background on how my garages got into this deplorable state. My being rather a packrat and clutter-bug didn't help matters any, but there were far greater forces at work here than just my little quirks. Mother Nature had a hand in it as well.

You see, it all started on January 17, 1994, when the 8.6-magnitude "Northridge" Earthquake struck Southern California. “Shake, rattle ‘n’ roll,” as the song goes ... and shake, rattle and roll we did, when the Great Northridge Earthquake sounded a dramatic pre-dawn Wake-Up Call.

I can still recall that traumatic event as if it had just happened yesterday. That experience was, without a doubt, the most frightening thing I have ever lived through, and I don't want to ever experience anything like it again.

Perhaps the strangest part about it was that just before the house started shaking, I was having a terrible nightmare. I have not had a bad dream like that in a very long time, and I have to tell you this was a very scary one. I don't remember now what in the dream was so terrifying but I was screaming for dear life in the dream, screaming so loudly that I woke myself up with my shouts.

Just as I was brutally emerging into consciousness, the earthquake hit. It was a very strange, bewildering, and terrifying dilemma — realizing that I was not safe where I was in my dream, and I was not safe where I was in "reality." I did not want to go in either direction, although of course I did ultimately wake up.

The house was violently creaking, swaying, groaning, and shaking. It was a tremendous sensation, like the house was being shaken up and down from its foundation by some giant monster outside, rather than the back-and-forth rolling motion of other earthquakes I have experienced. Stuff inside was falling over; things were crashing down all around us.

My life-partner, Arlee, and I were hanging onto each other for dear life, both of us screaming in helpless terror. Our dog, Oz, was at the foot of our bed yipping and shrieking frantically. Finally, the shaking stopped and it seemed that time itself stopped. It was so very, very quiet.

But just as we were about to gingerly step out of bed, a very powerful aftershock struck. We were so frightened that we were paralyzed on the bed; we literally could not move. Arlee and I both started screaming and crying, "Oh my God! Oh my God!!" The building was shaking so badly, with plaster and stuff falling all around us, that I really feared the whole place was going to collapse.

The big aftershock finally subsided, and we got up and made our way across the pitch-black bedroom, stepping in the dark over mounds and masses of stuff that had gotten strewn around all over the floor in our bedroom.

We got out to the living room and made it out the front door. It was as dark as the bottom of a cave outside. All the street lights were out; the city horizon, which usually glows with a buzzy yellowish halo, was black. It was not yet dawn so the night sky was also black; and it was cloudy and overcast so there was not even any light from the moon or stars. It was the proverbial "couldn't see my hand in front of my face" kind of darkness.

All up and down the street, and off into the distance for as far as the ear could hear, hundreds of car alarms bleeped, wailed, screeched and shouted into the black morning, creating a chaotic, anarchistic cacophony of sound that made it seem as though the end of the world had come.

Before long, the wailing and oooeeeooo'ing of sirens and the honking of car horns added to the apocalyptic din. Loud electrical reports volleyed all around us as power lines fell to the ground and exploded; and flashes of orange light flared out all across the night horizon as fires started breaking out.

We stood outside for at least a half-hour and saw neighbors up and down the street stumbling out into the cold night air (yes, it does get cold in L.A. at night) expressing disbelief, fear, and horror at what had happened. During that time, several more significant aftershocks shook the area, each one setting people into even deeper panic.

Finally, as the sun came up, we went back inside to survey the damage in our apartment. Fortunately, it was fairly minimal, consisting mostly of toppled bookshelves and the like. There were some odd things, though: Our large heavy bed had skiddered about a foot out from the wall. It was the heaviest piece of furniture in the bedroom but the only one that had moved any great distance. Also, at that time we had a dressing table with a large, heavy mirror on top of it. That mirror had flipped across the room and landed on the opposite side, face down. Amazingly enough, it had not broken.

Well. I did not mean to get into such detail about the earthquake. However, once I started writing about it, and recalling the archetypal horror of that experience, I sort of got caught up in it again. And I realized anew that I am still "shell-shocked" from that experience. Arlee and I both, and many of our friends -- probably everyone out here, indeed -- surely suffered post traumatic stress syndrome from that earthquake.


NOW, you surely are wondering, how does all this have anything at all to do with cleaning up my garages? Here is the answer:

Before that fateful morning when the lives of Southern California residents were brutally shaken up (literally and figuratively,) my garage had been a neat, tidy, cleanly arranged shop for working on vacuum cleaners and a storage area for keeping parts and supplies and machines awaiting restoration. I had built long display shelves containing, among other things, examples of every pre-1960 Electrolux attachment I had ever come across.

I had a well-stocked workbench with an electric cleaning and buffing wheel for bringing those tarnished old Kirbys back to their former radiant glory. I had row after row of woven cloth and vinyl hoses hanging from the ceiling across two well-spaced beams. I had box upon box of screws, gee-gaws, clips, springs, gauges, you name it... Every spare part that I ran across that I thought might be useful someday was carefully squirreled away.

After the earthquake, it was a good month before I got up the courage to go outside and look in my garage. I just knew that all those rows of shelves and boxes had come down. And I was right.

When I first opened the garage door, my heart sunk down to my toenails. My formerly neat-as-a-pin garage now looked like ... well, it look like an earthquake had struck. The task of rebuilding the mess was just too great to deal with at that point, so I just quietly shut the door.

Over the next seven years I rarely went out into the garage except to occasionally rummage for a hose or dusting brush that I knew was out there. And in the course of that time, quite a lot of other stuff got heaved onto the mountain of twisted cords, attachments, nozzles, hoses, and machines. Eventually the garage was stuffed so high that I could not even get in there at all. I tried a couple of times to climb across the piles of stuff but nearly broke my ankle doing so, so I just gave up.

With each passing day, the emotional and psychological burden of that garage weighed heavily upon me. I did try a couple of times to get out there and clean it up, but it was such a mess that I could not do it alone. I would get as far as getting half of the stuff dragged out of there and then it would be nighttime, so I would have to stop. Both from lack of light, and from lack of strength. Then, the next day, it was all I could do to just heave it all back in there again.

I finally realized that the only way I was going to get it cleaned was with help. At first, I had thought about hiring some day workers to help. But they would have had to have gotten paid, and funds for something like that are in short supply right now. And I was not sure I could trust strangers in there. Besides, I really needed someone with some knowledge and understanding of vacuum cleaners to help me sort through all that STUFF.

So I got the idea to send out a plea for help to all the collectors I knew. At first, responses were slow to come. And those who did respond sent their regrets, saying they couldn't come to help for one reason or another.

When I had just about given up on the idea of ever getting this huge task done, Mark Tomey and Rich Maher entered the picture. Probably having no idea what they were getting themselves into, they agreed to come here and help me clean my garages.

They arrived the morning of Saturday, May 5th, armed with doughnuts and work gloves. After a couple of cups of my fortifying home-brewed, fresh-ground, high-octane coffee, we set-to the task at hand.

We got the first and largest garage completely emptied and cleaned out. I did throw out quite a lot of stuff, and have more to throw out as we continue organizing stuff.

Remaining to be done is sorting through the boxed up stuff from that garage; and there is a second, smaller garage full of stuff that we are going to tackle after Memorial Day.

I do want to thank Rich and Mark, before I forget to do so, for their incredibly great spirits and their willingness to come over and help me with this seemingly insurmountable task. I really couldn't ever begin to sufficiently thank them for finally helping me unload this great burden. It means more to me than anyone could ever realize, on many many levels. I know that the few odds and ends of stuff that they came away with can't begin to repay them for all their hard work, but I do hope that they will enjoy their "consolation prizes!!"

But perhaps the best part of all is that I have two new "sweeper pals" -- and they each have one new one -- me!!

The following photos speak for themselves, so I'll (finally) shut-up now.



Before the grand opening...


"What ... a ... dump..."


Holy Crevice Tool, Bat Man! Look at all this ... STUFF!!
(That's Mark Tomey on the left and Rich Maher on the right.)


This tacky-looking box held quite a treasure, eh, Rich?!


Invasion of the Dirt Snatchers...? (No, the VW was not in the garage. It belongs to my neighbor.)


"We've only just begunnnnnn..."


This is what the aftermath of an 8.6 earthquake looks like...



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