Posted by: twotrees | September 2, 2009

Pack Rat

Collyer Brothers' homeThe funny thing about memory is that you never know when it’s going to kick in.  When I heard about E.L. Doctorow’s new book about the Collyer Brothers, it triggered something in my past.    Homer and Langley Collyer lived together for years.  One was blind, the other a pack rat of epic proportions.  Their home contained over 20 tons of trash:  cans, paper, car parts, etc… 

In high school, I had a friend from the football team named Greg.  His family was originally from Oklahoma, but had relocated to Beverly Hills a few years before I met him.  Being Okkies, his parents had the double whammy:  born dirt poor and during the depression.  They must have had a Beverly Hillies financial epiffany because all of a sudden, there they were, movin’ on up to the West Side.

But they never forgot their roots.  Greg’s house was a collection of papers, and bottles, cans, milk jugs and everything ever purchased that was not perishable.  I am not exaggerating when I say everything.  The few times I visited Greg in his parent’s home, it was like stepping into the basement of a manufacturing plant from the 1950’s.  After navigating through the various piles in each room, we would snake through the house to Greg’s room.

For a boy of sixteen, Greg did whatever he could to be normal:  He painted his room bright blue, as was the shag carpet.  He took a liking to soul music and fancied black women.  He grew his hair into an afro, even though he was white as a ghost.  Greg was also an alcoholic, favoring gin.  I couldn’t blame him.  His parents were weird and his environs like that of a David Lynch film. A bottle of gin per night.

One day, when his folks were out of the house, I had an idea.  They had collected newspapers back many years and I was wondering if we could find copies of the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times from the mid 1960’s – looking for ads for bands such as the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, etc…

Sure enough, the papers were in a relatively good sense of order and within a few minutes, we were finding notices from those bands and more.

I guess Greg’s parents had such a deep seated fear of losing their belongings, that they kept everything – every peanut butter jar, every paper bag.  It was an indoor world of grey.  They each slept on cots in their respective bedrooms.  Alone.  surrounded by piles of possessions.  Perhaps separated by these possessions.  Or perhaps separated by insanity. 

The strangest thing was the dress.  I suspect it was an important dress once worn my Greg’s mother.  Now it hung above the toilet, covered in plastic.  With a bit of dust over it. Dark red as I recall.  A sad view of the ultimate pack rat.



  1. Your blog is so informative … ..I just bookmarked you….keep up the good work!!!!

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