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There is something clarifying in seeing all your worldly possessions corralled into a couple hundred square feet in a warehouse.

It's not exactly like that crane shot surveying Xanadu at the end of Citizen Kane. It's a little humbling. It would make a good bonfire, maybe, though the Aggies would sniff at it.

It seems that our stuff--books, art, furniture, clothes and kitchenware--could be stuffed into a studio apartment. It's not quite everything. I filled two backpacks and a gym bag with essentials; Karen did the same. Some of our perishable food found its way into various refrigerators around the Democrat-Gazette. (Heed the sign, co-workers: "Taking unauthorized food from a refrigerator is theft. Theft is misconduct under the company rules and regulations." That there's our quinoa, pardner.)

I farmed out some guitars and amps and stashed four acoustics in Karen's office along with four sport coats and a fleece-lined hoodie. We have two cars with seats folded down, some blankets, pillows, three sub-20-pound dogs, Netflix on the iPad and a couple of free nights thanks to the Hilton Honors program. What we don't have, this minute, is a finished house.

We should have it this week. Or at least we should have what is called a "certificate of occupancy" which will allow us to move into said house. Which will end an adventure that started about 18 months ago, and which some of you have been following along in this space. (Thank you for that. Thank you for your good wishes and generous offers. You're a good group generally, though some of you probably need to balance your screen time with some real-world outdoor activity. Pro tip: Dog parks are nice.)

And I'm really glad this adventure is ending, because I'm for sure ready to be onto the next thing. I've learned lessons this experience had to teach me--and the main one is that I could, without too much regret, walk away from every last thing in that warehouse.

I don't want to, you understand. There's a Warren Criswell painting in there that I genuinely and deeply love. All those books that survived all those cuts--I can't wait to get them back on their shelves. There's some good wine in that warehouse we need to drink, there are photos and souvenirs I want to keep. (I found a couple of photos I'd forgotten about while I was packing; one was of my high school self with my mom and dad, the other was of me and a songwriting buddy in college. They amused Karen; the look I was going for was pre-"Danger Zone" Kenny Loggins.)

I found some '70s Brazilian currency--18 cruzeiro, to be precise. Back when I acquired these bills, they would have been worth about $1.50. Which doesn't sound like a lot, but I distinctly remember feeling thrilled when I found a 500 cruzeiro note on Ipanema Beach in 1977. That was about $40, at the time a week's worth of living expenses.

You might wonder how much these bills are worth now. I didn't, because I understood that this particular cruzeiro, the cruzeiro navo which replaced the original cruzeiro in 1967, was itself replaced by the cruzado and stopped being legal tender in February 1986. Then the cruzado was replaced by the "new" cruzeiro in 1990, and the new cruzeiro was replaced by the cruzeiro real, which was replaced by the real in 1994.

I'm leaving a few steps out, but you get the point. Before my investment in foreign currency was worth absolutely nothing, it was worth about 1.4 cents.

Which leads to the second lesson: Hold on to anything too tightly or too long and it'll devalue on you. If you've got any Brazilian currency burning a hole in your pockets, folks, you might as well go ahead and spend it. Because you never know when the next Plano Real is coming round to devalue your folding cash.

Extrapolate that to other currencies. As Ozymandias and Tutankhamen presumably found out, you can't take it with you.

But impermanence doesn't make stuff junk, any more than it makes us junk. It's nice to have nice things and creature comforts up to a point to make our lives easier and more enjoyable and license us to do worthwhile things. We needn't apologize for living well, only for causing harm. So long as we take measures to mitigate the damage we do to other creatures and the planet, it's probably OK to own a dozen pairs of shoes or a deep DVD collection. Nearly all of us in this country can count ourselves lucky compared to most of the world.

We haven't had to rebrand our currency five times in 40 years like the Brazilians; our problems are still generally First World. While it's wrong to think that everyone in America has a legitimate chance to scrape together a pile of consumer goods, much less generational wealth or the wherewithal to negotiate a complicated environment dominated by birthright insiders, we're still the last best hope of an aspiring world. Like a Erin Lorenzen needlework I wish I'd bought reads: "Everything is going to be all right."

Or at least it will seem all right, thanks to our human capacity for adaptation.

We all understand how we can adapt to ever higher levels of affluence; if you can buy anything you want, eventually you get no thrill from buying anything. But the inverse is also true. Studies have shown that, after an initial period of adjustment, people who become paralyzed in an accident report being just about as happy as they were before they suffered their injury. Lottery winners also find their psychic equilibrium; they're really happy for a while, then revert to their old habits.

We could all live just as well with a lot less; we could all be just as happy.

That said, I do want my stuff back.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at and read his blog at

Editorial on 04/02/2019

Print Headline: PHILIP MARTIN: Footloose for now


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