Travel advice for visiting families

Posted on
Dec 14, 2009
Posted in: Advice

Dear, dear, well-meaning friends,

I assume many of you will be traveling this holiday season, off to see older relatives and parents who are part of a generation that, due to fear of war, famine, or Commie takeover, have decided to never thrown anything away.

While you are visiting these relatives, cautiously maneuvering through their medicine cabinets, pantries, and refrigerators, careful not to consume or ingest products that should have been thrown out years ago, you might be taken over by an insane notion.

“I could,” you will think, in the height of your delusion, “clean out their medicine cabinet/pantry/fridge for them. They will be so appreciative.”

And that, dear friends, I will tell you now, is a terrible idea. They will not be appreciative. They will not even say thank-you. Instead, they will fight you tooth and nail, giving crazy excuses for why such items should be kept, excuses that, if you try and dissect and understand them, will make your head implode.

It’s true. I’s seen it.

And, under the rare circumstances that your head does not implode, you will be reduced to a quivering pile, lying on the floor amongst spices that have been discolored by time, long-ago-discontinued beauty products, and expired bags of microwave popcorn, quietly whispering to yourself that there is no god.

“No,” you’re thinking, as you read this. “My family members would LOVE to have someone help them in this manner. They will consider me a saint for my efforts.” BUT THEY WON’T. Instead, they will consider you a bourgeois yuppie snob, and they will fish the not-at-all-hypothetical-expired-in-2004 “crab spread” from the trash, stating that things in jars “never go bad.”

And you will have a fight. It is a fight that thousands of children/grandchildren/nieces and nephews have had with their older relatives, and it will be so similar to the fights that children have with their parents on episodes of “Hoarders” that you will cringe violently while watching that show.

“This is expired,” you will say.

“Oh, those things never expire,” they will respond.

“Yes, yes they do expire,” you will counter. “That is why they have an expiration date.”

And on it will go. For minutes, or hours, or perhaps days. And quietly, your efforts, born of good intentions and the delusion of the holidays, will be seen as evil, hostile attacks on your older relatives’ autonomy. And you will all feel horrible. Horrible, when you could have been enjoying one another’s company. Horrible, when you could have been sitting around the coffee table, telling ridiculous stories about the past. Horrible, when “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is on.

I won’t lie, dear friends: rarely, very rarely, this sort of thing works. You can clean out a relative’s pantry, and they will be somewhat grateful. But such a phenomenon is a rare as an Osmond who isn’t toothy, a Kennedy who isn’t a Democrat. There’s a slim chance it might happen, but even if it does, you will question the authenticity of it. If you want to play the odds, you may, but you’ve been forewarned.

Of course, I speak from experience and hope that my wisdom will spare others from my fate. My last trip to California was punctuated by moments of sheer horror as I tried to clean out my aunt and uncle’s medicine cabinet (it was somewhat reminiscent of my trip to the Old Operating Museum and Herb Garret in London). My uncle fought me every step of the way, sometimes sincerely, other times just as a means to annoy me, to let me know, “Honey, you can do this, but only because I’m letting you. Don’t think for a second you’re in charge.”

Here are just some of the treasures I found during my cleaning, some of the items that will continue to haunt my dreams for as long as I will have dreams to haunt …


Corn Salve

Generally, if the container starts to rust, thats a sign you should throw a medicinal product out.

I'm fairly sure this item was haunted by antebellum ghosts.

Given the prevalence of corn in a myriad of products in America (due, I’m sure, in no small part to the sizeable corn subsidies that exist to appease Big Agro lobbyists that represent the interests of bible belt states that are over-represented in the Senate and Congress) it doesn’t surprise me that the power of corn has extended to some sort of salve …

What’s that you say? It’s not a salve made of corn? It is, in actuality, a salve designed to dissolve corns using salycytic acid? And this particular itsem is so old that it wasn’t listed on the “Corns, Callouses, and Bunions” page of the Dr. Scholl’s website, presumably because it was discontinued several decades ago?

That is horrifying.

While my uncle may have been upset that I threw out an antique, I will defend my actions to the death.


BOIL-EASE Drawing Salve

Scariest. Tube. Ever.

The British Museum called. They want your drawing salve.

I can only assume this product dates back to the plagues of Egypt. As the Pharaoh continued to enslave the Israelites, his subjects would pass these tubes to one another, hoping to reach sweet relief from the true god’s rage. How it came into my uncle’s possession I do not know, but I suppose it was sometime after he bought that Ark of the Covenant at a garage sale.


Unidentified Cream Product, Long Ago Expired

The bottle implores us not to freeze it. But what is a medicine cabinet, other than societal artifacts, frozen in time?

The bottle implores us not to freeze it. But what is a medicine cabinet, other than societal artifacts, frozen in time?

(For the record, the above title is also the name of a mixed-media art piece I’m working on.) This particular item was found in the medicine cabinet, and was so faded that it was difficult to make out what the product originally had been. It had now moved far beyond its humble beginnings (as, I believe, a drug-store brand sunscreen) and now, 14 years after its expiration date, having reached self-awareness and developing the gift of speech, decided to pursue its dream of earning a nursing degree. Despite its shrieks, I threw it in the trash. Considering that the item should have been thrown out on the eve of my 15th birthday, I maintain that I committed a moral act. But on some nights, its cries continue to echo in my ears, making the golden dew of sleep elusive.


So, dear friends, I beseech you – do not open up Pandora’s medical cabinet, and leave the door to her pantry closed, along with that of the fridge to hell. The best possible outcome is that your family will let you throw things away, only to sneak them out of the trash when they think you are not looking. And then you’ll find the presumably-discarded item exactly where it had been before you arrived, back from the dead. There is nothing more frightening than zombie expired crab spread, dear friends. Nothing.

So let the demons lie where they may. Let the expired lotion sit on the counter, quietly dreaming of its future in nursing. Let the spices turn to dust, as we, too, shall one day. Go, sit with your loved ones, and realized that your time together on this earth is limited and should not be spent arguing over the sources of your current bout of gastroenteritis. After all, like the lotion and the mustard and unidentifiable stuff at the back of the pantry, we, too, have expiration dates.


The Everywhereist



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