Two years ago, I was very broke and living in my car for the summer. I had sublet my brother and sister outlaw’s apartment for the year, but now I had to find my own place to live in California.
I was talking to my dad on the phone en route from a river trip to a camping trip and he said, “Have you given any thought to getting a place to live in the fall?”
“DAD,” I said, “I live on the ROAD. I don’t need the shackles of RENT to tie me to SOCIETY where I will live like a caged FATTED CALF to be slaughtered for VEAL.”
My dad responded evenly, “Emily, I’m your father. It just gives me some measure of security to imagine you with a roof over your head. That’s where I’m coming from. I’m sorry I said anything.”
Thus guilted and reality-checked, I went on Craigslist and searched studio apartments for the rent I could maybe actually afford if I maybe actually found some work. “Have you ever wanted to live in your own boat?” said one ad that caught my eye. “YES!” I thought. “I have ALWAYS wanted to live in my own boat!” But it wasn’t a boat–it was a one-room cabin in the Oakland hills.
I went to look at it the next day. It was so small–12×15 feet outside, 9×13 feet inside–but perfectly-scaled and well-built. It had a deck. “If the bathroom is gross,” I thought, “I won’t be able to deal.” But the guy who owned it and had built it himself had made an awesome bathroom, with a copper sink and travertine tiles. “Oh,” he said, “And there’s this.” He pulled up a trap door in the middle of the one room to reveal a three-foot deep basement the size of the whole cabin.
It was just like the moment the year before, when the man who sold me my Subaru folded down the seats and showed me how I could fit inside. “Yes,” I thought, at both moments, with the certainty and totality I hope to one day feel about another human. “This is the one.”
I called my dad and told him all about it. When I mentioned the basement, he said, “Great! You can get some bins!”
When I was born, my dad, who is also a Virgo and was born 29 years and 5 days before me, constructed an entire wall of colored plastic, different-sized bins above my changing table, to organize the baby stuff. These bins are one of my earliest visual memories. I’m sure Freud would have a field day with the association between diaper-changing and a subdivided organizing wall, but I prefer the cosmic, astrological view that says my desire to put everything into a color-coded bin was ordained in the stars, because on the day I was born, the sun was passing by some dots some ancient people who had no other form of entertainment besides fire, drumming and sex once connected in the shape of what they imagined was a virgin, or maybe a fertility goddess, which are not the same thing.
I took the cabin, wrote a check for September rent, and continued on with the summer. On Labor Day of that year, I drove out of Yosemite in a traffic jam of dusty Burning Man vehicles and unpacked the contents of SubyRuby into the cabin. They fit perfectly. I got a 3-D map of California and nailed it to the wall.
I went to Target. I got some bins. A blue one, for river and scuba gear. A green one, for camping gear. A purple one, for bedding. An orange one, for towels. I put the stuff in the bins. (Soon, I am going to get a gray one, for climbing. Because gray is the color that rocks are, obviously.) And now, I am able to pack for four trips simultaneously (a camping trip, a climbing trip, a New York trip, and a river trip) by pulling gear from my color-coded bins, in my own little slice of Virgo heaven, right here on earth.