In his book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris discusses the uncomfortable feeling of having a stranger step into your house without advance notice. He mentions experiencing the meter reader rooting through the kitchen in the early morning, or a Jehovah’s Witness suddenly standing in the living room.
Sedaris explains, “An unexpected and unknown visitor allows you to see a familiar place as if for the very first time… ‘Here,’ they seem to say. ‘Use my eyes. The focus is much keener.’ ” His story went on to describe how he happened to be drowning a gravely injured mouse in a water bucket on his front porch just as a lost motorist reached his door.
I know all about this ambushed feeling, and the clarity it sheds on one’s lifestyle. Especially lately. Things at my house have been breaking and malfunctioning with such a steady rhythm, a percussionist could hang around, take notes and compose something beautiful. The old saying goes, “Bad things come in threes.” In my case, emergency home repairs come in eights.
Men with tool belts parade in and out of my house so frequently, my neighbors must think I’m auditioning Carhartt catalog models. Worse, the garage door guy, the handyman and the plumber — all summoned within the last several weeks — have no idea there are days my house is orderly. (Maybe because these days only occur twice a year, but still.)
Things break when I have situational trifectas, like last month when my high school kids were taking important exams, plus my parents were houseguests, plus I had some flu-like illness. This translated into books and calculators replacing accent pillows, an arsenal of “geezer” medications lining all horizontal surfaces, and Kleenex tissue boxes everywhere.
The oddities Sedaris would appreciate often punctuate our household flotsam. Like my husband’s ongoing quest to secure and rotate our collection of ugly, plastic woodpecker-repelling owls. At any given moment, there could be a creepy hooter on the kitchen table undergoing new applications of Velcro patches and rolls of duct tape and fishing lines. How do you explain that?
Or the new-ish, still-in-the-box replacement printer on the floor by the chair, looking all permanent and ottoman-y, because, frankly, it is. Then there’s the stuff we have in various stages of cosmetic glue surgery. It seems we’re always gluing something. (We have all kinds of adhesives. Gorilla glue, wood glue, super glue. We’re glue sommeliers.)
Are we clumsy? Distracted? Unlucky?
I don’t know, but I do know the feeling of getting caught in a most un-enchanted state. The worst moments involve total strangers having to go into EVERY ROOM of the house. These are the times my “sudden visitor goggles” offer super-power vision.
I suddenly notice that stacks of photos and nearby empty albums have doubled and taken on layers of dust, the ironing board has been up since the presidential debates, and the dead plants are still dead. I let magazines forced upon me as gifts dominate the coffee table. I’ve never read Opera News (thanks, Uncle Bill, you shouldn’t have), but there it is, the apparent centerpiece of my life.
Recently, an electrician had to survey each room. As did an HVAC guy, just when I was in the throes of some crazy paperwork mixed with a bout of domestic laziness. These times I want to melt into the floor, or pretend I’m a house-sitter who just arrived. Tsk-tsk.
Instead, here are the standard, lamer-than-lame lines I use on all of my unexpected visitors:
“Pardon the mess. Busy week, you know.”
“Excuse the chaos. I have teenagers.”
“It’s normally not this cluttered. Just returned from a trip.”
What I really should say, as I write out yet another three-digit check, is the truth: “Hewlett Packard printer boxes are just the right height for a foot rest. You oughta try one some time.”
Denise Snodell, a 913 freelance columnist, writes every other week.