I love books. I love the way they feel in my hand. I love the way ink looks on the page. I love the entirely unique smell a room takes on when it’s full of books.
Much as I love them, there’s one book-related task that I dread among all others. It’s the annual dusting of the books… and I’m in the midst of that particularly onerous task now. That means physically taking each one off the shelf, dusting it, making sure there’s no unexpected wear or damage, and putting it back. It’s not a complicated endeavor, but it’s intensely repetitive – one that I’m bound to repeat at least 1100 times across 15 different bookcases over the next few days.
It would be easy enough to let it go. I mean with very few exceptions you can’t even see the top edge of a book sitting on a shelf. The dust finds its way in there though… and I shudder to think what that build up might look like in another ten or fifteen years when I have a reason to do another wholesale move. I’ve seen too many books offered for sale, otherwise pristine, that were caked with top edge gunk from untold years of not being tended.
I like to think that these books will outlive me – going on to reside elsewhere, with someone who values them as I do, on the inevitable day when this collection must be broken up. Unless I come up with a better process, it means keeping up with the dusting.
From my admittedly biased position, it’s literally the only down side of having hundreds or thousands of texts at your fingertips.
1. Ammo. The ongoing shitshow that is 2020 has had many troubling moments. One of the bright spots, from my perspective, is that it’s brought a huge number of first time gun purchasers into the fold – people who have made a conscious decision that self-defense isn’t something they can or should leave to “the authorities” and decided that owing a firearm isn’t, shouldn’t be, the sole province of local Bubbas and Gomers. I think it’s absolutely terrific… but holy hell, this year has made it somewhere between hard and impossible to lay your hands-on ammunition at anything approaching a reasonable price.
2. Housekeeping. If life in a plague year has revealed nothing else to me, it’s uncovered how much I truly despise basic housekeeping chores like dusting, vacuuming, cleaning bathrooms. In the before time, I could get away with doing them no more than once a week since for huge stretches of time there was no one here getting things dirty. With me and the animals now occupying all parts of the house 24/7, though, I’m after it three times a week. Sure, it’s better than the alternative of being back in cubicle hell full time, but I’m not a fan of the new cleaning regime. I’ll keep at it, of course, because my deep desire for neat and orderly is far stronger than my aversion to running the vacuum one more time.
3. Cooking. Over the years I’ve grown reasonably competent at keeping myself fed. I have a three-ring binder of recipes I know I like – and most of which will provide me with a few days of leftovers so I can make large dinners for myself three nights a week instead of seven. I love every meal that comes out of that binder. The trouble is, now that we’re well into the seventh month of the plague year, I’ve made each of those recipes multiple times and the regular infusion of things picked up on the way home from work has dropped to almost non-existent. As competent as I am at feeding myself, sometimes you really just want someone else to do it. Those opportunities, by my own choice, are few and far between. Sure, I could drum up some new recipes, but, for the same reason I don’t pick new things off a menu in my favorite restaurant, that would inevitably lead to ending up spending time an effort making food I won’t necessarily enjoy. I’d rather sit down to a meal I’m bored with than risk something that’s inedible… so it looks like I’ll be spending some time over the next few weeks tweaking some of the old recipes to see what I can come up with.
1. The disconnect. No, I’m not in any way annoyed by being disconnected from people. I love that shit. It’s the disconnect from the schedule that’s throwing me off. Here we sit. I know it’s Thursday because the calendar says so but it doesn’t feel like Thursday. It doesn’t feel like Monday. I’m not sure if it feels like any day at all, or whether it’s all the days and none of them simultaneously. The days have become utterly interchangeable and that’s unsettling.
2. Extra dirt. I wasn’t prepared for the extra dirt involved with being home 7 days a week. I mean it makes sense. I’ve let the dogs in and out 37 million more times than usual this week. A certain wild, young rescue dog has already churned the yard like we’re Iowa farmers preparing to plant the back fourty. The week’s rain has turned his work into a quagmire… and they’ve both been trying to drag it all directly into the house on their paws. That more time home equals more cleaning should be surprising, but after working for the last twenty years it’s just not something I ever considered.
3. Outlook web access. On a normal telework day, I log in through a VPN connection and my laptop behaves just as it normally would in the office. With the crush of new people working from home this week, VPN is running near capacity. The alternative is old fashioned web mail, which works well enough for sending basic email. The catch is, it doesn’t pop up meeting reminders the way Outlook does before a schedule meeting… and that leads to a flurry of emails asking “wherrrrrrrre are youuu?!” I mean what am I supposed to do, look at the calendar and memorize the day’s schedule like some kind of ignorant savage?
1. The end. As we sit here on Thursday, we’re on the cusp of this ultra-long weekend becoming just a regular sized weekend… and the thought of going back to other people setting the agenda on what I care about or how I spend my time is just about the most depressing thing I can imagine. It’s like the Sunday “blahs” on steroids.
2. Cleaning. There is a down side of basically being home full time… and that’s the surprising amount of extra dirt that gets thrown into the house and the extra cleaning it takes to get rid of. Spending a lot of extra time cleaning definitely didn’t figure prominently in the plan for the week, but here we are.
3. Food. I’ve got a refrigerator full of food. Good food that I went to the trouble of buying and cooking over the last couple of days. I currently want to eat exactly none of it… which means I have to leave the house (because no one in their right mind delivers all the way out to Fortress Jeff). Living in the happy quiet of the woods has its perks, but it makes it awfully hard in those moments of spontaneous desire for Chinese, or pizza, or really anything other than what you’ve already got.
1. Staff requirements. I’ve always been slightly put off by the idea of needing “personal staff” to run a household. After a few more weeks like this one, I’m going to need to seriously reconsider the need to hire out both the cooking specialty and the cleaning specialty to qualified subject matter experts. We’re very quickly reaching the point where I not only want to stay home during every available moment of down time, but where I don’t want to spend that down time doing anything that requires actual thought. The next 40 or so days promise to be an epic battle between my internal demand for order and expending every drop of mental energy focused on other things.
2. Lunch. I miss regularly eating lunch. I did manage to stuff food into my face during the middle part of two out of four work days this week… so if lunch were a professional sport I’d be averaging .500 and headed for the Hall of Fame. Still, it seems I’m going to have to come up with better options for physically breaking away for 30 minutes because even the wild hope of managing to snag a meal at my desk has proven to me a pipe dream.
3. The elephant in the room. I suspect I’ll never not be perplexed when a room full of adults sits around asking questions to which everyone knows the answer, but in which not one of them wants to be the one to say it out loud. I mean are we all pretending that we don’t know the answer? The reason some things are the way they are is because someone made the decision. It might not sound like a good enough reason when you say it out loud, but that doesn’t make it any less the reason something is the way it is. It would be convenient if we collectively had the internal fortitude to say it out loud, but that’s the kind of brave decision that needs to take place at pay grades well above mine so I’ll just sit quietly and wait for someone to call for the next slide.
If you thought movin’ on up was going to in any way interfere with regular installments of WAJTW you clearly don’t know me at all. In my head there’s always something worth bitching about. Like these:
1. Going bump in the night. Two nights in a row I was brought out of a dead sleep by something going bump in the night. It’s a fine little rush, but doesn’t make for a restful time. The third time it happened it wasn’t so much a bump as it was a persistent scratching… and that’s when reality sank in. My headboard and George’s tank align almost perfectly and are separated by two thicknesses of drywall and about three inches of air. Every time he did a little excavating or nudged the side of the tank I was hearing my tortoise loud and clear from half a foot away. That made it a lot less unnerving at 3AM, but didn’t do much at all to eliminate it’s the week’s most annoying “discover” here at Casa de Jeff v2.
2. High efficiency. I inherited a high efficiency front load washing machine. It’s an impressive piece of equipment, no doubt. However, with the old top load $300 Sears outlet model, when I set it to a normal wash cycle it would finish like clockwork in about 40 minutes. This new, improved, high efficiency model on the other hand just takes as much time as it decides it wants to take no matter what it’s set on. Could be 30 minutes. Could be 2 hours. Just depends. While my clothes, I’m sure, are cleaner than ever it sure would be nice to have a little predictability in how long getting them to that state might take.
3. Stupid dreams. So far this week I’ve had dreams about home networking, dreams about washing machines, and dreams about work. Whatever happened to dreams about Sports Illustrated cover models, I have no idea. All I know is going to bed is way less fun when it involves home improvement projects rather than scantily clad supermodels.
The arrival of spring has created plenty of angst and gnashing of teeth here at Rental Casa de Jeff. The biggest change, of course, is that instead of staying holed up avoiding the sub-zero temperatures of the polar vortex, there’s outdoor maintenance to do. Now, I’d much rather be working in the yard than scrubbing the kitchen, but there’s a problem this year that that I haven’t dealt with before – for the last month, there hasn’t been any real indoor cleaning because pushing the vacuum or bending over with a dust pan sent near-blinding pain rocketing up my back. It’s better now than it was, but bending is still something to be avoided if at all possible. With that said, it basically means the inside of this joint is “grubby” to put it politely.
With the rain and warm weather the past two weeks, the grass and weeds are growing, the shrubbery needs cut back, and the whole yard needs a good going over to get it looking a little less like a foreclosure waiting to happen. Of course, the yard is also a victim of the same problem that plagues the inside – anything that requires me to bend more than 15 degrees off vertical is a fiesta of pain.
I think the compromise is going to be getting the yard cut as best I can with the tractor and trying to hit the most unsightly bits with the weed eater this afternoon. Next week, if the weather holds, I’ll lay down a coating of suppressive fire with weed killer along all the other edges. I hate the idea of things looking less than manicured, but that seems to be the only middle ground between letting the whole damed thing go to seed and well and truly crippling myself getting to 100%. As with all manner of compromise, I find it deeply, deeply unsatisfying.
After a day of working in the yard, doing laundry, running errands, and making a passing effort at starting dinner, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that we’ve entered that time of year where some activities are going to have to get thrown over the side. I’ve talked before about some of the unique challenges of being a one man show, but the simple fact is if there isn’t enough time to get to everything, the stuff I don’t particularly like doing is going to be put off indefinitely – I’m looking at you here vacuuming, mopping, and dusting. Frankly, I never much liked you anyway and since you’re in head-to-head competition with working in the yard, you never really stood a chance.
It’s one of those times I wish I wasn’t quite so OCD about things being “just so,” but I’ve pretty much given up on ever letting things slide with being good enough. So what’s really going to happen for the next five months is a cycle of ignoring the interior dust and dirt until I get twitchy, launching an all-day cleaning binge about once a month, and repeating as necessary until the grass stops growing in the fall. Sure, I could hire it out… but then I have to deal with the awkwardness of having strange people wandering around in the house. I’m sure you can guess how anxious I am for that to happen. So in the spirit of spring, here I sit trying my best to ignore every rug that needs vacuumed, every stray bit of dust and dog hair, and don’t even get me started on the wood floors that need mopped.
OK, so I could have probably spot cleaned the kitchen in the time it took me to tap this out, but let’s face it, writing isn’t one of those things that I’m very likely to give up in favor of cleaning now is it?
I try to block off weekend mornings to sit down and really focus on writing. It’s pretty much the only time of the week when I can get three or four hours uninterrupted to focus on a section that’s complicated or requires a lot of detail. Usually I can manage a couple of thousand words a day on Saturday and Sunday. Through the week, I’m lucky if I can squeeze in 500 somewhere between getting home from work, making dinner, and getting to bed at something like a reasonable hour. So yeah, I put a premium on my weekends not because I’m running off to some exciting locale, but because it’s when I feel like I’m doing my best work. In college, I did my best work in the dead of night. That’s when the words flowed best. Now that I’ve conditioned myself into a morning person, I guess the sweet spot has shifted too. That’s really not the point, though.
Today is Saturday and what I really want to be doing is sitting here taking a stab at the next chapter. Unfortunately, what I’m really doing is sitting here paying bills, cleaning up the balls of dirt, dust, and dog hair that are large enough to qualify as a third dog, and installing a new toilet seat (don’t ask). Today is pretty much catching up on all the stuff a normal person would have kept up with during the week. Me, not so much. I’m determined to pretend that I have a second full time career as a writer… and time slips away accordingly. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go to the basement and rummage around for a crescent wrench. Either this bolt’s coming off or the whole damned thing will shatter. Maybe I should go ahead and turn the water off while I’m down there.
If I don’t flood the house in the next hour and I can manage to get the grass cut in a reasonable amount of time, maybe, just maybe, I can salvage some quality time to write this afternoon… Just in time to get interrupted by dinner. Lord, no wonder people never finish writing their great American novel.
The top dog around here wandered into our office this afternoon and announced that he had descended from the 5th floor because he’d heard that we had pizza. Not only did we not have pizza, but we also didn’t have a clue what would make him think we did. As it turns out, the pizza was for an office on the other side of the building, but hey sir, it was nice seeing you. Realistically, I can understand his confusion. Our office eats. A lot. There’s always a pie or a cake or, strangely, a ham sitting in a conference room somewhere. I’ve never worked in an office that wasn’t run by some arm of the government, so I have no idea if it’s this way everywhere. For purposes of discussion, I’m going to assume that it is.
Maybe it’s just my own proclivity, but most of office food makes me nervous. I’m ok with the bagels and donuts that come from the nice shop down the street. It’s the stuff that people bring in from home that worries me. I mean how well do you really know that cranky old battleax that sits down the hall? Want to tell me the last time her kitchen counters got a good scrub? How many cats did she say she had again? You get the point. Let’s be brutally honest here, there’s a pretty good chance your coworkers can’t even make a good cup of coffee. I can’t think of any legitimately good reason I’d trust most of them to make lunch.
Sure, you say, but most restaurant kitchens are filthy too. But what I have with the restaurant that I don’t have with my coworkers is plausible deniability. Plausible deniability and a certificate from some local government inspector that says yeah it’s dirty, but not dirty enough to kill you. Probably. But come on, you’ve met the people you work with. What are the chances they’re not going to try to kill you?
Editorial Note: This part of a continuing series of posts previously available on a now defunct website. They are appearing on http://www.jeffreytharp.com for the first time. This post has been time stamped to correspond to its original publication date.