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The Opposite of Zen

"Let's spend a few minutes straightening up." I heard this, but wasn't sure where it came from. Was it the TV? No, it couldn't possibly have been my wife, yet I noticed her mouth moving in perfect sync with the words, so it must have been.

We'd just finished dinner and I was already postprandial (all the blood was in my stomach which means there was only enough for my brain if it went to sleep) so maybe that's why it didn't sound natural, much less believable.

The whole statement was alien, starting with the "Let's," (as if we'd both be involved) and quickly followed by the "spend a few minutes" which just isn't how it works in our house. We have two modes: messy or manic cleaning before company arrives. We clean very well when motivated by the idea of strangers seeing how we _really_ live, but it's so exhausting that we don't invite people over very often.

But spend a few minutes each day and "straighten up?" I was in disbelief. I was sleepy. Not to mention I was full and couldn't imagine myself leaning over to pick things up.

But she had actually said it and now actually expected it to happen, and even as my eyes were at half-mast and my brain thinking this must be a dream, I found myself in the hallway sleepwalking to the laundry room. I did have enough mental acuity to wonder why she always wanted to do things at times I thought were entirely inappropriate, like when we need to leave the house in five minutes she announces she needs to do something that I know takes a half hour. But my thoughts were interrupted by her grand if inappropriate plan.

"If we just clean out the laundry room and make room for these containers then we can get back into the coat closest and get things out of the living room."

These things always make sense--in her mind. In reality, our house is like one of those puzzle with the little numbered squares--where you have to slide them around in an unfathomable way in order to get them in numerical order. I'm not very good at those puzzles, and am consequently not very good at figuring out how to get our five bedrooms worth of stuff into two bedrooms.

But she had a plan and I was too sleepy to argue (looking back I wonder if she slipped something in the chicken) that since we hadn't needed to get into the coat closet since the previous century why did we really need to get into it now.

"We'll need to start in the laundry room," she said, again confusing me with the "we'll" part.

"But you just wanted to move those trunks from in front of the closet door, why do I have to start in a different room?" I asked, sincerely if nearly somnambulant.

"We have to make room for the vacuum," she answered (again with the "we" which I was now awake enough to assume was rhetorical) and we were off, sliding numbered tiles. We were starting on the tile 12 when we really just wanted to move tile 1, and the blank area was even in 2.

She joined me in the laundry room, stood there for a second, coughed and said, "The dust," then fled. And then "we" were "me."

I don't want you to get the wrong impression. Our house isn't "dirty." It's just "dense." That's really the right word for it. Nature abhors a vacuum and my wife and I seem to abhor any unused space. Any. Every flat surface must be covered, every inch of floorboard disappears behind at least one layer of stuff.

We are the opposite of Zen. We greatly admire people with rooms that look like a Spartan monastery, but we are not that kind of people.

So I started on the laundry room which was, if possible, even denser than other rooms. As well as the layers of things laying in wait, there was also an awful lot of fluff. And lint. We actually used to collect the dryer lint. I say "used to," meaning "for the last 12 years but ending just this very minute." We have, no, _had_ bags of it. My wife always said she was going to make handmade paper out of it, and to tell the truth some of it is quite interesting. While most of it's oddly gray, some dryer loads resulted is startlingly lovely orange or blue fluff. And we've been saving it. Until now.

After some strenuous unfluffing, I started to get cramps. It's like swimming, I should have waited a half hour before I waded into the laundry room, but I didn't, and now I was in danger of drowning in lint. It also hit me that I was doing this all alone, which made me mad. I staggered out of the laundry room and suddenly heard the water turn on in the sink--she'd started doing dishes so as to appear busy.

I sit. I sulk. She smiles.

I sigh, "I've almost cleaned out the laundry room." She scowls. "You only needed to make a little place for the vacuum." I stare. I was under the impression that I had to clean out the entire room to make way for whatever it was we were moving, but no. I just needed to move one stack of things which took me about a minute and I'd just spent an hour coughing up lint balls.

She disappeared and a minute later returned. "OK, I'm finished." She'd "finished" in one minute? I looked and sure enough she'd moved the trunks and opened Pandora's coat closet.

It contained things I hadn't seen in years. I half expected to find Al Capone's lost treasure in there, or at least Geraldo Rivera. Mostly it held coats we hadn't worn since the 1980's which is before we even moved here.

She started collecting my coats from the hallway and hanging them up. Again, I was in shock, as I didn't realize this closet could contain coats we actually wore. And my shock was well-founded, as she closed the door and then put a folding screen in front of it.

"So you mean every time I need a coat, I have to first move that screen?" I asked, my mind now fully awake and able to think of the word "incredulously."

She smiled and nodded. I went back into the room where all this started and noticed her coats were still  hanging on the coat rack.

I moved the screen, got out the coats I wore regularly and hung them on the pegs from which they came. Then closed the door and put the screen back, knowing I probably wouldn't see the coats inside until the year 2012.

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The SchoomozeLetter is ©1998-2005, Daniel Will-Harris, all rights reserved. If you'd like to use any article on the web or in print, please ask for permission. If you're an agent or publisher looking to publish these pieces, just drop me a note.