Last year I took it easy in July and August, and consequently was so broke in September — a month that demands insurance premiums on both cars and a property-tax payment — that at one point I had $50 to last two weeks. And I applied for a job with the AP. Last fall’s No. 1 humiliation: I didn’t get a callback. From the AP. About which it is said, by those who work there: “You can’t spell ‘cheap’ without ‘AP.'”
But things corrected themselves, as they will, and for once I actually learned something from adversity, and that is: Do not loaf through July and August, at least not without some advance planning. Yesterday I spent pretty much all day on the phone and at the keys, and at the end of it came away with steely resolve:
I HAVE to redecorate my office.
By “redecorate” I mean paint and new window treatments. This and our bedroom are the last that need to be claimed as ours, and my office still has the nursery wallpaper border around the ceiling, a peaceable-kingdom scene in which giraffes, monkeys, lions and giraffes all frolic in a riot of pastel. Yes, it’s the baby’s room, where I work. No wonder I took last summer off.
Besides paying work, I’m starting to noodle around with a piece of fiction I started in the fall, shelved, rewrote, shelved, etc. Last week I found myself at an estate sale, writing fiction in my head about the people whose house it was. Nothing makes me feel more guilty or more delighted than sweeping through a house and making judgments about its owners based on the things they own. I have to stop myself every third room and mentally smack my cheeks, but I can’t help it — I have that silly reporter’s vanity that says I can look at your grocery cart and tell you everything about yourself. Which is nonsense. But it’s still fun.
My last sale was my favorite kind. Most sales are held at the dusty, cobweb-strewn homes of the elderly, and the signs are all around — a Livia Soprano lift chair bolted to the staircase, framed portraits of children already faded with age, walkers and wheelchairs and the other detritus of old age. But this sale was different, plainly the goods of a family still in its prime. There were children’s toys and stylish clothing and the sort of toys affluent people buy. You want to know why an upper-middle-class family of four needs 4,000 square feet of living space at a minimum? To hold all their crap.
I’ve never seen so much casually discarded money — a 10-volume video series on how to improve your golf swing, an octagonal poker table with cutout slots for drinks and chips, not one but three entertainment centers. And because the greatest sin one can commit in this tax bracket is not exercising 90 minutes a day, whole rooms of workout equipment, treadmills and weightlifting benches and elliptical trainers. Running shoes, biking shoes, skis, golf clubs. Closets full of Brooks Brothers suits and Nicole Miller cocktail dresses (size range: 6 to 8. Drat.).
I look at all this crap and construct narratives: They’ve had enough of the getting and spending, and have decided to chuck it all and move to Nepal. When, I fear, the truth is probably one of two options: 1) Divorce; or 2) Job transfer, and the crap that’s being sold will simply be replaced by new crap at the new house. After all, the 10-volume golf-swing series is on VHS, and we’ve all moved on to DVDs. And those cocktail dresses have the wrong hemline.
So I think I need to get it out of my system, one way or another.
All this by way of saying I have little or no bloggage today. Except, maybe, this question: What’s the worst thing about being a public servant?