Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Simplicity of Living Single

I was reading a post over at Apartment Therapy the other day month, and it quoted Steve Jobs, twenty-seven years ago: "This was a very typical time. I was single. All you needed was a cup of tea, a light, and your stereo, you know, and that's what I had," and I thought to myself, "As if."

Moving, regardless of why you're moving, always sucks, and as you get older, it sucks harder. This fact is as certain as gravity. But there's meant to be a compensation: there's always a notion that moving represents a fresh start. A fresh start, in turn, means (is supposed to mean) shedding possessions, and shedding possessions (it follows, as the night the day) means arriving at a simpler, purer, and better life: you move and suddenly you're a Shaker. Metaphorically, people.

And there's some truth to the notion of simplification/depossession through moving, especially if your move, like mine, coincides with the annual church bazaar. Sadly, there are several factors working against the noble impulse towards simplicity. And I've been having trouble (for a month!) writing this down, so let's just go with the classic Lettermanesque reverse list. (I'll spare you numbers ten through four, though, because I'm nice. No, really, I am nice. If you met me, you would say that I'm nice, especially if you wanted something from me.)

3. If you're moving from a coupled to a single condition, you end up acquiring more than you discard: I'm not really going to live without a TV. Or a wireless router. Or a sofa, though it may be a while before the exact right sofa works its way into my consciousness and living/dining room. This is a matter of immense importance for me. If you're just out of college or still in your twenties, really, you can survive any manner of unfortunate seating, but if you're in your forties, an otherwise immaculate decoration scheme can be completely derailed by the wrong couch. Or a can fucking opener. How am I supposed to make Thanksgiving dinner if I can't open the can of pumpkin? I do not, thank you very much, need to open the can of cranberry sauce. I make my own. People who are proud of serving sliced, canned cranberry sauce where you can still see the can ridges can suck it.

2. The Marvell factor. (But at my back I always hear ....) Had we but world enough, and time, then I would surely be able to disencumber myself of half, nay two-thirds, of what I own, but these decisions must be made thoughtfully, and when the movers are scheduled to arrive next Thursday, well, it's so much easier to just throw things in a box and tape it up. And if that box ends up in a basement, unexamined, at least it's a roomy, clean, dry basement.


That, readers, is a laundry basket full of the books that I'm letting go, and, oh sweet mother of Cthulhu, do you have any idea of the shame? Seriously, what was I thinking when I decided to start packing my books in a sober condition? There are layers and layers of chagrin that would surely have been more bearable after a case of Tequila. Shall we enumerate the aspects of agony? (This time in ascending order! Letterman is overrated. Maybe: I haven't watched any of the late night shows since the Reagan administration.)

1. Why, oh why, do I own so many books? Are there no libraries?

2. What am I (still) doing with this book? Seriously, Walker Percy? I could probably be forgiven for my youthful fascination with Mr. Percy's works, but I couldn't have gotten rid of them any of the last six times I moved?

3. How can I give this book away? It must have meant something to me once, and getting rid of it is like disposing of a part of my personal history. What's next? Will I toss aside my children so readily? And what if one of my kids needs that particular book sometime, and I have to say that I gave it away? [I'm only giving away the Proust (which I carefully positioned atop the heap so as to make my personal library seem weightier -- a stratagem that seems pointless after hauling the fifteenth 12x12x16 box of the books I'm taking with me into the den: weighty!) because I have another copy of the exact same translation of Swann's Way, and it seems unnecessary to have two, especially given that I'll almost certainly never read it again. On the other hand, what if I lose the first copy?]

It's not all shame, of course: packing up your books is a lot like running into friends you've forgotten you had. But as pleasant as that is, it's also dangerous. That copy of The Monk (the ultimate Gothic novel, by Matthew Lewis) that eventually found its way into the donation pile took me back to my senior year of college and to my advisor, who had recommended it to me after reading one of the papers that I'd written for his class. It's amazing that I was still able to let it go (assuming, that is, I don't have a change of heart and shove it in a box tomorrow), but as awesome a book as it is, its particular brand of awesomeness is one that I'm not likely to appreciate now or ever again. Oh, the wistfulness.

Anyway, the movers really are were coming next Thursday a few Thursdays ago. [My apologies. I wrote this some weeks ago, and now I'm just going to pretend that I can step into the wayback machine and not bother adjusting the tense and the timelines. The Tense and the Timelines would make an excellent soap opera based on the lives of the Bloomsbury set, n'est-ce pas?] I've been very anxious about the whole going-out-on-my-own thing, but I was pushed into finally setting a date when b&c told me that his young, recently unemployed, Greek doctor friend is coming from Germany to stay with him for a month starting next Wednesday, in anticipation of b&c's shoulder surgery (and subsequent incapacitation) the following Monday. I was a bit taken aback. B&c had not scheduled the surgery until after I'd put a contract on the new house, but I had assumed that I'd be shuttling back and forth to take care of him, especially during the period when he's not supposed to move his shoulder or lie on his back. But he had not realized that I'd be willing to help out, (B&c's cluelessness is often charming, but ultimately it's one of the reasons we're separating.) and he was concerned that the level of attention he'll need wouldn't be compatible with my job and the kids and the new place. And maybe he has a point: it's probably a good idea for him to have someone around all the time for the first week or so after the surgery.

B&c tells me that the incipient presence of Herr Doktor Jung is no reason for me to leave any more quickly, and I'm sure that HDJ, like all of the friends that b&c has picked up during his travels abroad, is entirely charming (the last one was entirely charming; he also flirted with me, and that's always nice), and since he doesn't drive, I'll still be called into frequent service for grocery runs and taking b&c to the doctor and the like.

--- Here, readers, is where the previous entry ended. You are to presume that I am an old time DJ working at a country and western station in the early 80s and that I have only just now learned that when I thought I was being nostalgic and putting on "Coal Miner's Daughter" as I left for my cigarette break, I in fact put on "Anarchy in the U.K." and the switchboard is lighting up with listeners who are not amused with the calumny I have unwittingly heaped upon Miss Lynn. Imagine the sound of a turntable needle (Google it, kids) scratching across vinyl, after which begins a new entry ---

So, home ownership. Wow. It's a little overwhelming. There's so much to be done, but there's no one around to hold me accountable for not doing it. Certainly, YFU doesn't care if the housekeeping is, shall we say, lackluster, and I have discovered that I really don't mind living like a graduate student, which is to say that after all the work involved with painting the walls and so on, I cannot bring myself to be concerned about all the painter's tape still adhering to those walls. I mean, it's blue, and all the walls are either white are blue, so it pretty much matches.

Anyway, I'm sure that I'll get around to hanging the curtain rods sooner or later, and I'll probably even get around to hanging actual curtains on the rods (not so much sooner and later still), and if I continue to remember to take out the recycling every week, I'll be through my pile of Ikea boxes in no time at all. Or at least sometime this year. January at the absolute latest.

There are distractions, though. When I get home from work, it always seems more compelling to try to expand my circle of new acquaintances than to deal with window treatments. And so far, most of the new acquaintances have easily taken in stride the work-in-process nature of my new abode when they get the abbreviated tour. Perhaps their attention lies elsewhere. Men are so easily distracted from home furnishings.

I did manage to get the house reasonably clean for Thanksgiving. And by I, I mean we, because when EFU and YFU showed up just after noon on Thursday, before I said anything else, even to my daughter whom I had not seen for almost three months, I said, "I need help." So while I moved in and out of the kitchen, futzing with the food and telling them what needed to be done, the girls restored some order to the living/dining room. It didn't take very long, and then YFU vacuumed while EFU went around the room removing painter's tape. Picky!

Then I went to the basement to remove the hardware from the door that was soon to be the dining table. I was successful with the hinges but the doorknob wouldn't budge. The girls thought that it added character.

The door has deep panels, which render it relatively useless as a table, and I had gone to great lengths, including a trip around the beltway in Thanksgiving Eve traffic, to procure plexiglass panels to fit inside the door panels to make a smooth surface. It was a good idea, and it worked well enough. I had wanted to take leaves from the Japanese maple in the front yard and put them under the panels, but it had rained a great deal in the preceding week, so I ended up taking some other cuttings from the relatively dry plants next to the house. Right after I moved in, the rose bush next to the house began blooming. I'm sure it's a relatively common occurrence, but I chose to take roses in November as an auspicious omen for my new habitat. I used the last of the fading roses as part of the table decorations, and when EFU saw me scattering the petals, hips, and other cuttings in the door/table panels, she remarked, "Wow, Dad, that is the gayest thing I've ever seen you do." It was hard to argue with her, but I did explain that it wasn't half gay enough: there were some problems with the execution.

I sent EFU to retrieve b&c and HDJ from b&c's house. Contrary to all expectations and experience, HDJ had turned out to be not so much a charming young man as an insufferably selfish and distressingly odd individual, given to asking inappropriate questions and not listening to the answers. Whenever I went over to b&c's house to take b&c grocery shopping or bring him some DVDs, HDJ would guilt me into driving him to buy cigarettes, which he went through in great numbers. Despite his reeking of tobacco (How is it that other men smoke and manage not to either smell or taste like ashtrays? Not that I ever tasted HDJ: the smell was more than enough) in my front seat, I struggled to be polite to him, but I managed. I also managed (with less struggle) to deflect his many attempts to turn me into his social secretary. I must admit to a certain amount of glee at the prospect of unleashing EFU on him. She is not a person to put up with anyone's shit, and by the time she had picked the two of them up and brought them back to my place, HDJ had been significantly tamed. Not so much that he didn't still try to invite himself along to the movies with us on the day after Thanksgiving, but we ignored all of the openings he gave us to ask him along. After I drove the two of them home, I mentioned the attempted self-invitations to EFU, who remarked, "Yeah, wanting to hang out with a twenty-year-old woman. Pretty lame." Indeed.

Although I was halfway to zombiehood (I had stayed up very late the night before doing food prep and adding three new temporary members to my social circle) by the time dinner hit the table, it was a success. I tried to scale back dinner somewhat this year. The girls really only care about turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and dessert. I also made dressing, green beans, cucumber salad, cranberry relish, and crescent rolls (from a tube: oh, the shame), but that's a fairly modest spread by Thanksgiving standards. Some people thought that four desserts was overkill, and perhaps they had a point: because of the pumpkin cheesecake, the pecan pie, and the rice pudding, nobody had room to even try the lemon refrigerator pie, but it was just as good six hours later, and, hey: more for me.

I struggled to stay awake as I drove b&c and HDJ home, but I got back to the chez moi without incident and washed most of the dishes before collapsing. Everyone was tired and overfed, so we napped for a few hours, then I set up (finally: I bought it almost a month ago) the new flat screen, and we watched TV and ate more dessert.

On Black Friday, we all slept late, and then I took the girls to Ikea where we bought EFU a dresser (Malm, four-drawer, $99). We stopped by the cafeteria for lunch first, and I was delighted to find that, in honor of the day, the price on the Swedish meatball plate had been reduced to $1. I have of late become a great fan of the Ikea Swedish meatball plate. The first time I had it was when my friend George drove me to Ikea in his SUV so that I could pick up a loft bed (Tromso, twin, $199) for YFU (She helped me assemble it and is thrilled with the result.), and I bought him dinner as a thank you. The Swedish meatball plate was on sale then, too ($2.49), and we each had it, along with a beverage. The total price on the meal was something like $7.31, and I was a little embarrassed at having gotten away so cheaply. Embarrassed but well fed. The girls were not interested in the meatballs, so Friday's meal was slightly more expensive, but still a bargain.

After some additional shopping, we returned home and began assembling the Malm, stopping after about forty-five minutes (EFU shares my mad Ikea assembly skills, but the Malm has many, many pieces) so that we could head to downtown Silver Spring to gratify a) YFU's desire to see New Moon (not good, but not as bad as you would expect, and with eye candy) and b) EFU's desire to eat at Chipotle. We were home not long after 8, and we hung out and watched TV until about 11, at which point EFU took off to visit a friend.

Seeing EFU again when she comes home is terrific, of course, and it's worth the pain that inevitably accompanies her inevitable departure, but I've watched her go back to school any number of times now, and I don't seem to get any more used to it. On Saturday, when she finally got up (2pm: kids these days) and packed her stuff, I watched her walk down the sidewalk towards her car, and I got -- yet again -- all take-another-little-piece-of-my-heart-now. She'll be back in less than three weeks, and just seeing her head back to school after Thanksgiving was more difficult, emotionally, than the dissolution of my six-year relationship with b&c. I reckon that says something unflattering about the relationship, and something less flattering still about me. Oh well.

I really am liking the new house and the freedom of my solitary-four-days-a-week living situation. I'm slightly alarmed by the accompanying dissolutioneness, but I was relatively dissolute to begin with, and I suspect that the seasons will turn and the pendulum will swing back. Or at least that I'll be dissolute with more regular hours. '09 has been a pretty tough year by my standards, so I'm looking forward to a very good year in 2010. I always feel like I should knock on wood when I say something like that, but even when I have trouble finding simplicity, I can always find optimism.


  1. I am not sure about the wall colours though... I'm not so easily distract from home furnishing...

  2. You chose that blue? Not that I have any decorating prowess, but still it reminds me of a dive shop.

    On the other hand, I love the door table idea. You need to find some doorknob salt and pepper shakers now.

  3. The blue is a bit, ah, aggressive. But if it works for you, go for it.

  4. Anon, I find your comment intriguing but utterly incomprehensible. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Yeah, guys, I know the blue is a bit much, but that's what I was going for. Besides, it helps keep me awake when I'm in the shower, and I need all the help I can get first thing in the morning.