Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Your Neighborhood Librarian Sorts Your Socks

What I know about housework and what I know about poetry are roughly the same. You mop up tiny shards of glass with a piece of bread. There you go. That's what I know about poetry and what I know about housework in the same sentence. So when I get to talking about either or both subjects, it's a lot like The Drunk History of Stuff Women Do When They're Not Working For a Living or Having Fun.

And that's what I did today on the way to work...

Your Neighborhood Librarian Couldn't Clean the Poetry Aisle Even if Edna St. Vincent Millay Were Dancing Naked In It With A Feather Duster Sticking Out Her Butt

There are all these metaphors about housework. People have done 'em a whole lot better than I ever could. Like I think Marilynne Robinson, she wrote a book called Housekeeping. I... didn't read it, so I don't know if it's about... sweeping. [NB: Not really.] Or, uh, what. But people are always burbling about how creating an ordered house, that's like an ordered mind, I think Sylvia Plath said that. [NB: She did not.] Didn't work out for her though.

You always think of these poems - and I KNOW how people write poems about housework. I know how people write a poem about ironing.

It's because they're standing there, at the fucking ironing board, and they're ironing, and they're bored out of their minds because we are not the generation that remembers that ironing is what Days of Our Lives is for, you're supposed to stand at the ironing board and watch Cord bore holes into Monica's skull with his gaze, while across town Monica's husband is selecting a piece of jewelry for her and being flirted with by the saleswoman at the jewelry shop, who is Cord's illegitimate daughter.

So people ironing now, they don't have Cord and Monica and Monica's hairspray to stare at, so they start stringing together nonsense words and then that starts to make them feel a little psychotic, so they have to revert to the discipline of wordsmithing. Phrasing. Putting thoughts together and feeling around for le mot juste. Making stuff work.

There's a poet driving the car next to me right now! Hi, Ginny! She doesn't see me. Ginny's the kind of person who totally - well, I don't know if she irons, nobody irons - but like if she were folding laundry, she would be putting together felicitous words and phrases in her head. I don't like most poetry, but I like Ginny's poetry.

So I was doing a bunch of housework yesterday, and was I writing poetry in my head? No. No. But I can see - like I said - I can see... where... you might... I can see where you might! I can see where you might.

I could see, like, Emily Dickinson polishing the silver and thinking about tarnish, and the stains of sin upon your soul, or whatever... Emily Dickinson might have thought about, like how bored she was, and how come she didn't have any options in life, other than to sit there and look at stuff. And polish silver, like, for fun, right? Emily Dickinson didn't have to polish her own silver, I'm sure she did it because she was bored out of her tree! [NB: Ha! Emily Dickinson totally had to polish silver!]

She wasn't solving mysteries anyway, that's for sure. There's a new YA novel out with teenage Emily Dickinson solving a mystery and there's a handsome guy who lived down the road... ha ha nooooot for Emily Dickinson, man! No way. She had no handsome strangers in her life, and she didn't solve any mysteries... I don't know what she did.

I don't even know if she had silver.

No, for me, the poetry of housework is after it's done. Like yesterday, among other things that I did (and we'll get to those), I folded a load of towels. An entire laundry load of towels. It takes us kind of a long time to need to wash towels, because I kind of have a lot of towels, I don't know, we own a dozen towels I guess? Plus there are the towels for my hair, that's a thing, that's a whole different thing, they have to be the right size. Regular hand towels are just a little bit too small, because they have to wrap all the way around my head and then twist up - this is not that important, is it. But the towels that Bob steals from the hotel gyms when he travels, they're perfect. Not as big as a bath towel, a little longer than a hand towel, they're for slinging around your shoulders and mopping up your gross damn sweat.

So nice. But once he steals them and brings them home, and they're washed, I don't know, seven or eight times - with bleach... lye, oxi fresh, oxy contin - they're just the right size to wrap my hair up in so it'll dry just at least a little bit before I leave the house. I mean, I'm not going to blow dry it, I've got two feet of hair! Plus it's getting all damagey from me dying it pink for seven years. Or maybe that's just me getting old.

Anyway, I have all these towels. I washed them. Yesterday, while I was waiting for the auto glass guy to come and repair the broken passenger window in the minivan - thanks to whoever thought that they were going to get rich by breaking a window in our minivan and stealing a three year old laptop - Bob's laptop, and Bob uses laptops like he uses running shoes, this thing looked like he'd been using it to pry cement tiles off the side of a building. Bob once backed over a laptop with the car and then continued to use it. "Oh, if I just hook it up to a different monitor, it still works!"

The only ok thing about getting the window busted out of your car is Safelite. Goodness gracious, you are definitely living in the Developed World when you have to call Safelite. You get on the website, they ask you like three questions, they say, "Would you like us to come to your house?" and you're like, "Uhhh, sure!" They say, "Oh hey when's the last time you replaced your wiper blades, we can bring those and install them while we're there, you wanna?" and you go, "Well, OKAY! Can you, like, wax my legs too while you're here?"

So while I was waiting for the Safelite guy to come wait on me hand and foot, I folded a load of towels. You want to talk about hypnotic work, oh baby. It's not like you're folding kids' pants, or long-sleeved t-shirts. You don't have a lot of decisions - you have one decision, you decide halves-then quarters-then thirds, or thirds-then halves-then quarters, or halves-quarters-eighths, and you decide it once and then you're a machine. A gentle, quiet machine, same motions over and over, flattening, matching corners, and you end up with all these same-sized oblong packages, clean and calm and even. "Good King Wenceslas looked out..." (I'm singing here) Yeah it's just like snowfall, folded towels.

You know? How many towels have you folded in your life?

So the poetry of having folded a load of towels is that today I get out of the shower and open the closet in the bathroom, and there's this beautiful wall of folded terrycloth bricks. Maybe that's why I'm a librarian. Lining things up, stacking things, and they're all basically the same size, it's satisfying to me. Both the action and the result satisfy me.

That was a verrry long pause. You don't transcribe the pauses, but that was a verrrry long pause.

I think my mind was lovingly caressing stacks of towels.

Other housework that I did yesterday had its own poetry. I did other laundry, and I sorted the rag basket - when was it that I thought baby socks would be good rags? They're not, I got rid of them yesterday.

But this other chore - the sump pump backed up last week, and I'm telling you before you read any further, it was not a sewage sump pump backup. This is not a foul tragedy. No, it was Ezra's bathwater, and if you want anybody's bathwater to seep up onto the basement floor, you want Ezra's. He does not yet have appreciable B.O., he knows how to wipe himself, and the weather is still cool enough for him to be wearing long pants, so he's not even really dirty.

Ezra's bathwater is like sweetly-scented elf bathwater. Bailing out the sump pump wasn't that horrendous. And we have carpet tiles in the basement, we just lifted the wet ones up and laid 'em on the deck stairs. Good and done.

Except for. The part where you have to put the carpet tiles back together after they are dry. JESUS CHRIST. They're not square carpet tiles, we didn't get those paper-thin wool ones from FLOR, no, we got nice thick squishy artificial-fiber ones! They have that slightly sparkly acrylic sheen to them, just like the wall-to-wall in your cousin's place in the suburbs. Not my cousins. My cousins have classy rugs. YOUR cousins.

Yeah, these tiles have pads, and pile, and they're wavy along one edge so that they lock together somewhat. Which, again, fine. EXCEPT.

The first time I put 'em down, and I probably wrote about that, because... Jeeeezus Christ. I spent like three days on my knees on the basement floor, and NOT in the fun way.

Putting them back down is not quite as big a job, but you kind of want to find out exactly where each one was, because the edge pieces are cut to fit, and the middle pieces, even though they're all the same size, through use and wear they now are less than identical.

OR... you can choose to distribute them differently, to even out the wear pattern, and ALL THIS because when I am on my knees on the basement floor it is either think about wear patterns in the fucking carpet tile, or try to puzzle out the exact moment when I gave a shit about whether the basement carpet looks hodgepodgey, and that is not a fruitful road. That is not a road paved with gummy bears.

It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle with three-foot-square puzzle pieces that are more or less the same size, shape, and color, and linty to boot. So. A puzzle that you do on your knees and end up covered in cat hair and synthetic fibers afterward.

The poetry that went through my mind while I was doing that was... it was not what you might think. It was not this endless stream of swears, it was not like when the insurance person hangs up on you. No, I get strings of lyrics that repeat, on my knees on the floor. I get Circle Game, and Cinderella Man, and then I get "you spin me right round baby right round like a record baby right round round round," which will... oh that keeps going in your head long enough, you will think "Oh no! This is what Jeffrey Dahmer heard in his head! This is what... Squeaky Fromme heard in her head when she was like, 'oh, that Chuck Manson, he's so handsome, I think I need to go do whatever he says now.'"

Squeaky Fromme, now that's a phrase you could use in a poem. I wonder if she's still alive. I think I read in the New York Times Magazine that she's - no, that was a different woman. A different teenage terrorist who turned into a reverend or something in prison. A force for good. That's what happened to me, you know. I was a teenage - well. I wasn't an out-and-out terrorist. In my heart I was, in my heart I was a cultural terrorist. And then I grew up and now I, I minister to others.

That's exactly what I'm doing here. I'm showing you the path, giving you guidance. Telling you to go ahead and fold the goddamn towels, you'll feel good about it later, no matter what you think.

That's me, Your Neighborhood Librarian, over and out.