Monday, May 12, 2014

Your Neighborhood Librarian Makes a List

A long time ago, a woman who had just moved back to Spain from Argentina told me a funny story about getting things done. (Was it Venezuela? One or the other.) We were talking about regional differences in spoken Spanish and she said she once found herself describing her day to a neighbor: "First we'll get the car, then we'll get the laundry and the groceries, and then swing by the school and get the children."

Only - the casual verb form of "get" that she was using to mean "pick up" was actually a profanity in Argentina. So what the aghast neighbor heard was, "First we'll fuck the car, then we'll fuck the laundry and the groceries, and then swing by the school and fuck the children."

And oh, doesn't everybody feel like that sometimes?

So, uh. I'm on leave from my usual hours at the library. The branch is undergoing renovation so I am picking up odds-and-end shifts at my old branch in Southeast Baltimore County for a couple months. And - sidebar -  if you work in a system as immense and diverse as Baltimore County's, this is a GREAT thing to do from time to time. Maybe everybody should shake off their semi-rural or practically-urban or aging or overeducated or well-to-do or poverty-line surroundings and switch it up from time to time. Remind themselves that different people have different needs.

Oh they are acting all cheery, but something tells me when the music stops
one of these bitches is going to whip out a shiv. Models are scary.

Ooh, schoolteachers should do that too! You know? Just, all of a sudden be working in a different school, just for a semester! Everybody should jump up and turn around and sit back down in a different -- no, Jesus, that's a terrible idea. Bad for the children.

But librarians should do it. What's the diff? 

I thought that I would be working less while my home branch was closed, so I made this little resolution. I'm not much for resolutions (besides the pants thing), but what with a number of time-consuming projects I've done lately, plus the regular daily to-do list, certain non-critical tasks have sort of been waylaid. Dumb shit that I need to do around the house. Stuff that nobody else will do because - well, let's break this down:

  1. I am the only woman in the house so some stuff applies only to me. I had to pick up a CD of my mammogram images and deliver them to the breast surgeon - fine, that's on me.
  2. Certain things are completely invisible to the other people who live here. Three individuals in this house - five, including the cats - will step gingerly OVER a tangle of cords on the floor twelve times a day and never consider that that it is a thing that could actually be moved..
  3. "I don't know how that is accomplished". This includes things like making dentist appointments and weeding the garden.

So my resolution was to do ONE dumb itchy little errandy thing that I've been putting off for each day that my home branch is closed. Do I have sixty such items piled up, one for every day the branch is closed?

This is...

Your Neighborhood Librarian Sets 'Em Up and Knocks 'Em Down

I. I boxed up two boxes of books and delivered them to a librarian who works with a family reading program at the Baltimore County Detention Center. These are free books to be given to the kids in the program. Two boxes of books to the Baltimore County House of D! DONE!

"No standing - Only dancing" MAN I love that school.

II. I went through five years of photographs I took at my kids' old school in order to find pictures of the principal for a celebratory slide show. DONE.

III. The basement flooded and I cleaned up after that.

IV. I put next year's school schedule into the household Google calendar. I know what's happening from now til June 2015.

V. I took the children to the dentist. Milo has a cavity. Yup, that's what you get, mofo, for not brushing twice a day. You gotta brush like Daddy and not like Mom.

VI. Camp forms. Did that one with a hangover. Twenty four pages of physician contact info and photo releases.

Saucy Colonial Gentleman!

VII. I bought a "Colonial Gentleman" wig for my friend who has been appointed to the bench. I have a friend who is a judge. Do you have a friend who is a judge? I don't know why I think that's so crazy. I gave that wig a purple streak, light-up earrings and flamingo sunglasses so that it's more Baltimore and less Barrister.

VIII. Hook adjustment. We have a tiny powder room off the kitchen. A dish towel hangs on a hook in that powder room because there is otherwise no room for a towel to dry your hands. But that hook is in the wrong place. You know how that can be, right? When something is just WRONG? 

In this case, the hook was on the wall opposite the sink, so you had to turn around from the sink to reach the towel to dry your hands. And it's a very small powder room, so you'd be doing a little spin. A little twirl. A little Rites of Spring move, with water drops spraying from your hands as you turn. And all I did was take the hook off that wall and hammer it in to the wall next to the sink and now my brain doesn't itch when I have to deal with that hand towel.

IX. You know what else? This is something big. Right before Easter I was down the basement and I noticed a tool that someone hadn't put away. They'd put it on top of the toolbox instead of opening the lid of the toolbox and setting it inside the toolbox and so I did that. And while I was at it, I took the other things that people hadn't put back in the toolbox and I put them in the toolbox.

I mean BITE ME, it doesn't just SIT THERE, you know? There are PLACES for things, OBVIOUS places. Or NOT obvious places but a little looking around might SOLVE THAT MYSTERY. Or not obvious even a little bit. Fine, ok, where do bungee cords go, I don't know either, but check me out, I am going to MAKE SOMETHING UP and then tell everyone - hey next time you need a bungee cord it will be looped around that pipe by the water heater. Or wrapped around your brother's neck, I haven't decided yet.

So once I picked up all those tools I noticed that the counter they were sitting on was grimy, so I grabbed a rag and some Lysol and there you go. ALSO A THING THAT YOU CAN DO. Nobody's going to dock your pay or complain that you didn't do it right.

And while I had the rag in my hand, I noticed our basement refrigerator. Also filthy. Has been since it came into the house - the thing looked like it had been actually shat out of someone's body, it's so filthy. So I cleaned the outside, and then opened it up and lord it looked like someone had spilled a root beer in it and maybe a chicken had bled to death and then someone peed in it because they were sleepwalking and got confused about their appliances. I do not have high housekeeping standards, but if your fridge looks like a latrine at camp, do something about it, that's what I always say. And mine only looked like that for about seven years but then absolutely I DID something about it. I sure did.

While cleaning the fridge, we rinsed out our rags in the utility sink (by this time I had recruited Ezra to help). Coincidentally, the utility sink also looked like someone had been using it as a latrine. Soooo I scrubbed that out. I have to tell you, I didn't think that thing was comin' back. I thought it was gooked for good. But it turns out it was mostly paint from washing out brushes the spring I painted essentially the entire inside of the house. So NUMBER NINE: I cleaned the uncleanable.

X. Prior to that, inspired by the book My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag, I cleaned the mesh vent covers from under the rangehood. "The what?" you say, and I begin to suspect you are related to my husband. But yes. The lady who wrote the Barf book wrote something like, "Did you realize that those vents are growing a new textile? Some kind of felted grease fabric built up on a dust-fiber matrix, shortly to be discovered by NASA and put into use as a frictionless insulator in spacesuits?" I totally just made that up, I can't remember what she said about it. But inspired by her, I peeked up under my rangehood and I was like, "Aaaa! Fuck!" So in the book she says how to clean them and so I cleaned 'em.

XI. While I was at it, I followed the lady's advice about how to clean my rings - denture tablet - and now my rings are all sparkly.

XII. I changed the lock on the front door. It was so jacked as to be almost unusable. So if you have an old key to my house (lots of people do), it will work even less well now.

XIII. I threw out the old worn-out doormat and bought a new one. My friend Spoon makes the coolest doormats.

XIV. I planted tomatoes. Twice, thank you very much unseasonal frost.

XV. I will only list the action verbs that are associated with the Taxes task: Sort. Stack. File. Shred. Sign. Deliver.

XVI. I bought a can of WD-40 and went on an Unsqueakifying Spree. You know when you open a door and suddenly it does not make a noise? It's eerie, like the world is on mute.

XVII. Replaced the batteries in the handsets for our home phone. Still not going to answer it, and in fact I could only find 2 out of the 4 handsets, but it's the principle of the thing.

Seventeen. Seventeen? That's bullshit, I've done a lot more things than that. I might have had some false starts, some "I drove all the way out here and you're CLOSED?" days. Easter was also in there, with dyed eggs and stuffing eggs for the egg hunt and cooking the least edible ham I have ever encountered.

But what I really notice is the number of items on this list that only I can do... because of reason #3, "I don't know how one would do those things." I try to encourage independent thinking and resourcefulness in my children. I want to believe that when they grow up and find that the dishwasher is leaving crud on the dishes, they will leap into information-gathering action. They will:

  • find the manual on the internet and read it
  • google the dishwasher model number and "leaves crud on dishes" 
  • email their cousin who works for Whirlpool

Yak butter sculpture at a monastery in Tibet. Not what I'm looking for.

But I don't know. I tell a person to bring me some butter from the downstairs fridge and twenty minutes later I find that person staring blankly into that (now) clean and brightly lit icebox as if staring into the abyss. "Think of the shape of a stick of butter," I'll prompt. "Now - if you were to package some number of those sticks together, what shape would the package then be?" And then I get accused of being sarcastic and the person stomps off and refuses to help me anymore.

It's magic that I found those phone batteries. In fact, it's magic that I figured out why the handsets wouldn't maintain a charge anymore! The screen door's sudden lapse into silence? They think I am a witch.

They take care of a lot of the day to day maintenance. Food production, for example, is equally shared. My husband does the bulk of the laundry. But it's subsistence living, it's living lightly among our things rather than appreciating their thinginess and taking ownership of their care. They'll get it one day I know. I wouldn't proactively clean anything when I was their age either.

Recently, thinking about this subject, I asked my husband, "How old were you when you first cleaned a toilet?" After several seconds of silence, I asked again more tentatively, "You... have cleaned a toilet, right?"

I better quit before I start getting answers I don't want to hear. Go polish a doorknob! I'm out of here!

your neighborhood librarian