Thursday morning I shaved in my own bathroom. Brushed my teeth. Gargled with mouthwash. Then I packed up the five toiletries I deem most essential-toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, shaving cream and mouthwash-stuffed them into my luggage and headed off to a weekend magazine conference in Providence, Rhode Island.
Sunday evening I returned. I unpacked. And I found that it doesn't take long to be squeezed out. Dove deodorant had taken the spot where my Listerine has sat, bottom shelf, far right, for the five years since we moved into our house on Humphrey. The spot on the middle shelf where my toothbrush is supposed to sit (next to my toothpaste, by the way) had been overrun by some sort of pinkish razors and, as I recall, Q-Tips. And I don't want to tell you where I found my CVS Tropical Flavor Chewable Vitamin C tablets.
This isn't right.
But it is life.
The last few months I've been watching as various sturdy weeds poked up through the asphalt of what had been the parking lot for the old Thyme & Honey restaurant across the street from our offices on Oak Park Avenue. After the developer fenced off the lot to keep stray cars from parking there, nature quickly began to reassert itself.
It is a full-time job standing still. Holding your spot in line takes vigilance. "Things Fall Apart" as the great novel by Chinua Achebe described years ago.
Even so, I was only gone 72 hours. There are just three other people in the house. They kind of like me and sort of missed me. It did not stop them from squatting on my toiletry territory though. I do not believe their intrusions were intentional. When Mary goes away next month, the space in the shower caddy left by her shampoo and conditioner will be consumed by, I don't know, oregano and spare light bulbs. Something will take up that space.
As nature abhors a vacuum, in our house flat surfaces demand to be occupied. Whether a bathroom shelf or the dining room table, the sort-of-flat, never-used wagon in the garage, or the individual steps to the attic. They cannot be clear, open and free. They demand stuff. They are wooden magnets. Could be the Sunday TV Prevue, a vase. Often it is odd tools and bug spray. Blue jeans, properly situated, can cover three, even four steps. In the garage it would be broken stuff. Got to have a spot for the broken stuff.
On our family vacation recently, my brothers and sisters recalled, with a fondness that only comes with death, the exhortations and vehemence of my mild-mannered father's efforts to keep the bend in the stairway clear.
"If everyone would just take up one thing every time they went upstairs..." he would say over and again.
Bemusement, then, would be his reaction to my near hysteria over my children's ingrained habit of emptying boxes but never disposing of them. Look at the shelf next to the fridge, just inside the back door, the granola bar shelf, and you would think we had granola bars aplenty. Invite the neighbors for granola bars! If there is one stinkin' granola bar among the seven empty boxes I would be surprised.
And so I rail. Someday, if I'm lucky, I'll be dead and my kids and grandkids will talk about how excised dad got over the granola and microwave popcorn boxes. Crabby dad devolves to nostalgia. Better, I suppose, than being totally forgotten.