Monday, February 27, 2012

Dirty Pleasures

Who knows what mysteries the canister holds?
I’ll be the first to admit that housekeeping is not at the top of my skills list.  It’s not that my mother was a slob by any stretch.  She taught my sister and me to vacuum and dust.  We tidied the yard and always had clean clothes.  How I came to this point is my own doing. 

O.k., our house isn’t so bad that we warrant an episode on Hoarders or Clean House.  I clean the kitchen after every use, I do laundry a couple times a week, and the bathroom gets a once over about as often, but it could be better.  Vacuuming and dusting are way down on the list, below scrubbing the toilet, although higher than ironing – which is a whole other matter and why I tend to wear knits or items that need dry cleaning. 

I think it’s the futility of it.  Having had multiple dogs in the household for the last twenty or so years, I’ve come to accept that dog hair and dander will be present regardless of how much I wash and groom the dogs or how much I vacuum and dust.  My husband and I have come to accept that it’s a fair exchange: a furry, dusty house in exchange for canine companionship. There’s a lint roller by the door and each of us has one in his/her car. 

Even so, there comes a point when the situation is so appalling that even I can’t tolerate it any longer. The dusting is still tedious and my allergies don’t make it any easier, but when it comes to vacuuming, there’s an excitement, or perhaps something more akin to morbid curiosity that spurs me on.  Our vacuum cleaner is bagless which allows me to quantify our level of filth. 

Despite the claim that our vacuum will “never lose suction,” it does when the catch canister becomes too full, which on some occasions happens quite quickly.  This requires me to keep a close eye on the “full” marker so I’m not wasting time pushing a functionless vacuum. I poke the “on” button, and watch as a tornado of dust and fur forms and builds in the canister. It’s simultaneously amazing and disconcerting.

In my defense, our carpets are rather a dust color to start with, of that mysterious pile that’s not as long as shag, but not looped like berber either, and it’s got its share of stains.  So fur and dust sort of disappear.  Still, I know it isn’t really an excuse for letting vacuum sessions lapse as frequently as I do.  But seeing the dirt and hair accumulating in the canister discourages rather than encourages me to vacuum more frequently.

If I only have to empty the canister once, I almost view the session as a waste of time and effort.  But having to empty the canister multiple times, especially if it’s just one room, confirms that it was indeed time for a thorough cleaning.  My husband has caught on with the fascination as well. 

The typical end of cleaning conversation goes something like this:

“Whew! Done!”

“Thank you.  How many canisters?”

“Seven (or some other appalling number)!”

“Wow!  That’s disgusting.”

“I know.  It’s a good thing I vacuumed.”

Now if the number of full canisters was one or two, it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting (or repulsive) and the other spouse would likely have little appreciation for the effort or timing.  But when the number rises above, say five canisters, that is considered a feat, even a fortunate event, since apparently we’ve been walking around on five canisters of filth unbeknownst to us. 

Gratitude and kudos for a job well done is usually expressed with a glass of wine or a martini, which serves as further reinforcement for procrastination.

I suppose a similar fascination is why I enjoy doing laundry.  There’s that moment of anticipation as I empty the lint trap between loads.  I know lint isn’t really “dirt,” but it still feels like I’ve accomplished something, that somehow I’ve improved our cleanliness situation.  Dog bedding laundry day is especially exciting. The amount of fur pulled from the trap on those days can almost be thrilling, momentarily inspiring me to make dog fur sweaters.

How can my dogs not be bald?
I suppose at some point we could phase in wirehairs, poodles or doodles as our next dogs, or better yet hairless, to eliminate the shedding.  But I like the feel of longer hair on dogs, and we don’t need to trim or shave them.  Sure, with bigger dogs, we’ve gone from dust mice to dust bunnies, and I’m sure dust ponies on occasion.  Now that the Uber Hund is gone and we don’t have to worry about his footing, we could get rid of the carpets and go to wood or tile floors, which would keep the dust and dirt from becoming imbedded.

Still, there are those moments when I almost regret cleaning, strange moments that strike me when I’m off guard.  I moved the couch and found a small cloud of the Uber Hund’s distinct reddish gold fur.  He’d been dead a little over a month and I’d put away all his other things.  But there it was, a little bit of him still tumbling around, a silent reminder.  I thought about leaving it there, but before I could push the couch back, the vacuum sucked up the fur ball and it disappeared in the whir of other bits of hair and debris. 

Six canisters.  A good haul. 

My husband and I raised a glass and toasted to the little cloud of Uber Hund.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Big Box Wonderland

An alternate universe in a Big Box
“I think we need a new faucet,” my husband sighs, looking at an unidentifiable, supposedly faucet part.  “I can’t go to - - “

“I’ll go,” I volunteer, visions of faucets and nuts and bolts and piping running through my head.

“But I can go if you - -“

“Nope,” I say quickly.  “I’ll do it.”

At first my husband seems a little perturbed but I’m grinning, not rolling my eyes. 

“Ah,” he says.  “You’re going to look for sheep things.”

I have an on-going desire to make lawn sheep.

“No, I just like to look,” I say.

“For what?” he asks, but he knows.

I just like to look.  Well, and maybe fantasize a little.

I’m not a handywoman, per se, although I do have my own tool chest and I did just take apart the stopper in my sink so I could better clean out the drain.  Oh, and I built the shelves in my office.  But my fascination with hardware stores isn’t practical, it’s creative.

Growing up, there weren’t the big box hardware/supply stores.  There was the neighborhood hardware store, Rea’s, an odd mix of small appliances, giftware, and the little pieces that one forgets, loses, or breaks during home repair projects.  Most of the people who went to Rea’s, my father included, entered in a dark mood, stomping or impatiently striding, muttering a string a curse words as they sorted through bolts and washers in the palms of their work dirtied hands.  I didn’t go to Rea’s with my father.  Since it was in the closest shopping center, I would go with my mother to look at the collection of tiny ceramic animals.  I was particularly fascinated with the cocker spaniel series, but I’d also look at the horses (not as good as the Breyer series), the miniscule ceramic mice, and peruse the other creatures.  It was like a glossy, humane pet shop.

My real fascination with hardware/supply stores happened when I went with my friend and his dad to the lumber yard to get the supplies to build an aviary.  It was out of our isolated community, which made it an adventure in itself.  Then I entered the warehouse which smelled of sawdust and there were stacks of timber and plywood and particle board.  There was also cement board, drywall, and chicken wire.  These were the ingredients for an aviary, a tree house, a real house, a mansion. 

I was in awe.

This is where one acquired the materials to make Significant Things, Big Things, things that were more substantial than pottery or beaded jewelry.  I could walk into things built from these materials.  I could stand or ride or climb on things built from these materials. I could lose a finger building these things.

That was exciting.

When the big box hardware/supply stores finally arrived, it was an entirely new experience.  I ignored the cabinetry, carpet and bath sections.  I wandered up and down the aisles spellbound by shiny metals, interesting tubing, tubs of mysterious substances.  I intentionally ignored the pricing labels.  I didn’t want to know what these things were, their true purpose.  I just wanted to enjoy the shapes and textures, my mind arranging them into supernatural creatures or surreal structures. 

It changed a little when I became a homeowner.  Going to the big box stores was like going on a quest not for redecorating, but for repairing material.  I learned about joint compound, various caulks, and types of piping.  But, still I paused in front of interesting objects. 

Oooh!  Shiny Mylar arms and legs for robots, like something from the older Dr. Who shows.

Wire crowns? Dog bone sculpture?
“Why are you looking at air ducts?” my husband asked, having found me after I’d meandered off on my own.

We’ve purchased cabinets and sinks, flooring and gallons of paint, shelving and sprinkler parts along with all the implements that go with them.  On one hand, I gained knowledge of home maintenance.  On the other hand, the mystery faded.  It was like learning that a lover’s intriguing scar was caused by a trip on the sidewalk.

I started making trips to the hardware store on my own to preserve my innocence.  I’d get what we needed, then lose track of time as I wandered the warren of aisles, hurrying away when a sales assistant approached me. With their brightly colored aprons, they reminded me of the cards sent out by the Red Queen. 

Either through education or clearly marked boxes I can’t speculate any more.  I know about saw blades, the screens for florescent light boxes, and copper piping.  I stood in the faucet aisle staring at the dozens of different kitchen faucets, debating if brushed nickel was outdated or not.

What does it matter?  Get the best price for the most durable.

“Where. Are. We. Go. Ing,” a metallic voice beckoned from one of the aisles.

I glanced over and saw a young girl waving the corrugated tubing on her arms.  She lowered her arms and the tubes unfolded like a Mylar caterpillar.  She smiled up at her dad.

I grinned.  The magic returned.  How could I remain callous in Wonderland?

Monday, February 13, 2012

What Is This Thing Called "Love"

This time, I start it:

“If UPS rings the doorbell at midnight, it’s for me.”

“What?” my husband says, although he’s eyeing me suspiciously.

“Yeah, I’ve ordered the whole Twilight box set so we can watch it for Valentine’s Day, and it comes out at midnight tonight,” I inform him knowing just how anti-sparkly vampire he is.

“Cool, I just ordered you the genuine pink cubic zirconia ring that spins and plays music,” he counters.  “Nothing says, Happy Valentine’s Day better that Salt n’ Peppa.”

“Fantastic!” I say, trying to keep a straight face.  “I’ll wear it when we watch the bed-breaking scene.”

My husband’s face goes blank.  “Bed breaking scene?”

“Yeah, when Bella and Edward finally ‘get together,’ it’s so intense, he breaks the bed,”
I explain.

“Vampires must buy cheap beds,” my husband says.  “At $4,000, I’m not breaking our bed.”

“Does this mean I have to return the glitter make-up I bought for you?”

O.k., so maybe we’re a bit jaded after being married for almost 15 years.  But there’s also something insidious about holidays created by the greeting card industry (Mother and Father’s Day were also card created holidays).  While Valentine’s Day is a Saint’s Feast Day(St. Valentine, of course), we as a nation don’t celebrate any other Saint to the same level.  Like Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration of our immigrant ancestral roots and St. Nicholas isn’t celebrated so much as portrayed as a facilitator for Christmas.  Perhaps they need better agents.

Greeting cards have done a bang up job promoting Valentine’s Day, enough so that some people actually feel anxious and depressed when the holiday passes them by, that it breaks our heart to see Charlie Brown waiting for that Valentine from the Little Red-Haired Girl, and that there’s a whole film about the trials and tribulations of the day.  The card industry, and by extension the floral, candy and jewelry industry have so ingrained into our social psyche the importance of recognizing love and affection on Valentine’s Day that grade school students are told to give EVERYONE a Valentine lest any child feel unloved. Children are gullible and fragile, adults should be less so.

It’s interesting too, that the Valentine’s ads are targeted towards men giving women gifts.  Don’t men want to feel the Valentine’s love as well?  Don’t they like chocolate and jewelry?  Lingerie is a bit touchier, although I don’t think men call it “lingerie.” 

I once gave my husband a pair of silk boxers with hearts on them for Valentine’s Day.  I think it kind of spooked him, seeing the flimsy material flutter as he released it from the box.

“Try them on,” I suggested with a bit of a leer.

He did, but he didn’t look happy about it.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It feels weird,” he said.

“What do you mean, weird?”

He frowned.  “They’re all slippery and slide-y,” he said.

“Yeah, that’s kind of sexy, isn’t it?” I said.  “Kind of like these?” I said.

By the look of horror on his face, it was probably a mistake that I pulled out a pair of silk tap panties I had from my lingerie drawer.  That was the last time I saw those boxers.

Of course, there is the subliminal message for men in the Valentine’s Day ads, “Give your wife/girlfriend our x, and she’ll be very happy.”  But, I guess without the nudge and wink, some men still weren’t getting the message.  A recent floral delivery ad pretty much spelled it out, showing a sultry woman getting suggestively dressed, and then stating, “Gentlemen, it’s simple.  Give and you shall ‘receive’.”  It doesn’t get any less subtle than that on regular t.v.  It would be interesting to see if Valentine’s Day sales increased after the ad aired, a cluster of men saying, “Ohhhhhh!  I get it!”

It’s not that I’m totally against the idea of Valentine’s Day.  The way our lives are these days, it’s easy to get wrapped up in deadlines, financial woes, and the daily drudge.  So, it is nice to get a little nudge to remind us to touch base with our loved ones, to take some time out to recognize our partners, family, and friends who love us with all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Appreciation doesn't mean chocolate,
although chocolate is always appreciated.
“No gifts, o.k.?” my husband and I say almost simultaneously.

We both have giftphobia.

We’ll exchange cards.   We won’t go out since restaurants tend to be over crowded for the occasion, with service below par and food suffering as well.  I’ll make my husband’s favorite dinner and pick up dessert.  Wine will be involved, perhaps even cocktails. We’ll snuggle on the couch with the pups, watching some silly romantic comedy on t.v.  At some point, laughing at the ridiculousness of the film, we’ll catch each other’s eye, thankful that we’re loved and not just for the day.

In honor of Benny Hill, “What is this thing called, love?”

Monday, February 6, 2012

How Is the Aria up There?

La donna è mobile....
I miss having season tickets to the opera.  Yes, I could buy tickets to individual performances, but time slips by and I forget to order the tickets or my husband and I can’t coordinate a date that suits us both.  With season tickets, like a gym membership, you make time for the performances since you’ve already paid for them and the dates are pre-set.  But unlike a gym membership, you’re only obligated to make one appearance a month and there’s no sweating.

I know.  The Opera sounds snooty, but it’s changed over the last 20 years.  Nowadays, most opera companies have super titles of the lyrics (or at least the gist of them) projected over the stage.  And whether through fashion or intent, many of the younger opera singers, particularly the women, are increasingly more attractive.  There was a notable gasp when Anna Netrebko, a stunning soprano, opened her scene in Samuel Barber’s Antony and Cleopatra, in a milk bath that glowed and showed off her naked figure.  What?  Sex at the opera?  Yes, not since the Bible has so much sex, violence and intrigue been publicly ignored or forgotten.  Carmen, La Traviata, La Bohème, and Abduction from the Seraglio all involve women of dubious reputations, and Don Giovanni and Tales of Hoffman are stories that glorify what the young folks would now call “pimp masters.”  My husband and I attended a production of Faust so lewd that several audience members left the performance in prudish horror.

Lest you have visions top hats and capes in our season ticket days, let me clarify that our seats were in the upper balcony, made even more affordable since they were for performances during the middle of the week.  The upper balcony occupants were predominantly elderly with some college students and a smattering of people in between.  And like any hinter zone, be it theater or sport, it contained the most devout fans.  There wasn’t any face painting, but some people sang along during the more popular arias.  This isn’t as rude as it sounds.  While opera is performed without microphones, historically opera audiences were a rowdy lot, which is why opera singers know a variety of ways to project their voices.  There is even a technique where the voice exits the body quietly, but expands and actually seems to drift once released.  It’s an incredible experience.  When this technique was used, we in the hinter zone sat at the edge of our seats, waiting for the waft of sound to float our way.  When it finally did, an operatic “touch down,” we leapt to our feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation.  It was one of the rare times during a performance that the performer intentionally acknowledged the cheap seats.

The frugality of our section presented interesting situations.  The couple who sat behind us brought along a “carry-on” suitcase that they tended to rest on my husband’s shoulders.  The case held the elderly husband’s oxygen tank and a seemingly infinite supply of crinkly wrapped sucking candy for his wife.  Rather than keeping the bag unzipped or unwrapping several candies in advance, every performance was marked by series of “zip,” crinkle, “zip,” crinkle, crinkle, crinkle . Sometimes the woman dropped the candy mid-crinkle, which prompted “oh, dear,” followed by some fumbling as she felt for the candy, a resigned sigh, and then “zip,” crinkle, “zip,” crinkle, crinkle, crinkle …. 

Some people brought their own cocktails even though the theater served beverages both before the performance and during intermission.   This wasn’t an issue until someone accidentally kicked the bottle, which happened on a fairly regular basis.  Our balcony seats were severely raked, so it was a noisy and perilous journey as the bottle rolled and hopped down each row.  The usher would rush over and try to catch the bottle’s movement in the glare of his or her flashlight.  We all held our breath, hoping the bottle wouldn’t jump the low rail, perhaps killing someone below thereby confirming that we were indeed the rabble.  Once the bottle stopped, the usher would collar it by its neck and stomp back up the stairs in a huff.

Babies love the opera ... sort of.
And then there was the baby.  I’m all for early exposure to live performance, but taking an infant to a non-Italian opera was daring.  Taking one to an opera about a child molester (PeterGrimes.  Did I mention opera could be tawdry?) was cruel.  Rightfully, the child burst into tears and was inconsolable during the scene when yet another child was brought into Peter Grimes’ care, only to meet a horrible and violent death.  The baby’s cries were loud enough to draw the performers’ attention to our little aerie.  I think we all leaned back a little and sank into our seats.  After the performance, we saw the couple carrying their sleeping baby.  “Our baby loves the opera,” they said to anyone who looked in their direction.

The baby incident prompted my husband and I to splurge on seats in the Founder’s Circle the following season.  Along with our tickets, we were also issued an invitation to the Founder’s Room and given the opportunity to place orders for refreshments before the performance to circumvent any waiting in line at intermission.  When we took our seats, we noticed the sea of black ties, furs, and silvered hair.  During the performance, no one sang or even hummed along.  The gentleman next to me snored.

From our new seats, we saw the singer’s faces and enjoyed the sets without seeing the framing.   All the super titles were visible and the performers seemed to be singing directly to us.  It was opera as it was meant to be.  I sat grinning as a stunning version of an aria drew to a close and I jumped up to give a standing ovation.  My husband gently tugged my skirt.  Everyone else in our section remained seated and only politely clapped.  I sat back down, trying to keep my restraint for the duration of the show.

Somewhere up above us, a bottle dropped and rolled.
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