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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Shaking Hands With Erma Bombeck

You know how in a nice restaurant, they serve you these beautifully arranged dishes of food that look like works of art? No misplaced glops of sauce near the edge of the plate, burnt bits scraped off the bottom of the pan, or stray bay leaves forgotten in the stew? Everything is absurdly neat and pretty – unlike anything you would dream of serving at home. Because these guys are professionals, right? Undoubtedly, a beautiful presentation makes dining out more fun, but what home cook is going to spend time and energy to create composed plates? We’re just happy when we manage to present delicious home-cooked meals served, as the restaurant critics like to call it, “family style.”

Similarly, when I go to a hotel, I expect everything to be immaculate: beds perfectly made, towels neatly folded, floors freshly vacuumed – basically, no sign anyone has ever lived in the room before me. But at home? Not so much. And then there’s hotel d├ęcor. Everything matches. The furniture is all from the same set. The rug matches the bedspread. The paintings even match the environment -- or suggest some other, more pleasant environment. (Beach hotel? Seashells! City hotel? Skyline! Ski chalet? Mountains! Middle-of-nowhere hotel by the side of the road? Paris!) But at home, I am content with a much smaller set of necessities: everything in basic working order, nothing so filthy or gross that I can’t look at it, comfortable places for my family to plunk our weary bones at the end of the day, and the stuff we’ve accumulated over the years that makes the house ours.

But unlike food presentation, the world seems to be full of people who value hotel-level perfection so much that they manage it at home, too. This is a complete mystery to me. Sure, it would be nice to live in that Good Housekeeping environment. But the amount of effort it would take? That, I can’t manage. In fact, I tried to come up with a fitting analogy – you know, something that would hold some appeal but would take way more effort that it’s worth. “Sure, a perfect home would be nice. So would ____________.” Trouble is, everything I came up with to fill in the blank seemed to beat perfect housekeeping hands down. Having a pony? Flying a hot-air balloon? Speaking Swahili? Becoming a champion watermelon seed spitter? Climbing Mount Everest? Growing wings and flying? All things I’d be way more willing to sink some serious time into.

So, without further ado, my list of ten things other people manage to have at home that I just…don’t.

1. Matching towels. I know, it wouldn’t be that hard to just go out and buy a stack of towels that are all the same. But then I’d have to figure out what to do with the closet full of towels I already have. Clear out more closet space? Too much effort. Throw away perfectly good towels? What a waste. Donate them to charity? I guess I could do that. But I could also just keep the towels I have and write a check so the charity can buy whatever they really need more than a stack of used towels.

2. Made beds. All of them, all at the same time, every single day. We all know the nightly problem with this one. The ultimate act of futility. What’s the point?

3. Empty kitchen counters. All that stuff people use multiple times a day, hidden away somewhere out of sight. No sign of salt, cooking oil or soy sauce, let alone balsamic vinegar or Sriracha. And then there are the appliances. Where do they put them all? If I wanted to put away my stand mixer, rice cooker, soda maker, blender, coffee grinder, etc., I’d have to build a new kitchen. Either that, or get rid of all the stuff that’s already in the cabinets. And how would I do that? I guess I could donate them…(see number 1 above).

4. Window treatments. I don’t mean shades or blinds that are useful for keeping out the sun or your neighbor’s curious gaze. We have those. (And we only lived in the house about a decade before getting them.) I mean those entirely decorative things. Big hunks of fabric that hang across the tops and sides of windows for the purpose of “tying a room together.” It’s a miracle my rooms don’t fly apart into a million pieces.

5. Closets that close completely. Y’know – without piles of crap getting in the way? Again, this is probably doable. All I’d have to do would be to clear out space in the basement and move some of the stuff down there. But to do that, I’d have to clear out space in the garage for the stuff that’s in the basement. And to do that, I’d have to…donate stuff from the garage? Hmmm.

6. Laundry that’s all done. I mean, at the same time. And folded. And put away. Days when the only dirty clothing in the house is what’s on my family’s backs. Nope, we don’t have those. Around here, laundry is one ongoing, never-ending process, with piles of stuff at every stage—dirty, washed but not folded, washed and folded but not put away, washed and folded and put away – coexisting peacefully. The U.N. could learn from us.

7. Filed papers. Like the laundry, filing is an ongoing process. The last time every piece of paper was in its appropriately labeled folder inside a filing cabinet was probably the day we got our very first apartment. So…late ‘80s sometime?

8. Stuff that makes the air smell good. Sure, we have that from time to time, in the form of good smells coming from the kitchen. But I mean all those little tricks people use to make their houses smell good all the time. Sprays, plug-ins, candles, potpourri. Once every blue moon I decide maybe we could have at least that much. How hard could it be? You just buy something and plug it in or shpritz it or light it. A year later, we have empty, discolored plastic things sticking out of the outlets, or empty cans sitting on the backs of all the toilets, or lumps of melted, cinnamon-scented paraffin on the end tables. And speaking of things that smell good…

9. Cut flowers. This is one I would love to get the hang of. I may not give a damn about window treatments, but I do love flowers. This, too, I have tried. And I have the vases full of withered stems and slimy water to prove it.

10. A bowl of candy that actually has candy in it. For more than ten minutes.

Of course, I could probably have made a good start on any one of the above in the time it took me to write this…

Come to think of it, there is one thing I could get rid of that would make me feel really good about my home. Guilt.

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