Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Fine Art of Dejunking

I need to start off this essay with a disclaimer: You will NOT be learning the fine art of dejunking by reading this. So if you clicked on this link thinking you would learn how to dejunk like a pro, I apologize for misleading you. Indeed, you would be more likely to learn about particle physics from Paris Hilton than you would to learn about effective dejunking techniques from me.

So why bring this up? Well, yesterday I had one of those moments when you truly see something for the very first time. What I saw was my desk-- and really, I didn't see much of it. The truth is that it is awash in ten years’ worth of detritus. Really, the only visible parts of my desk are the top shelf, where our cat often sleeps, and a 15-inch by 10-inch spot where I place my laptop. The rest of my desk (and it's a decent-sized desk) is overrun by papers, notebooks, magazines, software, index cards, calculators, and the occasional dust bunny.

As I gazed on the monstrosity in my den, I suddenly flashed back about 20 years to my time on the editorial staff of MAD Magazine. At the time that I worked there Nick Meglin was one of the editors. Nick had been working at MAD since the mid-1950s and I'm relatively certain that over the ensuing four decades he never removed one item from his office, which contained six-foot high stacks of paper that were arranged in a way not at all dissimilar to the hedge maze in "The Shining." Of course, given where we worked, the chaos that was Nick's office was often the target of well-crafted mocking and ridicule. I'm sure I threw a zinger or two his way about his office decor during my time on staff. (Although the zingers were often blocked by the gargantuan mass of artwork and 30-year-old contracts that engulfed his workspace.)

And now here I was, looking at my own desk, which was essentially a mini-version of Nick's office. I decided that something must be done and so my dejunking project began. I sat down at my desk and turned my attention to the mess before me. Then I got overwhelmed, so I went into the kitchen and ate a Reese's Klondike Bar. Fortified by the sugar and cocoa rush, I went back to my desk and this time really dug in.

The top layer of junk yielded expected results-- recent bills and receipts that either needed to be paid or thrown out; drawings of Iron Man and flowers from my kids; and random movie ticket stubs. But as I dug deeper I began to surface more unusual items. A map I printed from Mapquest in 2009 to an address in Scottsdale, Arizona that has no meaning to me now. (I'm tempted to drive to it just to see what's there.) Jiffy Lube paperwork for an oil change I got in 2005 for a car I no longer own. (Ironic, since I have no idea where the paperwork is for the oil change I got last month.) A piece of loose-leaf paper on which I scrawled an idea for a children's book about an old codger named "Jimothy." (I didn't write down anything beyond that, so I don't recollect what the idea actually was.) A receipt for a Sonic milkshake purchased in 2003. (Glad I didn't throw that one out!)

While one might think the best method for dejunking my desk might be to simply take a blowtorch to the entire pile, the problem is that tucked in among the thousands of pointless items that I've been saving since the Bush administration (um...yeah...the older Bush) are things that I actually should keep. Instructions on how to change the filter on our humidifier. (Our kids get colds a lot.) The phone number for poison control. (Just in case someone in the house has a run in with a scorpion like my wife did in 2006.) A list of my 500 favorite movies circa 1998. (Hey, I like to see how my tastes evolve over time.)

For each item that one comes across in the dejunking process a choice must be made-- throw out or keep. Throwing out is easy, but what do you do with something that you keep? It can't go back on the pile, because clearly that defeats the purpose. We do have a filing cabinet and some items can go there, but the cabinet is only so large and could not possibly contain everything from the desk. I thought about the garage, but that's a hellish clutter fifty times the size of my desk. (Someday, when I have eight or nine months to spare I'll dejunk the garage.) I contemplated stuffing some papers under my sons' mattresses while they slept, but that doesn't seem like a very fatherly thing to do. So what then? Short of purchasing a larger house I'm at a loss.

And this gets me back to the title of this tome. I know that there are people out there (perhaps even you, dear reader) who are skilled at the fine art of dejunking. I need your help. Maybe you have a pamphlet or a manual that teaches the mysterious ways of this art. If so, please send it my way as I am in desperate need of this vital information. Well, on second thought you better not. It would probably just end up somewhere on my desk not to surface for another ten years.

Maybe just send me a blowtorch instead.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Random Observations From A Random Saturday

On Saturday, April 13, 2013…

The Carwash

I took my sons with me to the carwash. This was pretty exciting for my boys since it is an occurrence that happens only slightly more frequently than a solar eclipse. (My gray Saturn tends to look much more brown than gray.)

My boys loved watching the cars go through the wash on the conveyor belt. They thought it would be fun to walk through the wash themselves. Luckily that idea never got past the theoretical stage.  Of course, had I let them go through we would have been able to skip baths later that night. Maybe next time.

While we were there I noticed a mom with three kids—two boys of about ten and six and a girl of about four. They were all sitting next to each other on a bench looking at electronic devices. The older boy had an i-Pad and the mom and two younger kids had phones.  They didn’t communicate with each other the entire time that we were there. They were just transfixed on their screens. I thought it was pretty sad. In the meantime, my boys (the same age as the younger kids on the bench) were looking at the cars, the plants, the concrete, and asking me tons of questions about all of them. I was very grateful at that moment that they have not been electronic-fied. At one point the four-year-old girl looked up from her phone at my two sons and I can only assume that when she saw that they were talking to me instead of looking at a screen, she thought that was pretty sad.


At the carwash there was a woman eating Wendy’s french-fries .  I noticed their heavenly aroma about a nanosecond before my younger son said, “I want some french-fries.” Gee, I wonder what gave him that idea. The Wendy’s is adjacent to the carwash, so as soon as our car was ready we made the 50-yard drive over there.

This was the first time my boys ever set foot in a Wendy’s. As vegetarians we’re not exactly frequent flyers at fast food burger joints. The only one we go to with any kind of regularity is McDonalds, because of the play area. At Wendy’s we got french-fries and lemonade, and this is the conversation that ensued once we took our seats…

Older Son: (Looking all around.) Is this like McDonald’s?

Me: Yeah, sort of.

Older Son: Only it smells better.

Younger Son: And the food is yummier.

Older Son: And it looks cleaner.

Me: Yeah, that’s pretty much the difference.


A few hours after Wendy’s the whole family went bowling. During the third frame our lane would not reset despite our frantic button pressing on the computerized control panel. This forced me to take the bold step of notifying one of the workers that we needed help. (Asking for help at a bowling alley is only one notch below having to ask for directions at a gas station in my book.) The worker I spoke to then called over a much larger worker and told him that lane 14 would not reset. The large man breathed an exasperated sigh then went to the far end of the lanes opened a door and went behind the lanes to reset our pins. I was stunned. All my life I thought that a family of elves lived behind each bowling alley and reset pins as needed. Yet here was a man of about 6’2” and 240-pounds resetting our pins. Hmmm…perhaps he was the elves’ evil overlord and his exasperated sigh was because they were slacking off. That must be the case.

Garlic Bread

We had pasta primavera and garlic bread for dinner. I think garlic bread may be the tastiest food on the planet. I really have nothing more to say about that.