My home office is a superfund cleanup site.
It’s a problem. Company’s coming soon, and you can see the disaster through our French doors. Boxes full of toxic tax-paperwork are stacked on my immobile treadmill. Next to them are the “Towers,” twenty-year’s worth of New Yorker magazines. They stand quivering, ready to crush an unwary passer-by.
Even the cats steer clear.
Then there are mile-high piles of paper, the product of creative procrastination. They cover a sign on the wall that says: A Clean Desk Is The Sign Of A Sick Mind.
All this is because I’m a professional worry-wart. I know that someday, men in black helicopters will land and demand to audit my water bill from five years ago.
I’ve got it here…. Somewhere.
And I don’t trust my computer. The world is going paperless, but I’m convinced that the important documents on my computer will vanish. Either someone is going to steal my $20 Wal-Mart laptop, or it will self-destruct.
So I print everything out.
Receipts from stuff I buy off the web. How-to articles on getting organized—I have a separate stack for these—and important emails from my Nigerian banker.
You name it; I’ve got it.
What do I do with this stuff? Well, I carefully place this material, plus petrified newspaper clippings and the dozens of credit-card offers that arrive each day, in piles. This is the organic method of organization, a form of composting. The scraps of bills and correspondence stick together, forming fossilized clumps that are teased apart at tax-time. The really important stuff—receipts for things I might return—are printed on thermal paper. These go blank the second I put them on my desk. They’re designed by the same people who wrote the messages in Mission Impossible episodes.
Yet I hesitate to toss this clutter. It might still be useful someday—or maybe not. I now understand my Grandfather, a man who survived the Depression, and then never threw anything away.
When he died in his 80s, he was worth a bundle. But he still had every pair of shoes he’d bought since he was a kid and thousands of worn out parts he’d pulled off every car or truck he’d ever owned. Grandpa built warehouses to keep this stuff. But the really amazing thing is that he knew where it all was. Every single broken bolt and bent spoon.
Not me. I know that the documents I need are in my office, somewhere. But that’s about it. I have no clue as to which stack or file. Finding it is a form of urban archeology.
Going through this is like the old TV show This Is Your Life. It’s a humbling trip down memory lane. There’s the joy of finding an expired refund check for $3.07, and then there’s bills that should have been paid last month but escaped from the To-Do pile and hid out in the God-knows-why-I-am-saving-this pile.
I plow through this detritus of things other people inflict on me—including stuff family tosses on my desk. But the scariest parts of this mess are the many mangled yellow-ruled pads full of my scribbled notes.
I’ll wake at 4 am and remember things I’d like to, ought to, or promised to… do. At times I think of genius ideas that could change the world. So I keep the pads beside my bed and other places at home and at work. I learned from my mom and efficiency experts that, if you want to get something done … make a list. This frees your mind and gives you more time.
Especially if you mislay the list.
My notes get scattered like dandelion seeds. The brush of a dog’s tail, my wife sneezing two rooms away, or the cat looking cross-eyed at them, and they’re gone with the wind.
From time to time, I gather them all up, and recycle them. Of course I can copy them. But this is helpful only if I can make sense of them. Here I’m confronted with two problems. First, my handwriting is so bad that I can hardly read it. Second, I have no idea of what some if this stuff means.
Right now I’m looking at a list that says:
Yes, that is my handwriting. But what on earth does this list mean? WHAT WAS I THINKING? Was I thinking? Well, maybe not.
And it occurs to me that there could be equally weird, kinky, and incriminating stuff in this mass of papers. Maybe I should go through it all at once because if I were to be “taken,” suddenly, who knows what my family would find?
I dive into the pile, and see…
Blue Taurus, partial license number QTU ???.
Is this a car that I wanted to buy? Someone who cut me off in traffic and I reported? Maybe it’s the title of song by Buck Owens.
Near the bottom of one stack, I find another list that’s gotten wet. The words are smudged. This means I get to use both my fuzzy memory and failing eyesight. I’ve got to guess.
Promises? or Premises?
Was this word supposed to jog my mind? Do I still HAVE a mind?
Domes? Dimes? Dames?
I feel like I’m playing password with myself. When the buzzer sounds, will someone tell me the right answer, PLEASE.
Hart? Tart? Fart?
Maybe these were my choices for a game of Mad Libs?
Or maybe not.
I give up. I decide to shred this stuff. I’ve been at this for more than an hour. I finally reach the bottom of the first stack. There’s another notepad. This one I can read! It’s the oldest yet, but well-preserved, amid the three coffee-cup ring stains is a clearly written name and phone number.
Just a name and number—nothing else. Someone I was supposed to call? I’m drawing a blank. And yet why did I save it? It’s probably important. So I humble myself and dial.
“Hello, is Lisa there?” I ask.
“Who IS this?”
“What’s YOUR problem?”
I stop. Maybe this note wasn’t for me. Awkward, but it’s too late to turn back.
So I bluff.
“I was given this number.” I pause, hoping that she’ll help me out. “By a friend.”
I’m all in at this point. I make a guess and go for what’s behind door number three. “You’re …. selling…” I hesitate, but I hear only silence. “You know… something…”
“Buster. YOU TELL YOUR ‘FRIEND’ I’M NOT SELLING ANYTHING. OK?”
And with a CLICK, she’s gone.
In the old days, before cell phones, Lisa could have slammed the receiver back into its cradle. That would have ended the call and my worries. But now, with caller ID, I wonder…. Will I get a visit from the police—or the men in the black helicopters?
They might want to have a little chat or raid my office to look for some senior erotica.
OK. Good luck finding it. Better stay away from that stack of magazines.
Or … maybe not.
Robb has enjoyed writing and performing since he was a child, and many of his earliest performances earned him a special recognition-reserved seating in the principal’s office at Highland Elementary. Since then, in addition to his weekly column on A News Cafe – “Or So it Seems™” – Robb has written news and features for The Bakersfield Californian, appeared on stage as an opening stand-up act in Reno, and his writing has been published in the Funny Times. His short stories have won honorable mention national competition. His screenplay, “One Little Indian,” Was a top-ten finalist in the Writer’s Digest competition. Robb presently lives, writes and teaches in Shasta County.