[08/13/2006]: Scowl: A Housecleaning in California

We're shuttling kids across the North Bay quite a bit, my ex-wife and I, in the week before school starts. It is an end-of-summer anxiety, getting day-trips crammed into the dregs of August. Kid laundry has gone the way of a scattered mind, odd socks, stray t-shirts, articles to cover some body part not immediately evident to a sun-bleached brain.

There are three distinct sock types to the boy: ribbed and plain white; HANES stitched in green under the toes; HANES stitched in blue. I reason that non-matching socks coming out of the dryer probably equate to the same going into the washer, yet the boy seems out of sorts wearing a blue HANES and a green HANES together. By effecting the Polish slouch of resignation he has inherited, I take it that "no one will notice" will have to do. He packs the rest of his things. I feel diminished in the moment.

Searching through the kids' room, I find no more socks. I do find some girlie underwear, stashed under a wicker basket, the basket I use to keep oversize envelopes, orphaned power adapters, a broken doll comb. My daughter doesn't care much for dolls, but has developed an apparent guilt for trash. The basket also has a stapler, third among the household's stapling assets, but one I think has character. And there are vintage desk ornaments in this basket, of the kind office people might find amusing. Bank deposit envelopes, a plastic extension that came with my steam vacuum, NOZZLE CLEAN OUT TOOL molded onto the surface. Four different ways to pronounce the emphasis, none of them convincing.

I can only suppose in the mind of a 9-year old, fermenting all summer through heat waves, Xiaolin Showdown marathons and Beavis & Butt-Head: The Mike Judge Collection play-alls, pool chlorine, and the crying jag I've come to expect from a losing go at Yahtzee or Life, that hiding one's underwear mitigates the injustice of it all.

I have a glimmering, how that logic once worked for me. It's a tenuous thing, like a shell fragment lying under the eggs in the bowl. I want to touch it, but moving through the liquid moves the thing too. I can hold the bowl that keeps liquid that holds the fragment, and come no closer. I leave the underwear plainly exposed from under the basket. I tell myself I want the explanation that comes next, but I also know the underwear's removal will come silently, along with the unspoken thanks to an unnamed fate at not getting caught.

Then there's a dream I recall from two nights ago: He filed with the courts for emancipation. My mother's pupils, dilated, her husband dead on the operating table. She looked as if a slight breeze might tip her over. Her senses seemed dazed, in a moment like a booth, full of whirling paper tickets.

I believed I was supposed to know what that moment meant.

I begin sorting through the last of the boxes of this move, where everything I have that converts to a CD is stacked. Music, pictures, software, a recording of a woman singing to her children. My affect is such that I note godawfully flat, lifeless melody and none of the intent. I am not that charitable.

And I don't know where any of these objects should take residence in this new box, nor why they should.

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