The “something” that Joni had in mind was the other upstairs bedroom. The Hagans’ home faced south. It was built on a cellar that after one hundred years still displayed bare brick walls along with the exposed two by eights that supported the ground floor. Entering the first floor from the street one first stepped onto the cracked linoleum square that sat at the bottom of the narrow, steep stairway which led to the east and west upstairs dormers that were separated by the home’s second bathroom. The west side of the first floor held a master bedroom, and across from the short hall sat a tiny second bedroom that had served as a TV room for at least as long as John had known Joni. The west side of the house had a kitchen and a great room that was furnished as both a living and dining room. The back door was off of the kitchen and led to the, if not postage stamp size then no larger than envelope size, backyard that had been enclosed by a short, chain-link fence before grandma and grandpa Hagans had met. The second floor bath was directly over the first and both baths bisected the house.
The house was old and not well maintained and the east side upstairs bedroom had become the depository for all things that had no current function but that had been deemed worth keeping. Other than Joni’s room the entire house screamed clutter and disarray but the “extra” bedroom was a TV producer’s vision of what a hard core hoarder’s home should look like. Stuff was ubiquitous. A Pilgrim’s cornucopia of junk, treasure, mementos, household appliance that somewhere along the way had been replaced by new ones, along with old magazines and clothes filled the room. When John had innocently asked if Joni had a specific job for him to do during her five hour absence she had walked him over the spare room and asked, ”Do you think you could make a start on getting rid of some of this stuff? Separating the wheat from the chaff? Throwing things away of zero value and maybe making piles to split up between my brothers and sister and me, or donate to charity?”
“Uhmmm, sure? What about things to sell on eBay? Or Craig’s List, or a garage sale?”
“Sure. As in, great idea. It’s just that all of us have been harping on Mom and Dad and then just Mom to get rid of this since Clinton was president and now we can. No disrespect, but they were just such horrid hoarders, you know?”
John had smiled and responded with, “I don’t know, they seem like they were pretty darn good at it to me. Sure. I’ll see what I can do.”
“Bless you,” Joni had replied before kissing him and adding, “I’ll see you around one thirty or so. Love you!”
John had returned her amorous departure declaration and then started working on clearing out the second bedroom. The first problem in cleaning out the room was coming up with a strategy of attack. Because things were piled on top of one another without obvious order he chose to begin with items closest to the door. From an organizational perspective this made as much sense as any other paradigm but in terms of pragmatism it ranked number one. Just getting into the room was difficult so the first order of business was to make enough room in the batter’s box to be able to swing. “Something about a cat and room to swing sure comes to mind right now,” he mumbled to himself.
He labored with thoughts of Hercules, an Augean stable and diverting a river to clear manure, running through his head. “Good Lord,” he said, “How can two people collect this much crap?”
The job was a delicate one. Even though Joni had been the first of the four Hagans children to marry their odd living arrangements perpetually kept him as the least, though obviously most senior, of the in-laws. As both of John’s parents were still around he hadn’t witnessed firsthand any internecine sibling blood baths over family possessions following the demise of parents but he’d heard enough horror stories to recognize the need to tread lightly.
For over two hours he merely shifted things from the spare bedroom to half-a-dozen piles in Joni’s, ‘Strike that,’ he thought, ‘our bedroom,’ organizing them according to his perception of the value of the items. His plan was to throw away nothing until the Hagans clan had a chance to sift through the debris of a lifetime but at least he could do his best to rationalize the mess.
After two hours he walked back into the junk room and wondered how it was that even though his bedroom was now becoming full of items at an alarming rate there seemed to be no measurable depletion of items from the junk room. “Who am I, Sisyphus?” he asked. “Seems like I’m doomed to endless labor with no benefit or progress.”
After one of his short jaunts to his bedroom he stopped for a quick drink of water in the bathroom but was stymied. “Really? No glass? Don’t you get thirsty, girl?” he inquired of his absent wife. “Well, maybe now’s the time to take some of this crap downstairs. At least then we won’t trip over it if we get up during the night.” Besides, even though he’d done virtually nothing but sit for the previous 24 hours he was tired and could use a little break. “’A change is as good as a rest,’” he reminded himself, heading into his bedroom to collect some items.