WE recently attended a party at the home of a chic family whose digs, though not huge, were beautifully austere. Splashy modern art and urbane curios made the space inviting, and there was no extraneous clutter to interrupt the flow of dust-free pale wood, stainless steel and blue-ish glass.
Oh, how I long to be one of those sorts of people. They’re the kind who can show dinner guests around their entire, gleaming home, bedrooms included, without passing by one closed room and warning darkly, Bluebeard-style, that visitors who enter it will never be seen again. By contrast, at my house, we should probably caution guests against opening any of the doors. They should just stand outside in the carport and yell at us from there.
At our hosts’ house there was no tangle of cords spilling from the outlets, though surely each of its family members, like us, had a cell-phone, computer, iPod and TV. Their cords and chargers must have been embedded in the walls through some kind of haute design hocus-pocus. Likewise, whenever they opened a kitchen cupboard to retrieve an artful pinch of fleur de sel, I’ll bet you anything that not one greasy container tumbled onto their heads.
I don’t know if the word for their extremely attractive, tidy lifestyle is “self disciplined,” or merely “normal,” but I sure do admire it.
We, on the other hand, spent the summer with various unruly houseguests sleeping in the living room on inflated beds. Up to half a dozen people took turns using one shower. Meanwhile, over the past two weeks, two loaner dogs have been roaming around looking wistful and neglected, making their own special contributions to the fray.
The dogs’ owners are away and we agreed to babysit. Dog One is a friendly sort, but annoyingly finicky about her meals. She’s always on the lookout for something better -- a little bit like her owner, come to think of it. Dog Two is equally sweet, but constantly hungry. She’ll eat anything and everything and still seem vaguely unsatisfied.
One day I went out for half an hour, leaving a bag of groceries on the kitchen floor. The fact that it contained nothing delicious did not deter Dog Two, who munched right through a third of the plastic bag, nosed past a few lemons and onions, and dove face-first into the bag of flour, flinging it around the room in clumps. By the time we discovered Dog Two amidst the carnage, the animal’s snout was so thoroughly dusted white that she looked like Al Pacino’s Scarface near the end of his coke-snorting career.
That sort of chaos is pretty much par for the course at our house, as evidenced by the fact that the following afternoon, the extremely plump Dog Two somehow hoisted herself up to a tabletop to steal and then tear through a foil-wrapped fifth of a lemon cake. I can’t say I blame her; it was a pretty good cake, though I admit that my own appetite for aluminum foil isn’t what it used to be.
Even in human adults, the change in seasons gets the appetite going. In our case, however, it’s for improvements – to ourselves, our families (natch!) and our homes. We grown-ups are no longer entitled to September’s fresh kilts and knee-socks, so the back-to-school excitement that inspired us as children has to be found elsewhere.
Once the kids are off to classes, their spines buckling under hefty backpacks, we mothers in particular take a good, hard look at ourselves. That’s when it dawns on us that the reason we haven’t learned anything worthwhile in ages is not that we’ve grown stupid – it’s obviously that we haven’t had the appropriate gear. So we waltz off to the shops to buy a few improving books, a nubbly jewel-toned throw under which we’ll read those improving books, and a novelty box of herbal tea.
We see September as a time of renewal, in any way, shape or form. Looking around my ramshackle domicile today, I’d be down for a full makeover of my household. I’d like a domestic injection of fastidiousness, purpose, and intellectual drive that wouldn’t strike my family as ridiculous, but bracing.
I picture clean, largely naked furniture and total freedom from dust. I visualize everybody in the family hunkering down every weekend in this beautifully austere environment, reading thick old books all day, passing each other the dictionary upon request.
“Another crisp, organic, orchard-fresh BC apple, mother?” my daughter would ask me cheerfully, as poor, illiterate Dog 2, suddenly devoid of interest in food, quietly worked on her sit-ups.
I would pull my nubbly jewel-toned throw over me, sink my incisors into my cold Okanagan orb, and crack open Moby Dick. Ladies and germs, feel free to join me in my perfect imaginary world.