Collecting and Divesting

My wife and I are different in many ways.  That’s a good thing.  We kind of complement each other.  We compliment each other too, but that’s beside the point.  Like Jack Sprat and his wife, when faced by a challenge, between the both of us we are usually able to get the proverbial platter licked clean. 

For instance, my wife is skilled at deciding where to move the furniture and I am skilled at moving it.  In fact I’m so skilled at it that she often tasks me to move the same furniture eight or nine times in a single day within the same room, just so she can watch my genius at work.  Or we will both draw from our diverse fields of expertise in the matter of house work.  She’ll prep the floor by mopping it so clean you could eat off of it, and then I come along with my interior decorating flair and accent it with a subtle, homey, rustic smear of fresh barn mud highlighted by a splash of manure. 

When an item gets lost around the house, I shoulder the burden of searching for it for hours and then when I’m on the verge of finding it, I turn the burden over to her, whereupon she takes the responsibility of going straight to the item and retrieving it. 

She saves time by not checking the air pressure in the tires and I do my part by fixing the flat when the sidewalls delaminate from her driving on them to Fairbanks and back. 

Speaking of Fairbanks, when it comes to shopping, she’s the one with an eagle eye for a good bargain.  Naturally, her job is to load the shopping cart.  I, on the other hand, have the money, so it’s only right that I pay for the splendid bargains she finds. 

Admittedly, every once in a while one or the other of us falters in holding up our end of the arrangement.  In fact, the last time we went to town, my wife found so many bargains, that my money-making capacity found itself beggared by the dizzying audacity of her bargain-sleuthing genius.  Unable to do my part, I was forced to fall back on the subterfuge of purchasing her bargains with a credit card.  I didn’t mind, though, knowing how much money we were saving with all those bargains.

Perhaps the most distinctive example of our symbiotic relationship is the way we balance each other in the matter of what we keep and what we discard.  You see, I am a collector by nature, while my wife, on the other hand, is a divestor.  We secretly admire these qualities in each other, even though we sometimes playfully use more piquant terminology to describe each other’s respective strengths.  In those whimsical moments my wife might call me a “pack rat” who turns the house into a junkyard, while I banter back that she is the “mad janitor” who would toss my wallet in the trash compacter if I were foolhardy enough to take it out of my pocket and set it down for a stinking minute.

I really wish my wife could understand how wasteful it is to throw away everything that isn’t nailed to the floor.  There are little starving children in Ethiopia who would give anything for a bin full of used aluminum foil or a rubber band ball or a bucket full of the fittings cut off of the end of ten years worth of leaky garden hoses.  She claims she’d rather go out and buy what she needs when she needs it rather than spend decades tripping over a bunch of clutter on the off chance that we may someday find a use for it. 

I find that line of reasoning flawed at best.  It makes no sense, for instance, to throw away a box of perfectly good reloading brass, just because it only fits an obscure Philippine rifle that has been out of production since 1893.  Why, I might find one of those rifles at a yard sale someday.  Then what would I shoot out of it?  Brainstorming just such eventualities happens to be one of my strengths which I humbly use to compensate for my wife’s inability to think in such a logical and visionary way. 

I’m not knocking her.  I don’t doubt that there really is such a thing as legitimate trash that needs thrown away, and if I ever run across an anomaly like that, I won’t hesitate to let my wife know.

It sure is good my wife didn’t marry somebody like Stradivari.  I can hear her now, elbows akimbo, hands planted firmly on the hips of her kirtle, calling out in that strong, clear, shrill voice of hers: 

“Antonio, Antonio!”

Si, tessorina mia?”

“Is dis  anudder feedle I see sittin’ onna middle of-a my dinin’ room-a table?”

“Please-a!  Mama!  How-a many times I gotta beg-a you not-a to call dese magnifico instruments ‘feedles’?  Dey are violins!”

“Whatever, Antonio.  I know you did not-a bring anudder of dese tings into my casa!  You gave-a me your word…”

Mi dispiace! I could not-a help-a myself.  I was-a sittin’ in-a my chair, mindin’ my own-a business, smokin’ a pipa, when-a sometin’ hit-a me in-a my head.  I tink it was a flash of inspiration, no?   Before I can say arpeggio, I am in-a my workshop-a workin’ hard.  Look-a here.  I am a genius, si?  I took-a da fingerboard and added a… ”

“How many hands-a you got?”

“Huh?  Uh…two, of-a course.”

“So, let-a me see.  Dat means you can-a play exactly how many of dese contraptions at-a one time, Papa?”

“You askin’ a silly question-a, Mama.  Uno.  How come-a you askin’?”

“Dassa what I thought!  So why you can’t-a play just one-a feedle like a normal maestro ‘til it’s all-a wore out, den you can-a trow it away and-a make a new one?”

“TROW IT AWAY?!  Tu sei pazzo?  You know how much-a dese babies gonna be worth in tree hunnerd and-a fifty years?  Dey’re a great investment.  Dey only gonna increase in-a value…”

“Of course-a, dey gonna increase in-a value, idiota!  By den dey gonna be antiques.  Everyting we got gonna be antique by den.  In tree and a half-a century, somebody gonna find-a my wooden-a spoon and-a sell it to some poor sucker for a seven hunnerd lira!”

Cara mia!  Da saints-a preserve us!  Dese Stradivariuses–dey are not-a wooden-a spoons!”

“You just-a sayin’ dat because you dunno how to make-a wooden-a spoons.  I want dis-a ting outta my casa in one hour, or I gonna chop it up and trow it in-a da stove to cook your quince pastello wit’.”

“(Muffled squawking sounds.)  You can-a not do dat!”

“I can-a do dat, an’ I gonna do dat!  You got a tousand of dese gizmos-a pokin’ outta every nook and-a cranny of my casa already.  Dey’re hangin’ on-a da walls…in-a da back-a my wardrobe…unner da furniture…in-a da pantry…  Enough is enough!  I can’t-a take it no more.  I want-a my nice tidy casa back.  Is dat-a too much-a to ask?  Take it away!”

“But where you want I should-a put it, Mama?”

“I don’-a care.  Out in your workshop-a if-a you got to.”

“But you don’ understand!  Mio bambinos Don’a like da humidity and-a heat.  Da varnish will-a blister!  Da rosin will-a fuse!  Da pegs will-a swell!  Da bridge will-a warp!”

“I gonna blister your peg and warp your fuse if it don’-a get outa here. You got-a one hour, Antonio Stradivari!  Den dat ting gonna find out how humid it-a gets inside-a my cook-a stove.”

Si, si, Mama.”

I’m not exaggerating.  This spring, my wife burned up my treasured collection of “Woodworker’s Journal” while I was at work.  Fifteen years worth of back issues!  It’s a national tragedy!  I’ll never be able to replace all those cool articles and glossy pictures of macho power tools.  When I confronted her about it, she got huffy with me and started accusing me of never having done a woodworking project for fifteen years, so excuse her if she was under the mistaken impression that building something out of wood wasn’t high on my priority list.  What kind of reasoning is that?  Like she can predict the future or something.  There is no way she could know with certainty that I wasn’t going to make her a curly maple china cabinet for Christmas.  Well, I guess she’ll never know now, will she?

She seems to suffer under the delusion that I’m disorganized.  She thinks I just drop junk anywhere I please, willy-nilly.  If she only knew how wrong she is. 

I keep my stuff in orderly piles.  I really do.  I know where everything is.  For instance, my pre-approved credit card offers are stacked on the left side of the upstairs hallway in ascending chronological order by year issued.  If I ever find myself in need of a lot of money, I’m going to fill out every one of those applications and mail them in simultaneously.  The way I figure it, that should set me up with 12 billion dollars worth of guaranteed credit overnight.  On top of them I have artfully positioned my collection of seven hundred empty toothpaste tubes.  They’re to pack my pureed food in when I get accepted as a space shuttle passenger.  On the right side of the basement steps, sorted by make and model are all the old fuel filters from every vehicle I have ever owned.  They weren’t completely plugged up, and I think it’s a shame to waste them.  Someday I plan to cut them open, clean them, and epoxy them back together again so that I can reuse them.  Hanging on nails above the fuel filters are all the gas masks I’ve accumulated.  I’ve got one for every respiratory emergency, from a World War I mustard gas attack to spraying a polyurea pickup bed liner.  All I need to make them functional are the filters.   Then there’s my sunglasses; all hanging by their earpieces above the kitchen cupboard.  I never use sunglasses, but they look so cool, I can’t resist buying them.  Someday when the earth is attacked by giant solar flares, I’ll be the hero of the neighborhood. 

But that’s just me.  Like I said, my wife and I are different, and I fully respect her need to throw things away.  That’s probably a valuable skill that somebody ought to have.  So instead of denigrating her, I celebrate our differences.  Every time I get a chance, I try to help her nurture that gift by giving her opportunities to use it. 

As a romantic gesture I will frequently try to leave a dirty tissue on the kitchen counter in a spot I know she’ll notice, or lovingly tuck a candy bar wrapper into the corner of the bathroom mirror where she’ll see it first thing in the morning. 

After working in the barn I’ve even been known to stand in the middle of her recently vacuumed living room and vigorously beat the hay strands and grain dust out of my clothes. 

I’ve been amazed to experience how investing a few extra seconds here and there can reap huge marital dividends. Just one little act can blossom into the opportunity to spend several hours worth of intense relationship-building dialogue with your spouse. 

I encourage everyone to work on celebrating your differences.  Your life will never be the same.

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