Monday, November 10, 2003

Office Manager, Organize Thyself

Well, I feel that I've gotten over my post-pageant tristesse, and in my usual all-of-a-sudden-waking-up-with-a-different-attitude manner, I feel pretty good about life in general. I mean, I literally woke up this morning feeling different, better, calmer, more alert.

The weekend was fairly pleasant. I got up at the crack of dawn on Saturday (actually, it may have been a trifle before dawn, 6 a.m.) and drove with the Grandmother up to Dixon ... which is the next town along I-80 after Vacaville, where the Nut Tree used to be; I think the Nut Tree was once the World's Largest Rest-Stop, larger even than the Casa de Fruta and Andersen's Split Pea complexes along California's major roads, and though the Nut Tree is gone, the rest of the rest-stop town with its other "tree"-named restaurants is still there, the Black Oak, the Coffee Tree, etc... there's also a medical prison and a huge factory outlet mall.

It was a reasonably nice drive, I was able to turn on the cruise-control and just drive 65 the whole way without having to really think about passing or patterns or whatever. I dropped Grandmother off at the Dixon Church of Christ where her niece (and therefore my second-cousin) Joann was speaking at a Women's Day Conference, then popped back down to Vacaville to experience the Factory Outlets.

Though I had vowed to myself that I would do no more shopping until Christmas-time, in order to allow my bank account to recover somewhat from recent pageant-maddened ravages, the outlet-mall was too great a temptation. And really, darlings, there is absolutely nothing else to do there in that part of the world. I mean, my other option was to just sit in the car with a book for three or four hours.

I had a lovely time poking about in one half of the mall, which I discovered after later exploration was the "cheap half" — the Vacaville Factory Outlets is actually two adjacent shopping-centers, vast open-air arrangements with lots of parking and landscaping, and I found out that the higher-end stores were on one side and the regular-folk stores mostly on the other. It wasn't completely segregated, there was a Lenox Outlet next to the Levi's Outlet, a Dress Barn next to a Jones New York. But the really expensive things tended to be on one side and the really inexpensive things on the other.

And it's a good thing for me that I started on the cheap half, a very good thing that I spent all the money I could afford at an average of twenty-five dollars each in four stores (a shirt and sweater from the Gap Outlet, a pair of corduroys from the Geoffrey Beene Outlet, a pair of Isotoner gloves and new sunglasses at the Totes Outlet, four novels from the Book Warehouse, and the most amazingly gorgeous red leather travel jewelry-case from the Bombay Company Outlet) — making it impossible once I got to the tonier side of the mall to spend eighty bucks for one pair of gloves at the Coach Outlet (which were of such wondrously supple leather and of such elegant fit that I probably would have used them for masturbatory tools rather than to keep my hands warm) or the whole hundred for a beautiful striped-vee tennis sweater from the Ralph Lauren Outlet or a charming beaded burnout-velvet evening gown from the Georgiou Outlet. Let's not even think about how tempted I was to spend three hundred dollars for an utterly, unspeakably fabulous sport-jacket at the Burberry Outlet, and how grateful I am to my nearly-maxed-out Visa that it was an actual impossibility.

So after spending all of my spending money that I should have been saving, I went back to Dixon to pick up the Grandmother and visit for a little while with Joann. Grandmother had enjoyed the conference immensely, the camaraderie and meeting new people as well as people who know people she knows (the Churches of Christ are very well interconnected), and I was happy that I'd been able to bring her. I had expected to spend the day there in Dixon, but Joann was headed straight back home to Redding, so we headed straight home ourselves.

And that was a good thing, too... I was able to take a nap and pull myself together a bit in time to attend Eddie's fabulous fortieth birthday party, with it's White Trash theme. Though it was pouring down rain, and though I hadn't thought to pick up a prezzie when I was out spending money on myself (because I am a selfish little bitch), I was able to stop at the store and pick up one of my mother's favorite desserts, which I call "Trailer Park Shortcake" — Sara Lee pound cake, frozen strawberries, and Cool Whip.

The party was great, though I ate far too much sugar and salt and fat as I revisited my own shameful gustatory past with such culinary delites (because with food that high in chemical content, you can't use a real word) as Instant Pudding with sliced bananas and 'Nilla Wafers, Twinkies, Zingers, Trumpets, a sheet of green Jell-O frosted with a thick layer of Cool Whip, a bucket of extra-crispy Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Vienna sausages glued to saltines with Cheez-Wiz. Then we watched Polyester, with the famous Odorama scratch-and-sniff cards from Eddie's own vast collection of bizarre memorabilia (they were reproductions he got from Peaches Christ, who in turn got them from the Independent Film Channel, but they're nevertheless out of print and somewhat rare, so it was quite a treat). It was a wonderful evening, quality time spent with good friends.

Sunday morning was church, of course. I am giving up the struggle to avoid actually going into the church, but have staged my small rebellion by no longer trying to dress up for it... I wore my puffy white Converse sneakers because all I had handy were white socks, which I wore with tan khakis and a different-shade-of-tan turtleneck. But then the boy sitting down the pew from me was wearing a hoodie, jeans, and flip-flops (and had exquisitely beautiful feet, too, but that's a different topic). Church has become a rather strangely casual affair, and my showing up unshaven in sneakers or jeans isn't much of a protest against the patriarchal blood-and-repression folderol I so abominate, but it certainly saves me a lot of time and aggravation in the mornings.

When we got home from brunch I had to turn around and get ready for a Court show, the Stars and Stripes Show in honor of Veterans' Day. I already had a song picked out, then all during the sermon at church I had been mentally going through my wardrobe trying to think of an outfit that would fit the theme, and I had already packed my jewelry in my brand-new travel case, so the preparations went lickety-split. But then there was difficulty getting the bathroom free (one bathroom shared by three people is always problematic, especially when they are either a long-shower-taker like Matthew, a long-crap-taker like Grandmother, or a meticulous-shaver-and-facialist like moi), and then my wallet had fallen out of my pocket somewhere in the laundry-sty of my room so I had to search for it, and then there was difficulty finding my other silver shoe (which I never did find, I had to wear my gold ones instead), so I ended up being an hour late anyway.

The show itself was kind of fun, but also kind of boring. Caroline didn't come, and Angelique wasn't there (she had to attend the San Francisco Grand Ducal Investitures the same day), so I didn't have my usual coterie to hang with. It's always strange going places alone... even when you know lots of people there, it's just oddly awkward to arrive alone and leave alone and have nobody to go out to eat with after getting out of face. There was also only one other drag queen present, so I felt a little sightly in my very cute but very sparkly and very-nearly-outrageous outfit. And then, there were so few performers that we all went on twice, though I had only prepared one number (Blossom Dearie's "Rhode Island is Famous for You"... I wasn't clear on the theme, I thought it was about America, not about the military)... the second number (Anita O'Day's "An Occasional Man," which did fit the theme) I hadn't even rehearsed, I'd only listened to it a few times and wasn't sure I knew the words, but I managed to pull it off (just barely).

And, too, the show was over at seven-thirty, and since I had nobody else to go out with (and since my dress was cutting into my arms), I just went and got out of face and headed home, so I was in my jammies and playing The Sims before nine. Early to bed and all that. Well, either way, I looked really cute in my impromptu red-white-and-blue outfit:

(Since I don't own any one thing that is red, white, and blue...which I think is tacky as hell... I pieced together different things of each color, and now I have a good head-shot if I ever decide to run for president or something).

Well, anyway, that was my weekend.

• • • • •

During the course of the weekend, true to my new focus, I pondered ways in which I could organize my life. I didn't actually do anything to organize myself, mind you, not one load of laundry did I wash nor one load of papers did I sort... I didn't even buy any Rubbermaid sorting baskets or cute wallpapered file-boxes. But I did focus on developing systems based on my actual activities... it strikes me that it would be more efficient to develop a system that takes into account my own nature rather than to try and force myself into new and inherently unnatural (for me) behaviors.

And some of the best ideas came from talking to Grandmother about various things we might do around the house that would make it easier for her to keep up with the housework. Now, a considerate and good grandson would be thinking of ways to do the housework for her... but I'm not that guy. Instead, I discussed with her some of the things that she, and the rest of us, could do to make the housework itself easier, things that are based on our natural inclinations rather than on some outside ideal.

Like the whole thing with coupons. Grandmother saves coupons... and not just coupons cut out of the paper, which at least have the virtue of smallness, but the whole section of newspaper itself. She makes shopping lists compiled from the Sunday and Wednesday grocery circulars to encompass the innumerable coupons therein, and saves the circulars for later. Almost incidentally, we never use coupons when we shop, and so all those circulars and sections just pile up on the dining-room table until we have company and everything is shoved into bags or boxes and carted off to storage, where it will never be gone through. We also seldom ever use the circular-inspired lists, which always become lost in the morass of circulars... and when we do use them, we end up spending way more at the grocery store because we bought things we ordinarily wouldn't have bought unless we had a coupon.

She also saves sections of newspaper with recipes she'll never use and gardening advice she'll never be able to carry out. Sections with single news articles that she thinks might be of interest to somebody else, though she never remembers to give those articles to anybody. Sections with obituaries bearing familiar-sounding names. She saves the sections with puzzles she hasn't gotten to yet. Not to mention catalogs that she might (but most likely will not) order from, envelopes full of greeting cards and mailing labels from charities hoping to elicit a donation, and receipts that she will never verify or even look at again, all mixed in with her bills and address books and calendars. As a result, her end of the dining-room table is absolutely awash with paper all the time, and is messier than my desk at work.

So I suggested to Grandmother that, since she knows she's not ever going to use the coupons, why doesn't she just stop saving them? She of course argued that she should use the coupons, but I pointed out to her that whether or not she should, she in fact doesn't, and that it would make more sense to cease the messy behavior of saving the coupons than to force herself to use all the coupons she saves. Using coupons, I explained, is useless anyway... retailers don't offer coupons out of the kindness of their hearts to save you money, they do it to con you into spending more money — and that is exactly what happens when we actually do end up using the coupons, spending three to eight dollars each buying objects we ordinarily would never use, in order to save twenty or thirty cents on each of those objects... which we wouldn't ordinarily use anyway, so where's the savings?

Anyway, Grandmother digested that for a while, and I started thinking about how I could apply that same methodology to my own life. For example, I know now for a fact that two of the behaviors that I know will lead to an organized bedroom (the reduction of possessions and/or storage out of sight of said possessions) are impossible for me. I not only absolutely have to keep all of my stuff, but I absolutely have to keep it where I can see it. Perhaps someday I will grow out of this neurotic need for the visible accumulation of stuff, a need born from early poverty and insecurity, but for now I have to accept and incorporate into my system the inescapable fact that I have to have a lot of stuff and I have to have it where I can see it.

And since I know that I cannot store or give away my stuff (just as Grandmother knows she will never use her coupons), I have to think of some other solution to the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of my stuff. I think, for example, that I should line all of my walls with shelves. This will make the room look smaller and may activate my claustrophobia, but if I had more shelves than I had stuff to put on them, I would be able to put the stuff I get new onto shelves ready-made to receive it. In the past I have always arranged new shelves and then immediately filled them with the stuff that I already have, leaving no room for new stuff. Having more shelves than stuff would be a revolutionary approach.

I have already seen this approach work with my jewelry. As my jewelry collection has grown over the last three years, I have bought or received as gifts more and larger jewelry boxes to house the overflowing collection. However, each time I got a new box, I filled it up completely with what I already had. But now, since Mother sent me that enormous jewelry-wardrobe a few months ago, I have empty-jewelry-box-space left to fill in. So not only has all of my jewelry been absorbed into an organizable system, but there is still room left in the system to absorb the incoming jewels that I will no doubt resume buying as soon as my finances recover.

So I'm developing a plan, very slowly and very intellectually (rather than quickly and materially), and in a not-very-surprising twist I am developing the cure for my own disheveled state by trying to cure others of their dishevelment. I just have to remember, when I am doling out advice, that I am living very much in a glass house and have to avoid throwing stones at other people. I also have to remember that, just because I'm working out a revolutionary system, I can't let the old system go completely by the wayside. I have to actually pick up all of my stuff and either wash it or put it where it currently goes.

And to be perfectly honest, I'd much rather think about a clean room than actually pick up the debris. But then, who wouldn't?

Until next time, my darlings...

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