Tuesday, March 29, 2011


It’s a mixed blessing, this not-quite-spring we’ve been having here in the East: sunshine and cloudless skies, but temperatures still in the 30’s and 40’s in the morning and not going much above that by the middle of the day. Forsythia, like June in “Okalahoma!”, is busting out all over. At work there’s a tall, simple vase of beautiful purple irises at the reception desk.

The last two weeks at work have been beyond hectic and I put in so many overtime hours they gave me a day off  last Friday, a day for which I had planned the consumption of large amounts of carbohydrates, fat and sugar while watching whatever marathon was running that day: “Top Chef All Stars”, “RuPaul’s Drag Race”, “Tabatha’s Salon Takeover” (if only for the moment when some drama queen stylist breaks down and calls Tabatha “a f***ing bitch”) – you name it, I was game. I might even stay in my PJ’s and robe all day.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Somewhere around mid-morning, after most of a pot of coffee, I started to dismantle “the room”: that spare room that had started out as an unofficial office -- complete with bookcases, cheesy computer desk and computer -- but which had become a catch-all for assorted miscellany: bags and boxes of stuff we didn’t know what to do with, which had begun to pile up and accumulate, tucked into corners, stacked behind the door, thrown into the closet, you get the picture. Pictures were hung and taken down, new ones put up – my expanding collection of old movie posters threatened to take over at one point – and the walls became pocked with little nail holes and chips in the paint or plaster. The rice paper and bamboo roll-up window shade I had purchased at Pier One, back when people still thought all that stuff was really exotic, now had rips and holes in it. Everything was covered with a fine layer of dust, enough to notice but not really enough to bother going for a rag and the Pledge.

We had talked about getting more bookshelves to house Chris’s extensive collection of jewelry and art books, cleaning the place out, getting rid of stuff we didn’t need or want, repainting and making the room into a real office and den, de-cluttered, clean and comfortable.

And so that Friday morning I started the daunting task of taking everything out of that room, stacking it up, weeding it out, and preparing to paint it. Saturday we’d get up and paint, then go to Ikea for the shelves (the Billy system is our choice, although they’re phasing out certain items), put them together and get them up and filled with books, at which point I’d work my decorating magic with carefully chosen pictures furniture and tchotchkes. Which is pretty much what happened. (We painted it something called Crème Grape from Home Depot, the paint and primer in one stuff, which looks really much better than it sounds.)

In the midst of all the cleaning and dusting and finding things behind other things I thought I had lost, I was reminded of another movie I haven’t seen in years, (though I understand it’s available for instant viewing on Amazon.com so I may have to check it out again). It’s called, appropriately enough, “Housekeeping” (1987) and stars Christine Lahti as Sylvie, an eccentric spinster who moves in to raise two young girls who’ve been orphaned (by their mother in a strangely lighthearted suicide). At first Sylvie seems like one of those charming, slightly dotty but harmless characters who starts out misunderstood and ostracized, but who winds up teaching everyone a valuable lesson about something or other: being different, prejudice against being different, acceptance of those who are different, take your pick.

But “Housekeeping” ultimately provides a more realistic view, and as we learn more about Aunt Sylvie we get the sense that, for all her eccentric charm, she may be something of a danger to herself and certainly to the two girls in her charge. There’s a darkness to this character, thanks mostly to Christine Lahti’s performance, which is ultimately unsettling and sad. Not surprisingly, Sylvie has a dramatic impact on her nieces, one of whom seems to understand and bond with her aunt, while the other, younger yet more stable, attempts to convince her sister that Sylvie is not exactly a role model. The movie starts out rather whimsically (the suicide notwithstanding) but spins out into something darker. As one reviewer on Amazon.com put it, this is “a small, quiet, moving and faintly disturbing little movie”.

So here’s another favorite film about an outsider, someone who doesn’t quite fit in… I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

And, oh yes, the cleaning and clearing and repainting… we were bushed by Sunday’s end, but it was entirely worth it! The sense of accomplishment, the lightness it brought were worth the work. If there’s a project you’ve been putting off or don’t know how to start, just… start. Start small. Dig in a little, then a little more and before long you’ll be amazed at what you’ve accomplished.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed the essay. Was sorry to see Bratprince moved down on the list of favorite BLOGS to second place as I was your first supporter. No worries though...we will talk further about collaboration. Decided I didn't want to go on and on about Elizabeth. Best, W.