December 25, 2009

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Hey, this mess is a place! posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken I feel sorry for my friends who don't have cable television. I mean, for the mere price of one night at a mid-range hotel room, we have an entire month's worth of access to hundreds of shows. Okay, a lot of those shows are...well, lame, or boring, or just plain dumb. Really--how many times can we watch reruns of "The King of Queens" before we can recite the dialog along with Doug and Carrie and Arthur? And I never got the charm of Seinfeld, although I do love "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (but would somebody please explain to me--did Richard marry Barb or didn't he? I get so confused...) "30 Rock" used to be pretty good, but this season, not so much. My husband is easily satisfied--if there is a World War II documentary on, he's all good. Sheesh! My new favorites, though, are the cleaning shows. I used to watch a British one where the cleaning ladies ask, "How Clean is Your House?" The answer, invariably, is "not very" before the show stars tackle things, clean up what seemed like horrible filth even to me, and reform the slobs into neatniks--for at least as long as the cameras are running. I liked "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," too, where the five fellows cleaned up and redecorated some bachelor's pad, taught him how to dress, groom himself, and cook, all in an hour. Pretty impressive. My new favorite, though, is "Hoarders." A screen shot at the beginning of each episode notes that hoarding is a mental illness and no laughing matter. The cleanup team includes a therapist, some family members, and professional junk collectors. The houses, though--defy description. Some of the homes look pretty normal from the outside; (this, admittedly, from a woman who had an old toilet sitting in the yard for so long there was talk of using it as a planter. Don't ask. Please.) I mean, I used to joke all the time that we were going to clean out one kid's room with a shovel. But this is what the cleaners have to do on "Hoarders." These homes are so far gone that relationships are foundering, usually the health board is lurking in the wings, and foreclosure is often threatened. Interestingly, the homeowners are often well-educated, thoughtful and forthcoming. The ages have ranged from an elementary school boy to elderly men and women. "Hoarders" is a show I watch with jaw dropping and eyes bugging. Our house is no "House Beautiful" spread, but at least it's reasonably healthy. It doesn't take much for the clutter to get out of hand, but there comes a point when even I can't stand it any more and tackle the mess (while family members and pets head for the hills, since my mood at that point is usually pure poison.) Yeah, "Hoarders" makes me look good. I spent hours last spring cleaning up my office until it was totally neat and organized. Then the kids moved out and took my bookcases. (I let them. What was I thinking?) So the little room, about 9 by 9, is now a maze of piled books and papers. I can whip it back into shape in a short time, but the bookcase I'll need is filled at the moment with manuscript papers and research materials from The Cancer Book From Hell. All I need is time. Hah. Besides, we are trying to clean out Mom's house. She lived there for 40 years, and guess where I learned my Yankee-thrift-don't-throw-away-anything-that-might-be-useful-some-day? Yep, from Mom. We are having to sort through not only her stuff, but also stuff that belonged to her mother, as well as two mothers-in-law...you get the picture. On the plus side, unlike "Hoarders", there are no goats chewing their way through the wall or cats multiplying madly in the corners. The only animal carcasses here are the dearly departed mice that Mongo, a/k/a Killer, leaves for us to find. Still, there but for the grace of God... How sad. Some Asian cultures clean their houses in preparation for the New Year. Sounds like a good plan to me. If only I had six months to get it done. So Merry Christmas, if that is your choice, and for heaven's sake, don't hang on to the used wrapping paper and boxes.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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