I've been cleaning my house for a week straight.
It's almost done now, but for a while it seemed like it would never end, and I have a really small place.
I live in an intimate but quite sufficient one bedroom apartment in one of the nicest neighborhoods in all of Northampton. In spring and summer, the sidewalks are bursting with precisely planted wildflowers. Children play on foot and on wheels in the street. Dogs and cats have space and permission to frolic and chase critters both real and imagined all day long. It's the kind of place where you don't have to lock your doors if you don't want to. In winter, it's always one of the first of the side streets to get plowed. There's a whole lot of money in this neighborhood and I'm sure the Mayor would like to keep it that way.
By right, I shouldn't have found this wonderful apartment, but I did. And for the last seven years, I have lived here; in bear country; at the end of a one way street; around the corner from a former Presidential mansion.
Yes, our buddy 'Silent' Calvin Coolidge lived right down the road in a gorgeous multi bedroom house overlooking the Meadows which features a breathtaking view of Mt. Tom and the Holyoke range.
Like I said, there's a whole lot of money in my 'hood.
But I didn't find this place because I wanted to move from where I was. Oh no. Seven years ago I was asked to; very nicely and tactfully, but firmly and with good reason. I was asked to move out of my place because I was a disaster; a walking, talking, vodka swilling disaster. And the whole time I thought I was the coolest cat on Market St. Hell, I'd even make fun of the guys on the porch of the halfway house on my way back from the package store with a 30 pack on my shoulder; the guys who were trying to clean up; the guys who had a place they were welcome at as long as they stayed sober and helped out around the house.
That was definitely not my situation; not even close.
I was drinking all day, every day. I was eating other people's leftovers. I was leaving trails of food that an average person could live on for a day or two. And my housemates stopped having people over for fear I would be on a tear. And when I was on a tear, which was every day, I'd be prone to doing things like taking an unsuspecting guest on a tour of the basement which we (they) cleaned out a month ago, just to show them how much better it looked. That sounds like a good time right? Or maybe, I'd break out my video tapes of me from when I was in a Portuguese wedding band and make you sit through me singing "Wonderful Tonight" because it was sooooo funny.
My housemates didn't make the final decision though; I was given a choice. I was actually given the same choice I had to make when I was 20 and still living at home with my mother and aunt.
Clean up or get the hell out of the house.
And I made the same choice both times. The part incorporating the word "hell" in it.
The reason I bring all this up is that for the first time since I made both of those decisions, I am living like I really mean it.
Let me explain.
I watch a lot of television. I have pretty much all my life since I can remember and it's taught me a few things. I learned about conjunctions, adverbs, congressmen and Superheroes from Saturday morning cartoons. And I learned about bars, taxi depots, and 50's diners in prime time. One of the things I have always loved dearly about television shows is the painstaking effort the production designers have to put into a stage set. If it's a restaurant, they have to make you believe that someone would be eating there. If it's a courtroom, they must take every measure to ensure that the casual viewer would not find glaring cues that they are on a sound stage in L.A.
Well, I had to make it look like someone was really living my life in my apartment in the beautiful neighborhood around the corner from a presidential mansion; a productive person with a positive outlook on life. Someone I aspired to be.
For years, as my addictions increasingly took over almost every facet of my life, I have had one constant; my apartment was ready for the cameras to start rolling.
The magazines were painstakingly fanned out on the coffee table. June's issue was perched on the top as it should, meanwhile I hadn't gotten around to reading the one from March. The record player had a record on it and the sleeve was propped up in front of the stereo cabinet, even though I'd been passively listening to the radio for months. An impressive looking book such as Brian Greene's "The Fabric of the Cosmos" would be splayed open upside down on the table just where I left it after opening it up in the middle, turning it over, and putting it face down never actually reading a word; the way I'd hurriedly left it when I knew company was coming over.
In other words, I was living a lie; a painstakingly premeditated lie.
I was ready to let almost anyone in my house and they would never be able to tell that it was all for show; that the only thing I had managed to bring from beginning to completion was clear bottle with a red metal cap on top. And even at that, the accompanying rocks glasses were slowly disappearing due to recent accidents.
What a ruse. And the worst part of it all was that I was fooling myself first and foremost. I cleaned my house and set the stage with props as needed. Then and only then I could lie on my couch and stare blankly at the TV; at the gray-green screen that would reflect my ever progressing dopey smirk each time they'd fade in and out to black, dragging me along with it.
I recently brought about a hundred pounds of magazines down to my basement. If I need to get one for something important, I can find it easily enough.
I keep my food items in the cupboards where they belong. I don't mind leaving a dish or two in the sink knowing I'll get to them by the end of the day. I'd much rather have them dirty from use than spotless from neglect.
I put my record player in my bedroom. It's there now because I will use it to play music on rather than to provide the appearance of some sort of retro cool bohemian. It's OK that my records and the player aren't in the same room; I know they're there.
The next thing to happen is to take the violin down from the wall it's hanging on and try to play like I did when I was 10; like a pro. Because I used to be an amazing violin player. I even had a partner. Her name was Lisa and she was my first girlfriend.
We're both wearing gold medals we won from a violin competition that was held at the High School. If you win three gold medals in a row they give you a medallion on a necklace called a Sunburst.
I have one of those.
Like I said, I was good. Real good.
And yes, I had a certain flair for plaid. It was my thing.
You didn't see many televison shows back in 1980 that had two kids with violins competing for gold medals; the one sensible one in a pretty dress; the confused romantic one in his Superman t-shirt and plaid dress pants.
No, I wasn't living a television show back when I was learning how to be real.
And I'm glad I've come, once again, to that same conclusion.
Applause always sounds better when it isn't asked for in lights anyway.
Thanks for reading.
See you tomorrow.