At the art gallery that I work at one day a week there is a giant, green, cardboard recycling machine. It is about as simple of a device as they come. You break down the boxes, open the door, put the cardboard in, push it down as far as you can, close the door and turn the key. The machine--once engaged--hums at a pitch which I determined without much legitimate research to be an E natural. The left side of the machine pushes on the cardboard in its first chamber so as to move the load into the bigger receptacle on the right for eventual disposal at the local recycling center. The big green monster stops after about a minute or so and it's over. It's powerful, it's simple, and it's effective.
I find that it is in these maddeningly simple procedures where many people will become most apt to experience a breakdown in intentions. We know how to do the job. It's easy as fuck. But we don't see it to completion because we may just figure that the next poor slob will do it for us ... because ... because it's easy as fuck.
I think that many people don't feel like there's any possible way that doing anything simple can be effective. We like bells, whistles, secret codes, passwords, hidden clues, double meanings, Roman numerals, and invisible ink.
It's wholly American.
You see, when something is complex it gives us a challenge. It dares us to crack its secret meaning. It taunts us and pokes us in the shoulder blade, giving us a rush of adrenaline and offering us something to work for--something to accomplish. It gives us a good feeling that we are at least trying to do something that untold numbers of people before us have attempted, regardless of the recorded results.
We like to show that we are smart. Well, we like to show that we like to be smart, even if it's just for looks.
But when something is so simple as to almost be intuitive--something so mundane as to almost be beneath us--this is where we get into territory where things get left undone.
I spent a half an hour--as I do every week--finishing the work left undone by several very well-intentioned people. I was forced to run the recycling machine probably ten times or so. Each time it ran it gave me a minute to think about the world as the machine droned its E natural. And each time it made its "ca-chunka" sound, telling me the cycle had ended, I would pull back the latch, open the squeaky door and survey the progress. After a couple of attempts without much movement I proceeded to disregard the clearly labeled signs that said, "Do Not Play In Or Around Machine."
I got in it.
I proceeded to stomp on the cardboard--gently at first--using my 210 pounds as coercion. I followed that up by stamping my feet a few times to dislodge some of the most tightly stuck slabs from their passive resistance. I would then grasp the sides of the door or the machine as I balanced on the edge and jump down onto the cement. I'd close the door, turn the key, and wait the minute while the machine droned its E natural and tried with all its might to do its job.
After five of these procedures I had cleared the machine of enough ill-placed corrugation so as to finally be able to put in the cardboard that I had brought out to recycle.
I spent a half hour on preparation so I could do what I needed to do which should have taken all of five minutes.
But we don't like simple, do we?
We don't go all out unless it looks like it's out of reach.
And the whole time we ignore the simple tasks; each time we leave a banal process half-done; each time we say to ourselves, "No big deal," and walk away because we have more important things to do, we let a monster grow.
It is 12:04 a.m. on Friday, November 21. Today I become a homeowner. Today, at around one or two o'clock this afternoon, my lawyer, Peter, will call me to tell me he has logged the deed at the Hall of Records. At that time I will begin a new chapter in my life. At that time I will have only a few shakes left to release the skin I have been shedding for almost a year now.
As I sit here, sipping a glass of San Pellegrino and nibbling on a hunk of dark chocolate, I am surrounded by many of my belongings. Some things are upended on their sides or in a pile or unplugged for the first time in years. Many things are packed in boxes, in bags, in folders, envelopes, packets, tubes, and jackets. Some things I've looked through; some I can't bear to open.
But I came across something in a box of things from the year 2000 that stopped me in my tracks. After I read it once I had to read it again and again. It was a card from my mother. She sent it to me when I moved from my apartment on Market St., to the one I am presently sitting in. On the front is a little sketch of a toy house with children playing in it. There's a dog, a cat, a picture of flowers, some actual flowers, and some blocks drawn in a playful way. The box that the children have made the house out of is clearly marked, "This Side Up". It's cute as hell--classic Judy.
On the inside is written--from the card company--"Congratulations on your new home" It didn't have a punctuation mark on the end of the sentence, so my mother drew in an exclamation point.
Below that is written:
Another huge step in the grand retooling of your life that you have worked so hard on this year. You now have total control to be whatever you want to be. My bet's on you, my son!
My love always,
I have to get some sleep.
I have a big day tomorrow.
I'm so glad to be able to share these discoveries and realizations; these benchmarks and milestones; the good parts and the bad parts and the parts that I sometimes think might just make me look foolish. And it was only after I realized that until I recognized what I didn't like about me could I break that part down and put it in the dumpster. Only then could I slice the tape that held its edges together in broad daylight and stomp on it with both feet until it gave way, finally turning the key to listen to the E natural as I waited for the chamber to clear.
I'll do this as many times as it takes. After all, it is merely common courtesy to do this not only for myself, but for those behind me who have to use the machine too--to have it open, clean, and ready to go when they need to use it.
It's such a simple thing, but so often it gets left undone.
Thanks for reading.
Tomorrow I will write from my new place. That ought to be fun.