I love my sister Lois– we have never been closer than we are now, both of us and our significant others somehow having landed in Florida because that’s what many in our family do– we go to Florida.
Our Tuscan grandparents were Florida trailblazers, actually; they moved to the Hialeah area in the mid-1920s, just in time for the killer hurricane of 1926 and only when real estate subsequently plummeted did they hightail it back to the Midwest. My grandmother used to tell us about standing on her doorstep the morning of the Everglades flood, seeing snakes and all sorts of suffering animals swimming up to the house…
Mom and Dad honeymooned in Miami in 1954. You have never seen a more gorgeous couple than my Mom and Dad, posing in front of their hotel like Grace Kelly and Frank Sinatra. Absolutely stunning.
And, in 1970, I was driven to Florida by my Uncle Johnny and Aunt Joanne, a trip that was instrumental in my moving here in 1978. I mean, the weather was great, and there were palm trees. My sister Lois followed with her husband Michael some years later, and our closeness germinated and grew. After all, we now had something to complain about in tandem.
“What is it with these people? I just wanna smack heads! And the bugs! What’s that all about? And it hasn’t stopped raining since we got here!” (Lois)
“They wear fur coats to the opera… and this is Orlando! It’s a thousand degrees here!” (Me.)
As we’ve both gotten older and settled into our respective lifestyles, we realize we BOTH have a fetish for neatness and order that is probably driving Mike and Kirk crazy– though they are too polite to say so.
Lois became a neat freak very early; she remembers discussing vacuuming with other Staten Island housewives– “the rugs are never really clean unless you can see the tracks of the vacuum cleaner.” Having a husband and child honed her skills; you could eat off her floors.
As for me, I was a slob until I saw The Stepford Wives at the movies in 1974. Yes yes yes, I know what the movie was all about, but I completely bought into the sub-stratum: life, I realized, could be improved immensely if you cleaned your room. Upon returning home that night, I removed all the crumpled, empty packs of Newport cigarettes from my underwear drawer, threw them in the trash, and dusted my room. I rearranged my books, straightened everything on top of the dresser, and fluffed the avocado rug with the shag rake. I said to myself: this IS more pleasant than living in dreck!
A few years later Lois and Mike managed to lose TWO swimming pool enclosures to hurricanes, so that now they sit around their pool in view of the Turnpike, separated from the rushing traffic by a row of bushes and a dog fence. (And If I take out my hearing devices I can’t hear a thing.) Still–their house is immaculate.
At about that time I started a business called Ultra Organizers, which threatened to come into your home and clean and straighten– for a good price. My motto was “Without order there can be no happiness.” People said to me “Jim! That sounds like a Hitler Youth slogan!” No matter; I was interested in straightening out people’s files, and not in creating a master race. I had one client before I accepted a full time position with a mental health services provider, but the Ultra Organizers website lived on for a while deep within the AOL Hometown archives…
These days, Lois and I commiserate about the travails of keeping a perfect house while sharing the space with our more relaxed menfolk. Resorting to passive-aggressive tactics, we try to program them:
1. Silent Pointing. That’s when you, without a word, gesture them off the couch and into the bedroom and show them a crumpled pair of shorts tossed casually onto the floor. You point at the shorts and then look at them imploringly-yet-firmly. Translation: “I’ll never re-gain the thirty seconds that I just invested trying to get you to do something that I’ve tried to get you to do a million times before.”
2. Shifting. He comes into the kitchen; he tosses a used spoon casually into the sink that you have just Cometed to a brilliantine shine. You shift your eyes at him, the spoon, and then the waiting dishwasher– it only takes half a second, but is as pointed as a laser. Translation: “Thanks for making my time in the kitchen infinitesimally longer than it needs to be, no thanks to you.”
3. Multiple Shifting. He comes into the living room with a bowl of ice cream; you cut a look at him, then at the bowl; then at the blob of ice cream on the floor, and finally at the blob of ice cream on his shirt. Translation: “Not only have you messed up my floors, but you’ve presented me with yet another laundry challenge.”
4. Training. Many of you know that I’m painting the interior of the house, now that I have a lot of free time on my hands. So you unscrew the socket and outlet covers and do custom painting, at the same time noticing how “used” the paint looks around those plastic plates. This leads to a New Rule: “Can we focus our fingertips on the actual switch rather than grabbing the entire wall and leaving marks? Honestly!” Vocal Response to New Rule: “Whaddayou, your sister Lois?”
No matter; we will prevail. The world is in a sorry state and, other than our financial donations, something must be done to keep things percolating along in a comfortable, productive way. The fact that Lois and I both maintain linen closets in which the tags on the towels all face the same way means that SOMETHING in the universe is going well.
After all: without order, there can be no happiness.