Tuesday, Oct. 8, 1996
Yesterday I telephoned my landlord, Fred Egler, to arrange a lunch at which we can discuss my departure from the half-a-duplex I’ve rented from him for eight years. Fred is not just my landlord; he’s an old high-school chum who also has rented to two of my sisters and their families. That’s Pittsburgh, the small-town big city where the six degrees of separation that supposedly divide any two individuals are reduced to two degrees at most (and often those are degrees of kindred).
When Englishmen change abodes, they “move house,” an expression that always puts me in mind of a Tudor manse being hauled up the motorway on a flatbed lorry. That maneuver would be a breeze compared to my next move, a complicated operation that will deposit me at a school where I’m to be a journalist in residence and my goods in a commercial establishment offering “self storage,” which sounds as if it has something to do with cyrogenics.
Later in the day, I got a call from my mother, a fastidious housekeeper who again offered her services and those of my stepfather for the upcoming evacuation. I accepted gratefully–it will take a village to bring off this job–and told her I already had pressed my brother Matthew into the cause. Unlike me, Matt seems to have inherited from Mom the gene for neatness and organization that allowed her to raise six children while keeping a series of houses spotless.
It was my mother who introduced me to the phrase “house-proud.” I’m house-humble, and for good reason. A month into my leave of absence, I’m still surrounded by what in a 20-year-old might be excused as undergraduate squalor. Unfortunately, I just turned 45.
It may be fantastic to blame my messiness on DNA, but another sort of determinism seems to be at work. Years ago, the editors at the Post-Gazette were administered a personality test that pronounced me an INTP–an Introverted Intuitive Thinking Perceptive. INTPs are renowned for their “logical purity,” according to a psychological primer. But here’s what the same text says about “organizing style” of INTPs:
“The work space of the INTP is generally cluttered with papers, books, objects or prototypes that are important to their interests and thoughts. … It is difficult for an INTP to throw out things that may have a possible future relevance and, generally, many things have that possibility.”
Tell me about it. For the past month, I have been excavating my “archives”–cardboard boxes jammed with magazine articles, legal opinions, correspondence (including carbon copies of letters I sent to others) and aborted literary efforts–but have consigned precious little to the dumpster.
Yesterday ended with a telephone call to Matthew during which we pinned down the details for M-Day, on which Matt will drive the getaway truck. But first I had to tell him that I hadn’t found the pizzeria place mat on which his brainy 6-year-old son Max, during our night on the town Saturday, had sketched some schematics for Power Ranger-style weapons.
Matt foolishly entrusted me with the blueprint when he ran back into the restaurant to retrieve a forgotten doggie box. That was the last time I saw the place mat, as I sorrowfully explained to Max Sunday morning when the little guy instructed me about where to deliver his drawings. “Maybe he’ll forget about it,” I told Matthew last night. He told me not to bet on it.