It's quiet around here.
Those are, of course, the last words some hapless cowboy usually delivers before an Apache arrow thunks into his back in a whole host of grade-b westerns. But I'm not too worried about that happening to me. What I am worried about is how I'm going to eat all the soup, casseroles, desserts and other wondrous goodies that have been appearing on my kitchen counter ever since my spouse left for a few days to take care of an out-of-town family commitment. It seems her many gal-pals have joined forces in assuming I am entirely incapable of feeding or otherwise taking care of myself while she's gone, and have begun showing up at all times of the day and night to deliver my dinner and check my pulse. Note to self: Consider wearing something a bit dressier than plaid boxers, a Grateful Dead t-shirt and a wool stocking cap when hanging around the house.
Now don't get me wrong. They're probably right to think I'm fairly helpless, as my typical strategy for existing as a quasi-bachelor has been to buy a couple of extra-large pizzas at the get-go and live on cold slices, reheated coffee, sticky buns and Fresca for the duration. The delectable alternatives those nice ladies have provided are quite generous and wholly delicious. To say I'm grateful for the loving attention would be scarcely saying enough.
In truth, living by myself is a kind of an unique experience for me, in that I went directly from a childhood bedroom shared with my brother, to a series of cluttered college dorm rooms and crazy college roommates, straight into married life and the Lake Superior log cabin where I convinced my new bride to begin our adventure together over four decades ago.
So, I guess I'm probably no expert.
Yet I still feel there are a few things you gotta do to survive a solitary experience.
While the food situation has been much more than adequately covered, there are a couple of other challenges to consider while the commander-in-chief is in the field. Firstly, her loving kisses have been replaced by the tangy, point-blank fish breath of the bad cat Max, who believes it is now his duty to keep me from getting too lonely by standing on my chest whenever I stop moving for a minute. Either that, or he thinks I'm going to die soon and wants first dibs on my still-warm corpse. Likewise, Annie, the little white rent-a-dog I'm caring for while her owner is away has decided she might as well fill that awkward empty space in my bed, where her tendency towards sleep-growling, nocturnal ear-scratching and raucous all-night snoring drown out even the freight trains rumbling through my home town. But hey, I can manage a little overblown pet-love, no problem.
I'm less sure about handling the housekeeping that is now my sole responsibility.
The thing is, the place was tidy when she left it, and I'm fairly determined that it be that way when she returns. As I surely don't want to clean it myself, the obvious solution to me seems to be to carefully maintain an MHF, or minimal household footprint. Now, I'd like to tell you that's a term used by sociologists and ecologists to describe a certain minimalist living condition, but actually, I just made it up. But I think it does a good job of describing the way I've attempted to exist without tracking in, dirtying a dish, messing up a bed or generating too much in the way of laundry, clutter, dustbunnies and trash.
Now, anyone can sleep on top of a neatly made bed, shed shoes before entering the house or wear the same socks fourteen days in a row. But it takes determination, skill and forethought to be virtually invisible in one's own home. Take the whole dish-and-silverware thing, for example. Avoiding the need to actually wash them has led me to spend up to 10 minutes attempting to decide whether the fork I'm about to re-use is the one I wielded at breakfast or the one I used to divvy out dog food the night before. A few years ago, a backyard neighbor once mentioned she saw me through the kitchen door doing dishes one day when Megan was out of town. I let her believe that, rather than dash her high opinion of me by admitting that I was simply eating over the sink in order to avoid using a plate. On the garbage front, I noticed the guys who pick up our trash and recycling actually tossed me a cheery wave the other day when, instead of the masive piles generated over the holidays when my entire family was on deck, my refuse output was more akin to that of one of those Sierra Club-types who compostes every scrap of organic stuff and fabricates used coffee filters and leftover aluminum cans into sweaters, rugs and useful vases and bowls.
The list goes on and on, but all in all, I think I've done a pretty good job of maintaining my MHF, though I confess, despite all my efforts, I have begun to see a few subtle signs of a need to do a few chores before her return, as the gap between her definition of clean and mine slowly widens.
Now if I can just figure out where she left the vacuum cleaner... .