Our house? More foxhole than suite
PORTLAND, ORE. — Attention President Bush and Senator Kerry: I know you're focusing the campaign messages very carefully right now, and your advisers will be working overtime to find last-minute support in every city, suburb, rural township, isolated farm, or hilltop cabin in America.
So I expect that both of you are aware of a recent AOL/Roper Public Affairs survey that claims to have uncovered a group of "super parents" who describe themselves as CEOs (Chief Everything Officers). In addition, Maria Shriver was named the recipient of AOL's first Chief Everything Officer Award.
It would be tempting for the candidates to view such a demographic discovery as an important voting bloc. In my opinion, that would be a huge mistake. Not that I'm accusing the folks at Roper/AOL of sexing up their data. I just think the notion of family as corporate entity leaves a lot of people like me out of the survey loop.
My approach to everyday life combines a semimilitary outlook with the mundane realities of suburbia. Think Erma Bombeck meets Ernie Pyle.
This household does not operate like an executive suite on the 50th floor. It's more like a large, modestly furnished foxhole, and my job is to hold it at all costs.
As a World War II buff, I have an organizational template based on the command structure of an American infantry division. I oversee four categories at all times. G-1 is Personnel (the occupants); G-2 is Intelligence (news of the neighborhood); G-3 is Operations (how to engage the outside world or fend off unwanted incursions); and G-4 is Logistics (food, clothing, all the stuff under the kitchen sink and, perhaps most crucial, transportation to and from soccer practice).
The role model I'm using for every task is the late Gen. James M. Gavin, commander of the 82nd Airborne in the liberation of Europe. He roamed the front lines, slept on the ground, and dealt with his troops face to face.
Like him, I remain alert for surprises at all times. One statement that amused me in the Roper/AOL story was that Chief Everything Officers are "committed to organization" and "54 percent have a regular schedule for house cleaning or laundry."
My schedule for tidying up is a simple question: "What's next?" With a teenage daughter and two Labrador dogs in the mix, the vacuum and washing machine are operating almost 24/7.
Over the years, my ears have become acutely sensitive to every unusual or inappropriate noise upstairs and down. Can Maria Shriver lie in bed at night and hear the sound of water running in a remote part of her house when it shouldn't be? Having that ability has twice saved me from plumbing disasters.
There is an old saying that once a battle starts, plans are useless. The same thing applies to homeownership. The little skirmishes are endless. Just when you've cleaned out one roof gutter, another gets clogged and then you discover a colony of wasps has built a huge, seething nest right beside the downspout.
The only thing to do is keep battling, and know when to call for reinforcements.
I don't expect to ever receive a CEO Award. But someday it might be nice to get a Good Conduct medal.
• Jeffrey Shaffer is an author and essayist who writes about media, American culture, and personal history.