Life with Mr. Clean

LIFE with Mr. Clean is full of surprises. Not that I didn't know what I was getting into. I had an inkling of what was in store while we were still ``courting'' (to use that lovely, old-fashioned term). A peek in my husband-to-be's sock drawer, where the meticulously folded pairs marched in strict military fashion, gave away his secret. He is Orderly with a capital O. I am orderly with a small o. While not exactly messy, I reside somewhere in the gray, nether regions of tidiness I like to think of as ``flexible.''

My idea of clean involves periodic bursts of energetic vacuuming or dusting. His idea entails something with a little more oomph: a Saturday morning date with a toothbrush and a bottle of cleaner to scrub an ornate marble fireplace or the filigree on an antique doorknob.

Naturally, then, as a fledgling married person, I assumed that with such an impressively neat person for a husband, the postnuptial sorting of belongings would be a piece of cake. Surprise!

Not that my husband wasn't a peach about putting away the rock collection. And the train picture in the ungainly frame. He sighed a bit over the Boy Scout medals, but came around eventually. To my credit, I was agreeable about the jar of sea-worn colored glass I had collected, and didn't balk at banishing the brass rabbit or the pottery owl. I even agreed to give my sister the walking stick our grandfather had used back in the '20s while climbing in the Tirol (at least it would stay in the family ). But negotiations came to a grinding halt over my husband's bowling pin clock.

That's right. A bowling pin clock. It was something his father had won at a tournament years ago. Life-size, with a gleaming inscription, it was an item guaranteed to make a small boy's eyes light up. (And, years later, to make a wife shudder.) It squatted in all its hideous glory on a wooden stand, a wind-up alarm clock embedded in its belly.

He hedged, I pleaded, and finally he agreed to part with it if I would relinquish my teddy bear.

I was incensed.

How could he possibly compare that THING to my beloved bear? No mere stuffed toy this, but stalwart friend and confidant of childhood. With his cosmopolitan air (having lived abroad not once, but twice) and somewhat rakish look attributable to a missing eye (the errant orb resides in my jewelry box -- I've been meaning to fix it for several years now) and the permanent bald spot from the haircut I gave him when I was 6, he was an integral part of my past.

Negotiations ceased while we both went off to sulk. I huffed into the kitchen to brood about the inconsistency of someone who could be adamant about clutter, yet at the same time display an irrational attachment to a dogeared trophy. He retreated to the bedroom, where he no doubt scowled over an otherwise normal, well-adjusted adult's stubborn allegiance to a stuffed toy.

At some point, our respective ponderings must have grown less myopic; at any rate, true love won out, a bargain was struck, and sans clock and sans bear, we set up housekeeping in our first apartment. D'ecor was very much consistent with the early married state (in our case, this meant folding metal chairs and an aluminum patio-cum-dining table replete with hole in the center for the umbrella pole, down which the salt and pepper were always disappearing).

We have since graduated to a home that has begun to take on the look of us as a married couple, a family with intertwining lives and memories, instead of as two separate people with no common history.

Not that we've given everything away. We both like the warmth my collection of children's books gives our shelves and bookcases. And I adore his artwork. But there have been more shedding stages along the way (the patio table was the first to go) as we find we've outgrown a particular possession -- either aesthetically or practically speaking. And time has mellowed my views on kitsch, as well as made him more tolerant of an occasional wayward knick-knack.

Perhaps one day we'll have a home where there is more room for these stray artifacts. I hope so. In fact, I'm planning on it. Don't let my husband know, but I've got my bear stashed where I can visit him now and then.

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