Benny Jay: Clean Up!

November 16th, 2010

One day last month, I get this idea — gotta clean up my work room!

Actually, it’s my wife’s idea.  Says my study’s musty, dusty and dirty. Can’t breathe. Can’t think. Clean this shit up!

The problem is the papers. And the books. And the other papers. They’re everywhere. I can’t bring myself to throw anything out. Cause, you know, one day I might need it.

But I try. I throw a few papers out. Shuffle a few more around. Toss some others on the floor and call it a day cause I’m exhausted.  Go downstairs and watch the Bulls game….

That’s it, says my wife, I’m bringing in Carol Woodworth.

Who’s Carol Woodworth?  She’s this super tenacious clean-up expert who runs an outfit called Optimal Organizing. She comes to your house and makes you do what you can’t do for yourself — throw the shit out!

She arrives one Wednesday night and surveys the scene: The file cabinet’s piled high with papers that should be in the files and the room’s corners are crammed with books that should be on the shelves. And there’s stacks of old diaries and things my kids wrote when they were in fourth grade and letters from friends and post cards from my father and….

Before Carol….

“Let’s start with your desk,” she says.

This chick’s all business — I mean, she doesn’t mess.  I sit at the desk. She sits right beside me — you know, so I can’t make a break for the door.

And she watches as I sift through every piece of paper on my desk: Ancient press releases and junk mail, invites to parties that already happened, credit cards I never activated, old bills I hoped I paid….

I find this take out menu from a Chinese restaurant. Got something scrawled in the margins. It’s my handwriting — but I can’t read what I wrote.

“Throw it out,” she says.

I hesitate. This might be the long-forgotten start to a great novel — a stroke of genius that came to me in the middle of the night….

“Here,” she says, pushing over the waste basket.

I toss it. For all I know it’s the greatest line never published.

Get to the Roladex from the 1980s. It’s yellowed with age and filled with names and numbers of people I haven’t called in years.

First name I see is a guy who died years ago.

We agree to put it in the corner until I put the phone numbers in my computer. Hey, at least it’s off my desk….

I find a business card from the “assistant precinct captain” — not the precinct captain, but his assistant — in the ward.

It lists a disconnected phone number. On the back, he wrote: “You may be a Republican and I may be a Democrat, but we can still be friends. I’ll hug your elephant, and you can kiss my ass!”

After Carol….

I stuff it in the Roladex. Can’t bring myself to throw it out.

And so it goes. More papers. More menus. More press releases. The pile dwindles. I’m exhausted. I need a break. But, Carol — she’s unrelenting. Keep going, she says. She must have been a football coach in a former life.

The top of the desk is showing through. I wonder: The Bulls game’s an hour old. Are they winning?

“Good job,” she says, “I’ll get a wash cloth to wipe off the desk….”

Down the stairs she goes. Quick, I turn to the computer, punch up the NBA website. Bulls up ten. Yes!

I hear her returning. Quick, turn off the computer. Look up and smile — you know like I was hard at work.

“Almost done,” she says.

“Yeah,” I say.

She’ll never know — unless you tell her.

Finally, I throw away the last piece of paper and she wipes down the desk. It’s all clean. Almost shiny. I could eat off it. Not that I would….

“Now what?” I ask.

“I’ll come back next week and start in on the file cabinets….”


One Response to “Benny Jay: Clean Up!”

  1. […] a great job, I might add. You wouldn’t believe the progress I’m making. A few ago she got me to clean up my desk. Now I’m working through the folders, old newspapers, magazines, notebooks and scrapbooks […]

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