Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Made the Phone Ring

The Day the Vacuum Cleaner Made the Phone Ring

Every two or three days I make a list of chores and things to do. My list keep me focused, nags at me. My list includes jobs which, if I didn’t stick on it, might fall out of sight. These are suggestions, not orders. I pride myself on my flexibility, one of my better qualities. Nothing is cast in concrete. My inner compass points me to go with the flow, as we used to say.

On a diamonds-in-the-sky Monday morning I checked my list. I decided to vacuum, then run the mop along the main pathways. I would have oodles of time to edit an article and throw paint on a new canvas and still go to the County Planning Board meeting. Vacuum, mop, write, paint, meeting. Right.

I set up the vacuum and turned it on. I thought I heard the phone ring. I hit the off switch. Yes, it was ringing. I flung myself across the room and grabbed the phone just before it flipped over to voice mail. Telemarketer. Rats-a-roni. Back to the vacuum. Hit the on switch. Phone rang. Again I threw my body at the phone in time to catch the last ring. This time it was my friends Dick and Jane. They planned to drop by in the afternoon. Perfect. I would have plenty of time to finish my list before they arrived.

Back on with the vacuum. I had started around the living room when I heard someone yell, “Sondra, are you home?” I turned off the vacuum. It was Richard at the door with news. He told me Kim, head of the garbage ordinance committee of which I am a member, was in the hospital with a broken leg. Kim wanted us to meet and make decisions concerning the upcoming garbage contract. So I called City Hall to ask our clerk, Rebecca, to set up a meeting.

Back to the vacuum. This time I swished through the library and actually made it down the hall. The phone rang. It was Laurie calling from the Blaine County Court House to let me know the County Planning Board meeting had been cancelled. So down to my shop to change my message board.

Again I started the vacuum. The phone rang. This time it was Kellie to talk about a fund-raiser for the swimming pool. For two years I was on the swimming pool committee. Last year I begged to be let off. Adamantly, in public and in private, I declared, “I’m no longer on that committee.” No matter. Everybody just smiled and nodded. “Uh huh, sure.” I’ve been told the only way off a committee is to die.

Kellie and I talked for an hour. Back to the vacuum. I finished one bedroom. The phone rang. It was Rebecca to tell me the time and place for the garbage committee meeting. Down to the shop again to write it on my board.

I raced the vacuum through the other bedroom, dining room and kitchen and stowed the bugger in the closet. By this time I hated its guts. Crossed “vacuum” off my list. I got the mop from my utility room and began swabbing. Again, I heard the door open, “Anybody home?”

This time it was Nick. I hadn’t seen Nick since we were classmates at Northern in the late 60’s. When my broken arm was first in a brace, I had written in my column that I needed a man to change some light bulbs. Nick had read it. Periodically he drives through Harlem with his job. He detoured to my house to fix my lights. What a surprise. I showed the Good Samaritan the ladder. Nick quickly installed the new bulbs in both fixtures, said, “Keep in touch,” and headed out the door.

As I waved good-by, the phone rang . It was Kellie to let me know she’d set up a time to talk about swimming pool finances. Back to the shop to note it on the board.

A key piece of my personal rules for better living is that I refuse to enslave myself to technology. I say the telephone is a mere tool. I will not let it rule my life. That is why I like voice mail. (If I’m visiting with you in person and my phone rings, voice mail will pick up a message and keep it safe until I can return the call.) I don’t have to leap to the phone. So why did I keep answering it?

The phone rang. The phone rang six more times. I ignored it. Patted myself on the back. Sic semper tyrannis.

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

January 31, 2013