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Spring Cleaning
March 23, 2000

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It's spring. Officially, unofficially or made of cheese, it doesn't matter. It's spring. And spring is an introspective time at first.

Oh, it gets giddy. We know that much. But giddiness doesn't hit until April. There's too much snow out there, despite the sunshine. But it's warm. Guys go without shirts. I discover I'm too damn hot in my office.

And you start thinking....

My closet is now completely clean. Utterly empty. Masses of clothing are now separated for laundry, which happens in part tonight. There's a road trip tomorrow, but that's almost not the point. It's time to have the closet under control. Next I need to do the mass of books next to my couch. I need bookshelves. Sometime in a week or three I'll get some and start putting books away.

I need a new apartment. I've definitely outgrown this one. I've got the Academy looking into it and seeing what they can do. I need room to shelve books and put stuff. I need room for furniture (I have more furniture than room now). I need a second desk/workstation for the windows box to live on and another for a laptop station.

I've been cooking more and more. (Frank says I discovered the pan sauce last night, when my steak dinner turned into a stir fry, which turned into a steaky broth which then had tomato sauce base (no salt) and Mrs. Dash added to it "just 'cause.") I feel cramped in my kitchenette, trying to do something with food and no counterspace. I've been thinking about silverware too.

Monday I clean my office for a presentation on Tuesday. It's in position for a good cleaning, as I've cleaned out stuff in it already in places. During the week I need to get my summerweight sportcoat and the like dry cleaned. I need to get my 'fancy duds' cleaned for a trip to Richmond, too.

Last Monday, I needed to clean out my soul. That's my explanation, at least. I went out on a minor errand and found myself... just driving and thinking. Listening to NPR. Letting the car decide where we went. I ended up in Salsbury, Massachusetts, which is along the coast. It was just after dark, and I went walking.

Salsbury Beach is a Summer Community. And kind of a tacky one. Boardwalks and arcades of Skee Ball line it. Night spots are everywhere, and most of them are closed. It's all there to take advantage of the ocean's presence. That's still there. I saw it. They don't close the Atlantic.

Some bars were open. I stopped in each, and asked for a cup of coffee. I didn't judge what kind of place it was as I walked in. I just... went in, and asked for coffee. Each bar was the same. A television on ESPN. Music playing. A pool table. Cigarette smoke. And between four and nine people sitting at the bar. Not attractive people, either. These were the weathered. The folks who live in a Summer Town all year long. The people who wait for the crowds to return.

I looked at each and didn't actually talk to anyone. I didn't have much excuse to, anyhow -- only one bar had coffee, and that was a strip club. (Not that it claimed to be on the outside). That was the saddest place of them all. Sad men and bored, sad women. The women weren't there at all. The men were quiet. It was like walking into a room with a crushed flower. You can see the flower's beginnings, but you're struck by the end.

I didn't pay a cover -- I wasn't there to look at women -- but the coffee was too expensive. And I left and I walked a lot longer. I smelled like cigarettes now, and I hate that. I felt like I smelled, too. Not directly, but just looking at so many sad people doing so many rote things, whether playing pool in a bar or dancing on a table for sad, silent men.

I walked along the beach, and I looked at the ocean after dark. It was rough, breakers slamming on the shore, starting as far out as I could see. You could have surfed in it. The night was clear and the air was crisp, blowing away the cigarettes.

I thought about what I need to get rid of, and I thought about what I need to get. Scrubbing clean the soul after a long winter. I wondered when Spring Cleaning came to Salsbury Beach -- when the weathered, sad natives would get scrubbed out of the bars so the tourists could take their places. I wondered if one day I'd be a sad man in a bar, or sitting in a strip club. Playing out a ritual that lets me pretend for a night that I'm social, or that the girl on the table wants to be there, and likes me.

It was a cool kind of sadness I felt. For them and for me. But a fresh one, too. The coffee was warm in my stomach, and I felt open, and free. And I walked on the beach, and then walked back -- a hair breathless. I'd walked too far. But that felt weirdly good too. Testing my limits. Pushing for life. Stretching.

Spring cleaning. I listened to Mary Borgia as I drove. A song of regret, a song of loneliness, a song of bad choices....

And then a blues riff on Lucretia Borgia that was really kickin' and Dogs Chasing Cars, which is hysterical, driving North on 16 heading for home.

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