Somewhere There is a Desk Under Here

This is a mantra I constantly repeat to myself, both at work and at home.  Felix Unger, of Odd Couple fame, wanted to shoot a documentary about his roommate Oscar Madison and title it Mondo Filth.  Were someone to do this about my desk, Mondo Clutter would be the perfect title for it.

At work, this is less true than normal.  I transcribed like a man possessed Friday, and was able to finish shortly before lunch.  The doctor wasn’t one of my favorites, but he’s articulate enough that I usually have no trouble transcribing, once he finishes repeating himself and interrupting himself.  That left the second half of the day without any specific jobs or responsibilities, so I cleaned up my pod somewhat.  I was able to throw out a backlog of no-longer-relevant paperwork, file away some personal papers, and get the desk to the point where I was able to use a rag and a spray cleaner on the surface.

But that never lasts.  “Out of sight, out of mind” is something you usually hear in connection with long-distance romance, but that is a truism when it comes to my trying to locate things.  Unless it’s all on the surface of my desk, no matter how far buried it is, I’m likely to lose track of a book, document, or disk.

My ideal desk is a Tingle table.  I first saw one when I worked at the IRS’ Regional Processing Center in Covington, Kentucky in 1995, before electronic filing became more the rule than the exception.  (When you mailed your Federal income tax form to Cincinnati, Ohio 45999, this is where it would end up.)  A Tingle table (named for its inventor; I thought that it had a rather kinky-sex sound to it at first) had numerous compartments, slots, and drawers to separate incoming documents and enclosures when people mailed in their tax returns.  Failing that, I would love to own one of the 19th-century rolltop desks which featured dozens of small pigeonholes, much like the stations for letter-sorting by hand where I spent many a predawn hour.  (I saw a multi-pigeonholed desk for sale when I lived in Franklinton.  The $2000 asking price was all that prevented me from taking it home.)

This is a picture of a Tingle table that ran in The New York Times sometime in the late 1990s.  I remember seeing them in the Service Center in Covington, but I was grateful that I never had to sit at one.

I have some incentives to straighten out the desk where I am now sitting.  When Steph and Susie came home from running errands yesterday afternoon (including clothes-shopping and a haircut for Susie), Susie left something on my desk, along with the recent issues of The New Yorker and The Catholic Worker.  She found it Scotch-taped to our front door.  It was from our landlord, saying they’re doing a property inspection next Tuesday afternoon.  A messy desk isn’t grounds for eviction or reprimand, but it’s a good reason to try to make some headway into straightening this up.  (The letter said, “It is not necessary that you be on the premises at the time of entry.  The representative, after knocking, will use a passage key to gain entrance.”)

Some other incentives: My pedometer and my keys are missing.  I made it a point not to take my key ring to the Con in Cleveland last weekend (see last entry), because I was worried about losing my keys in Cleveland.  (This ring has my house keys, the keys to my desk and cupboards at work, and the ring knife I “borrowed” from the Cincinnati post office when I worked there in 1994.)  As part of a Live and Work Well campaign at work, Human Resources was handing out free pedometers at work, and I was quite conscientious about clipping it to my belt, and recording my daily number of steps in my diary every night, and now the pedometer is at large.

As I’ve made the first baby steps toward organizing this desk (more of a work table, really), I’m more grateful than ever that I don’t smoke.  I’ve never regretted for a nanosecond the fact that I’ve never smoked a cigarette (total disclosure here: I’ve never smoked tobacco), because I’m uncovering half-empty cans of cola and cups almost every time.  Had these been cigarettes, I would have burned this place down long ago.

I have the same “out of sight, out of mind” problem when it comes to facial recognition, and because of this, I have–totally without meaning to–offended people when I draw a blank on who they are.  Last Monday, when Susie and I took COTA to her school, we were walking from the stop on Indianola Ave. to her school (just under half a mile), when a father driving his daughter to school pulled over and offered us a ride.  I was grateful for this, because it was raining.  He called me by name, and wished me happy belated birthday (I turned 48 on the 29th), so I knew we are Facebook friends.  Susie didn’t know who he was, either, because she and his daughter aren’t close friends.  His name didn’t click with me until tonight, when there was a notice on Facebook that he had changed his profile picture.

This is an extension of the shock you feel when you’re a grade-schooler.  All of us can look back and laugh at how bewildered we are as children the first time we see our teacher at the grocery store, or walking down the street, or at a restaurant.  I will totally overlook someone if they are out of context.  If I’m used to seeing you at work or church, there is a chance I may not click on who you are initially if I see you in a completely different setting.

Sometimes that extends to uniforms and clothing.  There was a Muppet skit on Sesame Street a long time ago where a little boy is lost, and goes to a nearby police officer for help.  Because of the badge and the uniform, he doesn’t recognize that the officer is his uncle.  One of my English professors at Ohio U. was a Catholic priest, but I only saw him “in uniform” once.  He usually dressed like a stereotypical academic–tweed jacket with suede elbow patches, button-down shirts, necktie.  The one time he came in wearing his “blacks”–i.e., black shirt with clerical collar, black slacks–was when he had performed a wedding shortly before class, and hadn’t had time to run back to his apartment and change clothes.  When he came into the classroom, it took me a second to realize who it was, although I knew from day one that he was a priest.

So when everything is right out on the desk, it’s easier for me to remember its existence.  Whether my keys and my pedometer are under here is still a mystery.  (I am not exaggerating.  This desk currently resembles an archaeological dig.  I considered posting before-and-after pictures, but decided against it.  I’m too mortified by its current condition.)  In the course of typing this entry, I’ve already discovered a pair of laptop speakers I forgot that I owned.