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Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Pier 1

I lied to the Pier One guy tonight.

I've been looking for a small desk or table for our great room. We want to bring the computer upstairs because Judy rarely makes it down to the basement--and who really wants to work underground besides moles, earthworms and radical activists. We don't need a large desk with drawers for files, supplies, reference books, and the other various hard and weighty items that accompany even domestic bureaucracy. For the time being--until Ciela is in college, lets say--we would mostly use the computer to check email, surf the web, and maybe type out a quick letter. Judy won't be doing any extensive work for a while, and I have my college office and, should I desire to write at home, can easily take my laptop downstairs.

So a small writing desk is called for. We shopped around Nebraska Furniture Mart and Office Depot. The Mart had a couple of nice pieces for the price, but they didn't really fit the decor. Office Depot had one of the same desks for $10 more. Target had almost what we were looking for, but in a blonde wood that really would clash. But for $60, it's hard to overlook.

Tonight, running out to the grocery store, I stopped at Pier One on the chance that they would have something. I wandered around the story, finding expensive desks and tables but nothing that would work. As a last chance, I flipped through the laminated catalog of all Pier One furniture, when finally the salesman approached. His attire perfected the approachable, casual demeanour of the P1 lifestyle. Khakis, pastel striped shirt, open at the collar (one button more than those stiffs over at Pottery Barn), tailored five-o'clock shadow, and immaculately tousled hair.

Jeremy--could he be named anything else?--steered me to the front display. The Sausalito Mail Center Dark Walnut Wood. Petite, but dignified. Roomy closet on the bottom half. Midway up, a door folds down to create a slight, flat surface, just large enough for a sheaf of stationary or a ...laptop.

Ah, there's the rub.

We need the piece for, not the slim, nubile laptop, but the stocky, full-figured, round, firm and fully-packed eMac. But when Jeremy questioned if I might be looking for something for a laptop, I didn't hesitate.

"Exactly. A laptop. This might be just the thing."


Perhaps I did it because of my inherent need to be cool. Cool people don't own eMacs. The eMac line is the Kmart of Macintosh. The computer that mimics and apes the more affluent and trendy iMac and Powerbook, but can only hoover around the fringes of the party.

I didn't want to admit that I was that person.

And I wanted the life the Sausalito was designed for. I wanted to have the posh condominium downtown, where space was sacrificed for the exposed brick of the former warehouse. Where the mail center fit snugly between the subzero wine cellar and the rolling butcher block island.

And the pigeon-holes. I love pigeon holes. The top third of the Sausalito has multiple small shelves, dark holes tantalizingly awaiting blank envelopes, expensive pens, fresh stamps, loose change, rare postcards, colored paperclips, bottles of ink, slight, black leather journals that my students carried throughout London, writing their memories as they rode the tube. One becomes a writer with such a piece of furniture. The chair slides under, the pen is chosen, the thoughts are gracefully pulled out of the honeycomb recesses of the mind just as the 40# linen paper slides from the middle third aperture.

The ordering principle of my life has been order. I marvel at the amount of processing time I spend mentally organizing my life, deciding where things best fit, where the oddly shaped space can be married to the negative imprint of the exposed object. I love boats for their ingenious ability to exploit the three dimensions of space. As a child, I was fascinated by the accounts of engineering Skylab. Without the ordering principle of gravity, the slide ruler set had to envision a life where down meant the same as up. Left could easily be top, right, bottom. There was no reason why shelves could not be installed on the ceiling. Floors could contain coat hooks. What a remarkable way to while away the workday, deciphering just how many sides a cube really could contain.

I suspect my scholarly work unconsciously carves out pigeon holes. The first chapter of my book meanders around classifications, categorizations and delimitations of texts. Other essays have arrogantly berated respected scholars for overlooking important anomalies in their classifications. And hasn't most of life after the M.A. degree been about finding a niche. I spend far too much time reorganizing my vita. I plan out career projects five years in advance. My recent article on Richard Powers's _Prisoner's Dilemma_ had a 15 page outline for a planned 18 page essay. I found nearly as many compartments as chapters, any one of which might have made for a decent essay in its own right (more the ingenious shipbuilding of Powers than my acumen).

There's no end to the positioning and repositioning of life. Living only makes sense in the ordering of it. To borrow from Powers, who cribbed from biblical authors, "We live our lives like a tale told." It is in the ordering that existence makes sense. A desk like the Sausalito creates its own filing system for the identities I have yet to articulate. It would be storage space for my new selves. And when Jeremy asked, I already had reached up and pulled out a new one.


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