If You Can Hear Me, Tap Three Times


Please help me. Come rescue me. I’m in here, I promise. Somewhere beyond the mudroom. If this message reaches you, please, I beg you, come to my house, find some way, I have no idea how, to get through the mudroom, and haul me out.

I have no idea how this happened, getting barricaded in my own house, by my own stuff. Where I come from, we didn’t have mudrooms. In the Arizona desert, we didn’t have mud. Mud, as I understand it, is a concoction of dirt and water. Dirt, I get. Over the course of my desert years, I became familiar with a whole range of dirt types. We had sand, grit, gravel, dust. In the urban areas, we had grime, filth, soot, even grunge. Plenty of what you’d call dirt. But hardly ever did we come across dirt combined with water. Because for the most part, the only water we ever saw was piped in from the often-dry Salt River and carefully restricted to exquisitely profligate fountains out in front of insanely lavish resorts.

Hence, no mud. Hence, no mudrooms.

But moving to New England and shopping for an antique house, I quickly discovered the alternate reality, the fifth-dimensional space, known as the mudroom. It is the humblest of chambers, bearing the humblest of names. The mudroom is never called the “entryway,” even though it is a way of entering. God forbid a New Englander should ever call it the “foyer” — that would be way too fancy. Likewise for “reception area.” And “vestibule” would be too churchy. No, this is the “mudroom.” It’s a wretched little cube, tacked on to an otherwise pleasant house, and named for a mixture of water and dirt.

It’s also, apparently, magnetic. In my very limited experience living in New England, I find that mudrooms attract junk. Not just metal junk, like a normal magnet. No, mudroom magnetism is eclectic. In the mudrooms of New England, you’re liable to find hats and coats and scarves and boots, and whatever tools don’t quite fit the current season, and the carrier you take your pet to the vet in. A few valiant folks are diligent enough to keep their mudrooms from accumulating clutter, but they mostly fall into one of two unfortunate categories: they’re either haggard from the continuous effort, or totally wired on caffeine, if not something stronger. And if you have school-age children — even just one of them — there is absolutely no hope for your mudroom. You’re going to find yourself clambering over an ever-morphing mountain of rubber boots, forgotten schoolbooks, splintered skateboards, and the part of the sandwich they put down to get their mittens on.

I guess it’s clear now that I simply couldn’t keep up. Or maybe “couldn’t” is the wrong word. Maybe I just made bad life choices. Maybe if I had assiduously attended to my mudroom, perhaps just removing a small percentage of the debris each day, say 50 or 60 items, I could have stayed ahead of the buildup. Maybe my priorities were misplaced. If I had spent less time making a living, if I hadn’t wasted all those hours caring for my children, or eating right and getting plenty of exercise, I wouldn’t find myself in the predicament I’m in today: trapped in my house behind a mass of assorted objects so intensely packed and intricately interlocked that I can hardly even get a cell signal in here anymore.

It’s not as if I could simply advertise a garage sale and hope for neighbors to take this stuff away, item by item, for a dollar apiece. This is not stuff anybody else would want, under any imaginable circumstances. There’s rusty barbecue equipment, and the grimy fishing hat that I always used to wear while barbecuing, before I couldn’t find the barbecue equipment anymore. There’s a Frisbee so warped it won’t Fris anymore. There’s a square of cardboard with FREE scrawled on it in huge letters, which last year advertised our bumper crop of apples on a table out by the street until someone took all the apples and the table the sign was taped to. There’s a hat somebody gave to my wife which she would never wear in a million years. A random light fixture. A spool of kite string knotted beyond redemption. A haggard sweatshirt celebrating the Chicago Bears’ Super Bowl victory. Mounds of various colors and textures of fabric probably constituting clothing from my daughter’s fifth-, sixth-, seventh-, and early eighth-grade eras. And innumerable as-yet-unreturned empty Appleton Farms milk bottles. If the price of milk goes up out there, it will be because we have $62,418 worth of their bottle inventory in our mudroom.

So I implore you, if you’re reading this, take pity on a poor fool. Bring a Bobcat. Bring a blowtorch. Possibly bring a priest. Whatever you think might help. Get me out of here. I know it won’t be easy. But I’m pleading with you on humanitarian grounds. My daughter will graduate in four years, and I want to be there.




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