Column Classic: Junk in The Trunk

By Lisa Scottoline

If Freud wanted to know what women want, he could have asked.

If he’d asked me, I would have answered:

Another kitchen cabinet.

And I just got one!

Here’s how it happened.

It was about ten years ago that I remodeled my kitchen, adding white cabinets and a trash compactor. To tell the truth, I don’t remember wanting a trash compactor and think it was Thing Two who wanted a trash compactor, but I’ve blamed enough on him, so let’s just say I wanted a trash compactor.

At the time, my kitchen contractor said, “I’ll install this trash compactor for you, but I bet you’ll never use it.”

“I’m sure I’ll use it,” said I. And I probably added, “Plus it will give me something to blame on somebody, down the line.”

In any event, the trash compactor got installed, and it came with two free bags, which I promptly lost.

Ten years and one divorce later, it turns out that the contractor was right.

I should have married the contractor.

But to stay on point, I never used the trash compactor. Not once. I even forgot it was there until three months ago, when it began to emit a mysterious and foul odor. I searched the thing and could find no reason for it to be smelly, but I washed it inside and out anyway. Still the smell got worse and worse, until it was so bad I could barely eat in the kitchen. Then one day, the electrician came over to fix a light and he said,  “Smells like something died in here.”

Bingo!

The electrician showed me that you could slide out the compactor, which I hadn’t realized, and when we did, we found behind it an aromatic gray mound that used to be a mouse.

Eeek!

The electrician threw the dead mouse away, and I cleaned the trash compactor all over again, but it still stunk worse than my second marriage, which I didn’t even think was possible, so I threw the trash compactor away, too.

Which left an oddly empty space on my kitchen island, a blank square among the white cabinets, like a missing tooth.

I called the kitchen contractor, whose phone number I still had from ten years ago. As soon as he heard my voice, he said, “Told you,” and came right over.

Last week he installed a new cabinet, including a drawer, then asked, “What are you going to use it for?”

”I’m not sure yet,” I told him, excited by the possibilities. It was almost too much to hope for – a nice empty cabinet and a whole extra drawer. After he had gone, I pulled up a stool and contemplated my course of action.

The decision required me to consider the problem areas of my kitchen cabinets, which are many. My pot-and-pan cabinet is a mess because I hate to stack pots and pans in their proper concentric circles. I just pile them up any way, playing Jenga, only with Farberware. Also I can never figure out how to store pot lids, so I stick them in upside down, setting them wobbling on handles like the worst tops ever. Every time I open the cabinet door, they come sliding out like a stainless steel avalanche.

I also have a cabinet containing Rubbermaid and Tupperware, but it’s all mixed up, so that Rubbermaid lids are with Tupperware containers and Rubbermaid containers are with Tupperware lids, making the whole thing feel vaguely illicit, like an orgy of plastic products.

Then I have a cabinet of kitchen appliances I have never used once in my life, but feel compelled to keep close at hand, namely a juicer, a waffle iron, and a salad shooter. You never know when you’ll have to shoot a salad.

My kitchen drawers are equally problematic. I have one drawer for silverware, and four others for junk, junk, junk, and junk. All the junk drawers contain the same junk, just more of it, namely, pens that don’t work, pencils that have no point, extra buttons that go to clothes I’ve never seen, rubber bands I got free but can’t part with, menus for restaurants I don’t order from, and pennies.

In other words, it’s all essential.

I think I know what to put in the empty cabinet.

Trash compactor bags.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

Column Classic: Fun for Free

By Lisa Scottoline

Here’s something I do that might be crazy:

I rearrange the furniture.

Often.

Blind people don’t stand a chance in my house. And most of the time, neither do I.

Rearranging the furniture is one of my favorite bad habits. My most favorite bad habit is eating chocolate cake, and my least favorite bad habit is marrying badly.

It all began with an ottoman, which somehow expanded into the Ottoman Empire.

Let me explain.

I was sitting on my couch in the family room, working on my laptop with the TV on. I went to put my feet up on the coffee table, and my foot knocked over a mug of coffee. This had happened to me more times than I can count. Every book on my coffee table has been soaked with coffee, and so has the table itself, but I don’t think that’s why they call it a coffee table or a coffee-table book.

Right then and there, I decided to do something about it. I remembered that I had an ottoman in my office upstairs, which was paired with a chair that’s there for show.

Please tell me I’m not the only person who has furniture for show.

The chair-and-ottoman sits next to my desk in case somebody wandered in, put their feet up, and watched me work, but that’s never going to happen and I wouldn’t want that, anyway. Once I met a writer who told me that he read the pages he’d written that day to his wife, and I thought:

That poor woman.

In any event, I got the ottoman, carried it downstairs, plunked it down in the family room, and put my feet up on it.

Yay!

In the end, I ended up changing the fabric on the couch to coordinate with the ottoman and even changed the paint color on the walls, which is how the ottoman became the Ottoman Empire and a bad habit was born.

Since then, I look around my house with a critical eye, wondering if the current furniture arrangement is the best and invariably deciding that it isn’t. This thought usually strikes around bedtime, when all the smart people in the world would probably go to sleep.

But not me.

I shove couches around, and then chairs. I even rearrange pictures on the wall and start hammering nails. Pick up any one of the framed things on my wall, and behind it you’ll find at least twelve holes, like automatic weapon fire, but really tiny.

Frankly, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this bad habit.

On the contrary, I’m a fan. That’s a great part of growing older, you start to think that even the bad things about you are good.

And why not?

Whose life is it anyway?

Rearranging the furniture is a way of having fun, for free. It keeps you on your toes to think about what other ways the room can be reconfigured, even if it means that you’ll stub your toe on a chair that didn’t used to be there.

In a funny way, I think it’s a small-scale way to improve your own life.

Case in point is my alarm clock.

I know this sounds trivial, but why stop now. Somebody has to write about the simple things in life, and if you like that sort of thing, you’ve come to the right place.

I have this really large, ugly, glowing clock next to my bed, which I’ve suffered with for years. The numbers need to be big because I can’t read them otherwise, and I need to know the time if I wake up at night, so I can worry about how much sleep I’m not getting.

I put things over the clock so it’s dark enough to sleep, but it’s not the best solution, to cover a clock with a pair of cotton undies, like the world’s ugliest nightlight.

Then it struck me that I could put the clock in the bathroom. Granted, I can’t see it from the bed, but on account of my advanced years, I’m in the bathroom at least once a night.

And now I know exactly when.

Plus I sleep like a baby, and my cotton undies are back on my tushie.

Happy ending.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline

This Old Homebody

By Lisa Scottoline

I get my neighbors’ mail all the time, and I never open it, even juicy stuff like bank statements or brokerage accounts. I respect my neighbors’ privacy.

Also I can see through the envelope.

We begin with me mistakenly getting some of my neighbors’ mail in my mailbox. Specifically, This Old House magazine. I flipped through the first few pages, then I got more interested than I’d expected, and you’ll see why.

The magazine has articles about beaded wainscoting and vintage accents, as well as “how to give your laundry room a spa spirit.”

I stopped, astounded. My laundry room has no spirit, spa or otherwise. My laundry only has dirty clothes, piled on the floor. I eliminated hampers a long time ago. Now when I have to wash something, I just open the door to the laundry room and throw it on the floor.

Gravity is my hamper.

Back to the magazine, which showed a photo of a woman in a huge laundry room with white cabinets on all four sides, a sink under a pretty window, and marble counters on which to fold towels.

Girl paradise, right?

I couldn’t believe this was a laundry room. I checked the caption to be sure, where I learned that the counters were quartzite. I have no idea what quartzite is, but it makes a counter and that alone has me beat. My laundry room has no counters. I fold my towels on top of the washing machine, near sticky blue pools of spilled Wisk.

The magazine even showed a library ladder in the laundry room. I don’t even have a library ladder in my library. Okay, maybe I don’t have a library, either. But I do have a dining room with bookshelves.

Also the laundry ladder was painted lavender. And the laundry room wallpaper was covered with painted lavender plants. And on the counter was a pot of fresh lavender. 

We get it.

But that isn’t even my point. My point is that as I kept reading, the magazine started showing photos of men fixing all the broken things in an old house. There was a tall man with silvery hair installing a new windowsill of cellular PVC, to replace a rotting one. And a stocky guy with a brushy mustache drilling upward into a ceiling beam. Then a red-haired landscape contractor bringing a lawn back to life, plus a smiling man with a screwdriver, above a caption that read Master Carpenter.

My interest in the magazine was growing, but it wasn’t about the PVC sills.

The magazine was morphing into a man catalogue.

And I started thinking, maybe I should order me some Master Carpenter for Christmas.

In other words, This Old House got This Old House very interested.

There was a heavyset guy installing a base cabinet, above the caption General Contractor. A bald dude, the Plumbing and Heating Expert, fiddling with some red pipes. A younger guy with a caulking gun, whose caption read, Host.

I didn’t know what he was hosting, but I knew who was hostessing.

What’s sexier than a man with a caulking gun?

You have to understand that these men wouldn’t have turned heads if they were walking around the mall. But installing drywall, fixing pipes, and painting things?

They’re Mr. Right.

And not because they’re hot, but because they’re actually doing something. And in the fantasy, they’re doing something for me, which means I don’t have to do it myself. Also that it would get done right.

They’re Mr. Done Right.

Remember, I’m the freak who painted her entire first floor in two days, and it looks it. In fact, I learned from This Old House that those blobs of orange paint I left on the white ceiling are called bleed lines.

Except that my ceiling isn’t bleeding, it’s hemorrhaging.

Bottom line, I have to buy a replacement magazine for my neighbor.

And I’m subscribing to This Old House.

I hope it comes in a plain brown wrapper.

Copyright 2023, Lisa Scottoline

Chick Wit Classic: Cover Me

By Lisa Scottoline

I don’t know who invented duvet covers, but judging from the spelling, it was the French, and I’m guessing they did it in retaliation for Pepe Le Pew. 

Oo-la-la, mon cheri.

I don’t know when I got sucked into the duvet-cover scam, but I think it was in the eighties, a time before I had dogs, which is relevant here.  Because back then, the duvet cover never needed washing, and everything was fine.  But now I have to wash it all the time, as a result of sleeping with various and sundry critters, which means that I have to put it back on the bed again.

And it’s just impossible to put a duvet cover back on a duvet, or if we stop being pretentious, a comforter.

I don’t know how to do it in less than an hour.  And last time, I got so disgusted that I gave up and just placed the duvet cover on top of the comforter, making my bed like a cheese sandwich. 

I mean, what’s the difference?  The cover was covering the duvet, after all, and who’s coming after me?  The gendarmerie?

I simply can’t do it.

Here’s my procedure: I stuff the corner of the comforter in one corner of the duvet cover, then jump up on the bed and shake the comforter down the sides and into the other corners, which is when I realize I have the comforter twisted like a double helix inside the cover.  So then I have to dump the comforter out and start all over again while profanity commences, and I forget about bothering with whether the comforter is lengthwise or not, because I pretend it’s a square.  Bottom line, I struggle and struggle until the comforter is shoved back inside the cover, like a baby stuffed back into its amniotic sac, in a process that’s only slightly less painful than giving birth in reverse.

If you follow.

I’m over it.  I’m done with duvet covers and the other impossible things around my house, like halogen bulbs.  I have them under my kitchen cabinets, and the contractor swore to me they would be beautiful, and they are.  But he never told me that it would be impossible to change the itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, twenty-watt, double-pronged bulb.

And by the way, you’re not allowed to touch it with your fingers.

I’m not kidding. 

He told me that the oil from my fingertips will somehow rub off on the glass of the halogen bulb and cause it to spontaneously combust or perhaps cause World War III, and that I’m supposed to take a paper towel or piece of toilet paper, wrap it around the halogen bulb, then hold the wrapped bulb between my thumb and index finger and stick that assembly in the pinpoint holes in the fixture.

Try this at home. 

The bulb will pop like a cork from the paper towel, sail through the air, land on the counter, and shatter into lethal shards.  It will take four bulbs to get one inside. 

You’ll see.

Or, if you manage to keep your grip on the paper-and-bulb combo, try sticking the bulb’s two prongs, which are the gauge of sewing needles and just as pointy, into the tiny holes in the fixture, which are the size of a needle’s eye.

Good luck with that.  You could attach a spaceship to a docking station with greater ease.

And the kicker is that since my fixture is under the cabinet, I have to bend backwards in order to change the bulb, so that the back of my head is resting on the counter.  Then I try to stick the bulb in the fixture, like a mechanic under a car, only doing the limbo.  The last time I changed a bulb, I felt like I ripped my stomach muscles.  It gave new meaning to shredded abs.

So I tried a new way, climbing onto my counter and lying down under the cabinets like I was going to sleep.  I went through two bulbs and gave up, and now I’m cursing the halogen bulb and the duvet cover.

And Pepe Le Pew.

Copyright Lisa Scottoline