One ordinary day, a year or so ago, I lifted the lid of my mailbox and pulled out, along with the normal barrage of junk-mail and bills, an issue of Good Housekeeping magazine.
I was puzzled. I often get my neighbors' mail (not to mention their pizzas) and thought it might belong to someone down the street, until I spotted my name on the address label. Was this some promotional copy sent out by those secret people who've been secretly counting the number of times I log on to The Food Network website for a recipe for yet one more dinner in the dinners I must come up with every night (until I arrive at the nursing home) for the rest of my life? Had I, in an attempt to win a free lobster dinner, plowing through one of those endless online surveys, inadvertently subscribed?
Somewhat embarrassed, holding it as detachedly as I would a bag of scooped cat litter or Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits, I brought the magazine inside and plopped it down on my kitchen counter. Already, staring up from amid my piles of bills, to-do lists, and my daughter's school papers, it screamed at me in lime-green, purple, and fuchsia, "Clutter Crisis? 15 Speedy Clean-up Tips!"
What was I suddenly doing with a copy of a magazine my mother -- or who my mother thought she was supposed to be -- might have ordered back in the early 1960s? Blandly I flipped through the pages of mostly advertising and left it there, next to the cat's bowl on the kitchen counter, refusing to place this magazine in my stack of Poets & Writers. (Nowhere on the cover did I see "Fourteen Ways to Salvage Your Sonnet" or "Five Iambic Pentameter Pick-Me-Ups.")
Every month after that, my new copy of Good Housekeeping arrived on the dot. I wondered how to stop it, waiting for the huge bill to also arrive sometime soon. It wasn't until the summer, several months later, that I finally learned that my father had bought a subscription for both me and my sister. I was sort of dumbfounded. Hadn't he noticed that as a kid I was a major tomboy? That the only clutter I wanted to control was the leaves and sticks inside my insects' pickle jar? Or maybe he had noticed that lately my mid-section was suffering from "Six Metabolism Mistakes."
Since it was a gift from Dad, I decided to give the magazine a chance. After all, here, everything, finally, was simple and easy. Everything was fast, no "mishap" that couldn't be fixed in three weeks tops. Here, everything, including "dodging diabetes," was bright and happy.... But the step-by-step advice was as "duh"-provoking as the instructions one might be given for the first day after a lobotomy. And how many exclamation marks could I stand? Plus, it was a little hard to get into "melting away those extra holiday pounds" while the polar ice cap was melting, or reading about Valerie's "battle with the bulge" while a real battle raged in Iraq....
Two years now and Good Housekeeping is still perkily arriving each month, with a different smiling celeb on the cover and the same glass-completely-full attitude. I do look at the recipes once in a while, and I've promoted the magazine from its job as a cat-vomit-catcher on the kitchen counter to a nicely padded surface where I write, so the coffee table isn't left with the impression of my pen. There on my coffee table, stained with coffee and wine, along with the black-and-gray remote, some random L.L. Bean catalogs, and a few books of poetry, the magazine is beginning to chill out, to finally "get comfortable with clutter."