During the two week period I spend driving to New York and helping Spuds set up his Hudson Valley residence, Joe Workforce's plan to spend the summer in Redlands falls through. While I head east the young college graduate and girlfriend-in-law drive several loads of their stuff west to my recently renovated and uncluttered basement. No one is happy about this.
I return home expecting to find my best dishes growing penicillin, dead batteries in the television remote and my newly reordered Tupperware cupboard in complete disarray. This is not the case. The round Tupperware lids are still segregated from the square ones. The house is tidy, although Himself's effort to launder the sheets and make the bed isn't up to even the dog's standards, everything else is in perfect order. I have not visited the basement/post graduate dormitory but at least my own space is as I left it.
College graduates moving back home is loaded for everyone. Our house has a complicated history and despite the fact that we are all different people than when we started out here, the ghosts of old business can evoke bitterness and tension. The graduate is defensive in the anticipation of a bossy neat freak mom who herself has her hackles up with the expectation of an indolent petulant teen commandeering the couch and TV when Judge Judy's on. Although I've been home for less than a week, it seems like we are all acting and reacting in a reasonable adult fashion and thus far, the homefront vibe is quite pleasant.
After having micromanaged the organization of Spuds' new household, upon my return this busybody energy is transferred to Joe Workforce's search for employment. I peruse Craigslist and entertainment companies that might offer entry level positions. The boy however responds to every lead I forward to him with, “I already applied for that Mom.” Girlfriend-in-law is interviewed by a high end bakery and is offered a full time position on the spot. She returns from her first day on the job as happy as can be and laden with day old (but still divinely delicious) pastries. I am so fucked.
Joe Workforce applies for a position as sort of an assistant manager at a local caterer that also operates a super swanky event venue right in the neighborhood. The owner is one of those visionary Eastside mover and shaker types and has a number of other ventures, including a cocktail bar in the works. Our boy receives an immediate response and an interview is scheduled the following day. He is cautiously optimistic after the meeting. They are impressed that he has managed the campus coffee house and that he is a native of the neighborhood. He is told to report over the weekend for a trial run and to decide whether it is a good fit.
While girlfriend-in-law is offered a position after only a single interview, it would be uncanny if the boy has the same good fortune. He continues to send out resumes and complete applications. There is a deep cupboard in his room that would be a good location to store some of his gear except that Himself has been stuffing it with old electronics that I guess he thinks may some day be of use plus the empty cartons of computers that were junked decades ago. I ask the boy to take advantage of one of Himself's long days to clear the shit out and hide the evidence at my office to send off for recycling, before Pops is any the wiser. The boy is in the middle of the project when he receives a phone call from the catering company he's applied to work at. Apparently a dishwasher has gone AWOL and perhaps he can give them a hand in an emergency, so work on the cupboard clean-out is suspended as he rushes off to make a good impression.
Last summer Joe Workforce returned from his doggy daycare position depressed and exhausted. Physical labor is not exactly the boy's forte. Girlfriend-in-law and I are eating dinner when he returns from dish duty. I see his car pull up and expect he will skulk in spent and cranky. Instead, he is happy to see dinner on the table and completely devours a meal that I'd anticipated would provide leftovers sufficient for the next night. He reports that he actually enjoyed using the big professional dish washing machine while a wedding rehearsal was in progress and that everyone was really nice. We are just finishing and he is about to continue the cupboard cleaning ordeal, in order to complete the task before Himself returns, when his phone rings. It is the manager of the catering company. “Hey man. I know you live in the neighborhood. My car won't start. Do you happen to have any jumper cables?” The boy is out in a flash and gets the automobile started. His efforts are appreciated. “I owe you a beer!” he is promised. He should have responded, “I have beer at home. My mom buys it. Give me a job!”
Nevertheless, he is scheduled for two more days of work this weekend and as unlikely as it is that a college graduate snag a decent job after his first job interview, we are keeping our fingers crossed. The detritus from the cupboard is still evident when Himself returns from work earlier than we'd expected. He is grudgingly accepting that the outdated electronics be hauled off for recycling. What upsets him however is that the pure trash that has been generated will fill the receptacle. He will often pronounce that the garbage can is full, like an injunction that we are not to generate any more refuse. Don't use up the last of the milk because with overflowing trashcans we are unable to dispose of the carton. It is unacceptable to hold a couple bags of trash in the driveway until the next garbage pick up but it's fine to leave a huge cupboard filled with antiquated electronics and decaying cardboard boxes for two decades. Still, as our 24th anniversary looms I admit that still, his good qualities far outweigh the weird. It's just that the quirks are so eccentric and inexplicable that they're unlimited comic fodder.
I return from a pretty exhausting journey expecting household disruption. Who knows, things might still blow up but at the moment, the kids are alright, the cupboard is clean and eventually we'll get caught up with the garbage men. The third season of Orange is the New Black is out. The challah's in the oven. Girlfriend-in-law is off today so the pastries I polished off won't be replenished before my next Weight Watchers meeting. Joe Workforce is working a trial shift. Himself is reading a book and grumbling about the accretion of trash. The new normal and the old. Perhaps.
Illustration: A House in the Woods—Humphrey Jennings, 1950