Whitley is busy rewriting his new novel. He has a deadline and is under a lot of pressure to finish, which doesn’t always put him in the best mood. I, as his Muse, am busy shredding the old, discarded manuscript pages. What is it about shredding that feels so good?
While the emotions associated with shredding are great, the problem with it is shredding machines. Most of them are terrible. We’re now on our third shredder in 4 years and I’m sure there will be several more in our lives in the future.
Shredders are almost as balky as the early fax machines were. People don’t fax as much as they used to, because email as taken its place, but I remember when it was a new technology. We had a fax machine that was EXTREMELY fussy. If you didn’t place the paper in the machine exactly correctly then it would spit it out. This happened over and over again.
We were living in Brooklyn at the time, and I went for a walk to pick up some groceries. When I came home, I discovered that Whitley had become so frustrated with the machine that he had picked it up and thrown it across the room.
I wasn’t mad at him, though. I figured it was cathartic. You have to get angry at your tools once in awhile. It reminds me of the old Woody Allen joke where he talks about getting into the elevator alone. The doors close and a voice booms out, "Are you the one who kicked the TV yesterday?" It does seem like our machines are all aligned against us at times.
Another case of something being thrown across the room occurred when we lived in Connecticut. We had a cleaning lady at the time who would do all her dusting and mopping very quickly so she could then spend several hours ironing in front of the TV, while her soap operas were on.
One day we came home to find the TV was broken. When we took it to be repaired, the man at the fix-it shop said, "I can’t do anything about this, someone threw it across the room." I realized that a character on one of her "soaps" had not done what he or she was supposed to and that she just couldn’t stand the betrayal.
This leads my mind wandering to the stars of these shows. We lived for years in a small building in Greenwich Village in New York and our cleaning woman there was also a big soap opera fan. Again, it was a few hours cleaning and many hours ironing in front of the TV.
It so happened that we had a famous "soap" star living in our building. This man played the villain in a series. I’ll call his character Jeff. Our cleaning lady was miffed at the way that "Jeff" had been treating his wife on the show lately and one day shortly after this, she happened to ride up to our apartment in the same elevator with our neighbor. She told me, "I saw Jeff in the elevator. I SPIT on him!"
At least the TV remained intact this time.
An actor friend of ours had a short stint in a long-running soap opera a few years ago. He was supposed to fill in for one of the stars, who was probably demanding too much money for his new contract. The new twist in the story was that the original character had had an auto accident (shown by a car plunging through a plate glass window) and ended up in the hospital so disfigured that, even after restorative plastic surgery, he looked completely different. This plot addition was necessary because our actor friend looked NOTHING like the original actor (they were even different heights)! He started the show in a wheelchair and ski mask, both of which were eventually removed, but by that time the original star was brought to heel, so he took over the role again.
I suppose shredding unwanted papers is a metaphor for shredding one’s old life and starting anew, although once you reach a certain age, you know those options are limited. On the other hand, I know several stories of major life changes in the (shall-we-say) "later years," where people who had to shred their pasts discovered a bright new future.
One of my favorites is the one I recently told to a dental hygienist who confided in me that she was getting married soon (I related the story in pauses amidst the scraping away of plaque and subsequent squirts of water).
A good friend of mine returned to her hometown in Texas from New England, where she had run a prep school with her late husband. After becoming a widow, she decided to live part of the time at her beach house in Massachusetts and part time in a lovely expatriate town in Mexico where a lot of Anglos have settled.
While she was in Texas to see her family, she met up with her high school sweetheart, whom she hadn’t seen for many years. He had recently become widowed as well. He told her, "I remember you dancing around on prom night with a rose in your teeth." That was all she needed to hear: they were married shortly afterward.
I remember when I first went to Texas to meet Whitley’s family. They had lived in the same house for their entire marriage, yet I was surprised to see that they seemed to have almost no dishes. While making breakfast, I opened cupboard after cupboard, but there was hardly a plate or cup to be found.
When I mentioned this to Whitley, he explained it this way: his parents’ marriage was a bit contentious and he even remembered, as a kid, seeing the classic comic book scene of his mother chasing his father across the yard waving a rolling pin. Finally his mother, in frustration, talked to a neighbor who was a psychologist. He told her, "Don’t throw things AT your husband, throw dishes at the wall instead."
Shattering her china became the equivalent of what shredding is to me, and soon they had almost nothing left to eat on.
When it comes to getting rid of frustration, I think that shredding is definitely the better solution!
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