This home is not mine. It's near min, but only geographically.

I'm as territorial as my cousins the chimpanzees, and while I have learned to control the impulse over the years, my first thought upon having my space invaded is to throw sticks and leaves and hoot at the interloper.

I have largely repressed a memory of the time some other kids in my Cub Scout pack threw me bodily out of my own house for being obnoxious at a meeting. I don't recall it clearly, but I have the impression my mother offered no sympathy.

So maybe it's my hermetic psychology or the low frequency of my visitors, but admitting a guest to *my* spaces transforms them.

Just the thought of a visitor brings my sense of my house's inadequacies to a quiver, but it doesn't help that the maintenance and cleaning jobs multiply a bit faster than I can keep up with them. The wallpaper, foolishly buried under off-white paint by the previous owner, now wants to peel. The white woodwork is worn where it was washed and grubby where it hasn't been, and a decade of bumptious laundry baskets has exposed little outcroppings of dark-brown trim everywhere.

I am not alone in this. This is from The Wind in the Willows, in the chapter where Mole and Rat return to Mole's burrow:

Mole's face beamed at the sight of all these objects so dear to him, and he hurried Rat through the door, lit a lamp in the hall, and took one glance round his old home. He saw the dust lying thick on everything, saw the cheerless, deserted look of the long-neglected house, and its narrow, meagre dimensions, its worn and shabby contents--and collapsed again on a hall-chair, his nose to his paws. `O Ratty!' he cried dismally, `why ever did I do it? Why did I bring you to this poor, cold little place, on a night like this, when you might have been at River Bank by this time, toasting your toes before a blazing fire, with all your own nice things about you!'

The strangest thing is to actually have someone visiting, though, and to feel how odd it is to have someone else filling the chair by the fireplace, making casual conversation and consuming coffee or beer. The whole place feels a bit alien, as if I am subconsciously trying to see my home through my visitor's eyes. My family and I are all relatively small, too, and when someone who isn't arrives, the dislocation is almost comical -- you feel you want to want to spread a sheet around their feet and water them, for the only thing over six feet tall that usually spends any time with us is the Christmas tree.

Having to admit an estimator to my home before I moved here a decade ago was painful. As he poked through my overfull closets and peered into the attic ("are you gonna take all that?"), I could think of nothing but colonoscopy, an experience I put off for years afterward. And contractors -- now, there's an odd thing ....

The guy who enclosed the back porch did the work in a sub-freezing spell of January. When he got too cold, he'd come in and warm up, which was fine, but at lunchtime he'd settle down in the dining room, adjacent to the job, rather than go away. On the basis of long acquaintance and general goodwill, the choice wasn't unreasonable on his part, but the urge to hoot and throw sticks grew strong in me. Having this large, shaggy and dusty person good-naturedly chewing his hamburger at my distressed-antique table was an intrusion, and as the work wore on, it got to be nearly intolerable.

The room had toys cluttering one corner in great profusion and a rampart of papers, unopened mail, undelivered gifts, and homeless objects in the opposite one. It's not that I was ashamed of the mess -- the contractor was making a bigger one -- but maybe that I had become attached to it, in the intimate the way you become attached to the pair of jeans you wore through the entire camping trip. I wasn't delighted with the project when it was done, but I didn't complain, I felt such relief when the workers went away.

I can thank him for the psychological insight, but I wish he had gotten the door right, instead.

Blue space is your friend



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