Duct cleaning was the real world equivalent of a colonoscopy.
Beyond fundamental purging of the crud adhered to household infrastructure, what mattered in the end (npi) was all the unfinished business unearthed in the process.
I’d purchased the old farmhouse in ’89, at the ripening age of 32. Among my phase of the Boomer generation, this was considered respectably progressive; most single girls were renting in townhouse complexes held up by select, emerging studs. I was the girl with other things to do.
Like, build a creative life.
And, toward that particular endeavor, such construction yielded the acquisition of: things.
It only took three decades. In that time, I’d managed to retain eighteen throw pillows, four keyboards, seven hundred ninety eight gig check stubs, one Koehler beer bottle, George Foreman mini grill, Jack Lalane Juicer, Oster food processor, Skinny bullet, Cuisinart countertop, two rotary phones, seventeen curio boxes, six hat carriers, five unmatched end tables (from Sundance), ten lamps, three sofas, fourteen area rugs(half off, shipped direct), and each piece of clothing ever handmade by Mum or purchased from Newport News catalog. Everything was a potential theater prop. Every issue of The International Musician, Suzuki journal, CD sample, 8.5 x 11 page of sheet music, and idea scrawled empty envelope ever hewn, molded, collated, or conceived. Hard copy was the hallmark of my people; we had history, because we made history.
But, post-pandemic, it was time to get this hoard in order.
Duct cleaning services only ask for the simplest compliance: make every warm air vent and cold air return accessible. Large expanding hoses, I dimly remembered from well over a decade past, needed to be attached to each and then run outside through a noisy compressor the size of a pediatric hot air balloon in the shape of a human stomach. A couple hours hence, and the digestive system of the old Saraceno homestead would be purged.
Well, not so fast.
The constipation of thirty plus years was compacted. Furthermore, like most artists, I’d re-designed the floor layout as many times as the visual landscape warranted, which was frequently, and with no regard for anything as life sustaining as air flow. And the cellar, become the catch all for 25 years in K-12 vocal /general /instrumental and dramatic music, held enough foamboard, posterboard, cardboard, laminate, and plastic binned handhelds to start a very smelly bonfire at a summer camp.
Speaking of fire, I’d spent the two full hours and nineteen minutes ensconced in the attic loft contemplating how many minutes it might take to evacuate my four most precious treasures in the event of such an alarm. From there, I could hear the two cleaning guys at the back mud room doorway as they wrapped up their afternoon.
Then, it happened. That moment, in every Woody Allen film, where the frame falls away and the viewer – exposed – becomes the central character. From my perch on the landing of the loft, I heard one say to the other:
“This place is a mess.”
Down the back stairway I pummeled, ready for confrontation. Had they finished, and was I not so sorry about the cluttered entryway and the prohibiting things. What was the condition of the ducts. Genuinely surprised, I stared as the one who denied making any judgment declared that neither the ducts nor the vents were caked in soot. What, then, had caused the overwhelming dust bunny convention in virtually every room of the house?
My collection of, you guessed it: things.
Paper and cardboard, to be exact. The stuff of all conflagration. The cause of the problem was the problem. Shit, effectively begetting shit.
In spite of the questionable integrity of the first floor wiring, the Nutone heat lamp timer on the bathroom wall still worked. If I set it to its maximum 15 minutes, I could start at the south end of the kitchen and work my way north. The white washed Pier I country house bench, wedding gift from Lisa in ’93, would be the first suffocation rescue; what remained would take the rest of my life.
Faintly, in the distance of my inevitable future, I could almost feel it:
© 6/10/2021 Ruth Ann Scanzillo. All rights those of the author, whose story it is and whose name appears above this line. No copying, in whole or part including translation, permitted. Sharing by blog link, exclusively. Thank you for respecting the transparencies of original writers.