For the last six months the basket sat there in a corner of our bedroom. Every time I looked at it my mind filled with the drudgery of reviewing the folders piled inside. It’s going to take a long time, I thought, and didn’t do anything. The cleaning ladies vacuumed the floor around the basket, sometimes moving it a bit, but it stayed in the same vicinity, perhaps poking fun at my laziness. Fortunately my wife didn’t bug me to clean up. I was glad for that.
As a New Year’s resolution this year my wife started cleaning out papers that we had stashed in a plastic box. She worked diligently for a whole afternoon and took out many folders filled with papers. Some of them were about a quarter-inch thick. She placed them in a medium-sized laundry basket.
“You need to take a look at these,” she said. “If we don’t need them we can use the space for something else.”
I took one look at the basket, which was filled to the top. I had no idea what the papers were.
“Okay,” I said and left it at that.
Just before this Fourth of July weekend, after a late breakfast, having read the local newspaper from beginning to end, my wife went outside to plant seeds she had bought from Home Depot. I was left to myself and needed something to do. I had just finished reading a book we had borrowed from the library. Watching TV was not a good option.
I finally resolved to tackle what I had imagined to be a boring job.
I sat on the floor next to the basket and started pulling out the folders one at a time. Each folder had a number handwritten on it. I realized many were old tax returns I had hoarded, receipts for appliances replaced a long time ago, and other sundry items. The IRS only needs the returns for the immediate past three years, so these returns were candidates for disposal. I had to be careful though, to safeguard private information, such as bank account numbers, social security numbers, and credit card statements.
I started removing the papers from the folders, looking through each for confidential information. The returns were hand-written and had copies of worksheets I had completed to calculate profits and losses from investments, charitable deductions, etc. This was before I had started using TurboTax. I shivered at the thought of spending many days to fill the forms by hand and do the complex calculations using a small calculator. I pulled the sensitive information from stapled forms packages.
I made two piles: one to the right for papers to be shredded and one to the left for papers to be recycled, like IRS instructions, and non-essential receipts. In a half hour or so my back started to ache, so I rested it against the bed frame. That was not much of a help.
Maybe I should stop and complete this some other day, I thought.
The consequence of that was clear: the heaps of paper would stay on the bedroom floor until I got another bout of inspiration. No, that wasn’t a good idea. I was my own supervisor and I had to push myself.
Keep going. Finish it and you will be relieved.
I picked up a folder with the number 1995. Inside was a W-2 form from Jerry’s Subs & Pizza. Jerry’s Subs and Pizza? Then it dawned on me. That’s where my son had worked after he had finished high school, the summer before he was to start college.
I remember him telling us stories about customers he encountered. Some of them revealed ignorance of people about what really goes on in the restaurant kitchens.
“Some people come in and ask for a veggie burger,” he said once. “But, we use the same grille that we use for regular hamburgers.”
“Well, it’s best they don’t know. I bet they liked the taste,” my wife said.
Then he told us how his manager’s behavior towards him changed after learning that he was a college-bound student.
“He never assigned me a menial job, like mopping the floor at closing,” my son said.
It was a classic example of how people can change their perception about you once they get to know more about you.
I had been reviewing the papers for over two hours. I was tired. I got up, first turning on my hands and knees. My knees felt rusty. I touched my toes to stretch my hamstrings. I limped as I walked.
“What’s wrong with me? I do yoga twice a week. Why am I sore? Could this be aging?”
I descended the stairs leading to the main living area, slowly, holding on-to the railing. I fetched a glass of water and sat down at the breakfast table. A few minutes later, refreshed, I went upstairs again.
I shuffled the papers, moving the ones at the bottom to the top. I noticed a bill dated May 2002. I pulled it closer. The print was fading. It was a notice of rent due from the Collegiate Suites where my daughter was a resident. She was a senior architectural student and shared a four bedroom apartment with three other students. The suite had a large living room with a sofa. Each student had a separate bedroom with an attached bathroom. All shared a small kitchen.
Our daughter was working part-time in a coffee shop. She had decided to play Billie Holiday as a back-drop and her manager and the visitors all liked it. There was a regular visitor who ordered the same thing every day.
“I get the coffee and pastry he likes before he even sits down,” my daughter said.
This people interaction was as important as the architecture courses she was taking.
She met her future husband at this apartment. In one of our visits to see her dwelling she wanted to introduce him. He shared a separate apartment with another student, a mile away from the collegiate suits.
I drove as she directed. At one intersection I was asked to make a left turn. I was thinking that we may have to park in front of an apartment complex and wait for him to come out. Instead we noticed a young man, with curly brown hair, sitting on the curb looking at his phone.
“That’s him,” my daughter said.
The young man got up quickly when he noticed us. He was tall and slim and wore jeans and a checked shirt. He sat in the back and said “hi.”
We all went to an Italian restaurant and had a great time. He didn’t talk much but told us that he was a graduate student at the college of computer science and engineering and how he met our daughter at an art gallery where she was displaying photos she had taken on a study abroad assignment. He was attending as a representative of the school newspaper. My wife and I took an instant liking to the young man.
They are now married and we have two lovely grand children. I smiled as I placed the paper on top of the pile to be recycled.
I finished my task in the next 30 minutes. I was relieved and happy that it was done. I had accomplished something. No more guilty looks at the basket, because the basket was empty.
As I came down I noticed my wife had just entered through the door in the kitchen that led to the garage.
“What’s going on?” she asked, washing her hands in the kitchen sink.
“I did it,” I said. “I finally did it.”
“All those papers that were in the basket upstairs, were old tax returns and receipts we don’t need. We can get rid of them. I can’t believe I used to do all the calculations by hand.”
I told her about the memories the forms brought back.
“Yes. We’ll never forget those stories,” she said, looking out the window as if contemplating.
“It wasn’t all that bad,” I said.
She turned to me and asked,
“Cleaning up the basket upstairs.”
“Well,” she said after a pause. “Nothing is all that bad, once you put your mind into it.”
A while later she tapped the TV remote to watch the HGTV channel, turned to me and said,
“We need to clean our library next. There are so many books we can donate.”
“Let me bask in my glory for a while,” I replied as I walked to the refrigerator to get a cold beer.