While visiting a state park recently, I deposited myself on a bench while my wife went inside a small “mercantile” to purchase some dish towels. After a short while, another man approached the bench, requested permission to sit on the other end, which I granted, and together we watched his wife join mine.
Living in the Midwest, small talk comes easily, and in less than two minutes we had commenced on a conversation that encompassed the weather, our children, our grandchildren, the latest hot-button topic on the news, and of course, our wives. Towards the end of our discussions, a very upright, impeccably-dressed man walked past us.
“See that man?” inquired my new friend.
“Sure. What about him?” I asked.
“I think he’s counting rocks on the sidewalk, or blades of grass. At any rate, he’s calculating something in his head. Know what I mean?”
I chuckled. “Yep, I believe I do. Accountant?”
“Darn right. No doubt. Reminds me of an accountant I had at work years ago. Anthony Backus was his name. We called him Abacus. Dry as the desert at noon. No personality whatsoever. Unable to cultivate relationships. And talk about strange.”
He paused and I pondered.
“Strange?” I finally asked. “How so?”
“Well,” my new acquaintance resumed, “you know how most people have habits and routines they follow? At least many people do.”
I shook my head in the affirmative.
“Oh, you know what I mean,” he continued. “For instance, I have a routine I faithfully employ as soon as I walk in the door. First, I go directly to my office, where I get out my wallet, my keys, and my cell phone, and I put them in the exact same location on the corner of my desk. Then, I take off my shoes and put them in the same spot I always keep them. So on and so on. I’m not officially at home until I perform all my routines. I do that for a purpose, so I will never lose anything, like my keys or my wallet.”
“Yeah, I do something like that,” I replied. “Pretty routine. And you know what drives me crazy sometimes? When somebody takes it upon themselves to clean up for me. Then, I can’t find what I’m looking for.”
“That’s right,” he said. “Woe to those who mess with our stuff.”
“There’s one thing that absolutely drives me crazy,” I resumed, “and that’s something that happens in our kitchen table.”
He looked at me quizzically.
“Napkins,” I replied.
“Yes. It seems like there’s a place for every little item on our table. The salt, pepper, seasoned salt, hot sauces, and everything like that is always in the exact same spot, no matter when I go in the kitchen. However, if I venture in there during an off time, when we’re not sitting down to eat, and I’m getting a snack, I always have to face the task of tracking down the mobile napkin basket. One time it’s right in the middle of the table, the next time it’s down at the far end where nobody sits. Still another time it may be simply sitting in a chair. Later the same day, it may not even be at the table, but on a counter or sitting on top of our ice maker. Sometimes I give up searching and just grab a paper towel – they’re always hanging in the same place underneath a cabinet. I tell you, there’s no rhyme or reason.”
“I know what you mean,” he said. “I used to have t-shirts that grew legs. Sometimes I would wear them once, and then it’s like they entered the witness protection program. Never saw them or heard from them again.”
“Underwear,” I said. “Same thing. Almost got to the point where I thought I was going to have to purchase new underwear weekly.”
“Now that’s tough,” he replied.
“Fortunately, I discovered the problem. My wife loves to hang things out on the clothesline. She likes the smell of clothes dried in the fresh air. That works until someone in the neighborhood decides to burn leaves or start a small bon fire. That’s not often, though.
“When the children were young, my wife would frequently have them retrieve things from the line, a task which a couple of my children disapproved of. One day, I had to go on the roof to take care of some things – loose shingle and clean out the gutter. When I got up there, what do I find? You guessed it – underwear. Seems one child in particular so disliked bringing in the laundry that he would just toss items up on the roof, and he loved my underwear the best.”
“I’m really curious about the napkins,” my friend said. “Have you ever had any resolution of this? Why did your wife move them around all the time?”
I shook my head back and forth.
“I’d like to say she was just in the habit of cleaning the table, and when she came to the basket of napkins, simply moved it to clean. But that doesn’t make a lot of sense, for why wouldn’t other things be mobile as well? But it’s just the napkins. Sadly, the only conclusion I come to is, she just does it to aggravate me. I haven’t said anything about it for a long time. It’s not worth the effort or potential argument. But I think she senses my frustration and just keeps on doing it. When I go into the kitchen to get a snack, sometimes I want to take a toy gun and pretend that I’m on an African safari in search of the elusive Napkindebeest. It does amuse me, though, because it appears as if they move not just every day, but multiple times per day.”
“Maybe…” he began. “No, that’s too stupid.”
“What?” I said.
He laughed at himself. “I was thinking maybe they’re doing it on their own.”
“I’ve had that thought,” I replied. “More than once.”
At this moment, each of our wives came out the door, chatting. They commented on our being involved in a discussion as well. Each family was staying at the inn, and we made plans to enjoy dinner together that night.
“Hopefully we won’t have to search for napkins,” I said so that he could hear, but my wife couldn’t. We both chuckled.
“One more thing,” I said. “What about the accountant?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied. “About the most obsessive-compulsive person I have ever encountered. He was not like you or me or any ordinary person. We deal with things. He couldn’t. Finally married, but it wasn’t a good match. She was rather messy, and he couldn’t take having many things being out of place. He eventually tried to poison her. Divorce wasn’t enough for him. He had to eliminate this gene pool pollutant – his wife—from all living creatures. He believed he was in the right and was doing a service to humanity. He’s been in prison for eight years.”