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Cleaning House

Art by Gaia Schilke

February 4, 2024

by Dr. David Fialkoff, Editor / Publisher; Art by Gaia Schilke

A few years after moving in, I asked my landlady (who lives upstairs) if I could also rent the room that was on the other side of a locked door off of my living room.

The room had formerly served as the classroom where she taught generations of neighborhood children English, but had fallen into disuse in favor of her upstairs apartment.

Dust accumulates fast here in the desert and the abandoned classroom was full of it. Dust covered everything: books and papers piled, stowed hither and thon; instructional school items and educational paraphernalia crammed willy-nilly wherever, blackboards and pictures on the walls. The place was spooky, having the feel of some bargain-basement pharaonic chamber. Even the spiderwebs, those broken and those whole, were covered in dust.

She agreed and I began humanizing the space, packing her things into boxes and bringing them upstairs, to where, beside her apartment, my landlady was to construct another classroom. I cleaned, evicting the spiders. Eventually even the cockroaches found a new home.

After I gave the walls a couple coats of white paint, Memo, the historical architect, who lived across our narrow alley, and was familiar with my landlady's housekeeping skills (or lack of them), was amazed by the transformation, marveling more than once, "I can't believe what you've done with this room."

This brings to mind what, four decades earlier, a very successful doctor of Chinese medicine in the Bay Area, told our class of future naturopathic doctors, there under the big trees in Sonoma. He said that the condition of your closets affects the energy, the feng shui, of the whole house. How much more so living beside a room straight out of the House of Horror?

Just last week I made another huge step forward in ordering my abode, getting rid of six large bags of concrete left over from the construction of my landlady's new, second-floor classroom. These bags, all here on the first floor, were, three, stored in a cabinet below the large sink in the small bodega (which I inherited with the old classroom), and, three, out in the patio, stacked on a low platform I built behind the spiral staircase, out of the rain.

Last week, the foreman on the job at the house across the alley, where Memo used to live, explained why not he, nor anyone else, despite my offering, wanted to use these. Inside the paper bags the concrete had concretized. Absorbing atmospheric moisture, the powder had hardened, not rock-solid like properly set concrete, but hard enough to make it unusable.

He did tell me that I could add the bags to the rubble when such was hauled away from his construction site.

That opportunity came yesterday, while the foreman was himself away. The driver of the truck, that pulled tightly into the end of our narrow alley, however, was equally amenable. He set about, with a shovel, filling five-pails with the rubble of the house construction (they were building another boundary wall) each of which was carried to and dumped into his truck. As most everyone of the ten workers were just looking on, waiting their turn, pushy gringo that I am, I called out in a strong tone, "No necesitas tantos caballos. Dame algunos" (You don't need so many horses. Give me some). Mexicans love to laugh. They did, and I took three workers, who took away the three bags from behind the stairs. It was heavy work.

On a roll, I then announce to the crowd, still loading the truck pail by pail, "Busco a alguien que quiera ganar 50 pesos" (I'm looking for someone who wants to earn 50 pesos). Someone was put forward, who, after failing to extract by hand the other three bags from the cabinet under the sink in the bodega where they were hardened into place, came back with a six-foot-long stout metal pole that was just made for the job of chopping them out. In pails, he carried away the pieces and even swept up when he was done. In Mexico, 50 pesos is a very good wage for 15 minutes of work, a lot more than he was getting paid to build the wall, but I was happy to pay it.

I cleaned up the very nasty space that had been under the platform behind the stairs. It contained, a literal, if abandoned, rat's nest, an assortment of large spiders and a species of shimmering cockroaches such as I have never seen before.

You'll excuse the doctorly metaphor, but the immediate effect of eliminating those bags is as if I'd just evacuated my bowels, and that after having been constipated... for years. Fifty kilos per bag, times six bags, is a big load.

Symbolist that I am, I cannot help but extract a lesson from this: It is that I am held back more by unresolved past difficulties than I am by any challenges that lie ahead. The skeletons in my closets are what most limit my ability to navigate the flesh and blood of now. But, step by step, I'm cleaning house.


Three of Hearts - Gaia Schilke, Chris Dolan, Debra Deutsch Oliver
Atelier Dolan, Mesones 38, Plaza Meson de San Jose
(across from Plaza Civica, near the old gas pump)
opening Friday, February 2, 5-8pm

also - Meet the Artists, Sat, Feb. 3, 11am-5pm


Dr. David Fialkoff presents Lokkal, our local social network, the community online and off. Please do contribute content, or your hard-earned pesos to support Lokkal, SMA's Voice; Atención robustly reborn for the digital age.


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