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AL MARTINEZ

I am to garbage-ducking what Joe DiMaggio was to baseball. : Under the Deck

September 03, 1987|Al Martinez

The nature of man is to resist, and, by resisting, to snap the shackles of slavery, to topple history's tyrants and, if possible, to do as little as possible around the house.

I'm good at that.

I'm not sure how I'd do at chain-snapping or tyrant-toppling, but I doubt there's a man alive who can match my facility at resisting the job of taking out the garbage.

I am to garbage-ducking what Joe DiMaggio was to baseball. In one memorable 1973 streak, I achieved 56 consecutive garbage-free days, a record that is still regarded with respect wherever men gather to drink beer and discuss greatness.

But champions, by the nature of their concentration, often excel in only one arena of expertise. Big Bill Tilden, I am told, couldn't dance, nor could Swingin' Sammy Snead carry a tune.

Similarly, while I am a whiz at garbage-ducking, I was unable to further avoid the stuff under the deck. I knew you'd care.

To begin with, I hate clutter. If I lived alone, it would be in rooms without furniture. A used desk for my word processor and an orange crate to sit on, but nothing else.

Folks would peek in and say, "My, what an orderly old fellow," and I would wiggle my nose at them like Ollie North and wink and say, "Have a nice day!"

Which brings us to disorder.

We have a large wooden deck at our house. Until recently, it was filled with chairs, chaise lounges, tables and barbecue pits. Their random deployment offended my sense of symmetry.

I love . . . well . . . emptiness.

"What good is a deck with nothing on it?" my wife would ask.

I'd reply by saying simply, "God did not give us wood to cover it with tubed aluminum," which I hoped was vague enough to explain an otherwise unexplainable aversion to clutter.

Al Martinez

It did no good, however. The deck remained packed with things to sit on and eat at and barbecue hamburgers with.

But then, not long ago, something wonderful happened. We had a wedding at our house, which required that everything on the deck be temporarily placed under it. And there it has been ever since, despite almost unbearable pressure to restore the deck to its original state.

Last weekend, however, came a moment of truth.

"I've reached the end of my patience, Elmer," my wife said.

She calls me that because sometimes I slur my name so that it sounds like Elmer Teenez. It's a family joke, like backing out of the driveway and running over your own dog.

"How can I possibly move that stuff back on the deck alone?" I whined.

"Hire a Mexican," she said.

"I am a Mexican," I said.

"Hire a strong Mexican who is willing to work and doesn't whine."

"If I could sing 'La Bamba,' you wouldn't be pushing me around this way."

"I can't sing 'La Bamba,' either," she said, "so I'll help. You go under the deck and pass the stuff up and I'll put it in place."

I crawled under the deck. Diagonals of sunlight slanted through the openings between the floor boards. They gave the stored furniture a surrealistic look.

"Hey," I shouted up to the deck top, "this is pretty!"

"I'm glad you're enjoying it," my wife called down.

"It's like a Van Gogh painting."

"I don't believe Van Gogh ever did an under-the-deck scene," her voice said.

"Monet?"

"Stop stalling and pass up the furniture," the voice demanded.

I felt like I was talking to God.

I crawled in further. The space narrowed. Cobwebs brushed my face. If there is anything I hate worse than clutter, it is spiders. Well, spiders and moths. I had an idea for a television movie once about moths.

"Remember the moth idea?" I called up.

"Was that the one with the sex slaves?"

"Sex volunteers, " I corrected."

"What about it?" she said impatiently.

"I was just remembering it."

"Stop with the memory lane and pass up the . . . oh, never mind."

I heard footsteps. Then she stuck her head under the deck.

"You go topside," she said, "and I'll hand up the furniture."

"This is a man's job," I insisted.

"I know," she said, "but it's too late to go out and get one now."

When she saw my lower lip begin to tremble, she said, "I'm just kidding."

I'm good at getting my lower lip to tremble.

"You're not kidding," I said. "You've always wished I were a cowboy."

The balance was shifting in my favor. Women cannot stand to see a man in emotional pain.

"No," she said, a little too wistfully, "not really. I'd just like someone a little more willing to help around the house."

"You should have married a handyman."

My eyes fluttered.

"Tell you what," she said quickly. "It's getting late, so we'll skip the furniture today. I'll go up and fix us a margarita in honor of your race. Would that be better?"

" Si ."

I'd done it again. Another weekend without deck clutter. I smell a new record.

She went inside and whipped up the margaritas. I sat on a box and hummed "La Bamba."

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