I have a very clear memory of the first time I saw an Office Max. It was Thanksgiving, 1990, and we were in Portland, Oregon. Lost in the dark and the rain, we pulled into a parking lot to look at the directions we'd been given by my cousin, who, I now realize, was hoping we'd give up and go back to Seattle so he could hog the turkey for himself. After my uncle died, my aunt raised eight kids - the first six of them boys - on a limited budget. Second helpings were what you got if the kid sitting next to you wasn't paying close enough attention to his plate. I don't think anyone in that family closed their eyes for a mealtime prayer in 20 years; forks were used more as defensive weaponry than mere eating utensils.
Anyway, as it turned out, we parked in front of an Office Max, and it actually took my breath away. It was huge, filled with paper clips and Dymo labelers, and was quite honestly the most beautiful building I had ever seen.
I was in love.
I may have a little problem with Diet Coke. I admit to occasionally consuming more than the recommended daily allowance of peanut butter M&Ms. It's possible that I own more red shoes than someone really needs who's not tornado-ing their way to Oz.
But my relationship with office supplies could well be described as obsessive; if I could leave five hundred messages on a sticky note's cell phone or take pictures of a decorative storage bin while it slept, I totally would. I am absolutely fixated on paper punches, file folders - anything that promises to bring order to the hullaballoo that is my life.
For me, it's the impossible dream. I have known for some time that I am to organization what hand grenades are to koi ponds. You know how some people have that weird anti-magnetism thing that stops digital watches and erases their credit cards? That's what I do when I walk past a perfectly harmless stack of mail. I don't even have to touch the envelopes. Heck, they don't even have to be in my house. Neighbors have complained for years that every time I walk my dog their cable bill falls behind the radiator.
I have roughly ninety-six thousand IKEA magazine boxes, color coordinated to match my living room and marked with beautiful tags like "Christmas - Vocal" and "Sacred Flute Solos". Yet there are so many stacks of song books and theory pages and catalogues of music paraphernalia breeding around my piano it looks like Beethoven's slumber party. I have no idea how they got there; I turned my back for five seconds, left Romanze chatting up The Minute Waltz, and before I knew it I was knee-deep in sonatinas.
My bookcases are filled with paperbacks, all facing every direction but 'up.' Notes from teachers wad themselves into balls and leap into the dishwasher. Necklaces materialize from parallel universes for the express purpose of twisting into knots you could use tether cruise ships.
"One day," I tell myself, "I'll finally get it together." I buy more and more office supplies, certain that this binder, this storage bin, this collection of monogrammed note cards with matching envelopes will finally be the organizational soul mate I can settle down and start a tidy little life with.
Then I'll have all of my, you know, stuff, at my fingertips. No more rifling through piles of loose papers looking for the car registration, or frantic searches for the two-for-one coupon from Domino's, or sheepish explanations to students for why $30 worth of lesson books - which I had in my hand twenty seconds ago - has now vanished into thin air. I'll breeze through my day, confident that no matter what natural disasters or calamaties may come, I'll always know where my return address labels are filed.
Yet even as I set out to woo and win the object of my affections, I know that in the end those beautiful office supplies are going to let me down. Betray me. Scatter themselves all over my house, leaving me in a bigger mess than before we met. It always ends that way; I fall for jerk filing systems.
I know I need help, some kind of intervention that will end the cycle of expectation, acquisition, and heartbreak. I got the number of a therapist who specializes in this kind of addiction, but I haven't been able to find where I put it. What I really need is a cute little address book, one with slots for business cards and things, and I could use a matching pen to write down all of my important phone numbers sorted by area code and...
...sigh. We'd be so happy together.