My Laundry Is Done, Pencils Sharpened, Socks Ironed . . .

October 12, 1994|By BLAKE WHITE

It is 11 a.m. on a Thursday. The silence shimmers over the parking lot like a silken quilt. Settler's Landing is as eerily quiet as it was back in the ice-bound zero- degree middle of February. This morning is even quieter than a winter morning because there's nothing to crunch underfoot but soft summer dust.

My laundry, including the ironing, is all up-to-date. My paperwork is tidy and filed away. Every pencil in the house has been scrupulously sharpened to a microscopic point. Plants are watered, books put back in bookcases, and I bought a mop recently. My car is one of only five where a hundred will vie for spaces come evening. I am rather permanently home alone. At Home, as the Victorians might put it, but then, they were used to it.

A lot of people lived at home even a decade ago. A lot more of us will be doing it again soon, according to the business news. Our future will be spent, they frequently say, in the home office to and from which we telecommunicate, driving the big rigs on the information highway. The society of the water-cooler is giving way to a way of life which promises to re-acquaint us with our dwelling places.

It's been years, maybe 10 or 20, since I last lived at my house for any length of time. Oh, I slept here, spent the occasional weekend here, a snow day or two, now and then a flu week. Except for the flu, staying home for a couple of days was a treat. But nothing prepared me for the eerie experience of actually being at home almost all the time, in my townhouse, with mine one of only three occupied dwellings on this side of the court.

There's a baby sitter down at the end of my row, and one neighbor who is holed up with his computer trying to make a little cash, but for the most part the neighborhood is away all day. There are cats and crows, sparrows and wasps living intense and mysterious lives in the yards. The hometown feels like a ghost town.

If it weren't for the daily arrival of the school buses and the hundred cars in the evening, I would be tempted to believe that the settlers that had landed here in Settler's Landing were Martians, long since departed, leaving nothing but Martians' empty houses, inhabited only by Martian furniture.

There have been, I have to admit, a few weekday events that proved there were actual people in some of the houses. On the day of the solar eclipse, all the available humans came out of their blank houses to watch. Four At Homes, the baby-sitter and a mess of adorable pre-school babies stood on the deserted sidewalk and cheered for the sun.

This is high-density housing, the suburban row house, mostly with three or four people sharing each unit at night. The last time I was At Home, my peers and I spent a fair amount of time outside in the summer, tending the babies. It was a retro way of life but it had some sweet, companionable aspects. In none of my past spells of being at home did I ever catch up on my ironing. A basket of ironing was a permanent feature of my house's decor.

Owing to a massive economic accident, many of the people I know and used to know are At Home Again these days, and they report the same things: The ironing is finally done and the neighborhoods are bereft of people. Some of us have noticed that days often go by without a single human being sighted. We live surrounded by large, tired nocturnal animals, invisible during daylight hours. Town-house rows and single-family streets with swimming pools are equally deserted. Except for us chickens, there is nobody home.

The only obnoxious noises around here on weekdays are the irregularly scheduled mowers and weed-eaters of the home-owners association. They shave the common grounds and attack the parking lot with leaf-blowers. The noise is similar to, but somewhat less exciting than, a rocket launch or the Indy 500. The leaf-blower is particularly loud, and especially odd, since there are no leaves to be blown. The blond, dreadfully sun-burned young man in charge of leaf-blowing sends clouds of dust, grass-clippings and bits of paper into the air. It's a gig, we suppose. And the noise makes the returning silence all the more elegant.

The middle-aged, able-bodied At Home set do have a lot of advantages we never anticipated. We can go to the grocery store when it is nearly empty. We can make appointments for deliveries and home repairs without worrying about dashing home and waiting. We are already home and waiting. The days are long and there's plenty of time to get everything done. Hence the well-tended laundry.

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