This spring has been filled with rotten winter weather, and I feel partly responsible. To explain why I feel guilty, I first have to tell a baseball story.
One evening a few years ago, when I was helping coach a kids' baseball team, I started to pack up the bats and helmets before the game was officially over. A fellow coach stopped me. "Don't do that," he said. "Packing the gear before the last out is made is bad luck."
It was a baseball superstition. On one level, it was silly. Our team was ahead by several runs going into the final inning. Chances were good that three outs would soon be recorded and we would be victorious.
But I did as I was told. I removed the bats that I had stashed in the travel bag and leaned them up against the backstop. I left the batting helmets sitting in the dust. I did not want to tempt fate.
As it turned out, our team won, but just barely. Our big lead evaporated. The other team had the tying and winning runs headed for home plate when one of our less-experienced outfielders made what for him was a miraculous play - he caught a fly ball.
To this day, I believe that if I had gone ahead and packed up the gear early, that kid would have dropped that fly ball.
That experience should have taught me the importance of abiding by time-honored closing rituals. But two weeks ago, I made another stupid hurry-up move.
Confident that warm weather had arrived, I put the household snow shovels in storage. Maybe other folks did, too. It turned out to be much too early to stow the snow shovels. The weather gods obviously felt "dissed." Since then, it has snowed several times, sleeted once, the sun has gone into hiding and it has been so cold you could still see your breath early in the morning.
In reparation for my offense, I have undertaken an odious ritual: spring cleaning. My thinking goes something like this: If we start cleaning, spring will come, maybe.
I began by washing venetian blinds. These plastic blinds were once a shade of white. But over the winter they had turned a color I would call "pretty close to filthy."
It turns out that venetian-blind cleaning is like real estate, it is all about location, location, location. At least that is what the spring-cleaning tomes I consulted told me.
One place to clean them is right at the window. Hanging blinds can be cleaned either by rubbing their slats with a wet rag, or by running your fingers over them while wearing an absorbent cotton glove. This works for metal or plastic blinds. If you have wooden blinds, you can't get them wet because they will warp. To clean them, you wipe them with furniture cleaner or mineral spirits, then immediately wipe them dry.
Another location is the bathtub. The dirty blinds are allowed to soak in hot soapy water for half an hour.
A third ploy is to take the action outside. You either wash the blinds in the back yard with the garden hose, or - and I salivate at this idea - you wrap them in a plastic bag, take them to a coin-operated car wash and spray them with those high-powered water wands.
These blinds were so dirty that I ended up using a wide variety of tactics - everything but the car-wash method.
First, I tried a variant of the white-glove method. I didn't use white cotton gloves. Instead, I went to the household rag bag and fished out an article of used clothing that was white and all-cotton. But when I rubbed this rag on the hanging blinds, they buckled under the pressure. These blinds had to be scrubbed hard to come clean. Mere light pressure from a passing rag wouldn't do it. So I climbed up a ladder and popped the blinds loose from their brackets and tossed them into a bathtub filled with hot water and dish detergent. The tilt wand - the device that opens and closes the slats - gave me trouble. It had trouble fitting in the tub, and popped loose. Putting it back together required solving a geometric puzzle. I wished I had paid more attention back in high school geometry class when the teacher talked about parallel planes. But eventually I figured out which plane went where, and snapped the tilt wand in place.
Instead of rinsing the blinds in the tub and letting them dry by hanging from the shower curtain rod, I put them in a trash bag and carried them out to the back yard.
I did this for a couple of reasons. First, dripping blinds make puddles, and I preferred to have the puddles in the back yard, not the bathroom floor. Secondly, I had a hankering to shoot something with the pistol-grip nozzle that fits on the garden hose. This, too, is a rite of spring. Shooting the blinds with the pistol-grip nozzle - technically, I was rinsing them - was satisfying. It made a lot of noise. The water jet scooted some of the dirt off the slats. But hardcore dirt lingered and had to be rubbed out with the wet cotton rag.
That hardcore dirt wouldn't have a chance, I muttered to myself, if I used the car-wash method on it.
The clean blinds sparkled when I re-hung them on the window. As I gazed out the window, I saw pear trees in bloom.
I have a few more blinds to clean. Spring might be coming, and I might be heading to a car wash.