[This story may need some explanation…While living together my family did pick up our “creative clutter” at the end of the day, but we grumbled about it. Early in my teens, I wrote a series of comedy stories about a larger, messier family who never picked things up and thus achieved surreal, preposterous clutter. This was the first one. It was typed, illustrated with cartoons by the author, and assembled as a picture book. Some young relatives of mine liked it.]
Once upon a time, on Cloverleaf Hill, there lived some people called Slovenly.
Mr Slovenly liked to make tapes.
Mrs Slovenly liked to cook, and sew, and paint pictures.
Peter Slovenly liked to play music.
Messalina Slovenly liked to read magazines and catalogues.
Sandra Slovenly liked to play with dolls.
Charlie Slovenly liked to whittle and make modern art out of wood shavings and Band-Aids.
Grandmother Slovenly liked to knit.
And NONE OF THEM LIKED TO PICK UP THEIR THINGS AFTERWARD.
Most of the time Grandmother Slovenly stayed in her room. You can see why.
If you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, do not sit still.
Once a man went to visit the Slovenlys without knowing that he should never sit still in their house. He sat down and began telling Mr Slovenly about some encyclopedias.
“You have a nice voice, young man,” said Mr Slovenly. “Let me get that voice on tape!”
The man felt pleased with himself. “As I was saying,” he said, “everyone ought to have an encyclopedia….” and he began telling Mr Slovenly all the advantages of having an encyclopedia.
“I think we have one somewhere,” said Mr Slovenly, “but we don’t have one on tape yet. I see you brought yours along. Why don’t you just read me a bit from the encyclopedia?”
The Slovenlys were always buying replacements for things after forgetting who had used something last or where he had put it.
The young man wanted very much to sell Mr Slovenly an encyclopedia, so he opened the volume he was carrying and began, “A, the letter, from the ancient Phoenician, alef, an ox…”
“Hold on,” said Mr Slovenly. “A voice like that deserves some Background Music. Where did I put that tape? Let me see, let me see,” and he rummaged around amongst various shelves and cases of tapes. The children began to wander through the room, looking at their visitor and leaving trails of their favorite activities behind them. Mr Slovenly found the tape he wanted and slotted it into Side A of his tape recorder.
The encyclopedia man began reading again, with soft, slow music playing in the background. “Thought to represent an ox’s head…”
“Oh, hello,” said Mrs Slovenly to her husband, “since you’ve got him set up to record, dear, why don’t you peel some potatoes? You can let him hold the bowl.” She set a large bowl of potatoes on the encyclopedia man’s knee, behind his encyclopedia. “That way I can listen to you, and catch the afternoon light on the willow tree over on Railroad Hill.”
“Hebrew aleph, a bull,” the encyclopedia man droned on, while Mr Slovenly peeled potatoes into the bowl on his knee. Mrs Slovenly set up her paints.
Sandra Slovenly pulled off the encyclopedia man’s boots and emptied Peter’s guitar picks into them. She wanted the box Peter kept his guitar picks in for a dolls’ wardrobe.
“Who’s got my guitar picks?” called Peter Slovenly. He began wandering about, and wandered into the room where his father was recording. “I want to record along with the next song on that tape,” he told his father. After rummaging about in his room, he came downstairs with his violin and began playing along with the tape. He stood behind the encyclopedia man, propping his sheet music on the man’s shoulder.
Sandra Slovenly decided Peter’s guitar picks would be safer if she tipped them back out of the man’s boots and poured in a layer of styrofoam pellets from one of the packages Messalina had ordered from one of her mail-order catalogues, for insulation. Along with the pellets she tipped out a pair of shoes, which she left on the floor while she nestled the guitar picks securely in more layers of pellets.
“Who’s got my shoes?” called Messalina Slovenly. She came in and retrieved her new shoes before Sandra could think of anything to do with them. “Hush, don’t whine, Daddy’s recording everything,” she told Sandra. “You can have my old shoes instead.” She changed shoes and sat down to listen to the encyclopedia man while she browsed through the new catalogue that had come with the new shoes.
Mrs Slovenly finished painting, picked up a sweater Peter had thrown over a chair, and began darning the sleeve. Charlie began whittling a stick, aiming the shavings into the encyclopedia man’s hat. Mr Slovenly popped in a new tape. Messalina put the potatoes on the stove. Peter got tired of playing the violin and left it on the chair beside the encyclopedia man while he went upstairs for his guitar.
Messalina shoved the violin under the encyclopedia and laid her schoolwork across the encyclopedia man’s knees. He was now reading about aardvarks. Peter played the guitar while, one by one, the others brought in bowls of potato soup and ate them. Then, one by one, they put their empty bowls in the sink, brought in plates of tuna salad, and ate those. Mr Slovenly popped in another tape. His children wandered about carrying various personal belongings and crumbly ginger cookies.
The UPS man came to the door to deliver some yarn Grandma had ordered from one of Messalina’s catalogues. Messalina signed for it, and rushed up to Grandma’s room, leaving the package on the floor and shouting, “Grandma, Grandma, your yarn’s here.”
Grandma Slovenly shuffled downstairs. The encyclopedia man did not realize what an appearance by Grandma Slovenly portended. He was now very warm, bundled up amongst the sweaters, schoolbags, papers, magazines, and other Slovenly clutter that had begun to pile around him, and he felt rather sleepy.
While a tape was still winding along in the tape recorder, the clock struck seven. All the Slovenlys got up, leaving their paraphernalia behind, and went out. The encyclopedia man thought that even a family as eccentric as they would come back in a few minutes, so he obligingly went on reading about the town of Aberdovey.
Little did he know that the Slovenlys were going out of town for the weekend. When the tape reached its end the encyclopedia man thought that, as long as nobody was paying any attention to him, he might as well get a drink of water. Ignoring a crash behind him he picked his way through the Slovenly clutter to the kitchen, where all the dirty dishes were still stacked in the sink. Whole, raw potatoes were strewn over the counter but there were no clean glasses in the cupboard.
The encyclopedia man held a half-cup measure to the faucet, but no water came out. He tried the bathroom, but no water came out there either. The Slovenlys had turned off the water and electricity and drained the water lines before they left, to make sure their clutter was not destroyed by flood or fire while they were gone. The encyclopedia man found nothing to drink but a bottle of cough syrup. After drinking it he felt inclined to lie down in the bathtub and rest.
What had crashed behind him had been the usual avalanche produced when anyone moved quickly in the Slovenly residence. A tumbling box of holiday decorations had started a cascade of quilts from the antique china cupboard, giving it an excuse to fall forward, as it often did. That was why quilts and afghans were stored there in front of the china. The china cupboard had tipped a bookshelf part way over. Between them the two pieces of furniture blocked the encyclopedia man’s way out of the house. As he picked his way through the house the next morning the encyclopedia man saw no other way out.
He might, of course, have pushed things aside and gone to a door or window…but you already know that the Slovenlys themselves intimidated the encyclopedia man, so you can imagine the effect of their Slovenly clutter, including the three encyclopedias they had bought in the past five years. He was afraid of breaking something, possibly a leg.
He might have found food and water if it had occurred to him to look for the Slovenlys’ refrigerator, which was kept in the basement to save expenses…but since this young man sat down in the Slovenlys’ house, you already knew he was not intelligent. Really it was a wonder the encyclopedia man survived.
Luckily for him the Slovenlys had only gone away for three days, so, although he was not able to get out of the house, he was able to eat raw potatoes and drink cough syrup until the Slovenlys came back. As soon as he heard the key in the lock, the encyclopedia man ran to the hallway. As the Slovenlys came in, pushing things aside and throwing their coats, boots, hats, and suitcases in the hallway, the encyclopedia man dodged past them and ran away.
“Who was that?” said Mr Slovenly absentmindedly.
“I thought he was a friend of yours,” said Mrs Slovenly.
“Look,” said Peter Slovenly, “he’s drunk all the cough syrup.”
“And stepped on my doll bed,” said Sandra, picking up a rather bent cardboard doll bed from the middle of the hallway floor.
“And tangled up my yarn,” said Grandma, snatching a half-wound hank of wool off the sitting-room floor before any more of Charlie’s shavings mixed in with it.
“He’s no friend of mine,” said Mr Slovenly. “He must be one of Peter’s friends.”
“Who, me?” said Peter indignantly.
“Please don’t invite him again,” said Mrs Slovenly.
“No fear!” said Peter.
So, if you ever go to visit the Slovenlys, you have been warned, and I will not be blamed if you ignore this warning and sit down.