Mirror, Mirror, on the Ground

On the day after Christmas, I went under my house and stomped a mirror to pieces. This wasn’t a unique household counter-superstition meant to guarantee good luck in the coming year. (In that matter, we hew to the old ways.) It was spring cleaning.

The calendar tells me it’s “winter.” I put the word in quotation marks, because we shouldn’t kid ourselves that what passes for winter in the San Francisco Bay Area counts as a real expression of that season. But we do have a part of the year when both rain and temperatures fall. Usually.

This year, though, we’ve had warmth and drouth. The high temperature in Oakland on Christmas Day was a record-breaking 69 degrees. About a quarter-inch of rain has fallen in December. The historical average is around five inches.

Without the seasonal cues telling us to hibernate then reemerge, we’re left to puzzle out our schedules as we please. If winter never starts, when, or how, can spring come? Might as well do the “spring” cleaning now, when we’ve got some extra time around the holidays. 

We don’t have a basement. We have a dirt-floored cavern that runs the entire length and breadth of our house, has windows (now nailed shut), and is tall enough for me to stand with only occasional crouching under pipes and ducts. I don’t know what to call this. It’s not a crawlspace; crawling is entirely optional. Does that make it a walkspace? A sometimes-crouchspace?

Whatever it’s called, it’s nice to have, since our 1905 house is short on closets. As you’d expect, we stow our infrequently-used belongings down below: Christmas lights and ornaments, camping gear, paint, and so on, most of it packed in heavy-duty plastic bins with adhesive labels, all stacked on wooden pallets.

We also put things under the house that we think or hope might be useful some day. This includes a bin full of art supplies, the fenders that I took off my wife’s bike, and the two fluorescent tube fixtures that used to illuminate our kitchen. We replaced them not long after moving in, but I wanted to keep them. In the broken place that is my brain, I have “plans” to one day install the fixtures over the little workshop space I’ve carved out under the house. (I put the word in quotation marks because we shouldn’t kid ourselves.)

Then there’s the third category of objects down below: things that no longer have any utility for us, that never will have, but that I’ve been too lazy to get rid of. The word for these objects is “trash.” If we end up with something that’s difficult to dispose of properly, I’m likely to shove it under the house, close my eyes tight, and hope with that it goes away, like I do with feelings. Objects in this category include: an old mop, a tub of used antifreeze, and, for the past year or so, a broken mirror.

My Boxing Day mandate was to get rid of the broken mirror. I knew that there was a proper way to do it. I don’t mean the various prescriptions applied by superstition to ward off the bad luck earned by breaking the thing, which seem to vary nationally and regionally. My personal favorite: bury the pieces of the mirror on the night of a full moon. Some people say you have to bury it under a tree; others are silent as to location. This means that there are non-trivial amounts of glass buried in the ground pretty close to where people live, all over the country. So that’s cool.

I mean, instead, that my local waste management authority almost certainly has a procedure one must follow or a place one must go to properly dispose of a broken mirror or other piece of plate glass. Standing under the house though, I had no idea what it was, and I had no interest in finding out.

Once I do work up the resolution to deal with an unpleasant remnant under the house — often prompted by my wife, who is always reasonable and correct when she says “It’s time to deal with the unpleasant remnant under the house” — I become very motivated and focused on that task, to the exclusion of other activities. Never mind that I was carrying a device that connects me instantaneously to all world knowledge, including my local waste management authority’s prescriptions for mirror disposal. I wasn’t under the house to look things up on my phone. I was under there to get rid of a mirror.

Put another way, I’d spent over a year willfully ignoring this mirror under the house. Why would I spend a whit more of thought on it now? I just wanted it out of my life.

So I improvised. I have a roll of thick plastic sheeting — which I can’t remember buying, and wonder now what I intended when I bought it — and I cut off a piece about eight feet long. I stretched it out on the ground and put the mirror at one end. I then applied the technology of stomping, spending a couple of minutes stepping repeatedly on my own reflected face, to break the mirror into lots of smaller pieces. In the end I had to tear the pieces apart by (gloved) hand because the safety backing kept them together. Little shardlets would sometimes fly up toward my be-goggled eyes.

When all the stomping and tearing was done, I had a pile of mirror parts  and lots of pieces of myself staring back at me. I rolled it all up in the long plastic and stapled the whole thing shut. Into the trash bin it went, never to be thought of again.

And that’s how we deal with feelings broken mirrors where I live.


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