Now and again — every 25 years or so, I'm told — the newsroom where I work undergoes a top-to-bottom cleaning and re-organizing.
We're not talking about your average, "The fire marshal's coming, so pick up that pile of papers."
This is a getting-new-carpet, moving-furniture, finally-clearing-shelves-and-delving-into-forgotten-file-cabinets sort of endeavor, and it has been fascinating.
I'm not a hoarder or even much of a pack rat, compared to some. But I, like many of my colleagues, tend to save certain historic, irreplaceable stuff. For example:
* My 1999 Week-In-View calendar, with entries such as "Super Bowl (Denver wins)" beside a little sad-face doodle, "Lilith Fair with Carri and James," and "get Hannah's Easter shoes."
* An appointment slip for a prenatal sonogram, with hand-written instructions: "Empty bladder, then drink 32 ounces of clear liquid."
* My dog-eared copy of Strunk and White's "Elements of Style," copyright 1979.
* A cheesy, charming flag-on-a-toothpick souvenir from my trip to Lebanon, Kan., the "Geographical Center of the Conterminous U.S."
* A poem by my daughter, Hannah, written on notebook paper and illustrated with an orange and red crayon sunset:
It's almost five,
The sun's about to set.
Keep writing with passion,
You'll get better, I bet!
* And a note scribbled years ago by my son, Jack: "i love you moma." (He may have been referring to the Museum of Modern Art, but I selfishly just assumed he meant me.)
We keep the important stuff.
We also keep mountains of marginal to useless stuff, as I discovered while clearing out file cabinets filled and then abandoned by former colleagues. To wit:
* A thick binder titled "What Reporters Should Know About No Child Left Behind and What Comes Next," circa 2003.
* "Fifty (Safe) Ways to Get Off the Bus," a poem/song about school bus safety written to the tune of Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover."
* Tons of agendas, minutes, studies, proposals, flyers, invitations, schedules, receipts, instruction books, menus and expired coupons.
* Three red jelly beans.
* And a folder labeled "Budget Cut Drama," year unknown.
Flanked by boxes, trash cans and recycling bins, I've been reeling in the years, stowing away the time, humming and marveling at the odd satisfaction of this task.
As I unearthed and then scrubbed my desk, I recalled how, a few years ago, my husband, children and I packed our things to move to a new house. Then, like now, I learned that the swiftest way to clean is to start over, freshly scrubbed and lemony scented.
Eventually, of course, new bathroom tiles get dirty. Drawers and closets fill. Food spills. Things get tucked away and forgotten, until someone else finds them and wonders what you were thinking.
Up in the newsroom, we'll tiptoe on the new carpet at first, maybe even barefoot. In time, though, someone will spill coffee. Someone always does. We'll try to be good, but we'll squirrel away papers and personal treasures, pile them up, close the drawer, assume we'll organize again someday.
Someone always does.
As for me, I'm doing my part. I tossed the jelly beans.