The denial pile

Posted: Wednesday, November 03, 2010

In our house, domestic assignments arise organically, following a nice, logical rubric. For instance, my wife works a job requiring professional attire, so she gets the closet. I work from home, hence my wardrobe is limited to three hooks on the back of the door. Not that I'm complaining. It's yet another excuse for wearing the same clothes every day.

Anyway, I find a certain Zen-like peace in constructing tiny, colorful, well-balanced meals in clear glass containers - it's sort of like Japanese flower arranging - so I pack our daughter's lunch. My wife's better at wrapping gifts, I'm better at shoveling snow. She digs loading the dishwasher, I enjoy successfully degreasing Cephalon, which can be a real pain if you burn cheese onto it.

See what I mean? Nice, logical-everybody's happy.

But for some reason, even though my organizational skills border on pathological hoarding disorder, I'm the one in charge of our family's paperwork.

"Paperwork" includes, but is not limited to: an accordion folder marked "Stuff N' Junk"; a standard-sized file cabinet jammed with legal-sized file folders; my "inbox," a teetering stack of loose papers, empty FedEx envelopes and for some reason, a Men At Work record. I think my birth certificate's in there, too. I know our marriage license is.

So far, my chronic archival neglect is benign. As long as I'm able to produce vital items, say the checkbook or vaccination records or my old collection of Garbage Pail Kids cards, there's no problem.

However, I'm also responsible for our mail, and that's where the trouble begins. I'm talking specifically about what I term the "denial pile," that ever-expanding mountain of bills, forms, statements and anything having to do with any type of insurance that collects on the kitchen counter.

I remember when mail was fun to get - birthday checks, "Highlights" magazine, personalized license plates for your BMX you could send away for after eating 25 boxes of Cheerios.

Now, mail is the bane of my existence. It just keeps coming, every day (except Sundays and federal holidays). And it's full of reminders that I'm a responsible adult now, someone who tracks interest rates, contributes to IRAs, writes angry letters re: denied benefits.

Ask my letter carrier. I never check the mailbox, terrified of what's inside. This works out well, because by then half the mail's rain-soaked and disintegrating, which means I can toss it straight into the outside trash cans.

Anything that actually gets inside the house, however, is a different story. Usually, I cull the magazines, the Netflix, the Cabela's and L.L. Bean catalogues (which are essentially red state-blue state analogs of each other). I'll also fish out the fetish porn guides and mail-order weapons listings the previous owner still gets sent to our address. I find that stuff both hilariously frightening and frighteningly hilarious. As long as I don't buy anything, I think I'm okay.

Once I recycle the junk mail, all the leftovers head straight to the denial pile. As such, it consists entirely of items that require some type of timely action or response.

Now, I'm lazy and I'm a procrastinator - if there's anything I dread more than having to do something, it's having to do it at that precise moment. Seriously. When my wife, nine months pregnant with our first child, waddled down to my little home office - where I was playing Guitar Hero - and said it was time to go to the hospital, literally, I was like: "Right now?" And she was all: "yeah, right freaking now." Too bad, too. I was about to break my high score on "Freebird."

So, by the time I get around to attacking the denial pile, it's mostly overdue. This now requires my immediate attention, which I'm even less likely to give. Hence, I continue ignoring it until the electric company slaps a service shut-off notice on our door. Guess what I do with the notice.

It's a vicious cycle. Thus the denial pile never shrinks. It simply moves from place to place. Of course, it also splits to form satellite denial piles. We've got a whole constellation of them: one on the bookshelf, one by the phone, one in the garage, one in the car wedged between the dashboard and the windshield. That particular satellite is starting to become a primary denial pile itself, with its own sub-satellite piles in the backseat.

Still, week after week, "denial pile" remains uncrossed off my to-do list, long after I've completed such other odious chores as cleaning the fridge and disinfecting the potty seat. I'd rather do our taxes, even.

Why don't I cede responsibility to my wife, you ask. Great question. A better one might be why doesn't she take it? I don't know. Maybe it's a gender thing, maybe it's a control thing. Could be we've learned to embrace the chaos - a nice, safe bit of chaos, but chaos nonetheless. Or maybe it's just because that's how we've always done it, which, honestly, is why we do a lot of things.

But you know, in the scheme of things, it's not that a big deal. I mean, as Paul McCartney once wrote, "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da, life goes on, bra."

Plus, you should see the backlog of unread messages I've got in my G-mail. That's right - my "e-nial pile." And I can't even use it for kindling.

• Slack Tide runs every other Wednesday; check out more of Kirsch's work at

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