Thursday, March 20, 2003

Seal Your Room, Open Your Mind

If I'd had any idea how much of a pain it was going to be to seal a room, I might never have started. Friends had done it. Ten minutes maximum, they said. Chick-chack.

Nearly two hours later, Jody and I finished. It was late Wednesday night, just hours before the US led assault on Iraq began.

I was already ambivalent. Despite my periodic slumps into panic reflected in my last column which was, how shall I put it, a bit more intense than usual, my logical brain still said nothing’s going to happen in Israel, certainly not in Jerusalem.

All during the day of Shushan Purim (Jerusalem is always one day later than the rest of the world), every time someone came to the door with another mishloah manot, the conversation turned almost instinctively to “so have you sealed your room yet?”

Among our friends, the jury was out: some were defiantly, definitely not going to seal; some already had; and still others had gotten everything ready, but weren’t planning to use it. With things so up in the air, and my friends providing no conclusive counsel, why, I kept asking myself, should we even go through the bother?

And bother it was. The window in our sealed room-designate was too high, and the chair for me to stand on too low. As I balanced on a couple of phone books and the 1438-page Mayo Clinic Family Health Book, the duct tape repeatedly bent and buckled.

Now, normally an accuracy rating of 95% is just fine with me. I’m not a perfectionist (well, at least not when it comes to household matters). But one infinitesimally small opening, letting in even a drop of chemically laden air would be too much. So I taped, and re-taped, and taped over the tape.

Then it was on to the door. Our friend Rivka had wisely advised us to first put tape on the wall, so you can remove and replace the plastic sheeting without ripping the paint off repeatedly.

Which got me thinking: if this war wasn’t the result of an international conspiracy of duct tape manufacturers as I have previously posited, then the Israeli House Painters Union has got to be behind it: they’re going to make a killing in post-war restorations. Hey U.N. - maybe you can send some of that humanitarian aid our way. This is breaking our budget!

As we worked our way through the room covering all possible orifices, I started to bark orders.

“Hand me that scissors.”

“Don’t cut so much off the plastic sheeting.”

"What's the point of this anyway? I'm quitting."

“Watch out, I’m going to fall!”

“Why did you do it like that?”

Building clearly brings out the worst in me. Jody took it all like a trooper. We were good little soldiers, obeying our orders from the Home Front Command. But who’s going to pay for the marriage counseling afterward?

The whole thing reminded me of building a sukka. Take poll A and fit it into slot B that connects to this little multi-sided hooziwhig that holds up the nylon sheets.

I never much liked sukka building either.

Actually, if we’re going for religious metaphors here, the process is akin to the more micro-managed moments of pre-Pesach cleaning. You know, when your spouse goes crazy and demands that you dust every book in search of possible chametz (the Passover laws stipulating that not even a crumb of bread be left in the house when the holiday begins). Of course, what’s really going on is a not-so-covert Spring Cleaning operation.

I prefer sticking to the basics: clean the stove, scrub the fridge, symbolically “sell” the rest of the house (don’t even get me started on that one) and call it a day. It’s not like something's going to happen if there’s a speck of bagel dust between the q and w keys on my keyboard, is there?

So that’s kind of how I felt sealing up the room: if nothing ends up happening, which is what everyone is still saying, then why are we destroying the paint?

Preparing a sealed room as a religious experience....who knew?

When we were done with our labors, we went downstairs to tuck eleven-year-old Amir into bed. We hadn’t made the sealed room preparation a family affair (with all the swearing going on, probably just as well). But when we informed him that the room was ready, he got a little teary. Jody assured him that it was good to be ready and that nothing was going to happen anyway.

And then I indiscreetly introduced a foul element into the already heavy air. You know what I mean…don’t make me explain it. It wasn’t intentional. All the stress and the bickering, I guess. And the chocolate.

And Amir looked up, wiped a tear off his cheek and, deftly breaking the tension (if not the wind), announced with a slowly spreading, knowing grin: “Well, I guess we better get out the gas masks now!”

Which reminds me, the Home Front has just announced that we’re supposed to open our gas masks and try them on. Gotta run. Time for another religious experience…

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