A number of years ago, there was a popular cartoon theme. It always involved two characters: a pilgrim on a quest to discover the meaning of life and a wise guru. In what generally looked like an impossibly remote setting — on top of a craggy mountain with no chairlifts for example — the perplexed looking pilgrim would be standing before the lotus-seated guru and the caption would be something esoteric like, “Life is like a beanstalk, isn’t it?” Or, “Life is like a kumquat.” Or tapioca pudding or motor oil or something that made no sense whatsoever and wasn’t, on the surface, even remotely funny but if you followed the thread of the cartoons, was at least as funny as most of the panels in any given issue of The New Yorker.
Lost on the shoulder of a memorable ski season, a spring best described as a tease and a summer that, if it gets here at all is only going to make it once I’m firmly planted at Smilin’ Dog Manor, I have decided that life in Whistler is like a tostada compuesta.
For those of you who are not habitués of Mexican food — Taco Bell doesn’t count — a tostada compuesta is a concoction consisting of a flat, crispy tortilla, a generous dollop of refried beans, onions, chilis, melted cheese, maybe sour cream, and, depending on the sanitary standards of the kitchen, other surprises. Like so many legume-based ethnic dishes, it looks uncomfortably like an accident your puppy might have had after its first encounter eating roadkill. In the evolution of tasting Mexican food, tostadas compuestas are way down the list of things any normal person tries, long after the more appetizing dishes like enchiladas, tamales, and carne asada and only then on a dare or after innumerable Coronas, possibly both. Messy doesn’t begin to describe them. Neither does delicious.
Why, you might ask, is life in Whistler — at least my life — messy like a tostada compuesta?
In the Elegant Living in Rustic Places book I’m sure Martha Stewart must have written in a few spare moments between whipping up a soufflé and cracking the mystery of cold fusion, there is a very strong Place for Everything and Everything is in its Place philosophy. There are closets, bureaus, armoires and chests of drawers filled with neatly hung or folded clothes, each sorted by colour, style and designer label. There are cedar chests brimming with clothes of a different season, carefully laundered and put away with sachets of lavender or more masculine scents, depending on the gender orientation of the wearer. There are racks of wicker baskets for painstakingly categorized accessories.
In a bright sunny room, there is a discreetly disguised laundry basket filled with — or more properly, empty of — dirty clothes. Well, maybe not dirty dirty, not the kind of dirty clothes can get on a singletrack trail like Moss in Yer Crack, but thought to need laundering nonetheless. I’m not sure real dirt exists in Martha’s world other than in her garden or her gossip. Order is the, well, the order of the day and cocktails are taken promptly at five.
Now my world, and I imagine yours, is nothing like that. I have clean clothes hanging in the closet, folded on shelves, tossed haphazardly into a drawer, sealed away in boxes, ski bags, a backpack under the bed and a few mismatched items inexplicably living in the backseat of my car. I more or less have a system of organization: I know everything I own is somewhere in the house. Except for the stuff in the backseat of the car or squirreled away at the cottage. Clean clothes aren’t really what I consider a problem, at least as long as none of them ever expect to see the working side of an iron. Fashionably wrinkled is a trend I have a heavy personal stake in bringing back. The last time I tried to iron anything it ended up with hard, pink ski wax all over it and I could only wear it on very cold days.
Dirty clothes aren’t really much of a problem either. They moulder in a basket in the closet until I, or more likely my Perfect Partner, can no longer stand their sight or the guilt of shirking our adult responsibilities.
There is, of course, a transition zone clothes go through between being clean and being put “away” that really seems like more trouble than it’s worth. For starters, there’s the identification problem. “Let’s see, are these shelf clothes? Or should they be hung?” Sometimes a hanger item, say, a pair of pants, suddenly becomes a shelf dweller in a lapse of memory or lack of a hanger. When I finally find it after six months, I’ve often found something I forgot I owned. Not as rewarding as finding a twenty stuffed deep into a jacket pocket and long forgotten, but uplifting. And really, what’s the point of hiding clean clothes when you’re just going to drag them out to wear a couple of days later?
That leaves the real tostada compuesta of this insane line of reasoning. It is the growing volume of clothes that are too dirty to be put back with the clean clothes but aren’t dirty enough to put in the laundry basket. There being no elegant place-for-everything kind of furniture designed for them, they reside in any space they can find. And the corollary is they find space everywhere they can. Some end up cascading over every available flat surface. Some gravitate toward hooks where, in time, their dirt falls off and they become clean again… sort of. It should be noted floors are flat surfaces.
Weather, more particularly the fickle weather of shoulder season, is the culprit. In a typical day recently, anyone who wanted to be dressed for the weather had to have outfits that ranged from a tanktop and shorts to thermal underwear and fleece, none of which was worn for very long before becoming weather-inappropriate. I mean, when you only wear something for three hours, is it dirty and in need of laundering? If not, whatdaya do with it? If so, how do you ever find time to do anything but laundry?
And then, of course, there’s the Whistler lifestyle facet to this compuesta conundrum. Get up in the morning, go for a bike ride — special clothes. Except for those of you who live in spandex shorts with chamois padding. Go up the mountain for a few turns — special clothes. Go to the gym, special clothes although even I admit they need immediate laundering. Meet someone for a beer, different clothes. Fishing in the evening... well, you get the picture.
Life is, in that regard, much simpler at Smilin’ Dog. In the remote Cariboo bush, everyone looks like their washing machine is broken. That’s only one reason I’m headed there.