Only When I Laugh
by Elouise Bell

Prowling the Classifieds

 [p.95]I like to read the c1assifieds. There’s romance in those skinny columns. Sometimes when I’m feeling claustrophobic, I read the Want Ads and imagine how life would be as a long-distance trucker. Or I think what it would be like to simplify my life and become a Mother’s Helper in some plush residence on Long Island (“Summer trips to Europe; knowledge of French helpful.”).

Or else I browse through the pets department, like a child with the Christmas wish book, and mull over exotic choices like an Afghan vs. a saluki, weighing the unknown possibilities of a Burmese vs. the known delights of a blue Persian.

Of course the New York Times Book Review classified section is a world of its own. I’m getting good at deciphering, too. “DWJM”—that’s classified for “divorced white Jewish male,” and you can bet your dust jackets he’s looking for “WJF—20-35, slim, good sense of humor, imaginative cook, able to speak several languages, interested in organic gardening; must be willing to relocate to small island in the Bering Straits.” I like to project into the future and imagine slim, laughing Sylvia trying to coax [p.96]turnips to grow above the Arctic Circle and translating Gide to well-fed Sydney by candlelight.

The other day, straying from the classifieds to commercial ads, I stumbled onto a service that promised to remake you from the ground up, as it were—clothes, make-up, hair, speech, personality. Actually, I got the impression that for a slight extra charge, they’d work backwards and upgrade your family tree.

But the line that really impressed me said: “Private closet inventory.” Now I like that. To begin with, it has class. I mean, all the public closet inventories I’ve been to lately—well, to be frank, they’ve been a bit declassé. This firm obviously builds on a foundation of dignity. As I continued to mull the phrase over, I realized that I had never before considered calling for professional help in this area of my life, and of course, that’s where I’ve gone so wrong. I mean, the days are past when we made our own clothes, permed our own hair, wrestled with our own income taxes—right? Why go through the agonies of a closet inventory without the help of an expert?

Now I understand why I have put this operation off so long. I know I wasn’t equal to the task alone. I thought it was because I just didn’t want to face what I’d find, but it’s clear now that I’m lacking in basic closet inventory theory—I just don’t know enough, and I’ll be the first to admit it. For instance, I don’t even know the statute of limitations on closeted goods. Is it true that if you haven’t used it in a year, you should throw it out? Does that go for the marvelous Navy trunk I got at an auction in Massachusetts in 1970? I paid $7.50 for it, and it’s solid brass and wood; you could explode dynamite inside and it wouldn’t be any the worse for wear. Of course I can’t lift it even when it’s empty, but on the other hand, the last trunk I looked at in the store was $49.95 and made of styrofoam and Playdoh. If I had a personal consultant, she could make a decision as to the disposal of my marvelous trunk.

And certainly she could tell me what to do about the purses with amputated handles, and the umbrellas with the fractured stays, or the divorced boots and the shoeboxes full of blurry snapshots. But I suspect what any self-respecting professional private closet eye wants to inventory is the wardrobe in my closets.

And at that point I gently but firmly close the door. Maybe self-help is the only way to go, after all.