Some Thoughts on Being a Fine Mess
by Patricia Pearson

Autumn is here, and this is a good thing. Not because of the leaves, which are pretty enough. Nor because children will be streaming back to school, thus ending the weekly what-to-do nightmare. No, what is good about autumn is that I get to wear a coat. Autumn conceals me. I can hide the loose bra strap and the coffee-stained T-shirt. I can don stockings. I can disguise my unkempt hair with a hat. I can, in short, pretend that I am a suave, put-together woman a la Jackie Onassis. And stop revealing that I am a slob.

It’s hard, admitting that I’m a slob, because women aren’t supposed to be slobs. Women are supposed to be neat freaks and fashion mavens, sleek as kittens and scented like heaven. At the very least, they’re supposed to wear matched socks.

American novelist Tom Wolfe once proudly proclaimed that he’d worn the same pair of jeans every day for a month. If a female novelist made that announcement, she’d be deemed scatterbrained, alcoholic or mentally ill. Put it this way: Courtney Love had a maid who, it is rumoured, once ran out of her room screaming: “The Devil lives here!”

When I was in college, the dormitory maids kept tattling on me to the Dean of Women for leaving apple cores and cups of coffee strewn about my room. But the men, who managed to erect an intricate architecture of pizza boxes, beer caps and underwear around their beds, were merely loveable. They were simply being boys.

They were being boys, and I was being a freak.

For years thereafter, the men I dated divided into two camps: those who kept seeing me after they’d seen my apartment, and those who skittered off in high alarm.

The alarmed guys, I noticed, were not themselves very neat. On the contrary, they were often the type who wanted women to pick up their shirts. I tended to wear their shirts, since none of mine were clean. As such, we were not destined to live happily ever after.

Of all the taboos smashed since the advent of feminism, I’d hazard the guess that slovenliness is a resilient last stand-out. Women can swear, they can drink, they can fight, they can admit to being on Prozac and having abortions. But, can they confess that they’re kitchen is a fiasco of beer bottles and unwashed plates? I think not.

In Barbara Walters’ TV tete-a-tete with Monica Lewinsky, the American anchorwoman oozed sycophancy as Lewinsky confessed to fellatio, adultery, lying, getting pregnant, being depressed — a truly sordid array of behaviours. But Walters got throroughly investigative on the subject of the semen-stained dress. Why did Lewinsky not dryclean it? Was it a tawdry souvenir? A weapon of blackmail? No, Lewinsky stammered, she just bunched it up and threw it in her closet because that’s what she did with her clothes.

Walters was astonished. I was like, ya, I get that, totally.

Another woman who would have got it was the writer Dorothy Parker. Her New York apartment was a legendary disaster. Like me, Parker wasn’t defiantly messy, she wasn’t making some sort of political statement. She was just sort of retarded about domestic affairs. She once threw out a typewriter because she couldn’t figure out how to replace the ribbon. My homage to Parker: I once inadvertently crazy-glued my thumb to a typewriter, which was so heavy that I was stranded where I sat until somebody happened to pop by.

Of course, the fact that Parker’s domestic ineptitude was well-known is all to the point. The men of the Algonquin Round Table were probably just as bad. I am hard pressed to picture F. Scott Fitzgerald cleaning an oven.

Women are allowed one exemption, and that is to wear “stinky pajamas,” as the comic Sandra Shamas put it, after their boyfriends dump them. Then they can rebel against their essential nature by plunging into another element of their essential nature: romantic torment. Ophelia was rather untidy, if memory serves.

Me? I’m untidy if men dump me, and untidy if they don’t. You have to look elsewhere for clues to my distress. Such as whether I’m suddenly consuming large quantities of scotch. My husband learned the distinction early on. “I’m a mess,” I confessed, apologetically, when we were first dating. “Maybe so,” he replied, “but you’re a fine mess.”

© Patricia Pearson, 2001
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