In my early days as a journalist, when newsrooms looked like landfills and the remains of Jimmy Hoffa could have been safely hidden from prying reporters who had the story right under their noses, my desk was so messy that it should have been condemned by the board of health.
Over the years, however, I have cleaned up my act. Now my desk is so neat that it looks as though I don't do any real work, which I don't.
Still, it made things much easier recently when my colleagues and I moved downstairs. The man in charge of the operation, which seemed as complicated as the invasion of Normandy but turned out to be remarkably smooth, was building services manager Tom Perrotta.
"I've seen a lot of messy people," Tom said as we sat in his office, which was, of course, immaculate. "Some of them have tons of newspapers that you actually have to dig through to get to their desks."
"I don't read the newspaper," I said.
"Really?" Tom replied quizzically.
"Actually, I do," I said. "But we get it delivered. I leave tons of papers on the kitchen table until my wife bags them for recycling."
"At least you're not messy in the office," Tom noted. "One guy needed 15 boxes to pack up all his stuff."
"I used only one," I said. "And I didn't even fill it."
"I noticed," said Tom. "It'll make it easier when you leave."
"Do you know something I don't?" I asked nervously.
"No," Tom replied. "But you are closer to the door now. Maybe we can put your desk in the parking lot. The only thing you won't have out there is climate control."
Tom knew which box was mine because it contained a picture of the Three Stooges.
"How come you don't have a picture of your wife and kids?" Tom inquired.
"I know what they look like," I responded. "But the Stooges are my inspiration. Besides, the photo of them adds a touch of class to my work space."
Speaking of family, Tom said he and his wife are very neat and that they have passed their cleanliness on to their sons, ages 8 and 3.
"My wife is neat, too," I said. "At home, I'm not."
"Sometimes, opposites attract," Tom said.
"If we ever won the lottery, we'd never collect the money," I said. "Either my wife would inadvertently throw out the ticket while cleaning the house or I'd put it somewhere for safekeeping and never find it again."
"How about your kids?" Tom asked.
"They're out of the house now, but the nest isn't empty because we still have a lot of their stuff," I said. "Once, when my younger daughter was home from college for the summer, my wife said her room was a disaster area. I called the White House to see if we could have it officially declared a disaster area so we would be eligible for federal funds to clean it up."
"What happened?" Tom wanted to know.
"The first lady's press secretary suggested we close the door," I said.
"If our boys play with something, they put it away when they're finished," Tom said. "The younger one is in nursery school, where they sing 'The Cleanup Song.' It teaches the kids to be neat."
Tom played the song for me on YouTube. It's pretty catchy, although I couldn't get the jingle out of my head for two days.
"You should pick up your toys when you're finished playing with them," Tom told me. "Be as neat at home as you are at work. I'm sure your wife would appreciate it."
I told Tom that my colleagues and I appreciated the fine work he and his crew did in moving us downstairs.
"It wasn't that bad," he said. "But we never did find the remains of Jimmy Hoffa."
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