Why We Go South in the Spring

May 6, 2005

YESTERDAY,the starlings returnedfrom theirwinter quartersand started theirracket at four inthe morning, longbefore dawn madeits appearancehere in the northernhemisphere.And today, I sawthe first greenshoots on the treesI cut back in thefall to improve our view. So spring ishere, and even we, who like to think ourselvesimmune from the rhythms ofnature, can feel something in the air: afreshness, a promise about to be fulfilled.So why do I feel this nameless dread,this sense of a calamity about to unfold?Well, I’ll tell you why: this is springcleaning time, when every female whocohabits with a male, in or out of wedlock,becomes dissatisfied with the structureof her life, and resolves to tear itdown and start over.Maybe the biologists can explain whythe green shoots appeared today and notlast week, but I defy anyone to predictwhen housewives throughout the wholenorthern hemisphere are going to startthrowing out stuff. All I know is, whenthe first signs appear, I must retreat tothe southern hemisphere, where the horrorabated five months ago and maleswho moved to the north can return. Butbefore I go, I must draw to your attentionthe consequences of delay, so you canhide your threatened belongings and gowhile the going is good.Within the house, onset of the terroris often signaled by the sudden disappearanceof familiar objects, such as curtainsand bedspreads. Gradually, more importantthings vanish, such as the month-oldcopy of Newsweek you never got aroundto reading and the sneakers that werealmost but not quite ready for the trashcan.Then, suddenly, comes the ultimatum:“This house is like a pigsty; it needsa thorough cleaning. Why don’t you gofishing for a couple of weeks?”By then it is too late to collect yourprecious junk. You must clear out immediately,lucky to keep even the clothesyou stand up in. You head for the airportto find long lines of desperate husbandsfleeing south. You should have thoughtabout that weeks ago, when your old bedroomslippers went missing.But even if you can’t get a ticket,there’s no point in returning home; theplace became uninhabitable an hourafter you left, with contractors repaintingthe bedrooms and re-tiling the roof.And in any case, all your buddies arelong gone.So what can we do to be saved? Afew years back, I had the brilliant notionof removing every trace of my presencefrom the house in February, storing allmy bits and pieces in a friend’s garage.But it did no good; my wife had thewhole house fumigated while she went tostay with her mother, and my friend’swife took all my stuff from the garageand gave it to the Red Cross. So take myadvice: cut your losses and run for itwhile you still have shoes to run in.See you in B.A.

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