Don’t Ask Me What Zombies Have to Do With It. I Have No Idea.

Try shuffling this deck.
Good luck shuffling this.

A recent study suggests that disorganized people are more creative than organized people.

In other words, I am the least creative person in my house.

My seven-year-old son is at the top of the creative heap. He achieves this by creating creative heaps all around his room. His invented games are, I admit, ingenious. Sadly, they also require hundreds of parts from dozens of different sources.

Rocks? Check.

Marbles? Check.

Individual Legos, handpicked from different sets? Check.

Every refrigerator magnet in the house? Check.

The battleships from Battleship? Check.

Broken toys – including that whoopee cushion with a hole in it that his dad told him to throw out last year? Seriously, boy, what’s the point of a whoopee cushion that can’t make any noise? Check!

It should come as little surprise that my son and I also have very different interpretations of the word “straighten,” as in, “Straighten your room.”

My “straighten” is defined as, “Put every single solitary thing away forever.” His definition is, “Consolidate the six or eight smallish piles of stuff into one, four-foot-tall pile of stuff. Then shove that pile of stuff into the mathematical center of the room.”

But, hey, the boy is creative. One day, Alex noticed that war (the card game, that is) was an excruciating bore. Many, many years ago, when I made this same discovery, I abandoned war forever and did something tidy. Alex is cut from a different cloth, however; he decided to take a crack at improving the game. He searched the house for every deck of cards we have and became the sole inventor of Nine-Deck Zombie Super War 4000.  To play, you need five decks of regular playing cards, two Uno decks (one being a dog-eared deck from the early1980s and the other a contemporary waterproof deck that you can play in the tub) a deck of war cards featuring characters from the movie Cars, and The Mad Magazine Card Game.

The rules and scoring system are, I think, a bit too involved, complicated, and convoluted to mention here (think 43-Man Squamish). I will say, however, that it takes about 15 minutes to purge all of the decks of the unnecessary cards and nearly another ten minutes to shuffle the massive, irregular deck that remains. Once you’re done playing the game, it takes another 15 minutes to put all the cards back where they belong.

The actual game takes about maybe four minutes.

But I am surprised to say that I don’t mind any of this, really. Nine-Deck Zombie Super War 4000 caters to our strengths: Alex gets to stimulate his creative instincts by making up rules and creating random piles of cards, and I get to sate my OCD urges by sorting the cards into rigid, properly sanctioned piles.

And of course there is that Father And Son Thing. I love that Father And Son Thing.

Once the game is over, Alex will help put the cards back in their proper piles without complaint, but mostly he keeps me company while I take on the lion’s share of the work. Straightening up is what I do best, after all. And organizing things while chatting with my boy puts me in the happiest of my happy moods.

Sometimes while we peek under the couch for stray cards, we even kick around a few picture book story ideas. Because, well, according to documented research, I need all the help I can get.

Alfred E

Home Invasion

Come in? Sure!
Sure, if you insist!

A few years ago, when Alex was four, he and I both found ourselves standing on our front porch staring at a locked door. Neither of us liked this situation, but we both recognized it as a Best Case Scenario. I had gotten on Ellen’s last nerve. Had we stayed in that house much longer, my wife might have been forced to murder me.

So I turned to Alex and said, “Why don’t you and I do something, eh?” as if this eviction was all my idea.

“What are we gonna do?” he asked.

“I have a plan!” I replied. I only say this when I don’t have a plan.

As we drove around aimlessly I racked my brain. It was mid-afternoon so a nice place that charged admission, Like Liberty Science Center, wouldn’t be worth it. The movies? Nothing was playing. A park? It was about 95 degrees.

I drove around looking for a sign. Then – quite literally – I found one. A sign! With balloons on it!

“Hey, Alex! How would you like to nose around other people’s stuff?” I asked.

Alex was intrigued, so I pulled up next to the Open House sign ready to explore.

“Hi, where are you gents from?” The chipper realtor asked. He had a smile suitable for toothpaste commercials.

“Six blocks away,” I said, responding with a toothpaste commercial smile of my own. Then, so my nosiness didn’t seem quite so obvious, I replaced my smile with the solemn face of a gen-u-wine serious homebuyer.

“You see, we’re looking to trade up,” I said. “Right, Alex?”

But Alex had discovered the candy dish Mr. Realtor had set out and was not interested in playing pretend with Daddy.

We puttered about, exploring the rooms one by one. As per my instructions, Alex and I could only say nice things about the house in a normal voice. When the comments weren’t so nice, they had to be whispery. This is good parenting.

Once we were done nosing around (and boy-oh-boy did we nose; we even checked out the crawl space), we hopped into the car to find another house to scrutinize. It turns out Open Houses were everywhere.

When Alex and I explored the first house, I asked the realtor a lot of questions about the people who lived there. By the time we reached the second house, I let the houses do the talking. It was fun to discover how much they revealed. Just by scanning my surroundings I could, with little trouble, imagine a family dynamic.

There was the house that contained over-indulged children, who were allowed to litter every room with their toys.

There were the ambitious social climbers, who lived in a tiny, tiny house that was stuffed full with Ethan Allen Furniture, home theatre systems, and his-and-hers jet skis in the overstuffed garage. (I also came across the other kind of social climber who owned a huge, expensive house but didn’t have enough cash left over to furnish it.)

There was the museum house run by, I assumed, a woman with control issues.

There was the man who still displayed his high school trophies who, I also assumed, peaked at 17.

With every new discovery, I marveled at just how many secrets a person’s stuff can reveal.

It was a kind of epiphany for me. From that day forward, whenever I create a character for a story, I always consider the types of things he or she might own. I have found that a well-placed tchotchke can speak volumes about a character – even before the character has an opportunity to say or do anything.

The day Alex and I wandered through those open houses also made me wonder a bit about what my own stuff says about me. Do my things reveal embarrassing parts of my personality? My fears? My regrets? My sins?

Is there some seemingly innocent item resting on my shelf that telegraphs to the world that I’m the kind of person who inadvertently pesters his wife to the point where she contemplates murder? That I’m that kind of person who goes to open houses with a child in tow because I’m too cheap to go to Liberty Science Center after 2 p.m.? That I’m the kind of person who wastes realtors’ time and passes judgment on complete strangers?

I sure hope not. Because, well, that would be very embarrassing.