Being Civilized

Do you typically have Thanksgiving dinner with a large group of family and friends?

If you do, you may have been subjected to the tradition of going around the table and everyone, in turn, having to say what they are thankful for this year. I know I have been. The thing is, I’m not thankful for everything, and so after a few years of that I ran out of things to say. Not wanting to be a party pooper or seem ungrateful, I started making stuff up. I think the last straw for my family was the year I said I was deeply grateful to Our Lord for clumping kitty litter. If you’ve got a cat or two you’ll know what I mean and how truly important it is, but for some reason Mrs. Jones and I have been eating Thanksgiving dinner alone lately. Not a bad thing, just sayin’.

Anyway, there is one thing I forgot that I am truly grateful for, and I want to express my gratitude here now, before I forget it again. It’s something I think about every day for a couple of minutes, and every time I do I get a little misty.

Thank God, thank heaven, thank the powers of the universe for thick, quilted bedspreads!

In today’s busy world, with the many pressures all of us are under, it’s tempting just to get up in the morning and stumble out of the bedroom, grab a cup of coffee, take a quick shower, throw on your wrinkled clothes from yesterday, jump in the car and drive to your crummy job, where you will spend your time serving the needs of others and making people wealthy whom you do not even know and who will never invite you to go with them to Rio on their private jets. Not that you’d go, but still.

But you know how wrong that would be, don’t you? Of course you do! Civilization is not the accumulation of money. It’s not reading and learning about Plato and Augustine. It’s not the construction of monuments and skyscrapers, or even landing on the moon. That stuff is good, but it isn’t the essence of Civilization. No, my friends, Civilization is the little things, the small courtesies and disciplines without which we would never have ventured far past the entrance of the cave. It’s chewing with your mouth closed, smiling at people you don’t know, turning things in to the Lost and Found, edging the lawn.

And yes, Civilization is making the bed.

It’s a basic tenet of civilized living that the bed must be made. It’s one of those seemingly unecessary chores that has to be done. If we don’t make our beds, if we can’t exert that small amount of discipline on ourselves, what’s next? Once we have abandoned that formality, perhaps we will decide that we needn’t tuck in our shirts because, hey, that takes a little time and effort, and makes you a little bit uncomfortable. And there we will be, out in public, looking slovenly. Why not pick our noses on the bus, then? Why not indeed. Someone doesn’t like it? How about a big punch in your nose, then, sir? In fact, since you have bothered me about looking sloppy, maybe I will just bloody your big nosy nose and rape your girlfriend. How would you like that?

You see how things start to fall apart when you get loose with the bed-making? But once you have made the bed in the morning, you will find that you are on the road to a genteel and civilized day. You can find your clothes for the day and lay them out on the bed. Noticing that they seem to be a bit wrinkled from being under the coffee table all night, you might select a different ensemble, or perhaps touch up the old one with a steam iron. Then, once you are out in the world for your busy day, you will want to be careful with your wardrobe. Nose-picking is discouraged, and fighting and raping on the bus is completely out of the question. Strangers take note of your good grooming (and your tucked-in shirt) and smile at you. You smile back.

All of which makes me thankful for my puffy quilted bedspread. The important chore of bed-making is made so simple! I just pull up the sheet and blankets, no need to go around and around my bed, tightening everything and making sure the entire assembly is laying perfectly flat so that a quarter will bounce off it. I toss the glorious bedspread over it, give it a quick snap and watch it float down on the bed, covering all the bumps and wrinkles (and sometimes the TV remote and the telephone).

It’s the little things, people. Think about it.

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15 Replies to “Being Civilized”

  1. When I moved out of my parents’ house (lo those many years ago), there were two household chores that I had to do while I lived there and vowed never to do again. One was drying the dishes–people, I hate to tell you this, but the dishes will dry ALL BY THEMSELVES if you just let them sit there. The other was–of course–making the bed. I do not make my bed, and I haven’t done so (except when I change the sheets) in, oh, 30 years. It seems like a complete waste of time. If that is what has prevented me from having genteel and civilized days, well, so be it.

  2. I was raised by a quarter-bouncer. AND someone who kept a rake in the closet so that they could rake out the footprints in the carpeting as people walked by.

    Yes, things can be taken too far.

    But, I agree with your basic premise — that it’s the little things that make life worth living.

    I’m going to start making my bed more, Larry! And as I skip down the street with a smile in my heart, and one on my lips for perfect strangers, I will think of you.

  3. Will the Vandals care that I haven’t made my bed? If so, THEY can make the damned thing. And clean the bathroom while they’re at it, perhaps; it’s dirty, but I don’t have any time to clean it right now. Plus the kitchen floor. And my laundry. And perhaps a foot massage.

  4. I have the big white down comforter, so lumpy and thick you don’t even really have to toss out the sheets/blankets under.

    This is a great piece, I loved every word. Submit it somewhere, and get paid for it!

  5. Don’t we all have those little habits of civility that create a sense of disheveledness when left undone? Mine is my bedroom closet. It’s the only place in my house that is ALWAYS neat and tidy. Oh … and, of course my hair. Everything else can be falling apart, but I always have good hair.

  6. I’m surprised how many big ol’ slobs people there are who don’t make their beds. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that bed-making, a small outward sign of organization and decorum in a civil society, can be a great big pain in the ass kind of an annoyance, but not if you have a big, fluffy bedspread to hide all the bumps and wrinkles! You get to look neat and organized (and civil!), but you really hardly have to pay any price in time or effort for it.

    You really have to read between the lines here.

  7. I did, in fact, see that part, Larry. And it’s STILL too much effort for me. If I had a camera, I’d take a picture of the mess that is my bed. I do not want to be bothered with it in any way, shape, or form. Of course, you have a grown-up bedroom, by the looks of it, while I still look like post-college/grad-school person. Perhaps someday my crap will be color-coordinated and grownup-looking. But probably not.

  8. This reminds me of toothpaste tubes. Remember those old metallic tubes, which were made out of lead and mercury?

    If you were dedicated and skillful, it was possible to roll them up in exquisitely perfectly fashion.

    It was also possible to mistreat them and create repulsive disfigurements, with great pockets of festering, wasted toothpaste. What a waste of precious resources!

    I had a roommate long ago — whose name was Larry, oddly enough — who folded those metallic tubes in such perfection that it was at the same time painfully, almost erotically beautiful and creepy-disturbing.

    The first time I saw one of his toothpaste tubes, when he was not around, I burst out laughing. I could not believe how perfect was Larry’s job of tube folding.

    Needless to say, I created the repulsive disfigurements. They haunt me to this day.

    Now, 30 years later, we all have plastic toothpaste tubes.

    These offer no choice to their users. The most disgusting, nose-picking, bus-riding slob will have the same in-service, nearly depleted toothpaste tube as my fastidious, hard-working roommate Larry of long ago. It seems unfair.

    If Larry and I were to meet today and compare our toothpaste tubes, they would be exactly the same. He would no longer have the capacity to show me up, nor to steal my girl friend because she liked his tube better than mine. Maybe it isn’t unfair, after all.

    And this reminds me of another thing: Andy Rooney! Hey, Andy! You get PAID for writing this kind of crap?

  9. Larry, that is exactly why I always have both a thin cottom blanket AND a great big ol’ comforter. Who knows what mess may lay beneath its thick protective luxury? For that matter, who cares?!

    It is indeed a perfect tray on which to set the day’s clothes.

    And easily drawn off and to the couch as the auxiliary heating system when the main boiler is on the fritz, don’t ya know.

    Ahhhh, civilization.


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