I didn’t take physics in high school because I was afraid it would tarnish my academic record and keep me from getting into the college of my choice with the greatest opportunity for partying. Nevertheless, I developed a scientific theory that could qualify me for the Nobel Prize in Physics if not the Nobel Prize in Stupidity.
Using the same skills that made Isaac Newton the father of modern physics, I arrived at my principle after carefully observing my daughters: It takes 300% more time to clean up a messy room than it took to mess it up. Or stated in a way that scientists can grasp: Cleaning time = messing time x 3 + time wasted on text messaging squared.
During my daughters’ teenage years, there was frequent yelling in our home along the lines of “Get your lazy butts in this room and clean it up!” This was followed by slamming doors and a considerable amount of suppressed muttering and grumbling, at which point the girls were led into their room like an Alabama chain gang and locked up with no hope of parole until it was clean. They would have willingly stayed there for days, except that my wife Sandy, the warden, took away their cellphones, which prompted them to accelerate the cleaning process. My corollary, therefore, is Cleaning time = messing time x .03 if cellphones are confiscated.
How could four young women create a mess of such magnitude so quickly? Well, when they had plans to go out with their friends, they would pull out every item of clothing they owned, borrowed or stole, and try them on in front of the mirror like Ralph Lauren models. It was worse than Milan during Fashion Week.
They stared at themselves in the mirror so long they could have been channeling the Kardashians. Yes, they were bewitched by their image just like Narcissus. In short order, they would take off the item of clothing, toss it on the bed or floor and try on another shirt, sweater or pair of jeans until they achieved teenage perfection, at which point they’d prance off with their friends, leaving the room in absolute chaos but comforted by the notion that their mother or the cleaning elves or their fairy godmothers would pick up after them.
I lost count of the times I heard my wife yell “Clean up this %#$@&* room!” Sometimes, I confess, the outrage was directed at me because I’ve always tended toward sloppiness in preference to neatness. Unfortunately, most of my life I’ve lived with people as anal retentive as the curator of the Smithsonian Institution or the manager of Prada New York.
Looking around the room, I see two pairs of khakis, one T-shirt and one golf shirt on a chair. A sweater hanging from the door knob and five — OK, eight — books by the bed. And a few miscellaneous underwear-like items under the bed and in the closet. Could I have acquired this personality defect from my kids?
“Why can’t you clean up?” Sandy asks. Clearly she doesn’t understand physics. Otherwise she’d know that Isaac Newton’s first law of motion — the law of inertia — clearly states “a body at rest will stay at rest.”
She threatened to put a video of my mess on YouTube for the world to see, just like an expose of a five-star Manhattan restaurant that has rats and roaches in the kitchen.
This brings me to my scientific observations of my two-year-old grandson, who has inherited our predisposition to messiness and at an early age is an adherent of the existential philosophy know as “Slobbism.” He leaves toys, pacifiers and sippy cups everywhere. His home looks like Toys R Us after a 6.9 earthquake.
Unfortunately, he has the gene. It didn’t skip a generation. It went from me to my daughter to him. I’m preparing a paper for Scientific American titled, “The Genetic Mutation of the Pigpen Personality” or “Mess-making — a Family Tradition.” Our only hope is a self-help group like “Mess-makers Anonymous.”
After three hours of babysitting, he makes their home look like Philadelphia after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. But the best part of being a grandparent is that I can leave the cleanup to my daughter and drive home to create my own mess.
Joe Pisani can be reached at email@example.com.