Misc

PEG BRACKEN is the pseudonym of Mrs. Roderick Lull of Portland, Oregon. Her verse, articles, and stories have appeared in many magazines.

The other day, during an agonizing reappraisal of my personal files, I pulled out of the Misc. folder, for perhaps the dozenth time, the bill of sale for the car I traded in two years ago.

I keep this, not as a proud reminder that I once owned the car I was driving, but because of an uncertain feeling that I might need it again someday (the same reason I keep the receipt for a set of encyclopedias I bought in 1948). It would be easy,

I suppose, to ask the bank or the encyclopedia company frankly if such a day is ever likely to come. But I don’t do that. I just keep the papers in the Misc. folder, fingering them thoughtfully every so often, then leaving them where they are. Psychologists have a name for this. I believe they call it “stupidity.”

But I’m not sure this is the only reason why the Misc. folders of most of us grow so futilely fat. Besides the prevailing superstition that if you throw something away you’re sure to need it, there is a feeling of guilt. We can’t help believing a little in the adage we’ve heard so many times: “A place for everything and everything in its place”; and so we do our best, not understanding that the place referred to is, in most instances, the wastebasket. Thus, most things that don’t belong anywhere else make their eventual way to that dreary limbo of unfinished business and uneasy compromise labeled Misc. (And even though you possess neither filing cabinet nor folder, the average billfold or pocketbook is a perfect Misc. file.)

I don’t believe we can honestly place the blame on the Paper Age we live in. It is true that we float on, or sink into, a vast sea of papers these days, between the Bank, the Insurance company, and the Tax office, not to mention the Manufacturers, whose every product is accompanied by a sheaf of instructions — which we feel duty bound to save — on how to run it, wash it, dry-clean it, or repair it.

But all these things can be easily quarantined in the B, I, T, or M folders. They are the blacks and whites, while it is the grays that make the trouble: the letter and bulletin from your college alumni office, which you must certainly read someday and answer; the clipping about Syrian cooking which you’re going to send to a friend when you get around to it; the three-years-ago Christmas card list; some personalized bookplates you can’t stand; a road map of southern Utah (who can tell when he’s going to need a road map of southern Utah?); and seventy or eighty similarly fascinating and inconclusive oddments.

I have noticed a curious thing about the Misc. file, too. Like a cumbersome Saint Bernard who whelps a large litter yet stays as cumbersome as ever, the Misc. file eventually births a lot of facsimiles without becoming noticeably smaller.

What happens is this: the file owner, in one of those moods of resolute character-overhaul which can happen to anyone, will root through his Misc. file one day and notice that two of its occupants bear a family resemblance. Both are concerned, let us say, with Vacations — one, a clipping about budget trips to Mexico; the other, a snapshot of last summer’s beach cottage. So the file owner shrewdly decides to file all Vacation material, henceforth, under V.

This is a fine plan, except that the baby presently acquires a Vaccination and Inoculation record to be filed (if filed under B for Baby it would collide with Bank). Then an important letter arrives from a tree surgeon named Voorhees. It isn’t long before the V file is about as misc. as you can get; and meanwhile, the original Misc. file is gaining every day. Thus, the evolutionary process of any normal filing cabinet is a backward one, a reversion of each of its component folders to original whirling chaos; and when this has continued for a number of years, you might as well stuff all your papers into an apple box in the back yard and strike a match. I doubt whether much can be done about it, either. Man is just naturally a miscellaneous kind of animal, a creature of loose threads, not neatly tied bows. And, indeed, if we were anything else, we should be more uncomfortable than we already are in the disorderly world we live in. Wherever you look, things are pretty mussy — crab grass in the bluegrass, and dead oak leaves dangling in the autumn willow, not to mention that astonishing collection which clogs our gutters every spring. It seems to me we fit right in.