Friday, March 29, 2013

"Spaced Out"

By Jerry Zezima
The Stamford Advocate

I didn’t major in physics in college, though I do have a BS in life, but I know that one of the principles of this fascinating science is that any space will be filledexcept, of course, the one between my ears.

So it is no surprise that practically every nook and cranny of my house is filled with stuff. This includes drawers I can barely open because they are crammed with things like pots, pans, pot holders, hot plates, sandwich bags, aluminum foil, socks, T-shirts, pajamas, sweaters, sweatshirts, sweatpants and underwear. The sandwich bags and the underwear are not, you should know, in the same drawer.

A couple of closets are bursting with coats, jackets, windbreakers and parkas, most of which aren’t mine.

Then there are containers spilling over with pens and pencils and a large receptacle loaded with spatulas, potato mashers, soup ladles and wooden spoons. If I even tried to fit a toothpick in there, the whole thing would explode.

One cabinet is jammed with literally dozens of pieces of Tupperware, which I could swear are engaging in intimate activities and are reproducing at such an alarming rate that when I open the doors, half of them rain down on my head. It’s a good thing we don’t keep crockery up there.

I could buy a barrel the size of a Volkswagen in which to store paper clips and within a week it will be filled to overflowing.

And don’t even get me started on the garage, which is filled with too many things to mention, much of them belonging to my two daughters, who don’t live at home anymore. The one thing that’s not in the garage is a car.

To find an explanation for this frightening phenomenon, I called Alain Brizard, a professor of physics at my alma mater, Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vt.

“There is a saying in physics that nature abhors a vacuum,” Brizard told me.

“I abhor a vacuum, too,” I replied. “It’s in one of the closets with all those coats and jackets. I can’t even close the door.”

“That’s because of the second law of thermodynamics,” said the good professor. 

This law states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases. Entropy, according to Brizard, is a sense or measure of disorder.

“Teens and toddlers are masters of entropy,” said Brizard, noting that his 17-year-old son, Peter, an otherwise fine and upstanding young man, is a prime example.

“His room is filled with stuff,” the professor told me. “There are clothes all over the floor. If there is a piece of the floor that is exposed, it will soon be covered with clothes. The only spot that isn’t covered with clothes is covered by the bed.”

While entropy could be blamed for the disorder in Peter’s room, another scientific explanation is that he is a chip off the old building block of matter.

“My office is a mess,” Brizard confessed. “There are papers all over the floor. But if you ask me for a specific piece of paper, I will find it. Chaos is not all that it seems. Sometimes there is order in chaos.”

Brizard’s wife, Dinah, a professional chef whose kitchen is spotless (“I help by doing the dishes,” Brizard said), and my wife, Sue, a teacher and a fellow St. Mike’s grad, are both orderly.

“This must fall under the first law of marriage: Opposites attract,” I said.

Brizard agreed, adding: “Entropy can be defeated. One way is to clean out your drawers and closets once in a while. But the best way is to be married to someone who is orderly.”

For this theory alone, Prof. Brizard deserves to win the Nobel Prize. I just hope he can find it under all those papers in his office.

Copyright 2013 by Jerry Zezima


Suzette Standring said...

Ah! At last a scientific explanation for the field of toys, the bulging drawers, the mish-mash of kitchen gadgets. I think housekeepers should have a new title: Entropy Warriors because the battle is very, very real.

Suzette Standring said...

Ah! At last a scientific explanation for the field of toys, the bulging drawers, the mish-mash of kitchen gadgets. I think housekeepers should have a new title: Entropy Warriors because the battle is very, very real.

Dave Astor said...

Your column is "cluttered" with humor and insight, Jerry. And it will thankfully remain that way, even as a cabinet or garage might eventually be de-cluttered.

Along These Lines ... said...

Very good Jerry. As a chemist by day, I really enjoy science related humor.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Suzette. I wage the battle every day, even though I'm no housekeeper. In fact, I keep the house pretty messy, so the entropy in it is probably my fault.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thanks, Dave. I don't know if that Tupperware cabinet will ever be decluttered, but if so, it will likely be because everything that was stuffed in it fell out. As for the garage, I have given up hope of ever getting a car in there.

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Along These Lines. Maybe I can ask for your expertise on how to blow up all the things in our drawers and cabinets. Of course, I'll take them outside first. I don't want the house to go up, too.

Cathy Turney said...

Jerry, my rule from the physics of clutter: the need expands to fit the space allotted. You're in compliance with the natural order of things! Loved this!

Cathy Turney said...

Entropy. Well now I know why my desk looks like it does! Very funny and thought-provoking Jerry!

Jerry Zezima said...

Thank you, Cathy! I blame it all on entropy. Now I know why I get pelted with Tupperware. If every container were filled with leftovers, we'd have enough to feed Luxembourg. Maybe I should just keep the cabinet doors closed.