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I live in the house made of dust, as if the three little pigs had an evil brother whose construction efforts the wolf overlooked. After thirty years, my walls and roof have all settled sufficiently to resemble a normal house made of wood. However, every time I hang a picture or somebody knocks on the front door, one of those years swirls into a dust cloud and my house gets younger for awhile. I live in a freaky house that probably scared the wolf away.
I’ve tried everything to keep the dust down in here: feathers on sticks, store-bought sprays, expensive furniture wipes, even my own remedies like Grandma’s Homemade Mustard-on-a-rag, which made my house smell like a deli. I can dust the whole house one day and write my name on a table the next. My cats weigh more after they’ve napped due to the dust that has settled on them. Under the beds, I don’t have dust bunnies because the dust elephants have crushed them.
And people can be unkind about dust build-up, even here in the desert where you might expect to see it. I have seen “Clean Me” written across a bookshelf’s fuzzy white coating after a “friend” has come and gone. My cousin came for dinner one night too, and while I thought we had an understanding (what happens in the dust house stays in the dust house), she called my mother in Minnesota to tell her that something must be terribly wrong with me because I was apparently content to live in filth. Luckily that cousin was drunk when she talked to my mom, so my mom didn’t believe her. Whew.
A few days ago, when I was outside raking and thinking, I thought I had my dust problem solved. I wasn’t out there raking leaves or grass, after all: I was raking my dirt, like a lot of us here in Arizona do. Plumes of dirt rose around me and if I hadn’t known better I might have thought the Lord had called my name, ashes to ashes and all that. But I did know better, especially since this happened every time I tried to tidy up outside. The forty tons of decorative crushed gravel that I’d spread over my property in 2006 had disintegrated, leaving me with forty tons of minute granules surrounding my house, waiting outside of every crack and screen to come on in. Maybe my house wasn’t made of dust after all.
Today I finally called a landscaping service that specializes in crushed granite (and tops of mountains that can be sliced off and delivered to your yard for a jillion dollars per ton, if you want a really natural look). A young man came right over and his name was Sven Johansen.
“Let me tell you the truth,” I said to Sven, shaking his hand and leading him to the barest spot in my yard. “I’m lookin’ to solve a dust problem. Look at this dirt. That’s all it is: dirt! My granite was small to begin with—a billionth minus—but now you can hardly see any.” We both looked around at my sea of dirt, little mounds of remaining granite pushed together here and there by stray cats who use my yard as a litter box. Those were landmines.
Sven spoke up: “Ya know, I gotta be honest with ya here. No amount of rock is gonna solve your dust problem. I could tell ya that it would, and sell ya four thousand dollars’ worth, but that’s not the way I do business.”
My best idea shot down so quickly. Desperate, I dragged Sven over to the side of my house and howled, “The windows then! It must be the windows! They’re thirty years old, they’re single-paned, they must be letting the dust in, I need…to replace…them allllll.”
Sven shook his head no and helped me up from where I’d collapsed at the thought of how much new windows were going to cost. “It’s not your windows.”
“What is it then?” I asked, sniffling.
As we slowly walked back out front, Sven explained: “Ya got turbines on your roof to ventilate the attic, right?” Right. “Ever open the windows for fresh air?” Of course. "Ya know the bathroom fan?“ Yah. "Have any pets?” Sure. “And look here,” said Sven, pointing at my front door standing wide open, the screen door letting in even more fresh Phoenix air. “That brown cloud hangin' over the Valley? It's goin' inside your house right now, right through your front door. Der are even more particles in the air dat you can’t even see.”
I sheepishly closed the door—grimy with dust and sprayed with cat urine towards the bottom--and stood with Sven on my front step. “You live in the desert,” he said. “It’s dusty here.” He didn’t have to say “get used to it”. That phrase is embedded in my Minnesota DNA, along with “get over it,” “stop complaining”, and “too bad”.
I thanked my desert landscaping expert of Norwegian descent and went back inside, looking for other sad stories with happier endings.