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The Master Bedroom

February 24, 2012


Oprah, my favorite talk-show prophet, has called it the most important room in the house. The master bedroom, she insists,  needs to be an oasis more than just a place to sleep. And it should never have a TV.

Any rap star on MTV’s Cribs presents his bedroom like its Downton Abbey. He opens the door with a gentle click and the room glows into focus. He always, always says“Here’s where the magic happens.”

But Oprah doesn’t have kids who wake her up at six o’clock and who can be bribed to remain in a horizontal position only if she puts on her TV. She doesn’t have a husband, either. She has, instead, a person or two whom she’s employed to change her sheets and replace her pillows every two months so she doesn’t have to sleep next to a million microscopic organisms that live in what looks like yellow coffee stains that hide underneath the pillowcase. She also probably never has to see her own dirty laundry piled in the corner of the room.

The rappers on MTV Cribs show off houses that in actuality, they barely inhabit. It might be more interesting to see the state of their hotel rooms after a night of ransacking the mini-bar. (Wait. There’s probably already a reality show for that.)

If you want the truth about the sorry state of the American master bedroom, you need to read Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story,  “Great Experiment,” from which this excerpt is taken:

It wasn’t the only master bedroom of its kind in Chicago. Across the country, the master bedrooms of more and more two-salaried, stressed-out couples were taking on the bear-den atmosphere of Kendall and Stephanie’s bedroom. In this suburban cave, this commuter-town hollow, two large, hirsute mammals had recently hibernated. Or were hibernating still. That twisted mass of bedsheet was where they slept. The saliva stains on the denuded pillows were evidence of a long winter spent drooling and dreaming. The socks and underpants scattered on the floor resembled the skins of rodents recently consumed.

In the far corner of the room was a hillock rising three feet in the air. This was the family wash. They’d used a hamper for a while and, for a while, the kids had dutifully tossed their dirty clothes in. But the hamper soon overflowed and the family had begun tossing their dirty clothes in its general direction. The hamper could still be there, for all Kendall knew, buried beneath the pyramid of laundry.

How had it happened in one generation? His parents’ bedroom had never looked like this. Kendall’s father had a dresser full of folded laundry, a closet full of tailored suits, and, every night, a neat, clean bed to climb into. Nowadays, if Kendall wanted to live as his own father had lived, he was going to have to hire a cleaning lady and a seamstress and a social secretary. He was going to have to hire a wife. Wouldn’t that be great? Stephanie could use one, too. Everybody needed a wife, and no one had one anymore.

The Master Bedroom might be where the magic happens, but the reason we call it “magic” is because it seems so unbelievable that  people consider physical intimacy amidst such disarray.

I hate my bedroom a lot of the time. Mostly, I hate it because it’s filled with clothes. I’d like a wife, for sure, as long as she had no ambitions and simply loved doing laundry and wouldn’t one day burn all of my clothes on the front lawn after years of being undervalued.

In fact, what might even be better is to go back to the old days, where people owned five good tops and five good bottoms and only one or two pairs of shoes. Each night, we’d hang up our day clothes and put on our one, single nightgown. On Sundays, we’d go to church or something and come home and walk around naked while someone did the wash. This special someone—who doesn’t even have to be human as long as he’s efficient—would wash, dry, fold and put away our clothes. And we’d all do very important things like sip tea and read novels.

Wouldn’t life be so much simpler?

Really, I don’t see any other way out of disorder, short of this tremendous proposition.

Wife, get me a network executive on the phone!

I have a reality TV show to make.



Read the rest of Jeffrey Eugenides’ fabulous short story here.

Image: “Master Bedroom” by wili_hybrid via flickr.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

ASuburbanLife February 24, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Nice post! I don’t know whether to feel better, because our state of affairs is validated, or worse, because it’s a sad state of affairs, after reading Eugenides’ vivid description of a couple’s master bedroom. Thanks for pointing us to his short story – I’ve bookmarked it for some weekend reading!


Sarah February 25, 2012 at 9:54 am

So very true! The only places in my household where conditions could be worse? The den (where all random items go to be lost) and the boys’ bathroom. Both places make me shudder… If only I had a wife!


Cecilia / Only You February 25, 2012 at 10:29 pm

I love this post, and the excerpt from Eugenides. There is comfort knowing it’s not just me, since disorder feels like such a behind-the-doors kind of dark secret. It’s also serendipitous that I’m reading this post now, as we’ve literally just hired a professional organizer to deal with our house (it’s gotten that bad). I’ve reached a point where I can’t take the stress of the clutter that’s overtaken my life 24/7. Short of a wife, I’m relying on stacks of pretty baskets and containers to help keep my life somewhat sane!


Kameron February 27, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Maybe the mess in my bedroom is part of the stress I deal with. I know when my house is clean I feel calmer and better equipped to handle things. I think i need to do a room makeover and turn it into a relaxing environment. :)


Tiffany February 28, 2012 at 9:11 am

We are working on our bedroom and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m finding a nice comfy chair and making it “my space” because I don’t have one. And I need one.


M K Countryman February 28, 2012 at 10:33 am

If I was a stronger and less selfish person, I would post a pic of our master bedroom just to make everyone feel better about themselves. I am positively sure it is the worse bedroom out there, that wouldn’t qualify for the hoarders show, which it might be there now. I try to keep all the other common rooms clean, and therefore, everything gets dumped in our room. And all the clean laundry is there in many baskets, for our family of five to descend upon each morning scrambling for something to wear. And we have a huge nordstrom shopping bag full of socks. I could go on, really.

Also, are you still doing the correctionists? I never joined because I was too chicken, but I’m just wondering if your “who” above (who she’s employed) should be a whom? I just ask because I know you are at least somewhat interested. When I try to talk to my friends about things like this they tell me they are bored.



Jana February 28, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I think you may be right about my “who”/”whom.” I never said I was great at that rule! Now I’ll go back and change it and other correctionists will think it never existed!


M K Countryman February 28, 2012 at 1:27 pm

OK, then you might have to delete this track of comments too. Never leave a paper (or electronic) trail!


Liz @ Learning to Juggle March 4, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Oh the truth in this post is almost depressing. I long for simple days of 4 outfits and walking around naked on Sundays. (So maybe that wasn’t your major point but nakedness is fun) Nevermind a wife, I personally think Alice from.the Brady Bunch is the only thing that could conquer my Giza in laundry form.


ShannonL March 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

I already have a wife. It’s my husband! He does laundry every. single. day. He’s kind of a laundry nazi, actually. But I don’t complain. Before he took over about a year ago, we had the same “lost hamper” pile, and I did about 8 loads every Sunday. He washes AND folds – all I have to do is put it away the clean clothes, which sometimes end up piling up…. :-)

And we make a habit of making all of the beds every morning before leaving for school/work. It makes the rooms look so much tidier and more welcoming when we get home.

I really love your writing (and humour), Jana!


Jana March 22, 2012 at 11:28 am

Thanks, Shannon! Can I borrow your husband for a while? No funny business, I promise. Just a little of that folding….


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