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The Drawer: It's a Jungle In There

Every home has one, from the smallest studio apartment to the loftiest of mansions. It's called the utility drawer. It's generally found in the kitchen, below the counter space where the phone is. Near, but not near enough, the trash can. It's the last stop on the train that runs from useful item to oblivion. Somehow its contents either never get tossed, or they mysteriously replicate. The things that fill a utility drawer are neither good nor garbage. They belong in that twilight-zone haze of "can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em." Open any utility drawer in America today and here's what you'll find.

1. A sewing kit, without any needles.

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2. Six pennies.

3. Several foreign coins of unknown origin.

4. Paper clips.

5. A wooden ruler, broken off diagonally at the 8-inch mark.

6. A calendar, at least two years out of date, with an old schooner and the words "Acme Hardware" emblazoned above it. You can't throw it out because you wrote too many important phone numbers on it when the calendar was still current, and you can't find the time to copy them into your address book, which you lost.

7. Two chewed-up pencils with the nubs worn down. No eraser, either.

8. A small hammer.

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9. A domino.

10. A pair of pliers that sticks.

11. One very stale stick of chewing gum, in a pale yellow wrapper.

12. A Phillips head screwdriver with a cracked plastic handle.

13. One gardening glove.

14. A pen that looks dried up but when you try to use it you remember too late that this is the pen that leaks. It has red ink, too.

15. Out-of-date coupons, mixed in with a few still-good ones.

16. A key chain with either a plastic green-haired troll attached to it, or a rubberized medallion bearing the phone number of a pizzeria that went out of business.

17. At least seven vaguely familiar-looking keys.

18. A pair of scissors, but not the good pair.

Optional Items (depending on your location - urban, suburban, or rural):

1. One golf ball.

2. Matchbook, with one match left, from "Guido's Gyros and Grinders."

3. A broken red crayon.

4. Package of zinnia seeds.

5. Roll of masking tape.

6. Fishing line.

7. Shoelace.

8. Rubber-band ball.

Now the world would be a perfect place if there were only two kinds of stuff: the stuff that you save, and the stuff that you chuck. But there's that third group, that nebulous nether region of ambiguity. This is the stuff of the utility drawer.

The best thing would be to dump the contents in the nearby trash can and reline the drawer with new shelf paper. But that will never happen. You'll think, "But what if I find the other glove? Maybe those keys really are important. I can't throw out a perfectly good hammer."

And then the phone will ring, you'll grab one of the nubby pencils, faintly scratch down an important phone number on the out-of-date calendar, see an ice-cream coupon that expires today, and run out the door with it, taking one of the mystery keys with you. Maybe it opens the toolbox. Why would anyone put a lock on a toolbox? It'd sure be nice to find the key that opens it. The good ruler's in there, too

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