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Of Life, Love, And Space for Shoes

Perhaps you never thought life, love, and closets have anything to do with one another. But as I recently learned, they most definitely do. I got my education about this triumvirate a few weeks ago, when my wife and I tested the strength of our love and put our lives in limbo by having two adjacent bedroom closets renovated into one.

We'd been talking about having the job done for years. Four and a half, to be exact, ever since we moved into our cozy apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The idea was my wife's. Her rationale: Two closets next to each other with a thick wall in between are not as efficient as one big closet.

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That sounded reasonable, but it didn't inspire me into action. "Sure, honey, I'll get it done real soon," I'd tell my wife daily.

Only part of the cause of inaction lay in my indifference. As soon as my wife had made her desires known, I'd relayed the message to Julio, the super in our building. But though Julio is a superb craftsman, he's an even better procrastinator. And because I didn't nag Julio daily, our closet project languished very, very low on his "to-do" list.

Throughout, my wife tried to prod me into action with lectures extolling the virtues of a unified closet. "You'll love having space to hang everything neatly." (Translation: "I need more room for my stuff.") Another of her favorite pleas: "Isn't it a pain having your shoes smooshed up in a corner on the floor?" (Translation: "I have more shoes than Imelda Marcos, and I need shelves on which to display them.")

A few months ago, my wife's gentle reminders morphed into forceful admonitions. My wife, a civil rights attorney whom one client calls his "little Johnny Cochran," was beginning to make me feel like an ill-prepared witness.

"Will you, once and for all, get this done?" she said one day. I got the message: Even if I didn't care about the closet, my wife did, and if the work wasn't done pronto I was going to be sleeping next to my shoes.

The next day I tracked down Omar, one of Julio's assistants. "My wife wants our closet fixed," I said desperately. "Can you help?" With a wide smile, Omar obliged. He was happy to do the work starting the very next day. I was ecstatic, off the hook, free as a bird. "You saved my life," I told Omar, "and my marriage," I thought half-jokingly.

Here's where the lesson on life came in. If you've never had a closet or any other part of your home renovated, you have no clue how disruptive such work is. For us, it meant having our lives strewn about our apartment.

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It was as if a twister had blown through: Shirts were draped over the living-room sofa, belts and shoes underneath the coffee table, skirts and suits hung from the bicycles parked in our bedroom. I wish I'd known where the golf balls and the Scrabble game were (under the shirts).

On Day 1, Omar knocked down the wall. When I came home from work I was amazed. The closet was no longer a closet, but a small room nearly as big as the bedroom in our first apartment (which, ironically, we had called "the closet").

I entered the spacious new room, followed by our two cats. We were in awe, starry-eyed, gazing around. I talked, and my voice echoed off the walls. The cats meowed. My mind was spinning, full of ideas as to what we'd do with the space. Two long bars to hold clothes. Shelves at the top and, to meet my wife's demand, along one wall to hold her shoes. Suddenly, I understood why "Home Improvement" is a popular TV show. Men don't need 63-room palaces to feel like a king. A spiffy new closet does just fine.

The biggest payoff came later, when my wife came home from work. She couldn't believe it. "Wow!" she said. "This is amazing!" The last time I had seen her so happy was years ago, when I'd asked her to marry me.

Omar took a few more days to finish the closet, and his final product is a masterpiece. Two long bars run from side to side, the top one for my clothes, the one below for my wife's. There's a big shelf in the back, where we keep sweaters, travel bags, and a couple of vases we received as wedding gifts but haven't been able to re-gift to another couple.

Along one wall are eight tidy shelves lined with shoes.

I'm amazed how much joy and order a closet can add to one's life. More valuable, perhaps, is what I learned about the place shoes have in my marriage and, I suspect, in the marriages of many others.

Now when my wife comes home from work, she doesn't go to kiss me first or even to pet the cats. She makes a beeline for the closet. Softly, she opens the door, slips off her shoes, and places them on a shelf. Then she stands still, blissfully admiring her collection. After a few moments, she comes over to me and lays a delicate kiss on my cheek.

Who would have thought?

The secret to our marriage lay not in bouquets of roses or candle-lit dinners, though those things should not be avoided. No, the secret was closets and shoes. Build a big closet to keep the shoes happy, and your wife will love you forever.

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