18 February 2008
My Ernest Attempt at Housewifery
There was an incident at our house the other night. I was getting ready for a show, and Wim was around the corner having a drink with his friend who we were later going to drop somewhere in Antwerp on the way to my gig. There were two reasons why he went around the corner to hang out with his friend: the first being that I am rather hard to be around before a show (“temperamental artist” is a kind way to describe it, heavy on the ”mental”); and the second (and perhaps most important) reason being that our house was an embarrassing mess.
So when it was time to leave for my show, Wim returned with his friend and said she was waiting outside our house and that she had to pee because she is pregnant. And that she needed to pee in our toilet because she didn’t go at the bar because she didn’t need to then. There was a split second when I felt that my legs would give way. Shoving things into closets wasn’t even an option because there simply wasn’t time. She would have frozen to death (and pee’d) in front of our house before we had anything in a semi-decent order. There was no escaping it: She had to come in. To say that I freaked out would be a spectacular understatement. There was no choice. She had to walk through our cluttered entryway, climb our cat hair-laden stairs, walk through our laundry-strewn den, and use our underpants-everywhere bathroom. I was absolutely mortified. So the whole ride to Antwerp, I was seething with anger. I didn’t know whom I was more angry with; Wim for allowing someone into our House of Shame, or the Pregnant Friend for not availing herself of the facilities at the bar. It became a HUGE issue in my head and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
Later, I had it pointed out to me that “normal” people don’t have a problem with letting their friends in the house to use the bathroom, and it shook me into awareness. I suddenly felt enormous guilt for thinking that the pregnant friend had been taking evil liberties at my expense. It wasn’t a plot or anything. She just had to pee. And I’m just very odd.
Our house is always a mess, and it’s always a huge ordeal if we have anyone over. It must be planned and arranged in advance so we can wake up early and clean everything, and still it always seems as if up to the very last minute we are moving big piles of paper on various shelves and shoving things into cupboards.
We have this fantasy image of ourselves and the people that we will one day be if only we can get the house to that ever elusive Ground Zero of cleanliness – a state wherein it will require only the most rudimentary touch-up maintenance now and then to retain a pristine and perpetually sophisticated look.
It has so far never happened because Wim and I are both decidedly not Neat People. And because I’m the one who is home all the time, the onus is on me to find a way to sort the situation out. And I try. I do. But what happens is that I have these spurts of inspired floor mopping and then I sort of sit around admiring it and wonder (honestly) how it all winds up dirty again in a few days.
“How can the floor be so dirty when I cleaned it last week??!!” I marvel, completely airbrushing over the 10 cats running around my feet.
Yes, we have 10 cats, and I began to suspect that they might be a contributing factor in why things don’t stay clean.
Cats have this completely undeserved reputation for being ultra-clean animals because they bury their poop, are constantly cleaning themselves, and generally keep a low profile. But on closer inspection you find that after burying their poop, they jump out of the catbox trailing grains of kitty litter between their toes; their “cleaning” consists of covering themselves with their own spit; and even when they are sleeping, they are shedding hair at an alarming rate. And while they do mostly sleep, when they are awake they are running, running, running everywhere; knocking things off shelves and vomiting up hairballs. The end result is what it would be like if we let everyone I dated in my 20s hang out in our house for an hour each day. Only with slightly fewer hairballs.
When I’m out and about I see these housewifey women with their front doors open, dumping floor-mopping water outside. And the thing is I see them doing the same thing, every day. Sometimes I try to peer into their houses thinking, “damn, they must have a lot of cats!”, but I’ve never been able to see any. And yet these people clean every single day. Then it dawned on me: That’s how people keep their houses clean. They do it every day.
My brain synapses started firing like crazy as I made all the connections. Normal people don’t leave their clothes on the bathroom floor, or wait until they’ve used every last dish (or dish-like container) before they think about cleaning the kitchen; Normal people clean everything as they go. That’s why it all seems so effortless. And that’s why their friends can just walk in and use their bathrooms and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about.
I couldn’t wait to tell Wim what I’d figured out. We both stood there like two scientists discovering something horribly obvious in a microscope, like that we’d left the lens cap on, or we’d left the price tag on the Petri dish - and we determined that this must, indeed, be what normal people do. So I decided that starting Monday (today) I would become one of those people who vacuumed and mopped and did the dishes and picked up dirty clothes and did the laundry every day. This morning I did it, and it was remarkably painless and I’m sitting here writing this right now in a clean room. It feels strange and yet somehow right. And I’m going to do it every morning. That’s what normal people do, and I desperately want to be normal. It seems like a rather odd discovery to be making at my age; even at the age that I like to say that I am, but, well, better late than never.
So now the perfect denouement will be if The Pregnant Friend randomly knocks on our door and asks to use our bathroom again. I shall politely and enthusiastically welcome her in, proudly ushering her to our glistening bathroom. Karmicly, I need for this to happen. If it doesn’t happen organically, I shall be tempted to ambush her, make her drink 5 cups of coffee then insist she uses our bathroom because, dammit, I need the closure.