Monday, April 13, 2015

On weak solvents and the wrath of Achilles

I was sitting on my neighbor's deck the other day, celebrating Greek Easter by eathing beautifully dyed and oiled hard-boiled eggs while the kids searched for plastic eggs full of candy.

I guess you dye 'em with beets, or onion skins, or the blood of the risen Christ or something. I love shit like that. Tradition! Anyway, as I sat in this weekend's ridiculously beautiful sunshine peeling my universal symbol of life and potential, I dropped the shell over the deck rail and into the yard.

Eggshell, I figured. Good compost. Later, my neighbor brought some food prep out onto the deck and sat at the picnic table slicing garlic and chatting. Putting the garlic ends and paper into a little bowl so that he could take them inside and throw em in the garbage.

Not the yard. Because that's gross. What's wrong with you, you toss your garbage in your neighbor's yard?! Pig.

"Penelope" by Enda Walsh

My neighbor - and I know you're wondering - didn't notice me treating his yard like a landfill, or didn't care, or was too polite to mention it. My point is, every person's relationship with cleanliness is slightly different. You know this if you have ever lived with another human being. The gradations are infinite. One person's napkin is another person's irredeemably soiled rag.

What, by the way, happens to the napkins in my house? Any napkin I take off the stack of clean napkins is clean. Any other napkin, lying on the kitchen table or the counter, even re-folded by some brainwashed child, is disgusting. Stained, crusty, spotted... I eat with these people. They are not masticating portions of their napkins along with their food. I do not notice them, I don't know, cleaning out their ears with their napkins. And yet. Every slightly used napkin in our house is an irredeemably soiled rag.

Here's another example. This weekend our fancy coffee maker, which takes beans and water and grinds and heats and mellifies them into lifegiving brown elixir, quit grinding. "MY SKIN POURS DOWN IN TEARS" went the general moan. You probably heard it from your place. "I will cut the throats of twelve noble youths of Troy at your pyre, coffee maker, in vengeance for your death."

Getting my Mallory Ortberg on a little bit there. That woman is a boon to all mankind.

Note twelve noble youths of Troy, not those shitty youths who grow their hair out stupid and hog all the booths at the pizza place.

"I'll look at it later," said my husband. Reasonable. Fair. I took a look at it myself this morning while my bread was in the toaster. There were still beans in it. I unplugged it and shook it upside-down over the garbage can. Not over the deck rail? Shut up, I will quit throwing garbage in the yard, ok? Leave me alone.

Then I grabbed the Phillips-head screwdriver that lives in the kitchen for just this kind of reason and I unscrewed four screws so that the grinder was exposed. Shook it over the garbage can again. There's a little brush that comes with the coffee maker. I used that. "All hail! Ye virgin daughters of the main!" I cried. "It grinds!"

As I put the coffee maker back together, I cleaned each part. Then I cleaned the other parts. Then I got out Windex and some paper towels and wiped like half a pound of encrusted high-grade pulverized coffee beans out of the crevices of the device. "Holy shit," I thought, my command of classic Greek poetry for once proving inadequate to the task, "has this thing ever been cleaned?"

Now granted, I am a total shithead because I let other people make me coffee and I never touch this appliance. On the other hand. 

I'll make this easier to remember: keep your station clear, or I WILL KILL YOU!

Sometimes I think that The Land Beneath the Kitchen Sink is a lonely country. I'll open that cabinet to retrieve the Formula 409 and I'll imagine a barely perceptible sigh of yearning escaping its still confines. There sits the Windex, the dish soap, the Nature's Miracle, the counter cleaner - right where I left them. 

And ordinarily I am satisfied when I come across remnants of an order I have imposed. I take it as affirmation of my organizing principles. OF COURSE all the Munchkin games go on the shelf together. That will make them easier to find. We stack all the WHITE TOWELS in one stack and all the HOT PINK TOWELS in another stack. Because... huh. As usual, there is no good reason for segregation by color. Excuse me while I go integrate my towels.

And all the cleaning products under the sink are arranged first by function, and then by size. I'm a librarian. We seek order in all things because we fear the opposite. But when I bend to fetch the Comet and see that nothing has moved since my last visit, I get no feeling of validation. They just haven't been there.

I can't get over the idea that there are places in this house that my children have never explored. It's not a big house! Don't you just go poking around places sometimes? It's not like I am some punitive person with many precious belongings or teetering secrets or a room full of severed heads - "You went into the closet, did you not? Very well, madam; you shall go back, and take your place among the ladies you saw there." Nothing under the kitchen sink is likely to electrocute you. We don't keep a basilisk under there.

On the other hand. "Have you seen the bag of clothes I had to take to the dry cleaners?" my husband asks.
"You have little bags of clothes all over the house. There's one sitting next to the front door right now. I never look in them in case they are dirty gym clothes."
"Oh no, yeah. Definitely don't look in those bags."

So I guess there are reasons not to explore the dark places. Smelly, wet reasons.

Still. I have resolved to teach a short class this weekend in my kitchen: Weak Solvents and Their Uses in the Home. We will cover Lysol, Windex, white vinegar, and WATER. "Be men, my friends, and fill your minds with furious courage, so we may win glory for the son of Peleus, greatest of the Argives beside the ships, and for his men who fight at close quarters, the pick of the army; and so the son of Atreus, imperial Agamemnon, may acknowledge his great blindness in failing to honour the best of all the Greeks.’ CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELVES.