B: Whatcha doing in there?
Me: I just found the nozzle attachment for the vacuum cleaner!
Me: No, really! Now I can clean the vacuum cleaner with, well, itself.
B: Oooh! Does it become self-aware when you do that?
Me: I’m not sure, but it does start to make a sound like a crying infant.
* * *
Honestly, this already bodes to be the most boring, self-indulgent post I’ve ever put up on my blog. I’ve alluded here before to the pure, unadulterated bliss that cleaning and organizing tends to bring me. I was raised by a closeted clean freak who came from a family of flat-out OCD nutjobs, so it isn’t surprising really that these personality traits have become more pronounced as I’ve gotten older. My extended family’s OCD tends to lend itself to compulsive home cleaning and extreme paranoia about the cleanliness of public spaces. I have an uncle who won’t eat in a restaurant unless he has personally inspected the kitchen. I have an aunt whom I’ve never seen touch a single surface in a public restroom without a tissue in her hand. These are harder things to accomplish than you might think. I’ve generally veered more toward the organizational, “isn’t it just so much nicer if everything is at a right angle?” brand of OCD, the kind that always annuls my desire to have a sort of casually off-kilter, bohemian-looking home and personal aesthetic. I don’t really do casually off-kilter. I like straight lines, matching, and a-place-for-everything-everything-in-its-place. My apartment in California was a OCD dream – it was brand new when I moved in, so in my demented head, that meant that all the super-stressful things like dust and hair were somewhat less stressful because I could mentally trace them in origin to my own body or the bodies of the people I knew. As I lived alone and thought I would be in California indefinitely, I let my organizational fantasies run wild. While I consciously understand that the Container Store and Real Simple Magazine are designed to prey on people who are overwhelmed by their crap by convincing them that what they need to do is buy more crap to organize the crap they already have, on a more primitive level I find the container-for-everything strategy to be a profound ontological relief. I literally feel a sense of warm serenity when I enter the Container Store. Real Simple, with it’s wooden prose and strategies for how to deal with your mismatched paperclips is probably my favorite magazine. It’s sick, and I know it, and I’m working on it.
Nothing is better for such recovery than moving into a 400-year old apartment filled with 20 years worth of other people’s trash, mid-renovation. In lieu of the carefully constructed object world that I built for myself in California, here I arrived to a pile of junk covered in three inches of construction dust. Ah, the joy of renting furnished apartments! You get the pleasure of trying to live with all the shit that your landlords and previous tenants held up, examined closely, and said, “Nah, this is awful. Let’s just leave this here for the next guy.” When I arrived in France I was so exhausted and grossed out by the mess that I sorted out what things I thought I would actually need in the apartment, and then shoved everything else under the bed. I hadn’t yet found the vacuum cleaner or any cleaning supplies, so I told myself that I would get to it eventually after the dust had settled.
Somehow nine months passed and I never even thought about what was going on under the bed until recently when I started sneezing all the time and suddenly had some kind of spider bites all over my body. I’m not sounding like a real true blue clean freak here anymore, am I? The thing about these kinds of neuroses, though, is that they are always somewhat incoherent. I had an ex-boyfriend who was loathe attend potlucks because he couldn’t handle the idea of eating food prepared in the home of someone who he didn’t know, as he couldn’t vouch for the cleanliness of their kitchen and preparation methods. But he positively lived for these pre-prepared burritos that are sold out of coolers by enterprising guys outside the bars late at night in Denver (they are usually excellent). When I pointed out to my ex that he also had no idea what the kitchens and preparation methods of these burrito guys were, he shrugged and said it didn’t really bother him. In the same vein, the growing ecological hazard that has been brewing under my bed the past nine months didn’t really bother me.
Until yesterday, when I tried to extricate a suitcase from the rubble and nearly developed asthma from the dustcloud that erupted in my bedroom. I was on the way out of my apartment to see Uccellacci e uccellini (I’m knocking down my Pasolini checklist like a pro this week) and suddenly decided that I had to clean out the mess, right then, or entropy would take over completely and all would be lost. B arrived at my apartment to pick me up and found my apartment transformed by heaps of dusty crap – non-functional telephones, chipped dishware, a set of moldering decorative wooden spoons, huge jars of loose change, a single rotten slipper, two broken radiators, and a John Wayne coffee cup that appeared to have been stored with a half inch or so of coffee in it. I was mid-panic attack when he located me in all the dreck, short of breath and mumbling about how impossible things had suddenly become. He picked some dust bunnies out of my hair and insisted we go to meet our friend The Londoner for the movie, as we were already going to be late. But I was so stressed out about leaving the mess that by the time we arrived at Notre Dame I was in a full-fledged panic attack and had to sit down and hyperventilate between my legs, heartbroken, yet again, about entropy.
To B’s credit, he didn’t run immediately for the hills, but instead comforted me and promised to help me clean when we returned back to my apartment that night. And clean we did, hauling everything down to the street for the most efficient recycling program known to man, a.k.a. letting bums haul off all your unwanted crap. After a few hours I was finally able to vacuum my entire bedroom for the first time in nine months. I fell into a blissful sleep as if something had been internally righted.
Today I get to indulge the unfettered joy of sorting all that change. It’s the little things.