Saturday, November 29, 2008
If there is one thing anybody must know about me, it is this: my day can never begin unless the bed is made, every pillow arranged in a perfect pile, every crease in the sheets flattened out, and the sheet itself pulled tight to unforgiving hospital corners. An unmade bed is portal to my dark things. It signals my possible descent into my personal secret madness. I can eat you alive when I leave home early with you still sleeping on my bed, and I come home to sheets and pillowcases mottled like snake skin.
My apartment is the microcosm to my psyche. Order is sexy, thus everything must be in place. Even the hints of "disorder" -- the magazines piled on the floor, the books stacked against each other on a tabletop -- is by design. The best way to gauge how I am is to consider how apartment is kept, for the moment. There was a time, last year, when a skirmish with somebody at work brought me to my lowest circles of hell: and it showed in the pigsty that surrounded me. Three months later, when I emerged from that hell somewhat healed, cleaning the mess became a kind of purging. With everything sparkling clean, I felt I could live again.
Nobody knew, except Mark.
It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. Everything -- even the dirtying that precedes it -- is by design, and I refuse help. My mother texted me early this morning, "Have you had lunch?" she asked. "Later," I texted back, "I'm beginning to move things around. I'm cleaning the pad thoroughly, in preparation for year's end." "Perhaps you should ask for Efren's help," she told me, "He doesn't do anything all day." (Efren is the family driver.) "No," I texted back with finality, "I want to this alone."
There are reasons why I want solitariness: first, house-cleaning is a kind of meditation for me, and I think about how life has become as I attack the cobwebs, the cakes of dust, the balls of fallen hair, and what-not that have collected in hidden corners and in the shadowy underbellies of furniture; second, there is the matter of my leisurely-approach. Perhaps, "leisure" is the wrong word. "Deliberate" is better. I am my mother's son, and she has taught us well to regard the hidden dirt of all things. Even the bottoms of every foot of every table must be swiped with wet cloth drenched in Lysol-flavored sop.
It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. I have thousands of books and movies everywhere: they spill out of my shelves, which already occupy two walls, and have invaded table tops. There are also stacks of papers and files and spring-bound things I hoard for some forgotten project, all of them winking with importance, and thus are successful in being spared from an urge to cull. Everything seems fragile, and so I move about the place like a monk on cat's paws. I sweep. (This can take forever.) I mop. I take a pause once in a while to watch what's going on in Discovery Travel and Living. I go down on my knees to handscrub the floor. I sweep. I clean the windows. I sweep. I wipe everything. (This, too, can take forever.) Every CD, every book, every DVD, everything must gleam. I clean the toilet and bath. I sweep. I take a bath. I wash the dishes and wipe the mini-kitchen clean. I change the bed. I air out the closet. I sweep. I take a bath again.
It takes me exactly 12 hours to clean my small apartment. I usually clean one night over the weekend, when the quiet makes me think I am the only creature stirring in the city. Sometimes I finish when the dawn is already breaking, and I sleep through the morning. Tonight, I thought of beginning in the afternoon, and now it is midnight, and I am done.
I do this once (and sometimes twice) a week. It's a curse of habit and persuasion. Because I cannot embark on any work unless the floor is sparkling, and there is the scent of lemon in the air.
All these is my measure of private madness. I live with it. Because for the most part, it balances my life, and keeps it ... clean. But I know it has a dark side. The trick is to know when the compulsion has you in its claws.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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