This week I was interviewed by local media, visited the Museum of the American Indian, had my essays critiqued, prepared to travel to a meeting of a state agency in Albany with students, took other students ice skating, and chanted in four languages at two different, equally charming, churches.
I’m thinking more about scrubbing the bathroom floor, though. Our bathroom floor is white tile. The floor in my two previous bathrooms was linoleum, both times really awful linoleum, cracked and coming up. At 3004 Grand #34, it was a wood-grain design, which I actually assumed to be real wood somehow finished very waxy-like. At the carriage house, it was grey linoleum, and had all kinds of bad seams so that I did wonder, as I showered, if someday I would find myself downstairs because the floor had rotted out.
My poor mother would assign us Saturday chores, and the trio of us would bitch and moan and obfuscate like you wouldn’t believe. She would tell us there was no lunch until chores were done. It sometimes worked. She’s gotten to hear all about me teaching kids for a decade, so she knows it all came back around.
We used old washcloths for cleaning, and several of them were Cookie Monster blue, and some sort of solution we diluted with water. I don’t ever remember using a mop. I do remember that an elderly bathmat sheds its rubbery back. And that there was a funny trio of little plastic hairs that stuck out between two tiles in my mom’s shower, and I thought about it being the tentacles of an alien that would someday emerge from its sanctuary there.
I fucking hated cleaning those bathrooms. I didn’t think it was my job. I don’t know if that was because of my age, I was distancing myself from my family, or because after my parents’ divorce it seemed like we could be doing chores every damn day because there were two houses and we had one weekend day at each, so it was like we got to live nowhere and had to do shit everywhere.
It was pretty hard having two parents who desperately wanted to be with us and raise us right.
My carriage house landlord liked Pine-Sol. He had a bottle of it next to my claw foot tub when I took my initial tour. “We’ll get this all nice and clean,” he said, and I knew he meant the smell of Pine-Sol, and that, for my part, I would toss around some Comet with bleach, and everything would be fine. By this time, I was deeply in love with Comet with bleach.
Yesterday our toilet overflowed, and I volunteered to clean up this morning. I hadn’t participated in any of the struggle, so it seemed fair that I would work with the aftermath. The floor comes in three sections: the ones on either side of the toilet, a triangle between the tub and the window, and the rectangle where you were on all fours cleaning the other two sections. Bleach, Comet with bleach, bleach, and paper towels, which I save for special occasions such as this.
Sometimes I am a little jealous of the janitors at school because their job is clearly done when it’s done, and they know what they’ve done.
I wouldn’t say I like to clean, just as I don’t like to exercise, but I know I feel much better once I get started, and I feel great afterwards, and also that music helps. When I get really desperate, I listen to the Disney station and pretend I am Cinderella.
When I go to the monastery and get slowed down, I think about cleaning. I sort of wish I was responsible for cleaning the place. At the monastery, the value of everyday, physical work is clear. They do ask you to unmake your bed, and remake it with fresh sheets while you pray for the person who will sleep there next.
The first time I cleaned this new bathroom in Brooklyn, it felt good. I felt like I lived there. I know I don’t think having a place has anything to do with money or paperwork, and it does have to do with having stories there, and having dirtied it, and cleaned it, over and over again.
Just to not be a jackass to people who actually know me: my critique was both encouraging and useful, ice skating resulted in no permanent injuries to my knowledge, and I got to talk with kid about the fall of the Roman Empire and, you know, The Course of Human Events, and chanted at my now-usual French church (French and Latin and often German or Spanish) and at a special event at St. John the Divine (English, Latin and Sanskrit). I’ll write about some of that stuff some another time, I promise.