Could it be that people are friendlier when they are not afraid to touch things?
Everyone knows somewhere within themselves that everyone is different. That nothing one learns here can really be applied there. The only thing one learns is how to better acquire experience, how to be less permanently injured and how to injure less in the process. Learning all the time the same things more and more deeply. Everyone knows this. They will be happy to tell you all about it. But then they gasp in the very next breath, “Can you believe she did that?”
Well, yes. I can. Nothing easier in the world than to believe that someone did something odd and incomprehensible at first glance, and maybe even at second and third glances as well. Nothing harder in this world it seems than to let it go at that. Live and let live. Forgive and forget. If it even requires forgiveness.
I mention all this because maintenance of one’s self and one’s space is in third place, right after money and sex, as one of the top arenas in which no one will understand why you do what you do. Nor you them.
Which is why we start off a discussion of clean-up with a tirade on patience and tolerance and forgiveness of the quirks of others. No sense in brushing away layers of defenses with food sublime and sweetly offered, then destroying the promise by refusing to arrange yourself comfortably near another until the whole kitchen is scrubbed clean. I don’t care how important cleanliness is to you. In the time it takes you to turn on an overhead light and pull out a scrubby sponge someone could easily rethink the situation and decide it is more important than they thought a moment ago to get home to a good night’s sleep. See you at the gym, Mr. Clean.
On the other hand, you hardly want to get up on a sunny morning that has been filled with kisses and caresses in a rumpled bed and find the kitchen too disheveled and disgusting to even make coffee. The table too sticky and cluttered to place the newspaper upon. And even if such a lovely scenario does not materialize, it can be discomforting for some people to leave their host, their friend, their would-be companion in the incandescent night with a forbidding clean-up ahead of them. At the last moment your great gift is broken in two by guilt and remorse on the part of a polite guest who hates the thought of leaving you to the chore, but who also knows it is time to leave. Go home! you think, or Stay. But they don’t know what to do, and it is actually your fault.
A rock and a hard place, you say? No. But neither is there one right action. The answer is as usual to be sensible and considerate at all moments, and flexible and responsive to the concerns of others and particularly a particular other.1
To clean or not to clean. You don’t want to offend anyone with relaxed hygiene anymore than you want to drive them off during a cleaning frenzy. Where exactly is the fence to sit upon?
In the context of unknowing, which is the context of much courtship especially in the early moments, you may want to avoid the whole issue. Or resolve it gradually, almost imperceptibly so it is barely a problem at all. Washing things as you cook, for example. Not too hard, and very handy later on when you are trying to convince someone to snuggle when they might think you should be cleaning up. Imagine being able to look toward the sink and stove and see nothing to speak of. “Darling, really, there are only the dinner plates in the sink.” If they still seem anxious, say, “You’re right. Go put on some more music and think about whether you would like coffee or cognac or Calistoga while I clean up the last few things.” Then clean the kitchen as if your mother were arriving at midnight.
In almost every case a willing guest will forgive everything that is actually in the sink and below the level of the counter. Try not to pile up the dishes so the faucet won’t work. You should always be able to get a glass of water or wash a single thing you need without excavating the whole sink.2
Another approach one can take during the making of the meal is to include your guest or guests in the fun. When they ask sincerely—which is to say, a second time—what they can do to help, if you don’t have something that needs desperately to be chopped, respond “Thank you for asking. If you like, why don’t you wash up that stuff in the sink.” Or better yet, say something like, “Keep stirring this for me, and keep an eye on that simmering pot. It is about to boil over. I want to clean up that awful sink full of stuff.” And then do just that. There you are in the kitchen, both of you with your hands full and nothing to do but flirt3 with one another.
But perhaps you didn’t keep the kitchen straight while you made dinner. It is a disaster and you are sensing a little too late that your companion will not take well to the idea of ignoring it whether the event goes till tomorrow or not. Their attractive brow is starting to furrow and their eyes twitch toward the kitchen. “Did you rinse the dishes,” they try to ask nonchalantly, plainly made nervous by the idea of sauce drying onto a plate.
Don’t fret. No reason why a sink full of soapy water can’t be a lovely interlude in an exquisite evening. Make it ritual. Make it wonderful. Light the kitchen so you can see. Perhaps put on music, more for them but also for you. Quite loud if you like to dance about while you do dishes and if you don’t have neighbors who will complain. The noise of water and the banging of pans will preclude most conversation anyway. Place a comfortable chair on the far side of the kitchen. Place your friend in the chair with a cup or a glass of whatever they seem to need or say they want. Or perhaps a conversation is in progress. Leave the music low and get the chair closer to the sink. Let them wander around while they linger on the political or the personal. Or arrange them in another room with a really big book of interesting stuff. Ask for the grace of ten minutes. Kiss them wherever it is appropriate. Then do the dishes. Wipe down counters. Without fanaticism, but also without oversight. Do not take more than fifteen minutes to accomplish the task. If your guest insists upon a chore, give them something you would give a seven-year-old to do. Clear the table. Dry plates. Mostly nothing. Get to the next thing with as much haste as the details of the situation will allow. Conversation, or whatever.
Of course, they might be that exquisite sort of person, that most desirable guest who insists on doing dishes after the meal. If they offer, refuse; but if they start in and seem to be perfectly happy about it, let them go. It is making them feel useful and giving them something to do with their hands. You know how nice that can be. If you are terrified of another doing dishes in your home, jump in and do them yourself, giving them something else to do, like sweep the floor or clear the table.4
But perhaps it is you, quirky and otherwise delightful you, who is made nervous by the carnage in the kitchen. Your own neurotic eye that keeps wandering toward the back of the house, while your intoxicating, although apparently slovenly guest is putting on music perfect for slow dancing and teasing you to leave the dishes alone. They are humming and swaying to Stardust, and you are thinking “Ten more minutes and I am going to have to scrub the plates.” For heaven’s sake. If you cannot find it in your heart to be flexible, if having a filthy kitchen will ruin your mood for the rest of the night and most of the morning, go to your guest and explain ever so humbly that it is a terrible habit of yours, but one which dies hard, and that you simply must take ten minutes to clean up the kitchen. Swear you will make it up to them, and then do. However much they may want you to join them at that moment, in the end they will be impressed by someone who likes a clean kitchen and is willing to make it that way themselves. Take care, though, and don’t take more than ten minutes to soothe yourself in this. You are not what’s important.
Again, if at all possible, wash things as you go along. This suggestion will be met with cries of dissent by many the excellent cook. But there are good reasons for going about the preparation of the meal in this way. One is that if your kitchen is sufficiently, but not fabulously stocked with the tools of the trade, you will probably run out of bowls and pans and knives and chopping boards if you don’t recycle them for second and third use. If you keep up a steady pattern of washing things you are done using, you won’t have to stop in the middle of a process a half hour from now to wash out the bowl you need. In another scenario, things used for preparation might also be used for serving and you will appreciate having them already clean and dry. Again, you will hear the cry of devoted chefs everywhere, frantic to think you might be using a mixing bowl for serving. They must shut up. It is just as likely that a splendid serving bowl has been used for mixing. Besides, one approach to acquiring bowls and pans is to consider whether they will be both functional and presentable, thereby avoiding the necessity of purchasing two large awkward things when one will do, and further avoiding the often Sisyphean task of finding a place for them in your kitchen. An excellent approach in many respects, but it does mean that vessels used in the preparation of a meal might have to be washed to be reused as serving vessels.
Another enticement for washing things as you go along is that it is much easier to wash something that has just been used than to try to wash it five hours from now. Still another is that dirty pots pile up in the sink and make it impossible to use. And they clutter up counters in such a way that even if you were to move them to the side, the surface is still difficult to use.
But the very best reason to keep things under control is to make the final chore of washing up at the end of the night less Herculean. Nice enough if it turns out that you do the deed. But very very nice if someone you adore decides they want to clean up. How horrible for them to walk into a kitchen which would require all the warriors of Sparta to make right in a single evening. A strongly built person might walk right out again saying they have changed their mind and do not care to clean up after all. Hopefully they will make their exit with humor. Unfortunately the kitchen is still a mess. Another of sweeter disposition will make a valiant effort to clean up, but you will have to help and their desire to do something for you will have been cruelly thwarted. Instead of it now being your turn to do something for them—and the imagination reels at what might have transpired in such a tennis—it is simply late in the day and everyone has wrinkled fingertips.
It need not transpire so badly. Find your best nature, your most optimistic self, and jump into the task. Behave as though it were nothing but usual for you to clean up such catastrophes and that you do not believe it will take more than a half hour. It shouldn’t, especially not since you have help or at least companionship, and conversation will make any amount of time fly by as though it were mere minutes.
Still another reason to clean as you go is that you might have a partner or roommate who tires of those long hours when there is no way to make a cup of tea, and who laments that helping in the kitchen always means washing dishes, which is not so much fun for most people as chopping and mixing and stirring and tasting.
One good way to get things washed en route is to wash everything that can be washed every time you need to clean a particular something for reuse. So instead of only washing off that chopping board, wash everything in the sink as well. Your hands are wet and the water is hot, so you may as well do it all. It will take a very few minutes, if that.
Of course you might have acres of counter space, a deep sink, a kitchen outfitted in a conveniently redundant manner, and the very charming reality of someone else arriving in the morning to clean the house and do the dishes. In which case, be careless and make a reasonable mess as you prepare a meal. At the end of the day, no one is going to argue with the proposal that another do the dirty work for their daily bread. You have only to make sure a table is clean for breakfast in the morning and that enough mugs and maybe small plates are clean for coffee and toast or whatever. In this case, remember to turn the lights off in the kitchen and close the door if possible before sitting down to your meal.
Cleaning up after the meal
The first thing is to get everything as close to the sink as possible. Certainly everything must be removed from wherever the meal took place. Clearing the table, we have always called it. Can’t say exactly why it is important to clear the table but it is. Perhaps there is some symbolism having to do with how one leaves one’s environment and naturally the answer is “How you found it.” Since one eventually must leave the table and move on, it must be returned, at least symbolically, to its original condition.5 And of course, if you are planning to wash the dishes the table must certainly be cleared first.
When everyone seems finished with their meal, and not a moment before, you can rise and begin clearing the table. The party might remain at the table for hours still, more things might be served, desserts and drinks of many sorts, but the bulk of the dishes and everything having to do with the main body of the meal itself should be removed. That would include all plates and utensils, all serving platters and bowls, and all condiments and accessories which were specifically for the meal and won’t be required for dessert. Someone will probably help you, or might even begin clearing the table before you do. If they beat you to it, rise to assist them or allow them the chore. It is a gesture of thanks and appreciation for all the work you have done in preparing the meal. Say thank you.
When clearing the table yourself, leave all the glasses, as well as carafes of water (which might need refilling) and bottles of wine, until people have actually left the table as you cannot know who will want more. If coffee, tea and other after-dinner drinks are served, those things too can be left on the table until everyone has adjourned somewhere else. When that happens, you would be very kind to offer new glasses for wine and water to anyone who is still drinking, as the glasses from the table are probably heavily fingerprinted and coated with crumbs and oils from the meal and so will not glow as nicely in the light of the next room as a fresh glass.
If you did the worst part of the clean-up before the meal began, you may very well want to put off cleaning up the dishes from dinner until later or even tomorrow in deference to the rhythm of the evening. It might have something to do with the formality of the event. The more casual the event, the more likely you will feel like cleaning up during the course of things, and it will seem more natural to allow guests to help or watch. When a meal is more formally concocted, it often seems better to leave everything off till tomorrow or at least until everyone, or almost everyone has left. That last, lingering someone might be just the right person to help with the dishes, the task providing an intimate context for further conversation, a change of pace and attitude after hours of more formal socializing. Strangely enough, they might very well feel privileged to be included in the final ritual. They might even be so wise as to know it is an excellent opportunity to get to know you as they watch how you go about cleaning up in your own home.
Which suggests you do it in a manner which will not frighten nor repel, making them run home to pull their covers over their head; but rather will soothe and include them, making them eventually think about pulling your covers over their head.
Whatever you clean, clean completely, treat your things with respect, and if you are one of those compulsive persons (even if you do stop short of sterilizing your flatware in the pressure cooker), try to have a sense of humor about it and accomplish your cleaning without remarking that everyone is not so good at it as you. If you know you do not do a good job and that if someone sees you do the dishes they will be forever afraid to dine again at your home, you are in trouble. You can always make up reasons why the dishes can wait, but it is far better to learn how to do it right.6 In any case, be sure to wrap up any left over food and put it away so it won’t spoil, and otherwise clean up so that no ants or cockroaches or dogs or small children are tempted to come in during the night and have their way with things.
On being a most desirable guest
A desirable guest will accept the machinations of their host without making it more difficult than it must be. Surely you would never be one of those fitful guests who insist others be the way they would have them. If a filthy kitchen bothers you, or if you feel like being especially wonderful to have around, do the dishes yourself and do them as though you actually enjoy the chore. Remain part of the conversation. Keep anyone from thinking you are doing anything like work. Be sure to wash everything very well.7 This is a particularly wonderful thing to do for people who have children and you should do it whether you care about clean kitchens or not. Unless they have a housekeeper, they might not have seen the sink completely empty in weeks. Pretend for those minutes it takes you to do all the dishes and clean off all the counters that it is you who are the host. Make sure your friend is comfortable and has a drink of some sort to occupy them and keep them from trying to do anything. If they demure, insist it is your pleasure to clean up after such a fabulous meal. That it is the least you can do. If they seem at a loss but you believe that secretly they are thrilled not to clean up the kitchen, ask them to do something for you like put on some music or find a book they have been meaning to lend to you. Or tell them you will never come over again unless they shut up and let you do the dishes in peace. Grab their face with soapy hands and kiss them squarely.
Do not, however, be a freight train. Some people really can’t bear anyone else in their kitchen. If they say anything like, “No, really, I prefer to do the dishes myself,” instead of the more acquiescent, “You don’t have to do that,” you can ask once, “Are you sure?” but probably it will be best to let it go. You made the effort. You were a good guest. Now accept their wishes without argument. They may be especially anxious about their dishes or glasses and don’t like others to wash and possibly break them. They might be terribly picky about how things are cleaned and know they will have to do it over to please themselves. They might not like anyone in their kitchen. You can’t possibly know. Don’t let your desire to be a good guest and to do the dishes override your sensitivity to the quirks of another.8
A common possibility is right in between those two extremes. Your host cleans up the kitchen and you ask very sincerely, “What can I do to help?” They will say “Nothing at all. Relax and enjoy yourself.” You look around and see what might be done. If there is an extra sponge or cloth, clean the table or the stove. Do stuff and keep out of their way.
If you err, err on the side of cleanliness and helpfulness.
Suggestions for cleaning in general
Follows are the things I can think of without thinking too hard about it. Too easy to become fervent, then evangelical, then lose entirely the respect and attention of readers who are already resenting me rather than admitting their home is a sty. Still I persist. If you would like to tend more toward clean than filthy:
Have the right stuff
Dish soap and sponges and scrubbing pads or brushes and gloves. Scouring powder to scrub the sink. In the bathroom, a long brush for cleaning the toilet. Feather duster or at least dust rags. Having the right stuff makes the job, which will happen eventually however you look at it, so much easier and faster and more pleasant. Not having the right stuff makes it a horrible task and you will be sorely tempted to simply throw out all the dirty dishes and start anew. You can do this. There are no laws against it, besides the universal ones against wastefulness. But in the end it will be more work to go out and find new dishes and pans than it would be to clean them.
Have clean dish towels available at all times. That means having more than one. Five is good. Some out, and some in a drawer so you have clean ones when you need them. Whichever ones are out will get used and so won’t count as clean if someone is looking for a clean towel for any particular purpose.9 Wash them whenever you do the laundry.
If you do not have a dish rack, spread a dish towel on the counter for setting things out to dry. If you do have a dish rack, place a towel beneath it to catch dripping water. If you have a dishwasher, use it with discretion.
Wash everything well
Wash the backs of plates, the outsides and bottoms of bowls and cups and pots and pans. Wash lids to things.10 Even though it may seem there is no reason for the outside of a bowl to have gotten dirty, be assured it is. Even though you cannot fathom how a lid to a pot in which water was boiled could have become worthy of your soapy attention, be confident it has. Filthy fingers pick things up, sauce splashes about, and there was probably something besides water in that pot at some point. You would be surprised how much starch from rice and pasta gets into the water which the boils and bubbles and bursts in broad blotches on the inside, and, miraculously enough, the outside of lids as well as their respective pots and pans. Be sure to have dish gloves if hot water bothers you.
Soak things that do not clean easily on the first try. Not for days. Just for the time it takes to do the rest of the dishes. That should get you pretty far and they should wash with ease in most cases. Scrubby sponges will usually suffice.11 On this note, you will find that the better quality and the healthier the food you cook with, the easier it will be to clean up afterward. For example, you never have to soak the salad bowl.
Wipe off counters whenever you have a chance while you are cooking. Wipe counters well at the end of any meal with a clean sponge or cloth. Scrub them now and again. Don’t forget to do this. It is a humor-eating event to set something down on what should be a clean counter and to have it soak up some spilled juice or be firmly cemented to said counter by an imperceptible bit of jam. If cooking is not taking place, if there is no food being eaten or prepared within a few feet of a flat surface, most people will assume the surface is clean.12
Clean your kitchen table and chairs and any other tables and chairs used for dining. Wipe the chairs off after a meal or at least before the next one. Scrub the table with a soapy sponge and look from table height to see if it is in fact clean.
Clean your kitchen floor with some frequency. Sweep it for no reason. Mop and scrub more than once a month if you use your kitchen more than once a month. Or pay someone else to do it. Have them clean your bathrooms as well.
Pay attention to the tops and bottoms of things. The tops of baseboards are often neglected. As are the tops of hanging lamps. Again, remember to address the bottoms of dishes and pots and pans.
Clean the stove, the front of the oven and the front and top of the refrigerator. Wipe down small appliances and any parts you can’t wash in soapy water.
Clean out your refrigerator and clean the surfaces with soapy water and a sponge.
Use a soapy sponge to clean the front of cupboards. Not everyday, but more than once a year. Try wiping down wall surfaces. People will think you repainted or that you replaced the light bulbs.
Clean the bathroom
Walls, floor, mirror, counter, sink, tub or shower, and all the surfaces of the toilet, inside and out, upside and down. Bathroom corners and the top side of any trim or molding can become particularly vile and should be kept under observation. Have sponges and a toilet brush and some kind of good scrubbing compound, like Ajax or Comet, always in the bathroom. Hire someone for the task if it is simply too difficult or complicated for you to do. When you cook for others it is almost certain that they will experience your bathroom. Alone in that little room, they have little to do besides notice it. Lighting is usually good, if unflattering. Surfaces light and revealing. That your guests are exposing vulnerable parts of themselves might make them more critical of uncleanliness. All this is not so unforgivable. Far less forgivable would be your refusal to have respect for the frailties, both physical and emotional, of others and to leave your bathroom, the only convenient place available for them to bare their valuable assets, slimy and scary. Accept that bathrooms accumulate the detritus of our bodies, as well as the usual dust and dirt which grace the rest of the home, plus an additional outfit of molds and mildews which flourish in the warm dampness, and that few of your guests will really enjoy the company of all that.
That is a verb meaning to remove dust from objects and furniture in your home with either a short feathery broom, which is very fun, or with a soft cloth, which is very little fun. It is best to actually pick things up off of tables, dust the surface, dust the objects, and then replace them or put them where they actually belong. The feather duster is good for when you don’t feel like doing so much work, as you can forego picking things up in most cases. The feathers will also extract dust from all sorts of places you could never approach with a cloth even if you tried which you won’t. Tops of hanging pictures and paintings and the lower rungs of tables and chairs are easy to forget but just as easy to dust if you do remember. Sculpture must be dusted as well, which is nice since it gives you a reason to caress and examine the work as it was probably meant to be caressed and examined in the first place.
Another verb, this one meaning to use a vacuum to clean rugs and carpets and sometimes hard floors you don’t feel like sweeping. If your vacuum is not working, do not assume it is broken. It usually only needs a new bag inside, and maybe the filter needs to be changed. Once you get it open, it will be obvious what must be done. If you don’t have a vacuum but you do have carpets, get one. If you don’t have carpets, sweep frequently and mop now and again. Scrub any non-wood floors with a brush when you have extra energy or aggression to dissipate, or if you just want to do something that will make you feel better right away.
Wash your sheets and towels and fix your bed.
The idea is to make your home a place suitable for courtship, in the form of food or otherwise. Cultivate a seductive dishevelment if you must, but be very careful. There is a point at which the best sorts of people simply say to themselves, “I don’t believe I will get naked here.”13 A good time to do cleaning is before a party, however small it may be.14 You benefit from seeing your home through the eyes of others at that moment. Do things first which cannot be done once people arrive. Like cleaning the bathroom, dusting and vacuuming, making your bed (if there is any reason at all someone might glance at it), etc. Leave yourself and the kitchen for last. You can clean up the kitchen in the company of your first guests, and if people arrive while you are in the shower, they will enjoy knowing for those few minutes that you are naked in the house somewhere.15
Terribly troubling this topic, cleaning. There are so many cultural standards and expectations. People are so quick to condemn. And then there is that whole thing about godliness.
It is possible for both a sterile room and a grimy building that couldn’t be thoroughly cleaned even if you tried to be comfortable and inviting; possible for either to be miserable places and for the degree of cleanliness to be blamed. Whatever your standard, make it be comfortable for others.16 At the end of the day, all you can do is what you believe to be right and hope that others will be tolerant and accepting if it doesn’t happen to exactly match their idea of correct. They can’t possibly know what is right for you, nor you them, so they can only condemn you for not doing what they think is right for you, which is no condemnation at all.
On the other hand, if they are disappointed because you are not doing what you know is right, then they have a very good point.
1 This is also true when you are on the other side of the equation. You can court others by being an excellent guest as well, by not demanding that others adhere to your standard of cleanliness or other aesthetic. But before approaching the topic of how to behave when at the home of another, let’s finish up the part about being a desirable host.
2 Tracy adds that big pots which would never make it into the sink gracefully can be left on the stove if the stove is clean, if the pot seems clean from a distance, and if the pot is covered. In other words, one would have to go over and lift the lid to determine whether it needs attention or is just waiting to be put away. Any guest with a half a mind to be friendly will accept the charade happily and refrain from close inspection.
3 It’s not that I don’t trust you. But my blood does run cold at the thought of what some people think flirting means. All it means as far as I am concerned, and all I am suggesting, is that one’s full attention and all powers of humor and wit and intellect and all sexuality and sensuality be directed only in the direction of the one or several others you happen to be flirting with. All of your most delightful you offered as a careless gift. It is an exercise in focus. And since it must be done with a light hand—it is only flirting after all—it is also an exercise in discretion and restraint. Just wanted you to know I am not suggesting anything racy or seductive. For heaven’s sake, do you know how easy it is to break plates and glasses while washing them in that slippery soapy water? In the interest of the china and glassware, flirting only.
4 Don’t, for example, ask them to dust the bedroom or scrub the bathtub.
5 There has been that night or two, always in the company of Italians, when we never leave the table, never really stop eating or drinking, and the table is never cleared. The metaphor is perhaps that the feeding, the nourishing, the love and sensuality of food and the warmth and dynamic of conversation never ends, never gets cleared away. Even when we move into another room for some good reason. Something about Italians, one can believe that the mess in the kitchen really doesn’t matter. One forgets there is a room destroyed, and continues through the house or onto the terrace littering one’s path with small plates, crumbs of biscotti, wine and liqueur glasses, and tiny little espresso cups and spoons. I don’t think you have to be Italian to make this work, although it helps. What you do have to do is make your guests forget completely about the need to clean anything up. Again, a good way to do this is to have there not be a great deal to clean up. Dishes from preparation completely cleaned and put away so that the only stuff is that stuff which is still, technically speaking, in use, and so does not need to be cleaned up.
6 At the end of this chapter there are a slew of suggestions on how to clean. I feel very puritanical having this chapter at all, and damn near Lutheran for having cleaning suggestions. Yet, I can’t get around my understanding that people get nervous when a place is too filthy and it is not their own filth and so they don’t know where it came from; and that nervous people are disinclined to be comfortable, to open up their souls, to drink of new friendship, and rarely take their clothes off. At the same time, I have noticed people can also be nervous in a too-consciously clean place where they might be worried that their very breath will violate the purity of the space. It is not so much the degree of cleanliness, but the attitude of it. A fairly filthy place might have an aspect of formality, an affectation that it is cleaner than you are and you had better watch your step which is equally, if not more discomforting than an honestly squalid spot. And I have been in hospitals which have been warm and welcoming for all their sterility. The only thing for you to do is be aware and sensible and respectful and willing to look at yourself and be accepting of others and take care of what you feel must be taken care of. Arduous as it sounds, I swear to you it is the easiest thing in the long run.
7 Doing the dishes badly at someone else’s house is among the most nasty, non-criminal acts known in the civilized world. Not only does the host have to appear appreciative and thank you for your efforts, but they have to redo the dishes themselves after you’ve left, or surreptitiously if you don’t happen to leave, or they have to pretend they are not disgusted when they have to use a grimy plate in the morning for toast.
8 You know, this is not the only room in the house where what you want to do, what you think will please someone, might not be at all the thing for them.
9 No, I don’t know what that purpose would be, but I was asked for one just the other day by a woman I happen to be related to and so know that when she asks for a clean towel there is some very good reason it must be clean. And no, I didn’t happen to have one and so had to humbly offer her a towel I was mostly sure had only been used to dry vegetables. Is pesticide and garden dirt any worse than laundry detergent? I was asking myself. Paper towels would solve the whole thing, I know you are thinking, except they don’t solve anything if you think about it a little more broadly.
10 One third of you will wonder why I mention this so obvious thing, another third will not understand what I mean by washing the outside of things that are only used on the inside, and the third third will cross their fingers in joy and hope fervently that the second third reads the rest of this suggestion, undergoes an epiphany, and joins the swelling ranks of the first third. I am guessing that most of the third third lives with a member of the second third and has just about reached some kind of limit.
11 Along with what was once called “elbow grease”, but I haven’t heard it mentioned in a very long time. Maybe it was discontinued.
12 A silly assumption, I understand, just as one shouldn’t assume that the ground is free of chewed-up globs of gum and dog poop and shouldn’t walk about naively admiring trees and people and architecture instead of examining the ground where they are walking. But that is still what most people do, foolish optimists that they are. Or perhaps just absent-minded, the lack of evidence that food is being prepared allowing them to forget that flat surfaces are often covered in gook that you don’t want to place your sweater or portfolio in. On the other hand, I am guessing you would not be too delighted to find that your friends have come to know that your counters are unsafe and have adopted the habit of checking them and cleaning them off before lingering in your kitchen. I am shuddering and resisting mentioning all the other things I hope no one has to check.
13 I am well aware that all my admonitions are ridiculous in the face of love. Lovers have been known to collide in all sorts of unthinkable squalors. But one cannot always count on love when courting others. Wise, if you would have love remain, to keep the house clean. I know house cleaners who openly claim to have saved as many marriages as a therapist might boast and for far less money.
14 You may even consider planning a party just to inspire you to clean.
15 Of course, the thought of you naked should be a pleasant one. Whatever body you have, it should be one you love and which delights in itself, which in turn will make others enjoy it—or the thought of it if that is all they get—as well. Spend more time naked if this is not the case. Get used to yourself, change things you want to change and can without misery. Stretch and employ your muscles. Use good soaps and lotions and fluffy towels if you can. Dress to please your body and your soul for there is no reason not to. Stop doing things you know are wrong. Dance and sing. Make love and sex part of your life. Your naked self will be a vision of loveliness, in reality or imagination.
16 I am reminded of Jewish friends who astound me by their adherence to a thousand laws concerning cooking and housekeeping, most of which seemed designed expressly to exclude me from their midst, while at the same time going to lengths to assure I am comfortable in their homes. Likewise, I try less successfully to make it possible for them to join the occasional dinner party at my home.