Balcony View


My Perspective


I'm not obsessive compulsive or anything, but I do value cleanliness. By nature, I suppose you could say that I'm clean and orderly the way that many people are religiously devout: I have the tendency to be a complete slob 99% of the time and spend the remaining 1% in a repentant cleaning frenzy. I've been trying, over the past few years, to work towards increasing my basic level of cleanliness and not letting things pile up. I don't throw clothes in the hamper immediately after I take them off, but I'll try and do a sweep of my room and gather them up every few days. Invariably, I clean less than I mess things up, and I'll still hit that 'clean everything' trigger once every few months. The furniture gets rearranged, the carpet gets vacuumed, cobwebs disappear and I am, for hours on end, on my hands and knees with a toothbruth or a dishrag reeking of harsh chemicals and scalding my eyeballs.

My brother is not like me in this regard. Neither is my father. My father is very good at cleaning more than he dirties; he is the only one with net gain in that department. My brother, on the other hand, doesn't really care at all. For as long as I've known him, his room has been a shapeless nest. Where are the four walls? Where is the floor? Heaven knows. It's the sad truth that wherever he goes, he leaves behind a wake of trash, empty cups, crusty wrappers, mysterious goos. He doesn't mean to; cleaning up after himself is so unimportant to him that these things are well below his awareness-radar. If he sees that I'm upset by some stray thing he's let into my room, he jumps at the chance to get rid of it.

The kitchen is the worst-off of all of the spaces we share. I have trouble enough breaking even there, but my brother can turn a freshly-scrubbed kitchen into a battleground of grease, crust, slime and crumbs just by walking through it. I never see him clean it--even by his definition of the word "clean." One afternoon, he got home from school and I caught him walking through the kitchen, heading upstairs. The previous night, I'd cleaned the sinks and the dishwasher and wiped the whole works down. When I'd gone up for breakfast, after one small night's sleep, I saw all my work undone, and then some. Naturally, I accosted him on the way upstairs and told him that he should take care of his mess.

"Of course!" He said. "It's always me. I just cleaned that kitchen yesterday, and the day before." He was miffed. "I bet none of this stuff is even mine!" He went back into the kitchen and, after a moment of silence, I heard the rattling of pots and pans. I was filled with a mixture of pride and guilt. Yeah-all the stuff in there was his, and he saw that. Still, I hate to rain on his parade. I told him later how nice it looked.


His Perspective


There's just no pleasing these people. I don't mean any harm, alright? I'm just coming through, getting some food, and moving on. I have a lot to do, a lot to think about; the last thing I need is someone getting in my face about not stacking the coasters properly. Scott's the only one here who's not completely anal, though Zach's not mean about it, usually. He just likes things to be in their right places. Still, he knows he can't be all high and mighty. He leaves his dishes sitting around here just as often as I do. I'm just a lot more laid back about that kind of stuff. Why does everything have to be clean all the damned time? If the frying pan's clean, I'll use it. If it's a little dirty, I'll use it anyway, I'm not picky. If it's dirty, then I'll clean it, of course. It's not like I have no regard for other people, either. Maybe when I leave half a pizza out on the countertop, it's so all of you can eat it? Maybe I keep the coffee grounds next to the machine, instead of the seemingly arbitrary place they 'belong' in a cupboard across the room, because it's easier for everyone that way? Look, you guys can be as anal as you want to. If you like things to be super clean, then do the cleaning yourself and stop harping at me.

One afternoon, after getting home from an exhausting day at school, I got home with my girlfriend in tow. We were going to head upstairs and watch a movie and mind our own business. I don't make it two steps out of the kitchen before Zach stops me and tells me that I left a mess back in there. "Do you mind cleaning it up?" He said, in that obnoxiously calm, cold, horribly nice sort of tone he gets when he's angry. Or, when he's frustrated. Or whenever a normal human being would show emotion. The thing that really gets me, here, is that I had just cleaned the kitchen earlier that day. I made eggs and most of one went over the edge of the pan. I wiped it down, and did the countertops afterwards. I even put the pan in the sink. Well, I go back in there and, yeah, the pan is still in the sink, and those dishes are mine, and I guess he was right. The only difference between this clean-enough kitchen and the sparkling, glistening, Martha-Stewart-esque kitchen he had in mind was the sink full of my dirty dishes. My girlfriend and I got things straightened up, but I was bristling the whole time. Why couldn't they notice when I actually take the time to clean? They only focus on the negative. I mean, who cleans the litterbox all the time? It's not either of you. Maybe you should stop complaining about every little thing that's not perfect and appreciate how good you've all got it.


Balcony View


From where I sit, on this balcony, the stress on these people is due to the amount of time they spend around one another. Or, rather, the amount of time they don't. The little brother comes and goes very often. He never spends time in the kitchen; he blazes through it, on the way out to bigger and better things. The older brother enjoys waking up slow and hanging around with his housemates in that central room, talking for hours and hours. He notices when this room is untidy. He cringes when it's messy. He fumes when it's filthy. The little brother has grander aspirations than being tidy. He wants to be considerate. He wants things to be fair. He knows, if he thinks about it, that leaving his trash in other people's rooms isn't good karma. But it doesn't come easy and he really doesn't see enough of the kitchen to effectively gauge how dirty is "too dirty." (He lacks that special sort of vision that makes a dirty glass pop out of the otherwise orderly scenery.) He doesn't feel like he has the free time to spend unloading the dishwasher or loading it up. However, when he does make a serious effort and go out of his way to be helpful, nobody ever acknowledges it. To the older brother and the father, he's simply inconsiderate. To the father, it's got to be pure, selfish laziness on the little brother's part. It makes so much sense: Clean more than you dirty wherever you go, and things must become gradually cleaner and stay clean forever! The elder two know that the youngest just isn't aware of the messes he makes; it doesn't bother him to live in a sty.

This particular confrontation went well. Neither of them were in a fighting mood, anyway, and the girlfriend was there. The older brother saw the filthy kitchen and was in the living room, reading a homework assignment, when he heard the screen door open. He thought that this would be a chance--a rare chance--to stop his little brother and direct him towards a mess he'd probably overlooked. The little brother became exasperated by the interruption of his day, bitter about the fact that he came home to negativity, and eventually complacent when he realized that the two just didn't think alike and that doing this would make everyone happier in the long run, and wasn't particularly unjust. Being thanked afterwards was a nice surprise. Still, the next day, the kitchen would be a mess again...

What can they do? What can any of them do, when their definitions of cleanliness are so vastly different and when they spend too little time around each other to share congratulations along with condemnations? In any case, it won't be long before they go their separate ways, before they each have a kitchen all to themselves, and before this trouble is over for good.

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