On Sundays, I clean house. I typically start from the back (the kitchen) and work my way to the front (the living room). I break out the vacuum cleaner, and the crevice tool (which always makes me laugh my ass right off, because even in my forties I’m an 11 year old boy), and I get behind the refrigerator, then I get in the space between the refrigerator and the stove. I scrub all the counters with Spic and Span, I scrub the SINK with Spic and Span…I have a very specific sponge that’s ONLY for the Spic and Span portion of my routine, and God help you if I catch you using it for something else.
Then I move on to dusting.
I KNOW. It’s insane. But it has to be done. I CAN’T STAND IT when my house is dirty. If the mail piles up on the dining room table I get really nervous. Honestly, I wasn’t always like this. A few years into my sobriety I suddenly got the perverse desire to CLEAN. I was doing all this wreckage-clearing, emotionally speaking, and I guess I wanted my surroundings to reflect that. Or something.
It’s probably because I KNOW that if I don’t do it once a week, I’ll be on an episode of “Hoarders” in fairly short order, sleeping on a corner of a mattress surrounded by crap I bought off Ebay, stacks of back issues of The Economist, and cat poop.
What I’ve discovered, of course, is that if you do it once a week, it really doesn’t take that long, because you’re keeping the FILTH AT BAY. It also goes faster if you have a turntable, and a really big record collection, as I do. I can get the job done in the time it takes me to play about 4 LPs.
Cleaning the kitchen usually requires breaking out the New Romantics…Spandau Ballet, Soft Cell, Adam Ant. If it’s a nice day and I want to frighten the neighbors, I open the windows and blast Black Sabbath while I dust the dining room furniture. For the bathroom, I typically go for the booty-shakers (King Sunny Ade, the Jacksons) because scrubbing is always easier if your ASS is controlling everything.
But, you know, it varies from Sunday to Sunday. Some Sundays I simply want to listen to the records that comfort me as I’m doing these very unpleasant things.
Last Sunday I decided to play “Little Creatures” by The Talking Heads. This album came out when I was a sophomore in high school. That was a really tender age for me: fifteen. I wasn’t far out from under the real grim pall I’d shrouded myself in, from constant bullying at school and turmoil at home, and I was blinking stupidly in the light of my new surroundings. I’d also grown some, stretched a little, but in my heart of hearts I was still a fat, weird kid who couldn’t quite grasp how to make friends and keep them. The one constant was music. It never let me down, never turned its back on me, and my Walkman (remember those, kids?) was more or less grafted to my person.
It’s funny how certain songs can take you back to very specific places. That Talking Heads song (the whole record, really) transports me to the Hingham High School auditorium, where I’d sit on the edge of the stage waiting for play rehearsal to start. I listened to this album a lot as I’d stare at my sneakers. I had pink Chuck Taylors. Now and then I’d look up at the other kids in the play, and wonder how they got so confident – or rather – why they got to keep their confidence when I’d had so much of mine wrenched away.
One of them bounded up to me, grabbed my ankles and yelled: “STOP!”
I gaped at him, uncomprehending. “Huh?”
“Your FEET. They’re always MOVING. Can you listen to music and not MOVE YOUR FEET SO MUCH?!”
“Just try. Try. Put your headphones back on and I will hold your feet.”
This nervous tic of mine – my constant need to be in motion – was one of the things that I’d been so mercilessly teased about before I arrived at this school. It was something I was horribly self-conscious about even as I couldn’t stop myself from doing it. I didn’t know how to react to this boy, but I looked up and saw him smiling. Friendly smile. This was a game, a dare. There was nothing malevolent here. I let him hold my feet down as I attempted to not let the music move them.
That was 27 years ago. That boy is still my friend. I still listen to this record as I’m going about my grownup business of keeping my surroundings tidy, of keeping the dust from building up behind the refrigerator. I don’t mind. No, no, no the lady don’t mind.