Dirty Pretty Things

I am, by my nature, a messy person. I've tried to rein in my worst tendencies, in part because Frank is somewhat of a neatnick and in part because I've realized that “messy and disgusting” does not equal “freewheeling and uninhibited.” I think that I've done a pretty good job. But, though I've made a serious and sustained attempt to fight off my slobbish tendencies, I still suffer from a pretty severe case of dirt blindness.

I just don't notice dirt until someone points it out to me. Particularly in a situation like my apartment where I see the place every day and the dirt builds gradually and it's like trying to watch yourself grow to figure out when you need to clean the place. Typically, I either rely on Frank to say "Wow this place is dirty, we should clean," or do the temporal math and assume that bathrooms should probably be cleaned every few weeks or so.

But so, you know, pretty much I go about my life happy and carefree, confident that my apartment is not a complete pigsty. Unfortunately, my confidence wavers whenever we have people over. What if Frank and I have disgustingly low standards? What if there's something weird or gross or smelly that we have just both grown inured to? There are lots of small battles against dirt that we've conceded, like for example no matter what we do the cover of our couch collects cat hair and dirt. We vacuum it, but within seconds of putting down the vacuum, more dirt and cat hair has stuck itself to it. So we've gotten used to sitting on a pile of cat hair, but guests without cats probably are disgusted by it. Sorry, dog people!

Anyway, so normally I don't really care that much what my friends think of my housecleaning prowess. Seeing as how it's not 1954, having a way with a mop isn't really something to brag about anymore. At the same time, nobody wants people to think that they have a creepy house. I worry that people will leave and, once they're out of earshot, turn to each other be like "Did you notice that smell? Ew," or "I would rather die of rickets than eat something that came out of that kitchen," or "Was it just me or was the floor crunchy?"

Which is why I am usually apologetic in advance, and also why I carefully monitor all my guests for semi-hidden signs of disgust like a wrinkled nose or the quiet retch of back-of-the-throat barf. I know that I suffer from dirt blindness. Constructive criticism about my apartment's cleanliness won't hurt my feelings. I'm pretty sure my friends know that--most of them knew me back when my floor was usually obscured by months old snowdrifts of dirty clothing.

Today, however, our landlords are coming to visit, and the idea that our apartment will gross them out is really worrying me. They live in India, and so they don’t come by that often. They bought the place when their kids were in high school--it's a brownstone, with a three-floor apartment upstairs where they used to live, and a small apartment downstairs where we live. They always rented out our space.

But they work for the UN and were re-stationed to India a few years ago, so now they rent out both apartments and just come back every summer to visit and check in on the place. So what worries me is that a) they don't really know anything about me and Frank, aside from what kind of checks we use, so my many wonderful qualities don’t have a chance to compensate for my cleaning-related deficiencies, in their eyes, and b) this is their house. That they own and bought for lots and lots of money. That I'm sure they feel incredibly protective about.

So we're really really doing our best to catch anything that might be dirty or creepy. I vacuumed the couch and locked the cats in the bedroom. Frank swept and changed their boxes. We opened all the windows and doors to let the summer breeze blow through, and I put some fresh fruit on the kitchen table. I'm not aiming for an award or anything. I just don't want to get evicted. Hopefully my blindness has not kept me from noticing a big wad of underpants shoved into a corner or a smear of blood down the wall or anything. Only time will tell, I suppose. Actually I'd better look around and make sure there's no porn lying around or anything. Yikes.