Saturday, October 14, 2006

It’s Not Easy Being Clean

Something deep in my core, at the bottom of my soul is out of sync. You see, I have not had the desire to clean in weeks. Sure, I’ve wiped a few counters and scrubbed a few bowls but it’s more out of necessity than true carnal cleaning desire. I cannot explain this malady, this dusty, dirty malaise. I can see the symptoms but the syndrome makes no sense other than to chalk it up to another personal casualty from Ironman training.

Typically after dinner, I am a busybody of cleaning activity. Wiping counters, loads of laundry, scrubbing the stovetop. Every so often I’ll throw a sock on my hand and wipe the baseboards. Or, wash down the doors, water the plants, oil soap the cabinets. Under the kitchen sink is a fortress of fortuitous cleaning products, one for every function to disinfect, degrease, bleach, sparkle, and shine.

But lately the bottles have stood idle and my paper towel consumption has decreased to desperately low numbers. The other day, I think I heard the Windex cry, lonely and looking for my hands. Hang on little buddies, I thought, it’s only another week before I return to my normal compulsive, cleaning machine like self.

I’ve got to admit that one thing I haven’t neglected is the floors. In the world of triathlon, I am a long course specialist. In the world of cleaning, my forte is the floors. There’s something about a clean floor that really gets me going. Or, there’s something about a sticky, dirty floor that really turns me off. We’ve got a lot of floors in our house. There is wood floor in the kitchen, linoleum in the laundry, tile in my bathroom, and – of all things – white carpet throughout. And this white carpet is the bane of my housekeeping existence, the thorn in my side, the needle in my haystack that I will never find. In other words, it’s a bitch to keep clean and this Ironman thing hasn’t been any help.

Not that our carpet is filthy, but you can tell that I’ve spent most of my time at home eating, not cleaning, as the carpet in front of the TV has become a road map of spilled food. It’s gotten so bad that my mom even made note of it recently with “I see you’ve added some new stains to your carpet.” Oatmeal, salad dressing, cinnamon, chili powder. All of my favorite foods and spices have landed in a growing mess on our white carpet. And I’m all to blame. I should probably wear a bib until Ironman arrives.

The other day, fed up or overfed, I decided I could take it no more. The carpet needed some cleaning. So, I lugged the steam cleaner from the basement and ran that bad boy all over the carpet, back and forth, until it looked white again. A day later I dropped a clump of oatmeal in front of the couch. So much for the steam cleaned cleanliness.

Chris has always questioned my cleaning compulsivity. Overzealous, extreme, particular, obsessed – all words I am sure he has used to describe my fetish. But my cleaning may be no better or more obsessed than his bike maintenance or your shopping or someone else’s watching tv. It’s all relative. We all have our thing.

At the very least, I can claim genetic predisposition. Back in the 5th grade, I recall staying home sick from school and getting an inside look at how my mom spent the day. She cleaned. For the entire day, morning to night, she cleaned house. She took everything off the family room shelves, shined the brass, watered the plants. It was the most frenetic, involved, and meticulous thing I had ever seen. Dare I even say that she paid more attention to the family room that day than she did to me. Not that I minded. She seemed happy and it seemed like a productive way to pass the time.

When I started caring for my own house, it started making more sense to me. You see, we spend so much of our days mentally engaged at work or with other people with so much ambiguity in what you are expected to do and what can happen that cleaning becomes one of the few activities to me that is unambiguous and unengaging, with a clear beginning and end that you can totally lose yourself in. It requires no thought, no discussion, no problem-solving, no decisions. You spray something on, you wipe it off. You put on some music and sing along. You empty your mind, you fill it back up. You think about nothing, you think about everything. Most importantly, it’s my time and it’s what I like to do.

The strange thing about Ironman is that you start putting off everything you enjoyed in the former, pre-Ironman version of yourself. Cleaning, or whatever your version of pure household bliss may be, falls to the wayside. Toilets form rings. Mirrors grow spotted. And you start to miss these things because they were part of you and what you like to do. But after awhile you’ve gotten so distracted or blinded by Ironman training that you don’t even miss it anymore. You’ve found something new to fill your time. And your carpet doesn’t grow any cleaner.

When Ironman is over, I plan to completely recommit to my former cleaning self. I cannot wait to fill a bucket with Murphy’s oil soap and go full force towards the woodwork, and then the cabinets, and then the doors. And when I run out of things to clean, I will start over again. Just for fun.

Come October 22nd, I will get back to the things I like to do and I will get away from triathlon for awhile until I get too distracted by daily life and look for a release again. It may take a month, or maybe longer, but I just can’t wait to just wipe a paper towel across my countertop and call it a day.

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