The first time I cleaned at Arthur's place I found myself underequipped for the job at hand and overwhelmed by the enormity of the job itself. I stood alone in the kitchen (Arthur high-tailed it) and once again took in the sight of a room that looked like it had been bronzed. Every appliance needed a hammer and chisel taken to it if there was any chance of breaking through the outer nicotine shell to reveal the original colors of the dishwasher, stove and refrigerator. As it was, I worried that Arthur himself would turn to dust if he took a direct hit of sunlight. I wondered if the burger joint down the street was still hiring. Maybe I had enough coordination left to roller skate and serve milkshakes at the same time. I made a mental note.
I can't deny the fear that crept through me when I thought about what might have been lurking in a kitchen that hadn't been touched by a mop or scrub brush since who knew when. Not that Arthur was totally to blame. His health put limitations on him, and no one else without a hazmat suit was brave enough to take on such a cleaning endeavor. My overestimation of Arthur’s stock of cleaning supplies left me armed with only a sponge, a broken sponge mop, and a near empty bottle of all-purpose cleaner that I had brought along just in case. Just in case of what? He could have had two gallons of bleach and a sandblaster on hand. We still would have needed a military airdrop of products to get the job done.
Before I could think of tackling the kitchen, the cluttered countertop required immediate attention. I began clearing the sink of dirty dishes. After a couple of minutes, Arthur moseyed in from his hiding place to see what the noise was about.
“You’re doing the dishes?” He wore a look of feigned shock, but I knew better. The sight of a woman in his kitchen would have tripped his pacemaker, if he had one. I just looked at him.
“I can’t clean anything without some room, and the sink is full. So, yes, I’m doing the dishes.”
I picked up a bottle of vegetable oil from the counter while the sink was filling and looked at the expiration date stamped near the top. It’s a habit I’ve developed after eating at my in-laws’ table over the years. Sure enough, the oil was out of date. By ten years. I sent Arthur a serious look of combined disapproval and horror.
“Did you know this oil is ten years past the expiration date? Ten years!” I removed the cap and held the bottle out to him to prove my case. “Oil goes rancid, you know. Smell it.” He took a brave whiff and gagged.
“Huh, I did not know that. I didn’t know that stuff could go bad.” How was this man still breathing? It appeared he had been cooking with the funky oil for at least the last decade.
“This is going in the trash. You can’t eat like this. No wonder your health sucks.” Did I mention that Arthur and I had a Monk/Sharona type of relationship going pretty much from the moment we met? I do what needs doing around there and, in return, I get to make him toe the line now and then.
After finishing the dishes, I started on the appliances. Turns out, both the stove and dishwasher had been white before the bronzing. By the time I got to the refrigerator I had lost partial sensation in my fingers and the sponge I had been using begged to be burned. Still, I pressed on, determined to conquer the effects of Arthur’s bachelorhood on an innocent kitchen. Artwork and several magnets adorned the front of the refrigerator. Bright white areas remained on the door like crime scene chalk outlines as I removed each item. I sprayed a shot of cleaner at the door and watched streams of nicotine travel down its surface. I let out a sound of disgust.
“I heard that!” came from Arthur’s hiding spot. Amazing that he heard that, since he can’t hear me griping at him when I’m standing right in front of him.
“Come here and look at this! You should be ashamed!”
Arthur resurfaced for another chastising, a pack of cigarettes in hand, and I pointed to his refrigerator. He stared at it in disbelief. I don’t think he realized how much his smoking had affected his environment. Either that or he didn’t remember that appliances were available in white. He watched as I finished scrubbing, my work completed for the day.
“Wow,” he said, looking down at his cigarettes. “Maybe I need to rethink these.”
“Ya think? I mean, I’m no surgeon general or anything…”
Arthur’s been smoking for a very long time, and I know he doesn’t need my nagging to help him decide to quit. That wasn’t my goal. I just like giving him hell. However, I can say that since I’ve been cleaning and helping out over there, the frequency of his smoking has markedly decreased. We both like to hear ourselves talk and I think all the conversing we do has kept him occupied and made him feel more alive and included. Now that was more of what I had in mind for a goal.