It all started pretty innocuously.
A stray coffee cup here, a bathroom puddle there. One morning I woke up and the sink was coated in a green gloop. My couz was lying in bed in the shadows of the spare room, perusing something from the glow of his laptop screen, drawing on the yerba maté of his youth. The green gloop lining the sink was the dregs of him making a new batch.
My insides began to recoil. I felt like I’d just done 54 ab-crunches. Something was out of control. I internalised this wellspring of feeling, repressed it, wrote furiously in my journal.
What was this thing, that was out of control.
It was me.
I don’t like being out of control. I like control.
Not so much the black latex whip kind of control. More like if I applied for a cleaning job and they gave me a trial, I’d probably be asked back. That kind of control.
This isn’t exactly news to me.
I’m an orderly type of guy. I must’ve been neatly coiling my umbilical chord in the womb. I grew up folding my school uniform to within an inch of its life. When I lived with my bro in our 20s I’d do the washing up before I’d eaten the fucking meal. I’ve been told by previous flatmates that I exist firmly in the realm of psychopathology. You’re a psycho, said Guy every time the merest mention of Mr Muscle cascaded from my lips.
I’m not proud of coming across like a dork.
I am proud of the order I feel in my soul after a good DnB session.
Dustpan N brush crew.
I’ve written about acute clean-freakery before.
My parents told me once when I was 26 and wanted desperately to live alone, you’re too young to not have to compromise. You’ve got problems. Sharing with other people will dilute them. Maniatico was my father’s word for it.
Perhaps I just know what makes sense to me. Do I feel good being informed a kitchen is more than just a place to dust, that you can actually cook there. That a dishwasher can be switched on. My cleaner’s blank expression when she walks through the door and tries to work out what the hell to do for the next three hours. No single man lives like this, said a mate the other day.
The first inkling my cousin was living with a weirdo was when he woke up bleary eyed and busted me manically scrubbing at something I’d missed during the previous evening’s deep-clean. Fede by name, was coming to live with me for 3 months. Growing up in Argentina but separated by an ocean for most of our lives, we’d evolved in absentia, and this was a nice wholesome get to know you again moment.
Well, quite nice.
Nobody likes being seen.
Having a flatmate for the first time in five years was revealing the extent to which I had become somewhat stuck in my ways. I thought this was normal. Apparently it was not. Like all things that force you to think about habits you have unconsciously surrendered to, I was being shown a vision of myself I had trouble accepting.
But everyone deserves a fair trial.
Why the hell do you insist on keeping the packaging on tubs of hummous n shit once they’re open, said my cousin one morning. What can I say, I like the graphic design, it feels good. It’s a nice touch. Brings colour to the fridge. I’m an aesthete, sue me.
Verdict: Pretty psycho behaviour. He’s not the first person to have complained about this.
I mean, my couz is staying with me for months, a man has the right to keep his abode any which way he desires. Does that mean my stomach doesn’t constrict every time I pass his open door. No. Despite the shitshow of (fig.1), being a well-mannered man he does make an effort to make the bed each morning. But observe the clean lines, the glassy-sea of (fig. 2). Egyptian cotton made to soar.
I know which room I’d rather sleep in.
(No joke, picking out an emotive filter I found myself staring at the photo of my room and shuddering at the lifelessness of it.)
I explained to fede, the reason for the pretentious coffee tamper. That with a flick of a supple wrist and exertion of mild pressure, it turns the coffee into these little brick nuggets you can discard with ease, primed for another deluxe early morning ristretto. If you don’t fulfil this instinctive step, it becomes this rank gloop and all manner of clearing up is then required.
No memo was received.
Verdict: Hung jury.
While my argument holds sway, it’s too psycho to get that annoyed about. It does annoy me though. Hey at least I get to clean something up.
This was found after one of fede’s notorious ‘clean-ups’. I tactfully skirted the idea that draining was for water to leave kitchen implements. He looked at me like I was a monkey, shrugged his shoulders, said I don’t really care.
Verdict: I take this one by a mile.
Anyone who doesn’t understand rudimentary laws of physics needs an IQ test. It’s basic logic. Like a mate of mine who used to grate cheese sideways, and wonder why even though the cheese lasted longer not a huge amount would end up on his supernoodles.
This is really just an excuse to air my clean, freshly pressed laundry. I’m clutching at straws, I’m also trying to work out quite how far off-piste I’ve gone. There’s not really anything solid for me to accuse anyone of. All I end up is feeling accused myself, coming back to the extent of my clean-freakery, my desperate need for order.
But this is my relationship to it all. If I’m hungover I will lie in bed and visualise exactly what it is I need to clean, go through the implements, the process, roughly how long it will take, and the excitement spurs me into action, I spring out out bed, get to it, the activity genuinely restores order to a beer-addled brain, to the inclement chaos in my soul.
Maybe I should be a cleaner. Make an ad n shit.
Guy was right, I am a psycho.
Why the need to stockpile like I’ve just finished gazing at some moody clouds in an Apocalyptic film. Buying the same shit in the supermarket, over and over again. Is this the zen of knowing yourself. Or a refusal to try anything new because it would throw you off.
Perhaps this was why I cycle every year. Camp out at the end of a wheat field. Go nowhere near all the shit I think I can’t breathe without, and somehow keep on breathing. Depriving yourself of the things you think you can’t live without, as the Stoics implored, only to realise you’re fine. Will my world really fall apart if I can’t access a glass of chilled sodastreamed tap water at some point in the window between 7:40-7:45am.
Maybe I should get into VOSS.
I could give you some spiel about how it all comes from childhood, from being in an emotional state of lack of control, be it a strict parent, a overly-sensitive dome, maybe just being left in the supermarket once for half an hour too long. So what I began to fear was fear itself. This is the constant unconscious need, to barrage myself against something I’m afraid I won’t have the guts to feel.
I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins,
That almost freezes up the heat of life…
Romeo and Juliet [IV, 3]
It could just be my nature, my brother had exactly the same upbringing, and he’s probably the messiest person in southern England. He walks past a towel, it stands to attention, and literally falls on the floor. When we lived together in Abingdon we had blazing rows about how I thought it was fundamentally unjust to go halves on the cleaner.
I like to think I have the ability to laugh at my psycho-ness. Maybe an excessive bordering-on-panic-attack kind of laughter. But laughter nonetheless. At least I don’t double-down, storm out the house, slam the door and go on the hunt for some 2for1 air freshener.
Also, who gives a fuck. Less interesting is why I am the way I am, more interesting is how to get the hell on with the business of being me. I am not what has happened to me, said Jung, I am what I choose to become.
This was the grace of fede coming to stay. The obligation to stare some of these things I’d assumed were normal in the face, accept them, moderate them, laugh about them. The most alluring drug for a control freak is a chunky line of loss of control.
This might be the universe’s way of telling me to buckle up, that my order-obsessed bullshit could do with some watering down, that I might be ready to meet someone. While I mull all this over, I mull over a cheeky early-afternoon ristretto. I wonder if the coffee pod will be nice and solid or limpid and gloopy, and think how some part of me hopes it’s the latter.
At least I’ll get to wipe something down.