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Cleaning on Rotation

If you're living in any kind of student housing with other people, you're eventually going to have to work out the cleaning. If you're unfortunate enough to live exclusively with guys, as I did, cleaning will most likely be explored only in a strict hypothetical sense, as in: "We should really clean one of these days," or "I seem to have contracted botulism."

Maybe you've tried a cleaning rotation system, and just as quickly watched it crumble to ashes in front of you. Or perhaps you attempted a "penalty" system, so that anyone shirking their cleaning duties contributes money to a pot; a perfectly acceptable arrangement that, when put into practice, breaks down within hours amidst a flurry of middle fingers and ruthless accusations.

Whether or not you've gotten to this stage yet, one thing remains clear: You most likely live, as I did, in filth.

I remember the dishes situation at my own college home (five guys, no girls) started out badly and somehow managed to get worse. Within two weeks of moving in our sink was overflowing with cups, pots and pans. These items eventually spilled over to the top of the stove, the top of the fridge, in the fridge, on the counters, under the table -- and eventually, when our constant promises to clean were laid bare for the hollow deceptions they were, directly onto the floor.

As five guys coming from five upper to lower middle-class families, we'd each gotten boxes full of dishes from our concerned mothers, who envisioned their baby boy eating food with his bare hands off the floor. We consequently had an embarrassment of plates and glasses, the entirety of which we, with a laughable lack of foresight, crammed into the cupboards instead of sensibly storing the majority away in the basement.

Within a month the cleaning schedule tacked onto the kitchen wall went from being marked up with pen circles and heavy notation ("Jerry - Monday, dude - THIS MEANS YOU!!!") to being ignored entirely, the façade that any of us were even paying attention to it long since exposed. Every one of the 14,541 dishes we owned was dirty and stacked in precarious filthy mountains in the kitchen. At first it wasn't terribly bad. You could still root through a pile for a fork, a plate, or a cup when you needed one, drop on a dollop of dish detergent, and clean under hot water. (This one-dish-at-a-time washing technique is still currently alive and well at my current apartment - it's uneconomical, but I think you get the cleanest dishes that way, each one lovingly soaked in hot water and detergent and given the focus it deserves.)

As time went on, however, it became increasingly difficult to find the more useful items (forks, plates, cups) amidst the growing pile of useless dish detritus (whisks, woks, frying pans, Burger King collector's mugs, long-lost TV remotes). Essential dish staples found their way up to bedrooms, where they languished under beds, forgotten and unused. This made eating more of an adventure, since it's once thing to pick a fork off a pile of dishes, and quite another to stick an arm into a fetid sink full of rotting spaghetti noodles, old toast and Tom Collins mix in search of a serviceable plate.

As our situation became more surreal, anybody unfortunate enough to be visiting could expect to find one of us in the living room, watching a movie while they lapped beer out of a saucer, or gamely trying to mangle a steak into smaller pieces with two giant stirring spoons. A housemate and I would often lie back on any two of our three living room couches, enjoying a beer mug full of soup while applauding the wisdom of ridding ourselves of the tyranny of spoons entirely.

The lowest ebb was reached, for me anyway, when I was forced to abandon dish technology altogether, simply dropping whatever I happened to have cooked on the coffee table to rend apart with my hands, cleaning up the mess afterwards with cleaning spray and a paper towel. Only then did it strike me that our mothers, in giving us the curse of so many dishes, had in some way ensured the very fate from which they'd been trying to protect us (well, we might have deserved a small portion of the blame, admittedly). With enough dishes in our house to serve sixty people, I found myself in my living room, barbecue sauce coating the lower half of my face, ripping apart a chicken leg like a coyote. Something had to be done. That very next week, I began eating out all the time, and didn't enter the kitchen for the remainder of my time there.

By our final year, one of our housemates it best to give up and stop living there entirely; he was so disgusted, he simply moved in with his girlfriend. As he never bothered to tell anyone where he was going, his disappearance was a topic of hot debate for days to come. Some decided he had moved on to greener pastures, where the dishes sparkled like water and hung, antiseptic and glistening, from leafy boughs. Others of us feared the worst; that he had entered the unmapped dark lands of the kitchen in search of a spoon, pulled out a lode-bearing pan, and was crushed to death by the results of our apathy. Talk of a search party was broached but never materialized, as wrestling was on, and we wanted to watch wrestling.


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