Saturday, May 12, 2007


While sitting in my 9o+ degree car yesterday digging crud from a crevice under the handbreak with a toothpick, I pondered why, after 8 years, it was so vitally important that, on the eve of trade-in, the car must be immaculate. We've driven around in that car when you could smell rejcted 7-11 food rotting on the back floorboard and empty drink bottles threatened to roll under the gas pedal-- and we didn't mind! But now? Now someone ELSE will be alone in my (former) car, judging me invisibly. And I just can't have them thinking "What a lazy slob this car's former owner was!"

That's what it is, you know. Especially for Southern Women (I can't speak for other regions), there are RULES about being CLEAN. Cleanliness is next to goodliness or godliness or being Queen of the Sweet Corn Festival or something. If you don't keep your self, your house, your yard, your car, your desk, your kitchen (o LORDIE the kitchen) clean, then you are BAD. Bad in that way only Southern Grandmothers can declare you bad. Bad enough that you know you will never get the short checkout line at the grocery store and will always have to park in the sunniest spot on the hottest day, your pantihose will run when you look at them, your cakes will fall, your meatloaf separate, and your boyfriends/husbands will steal your money and sleep with your best friends -- forever. I'm talking bad, here.

Clean is not for one's self, now. Oh no, clean is for Other People. Who those other people are varies a lot, I'll admit, but the list usually includes Mothers, Mothers-in-Law, Grandmothers, Aunts, Wives of Male Best Friends (especially anyone you dated once), Wives of The Husband's Male Friends, Mothers of Your Children's Friends, Avon Ladies, and pretty much any other female you know who might possibly enter your house and want to use the bathroom. (For reasons I have not explored, Wives of Female Friends do not judge. Husbands of Male Friends are 50/50). Clean is for all those people so that when they are riding home after an evening or a weekend at your house, they do not turn to someone else in the car and say "Oh my GAWD, did you see the HAIR in the BATHROOM?"

Admit it, we are all a part of the judgeing committee. My husband and I are not particularily tidy, yet I recall him once, after spending a weekend with some friends while attending a class out of town, upon returning home saying, in a tone of deep disgust and amazement "And their bathroom garbage can was just overflowing! I mean with razors and tissues and everything!" Meanwhile, we pile things on top of our bathroom garbage can, silently daring the OTHER person to break down first and dump it. For us, it's a sport. For them -- pure sloth.

So we have this idea of Clean -- as it applies to ourselves, as it applies to other people, and as it applies to our house just before someone shows up. There is no good logic for why our standards are the way they are, but there they are, and they make us crazy.

And clean has specific definitions and parameters. The Husband and I have very different specifications on the whole issue, both from each other and from one moment in time to the next. For instance, I'm very adamant about the Dirt You Can't See -- it still counts. You can SMELL it. You can HEAR it. Just because you can't actually see it or because it takes a special attachment on the vacuum to reach it doesn't mean it shouldn't be cleaned. Toothpicks are designed for digging bits of crud from tight places, whether that's a popcorn kernal from your back molar or 6 years of brownie crumbs and frenchfry atoms from the little place where plastic meets plastic under the hand break. It includes the clump of dog hair from a dog dead 6 months now. It includes the mystery spot of yellow on the windshield that has to be scraped off with a fingernail.

I was pondering all this while the shop vac sat next to the car, desultorily slurping up bits of grass and stray wads of used paper towel from a foot away and glaring at me because I'd cursed it for refusing said dog hair. I was scrubbing the schmutz from the arm rest because this car will soon be in the hands of a dealership who will put it on a truck. That truck will drive to South Carolina or Alabama or Georgia where it will drop my car off at an auction yard. Some skinny redneck kid with bad skin and mullet pretensions will be assigned to clean my car in preparation for auction. He will sit on my seats with his rags and his chemicals, staring at the marks on my dash, and he will think "Wow, this car is dangum clean. I hardly hafta do nuthin'!"

I'm cleaning for that kid, dammit.

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