I’m staying with my brother these days in New York City. He lives in a high rise doorman building in Manhattan. When he invited me to live with him for the summer, I could barely contain my excitement. Not only would moving in with him eliminate the hassle of digging up a sublet and liquidating my budget for The Next Big Thing, but it would also afford Diego and I our first real quality time together since I moved away from Crystal River, Florida. When I headed to New York City I didn’t look back; my trips to Florida were always as brief as possible. And by the time Diego moved up to New York City a few years ago, circumstances like my insane night job made it difficult for us to connect. And then I moved to Japan. Before I knew it, 11 years had passed and we were both adults. High time for The Odd Siblings to reconnect.
As I planned my move from Japan, my far flung travels and The Next Big Thing, I became giddy to think of what this summer would be like. I saw us watching movies – old favorites like “UHF” and “Wayne’s World.” I saw us catching up over daily breakfast the way you just can’t catch up on a 9-day vacation crammed with friend dates. I saw myself attending his soccer games in Brooklyn. Diego says he and his girlfriend never cook; I imagined myself whipping together impressive Japanese dinners and serving them to the pair as they came home from a long day of work at CBS.
“Oh, these time-tested authentic Japanese recipes?” I would say. “They’re just some silly old things I picked up while living abroad. Here, have some more nabe. Please enjoy the deliciousness of the tako su. More tempura? Sean said I didn’t have the recipe quite right last spring but as you can see, I’ve perfected the batter.”
Now, at long last, summer is here and I am finally home. And now that I’m here, in my brother’s perfectly ordered apartment, I find my earlier giddiness giving way to, of all things, a chilling fear. My brother, you see, is a Neatness Nazi. Upon entering his apartment, a rush of bamboo-scented candle beckons. All of his clothes are on hangers, facing the same way, and all shoes are hidden inside closets. Every inch of his apartment is immaculate – all the objects tucked into tidy spaces and the surfaces wicked clean of dust. I’ve seen him stifle screams in company when I casually lay my moistened cup on a wooden tabletop. Even Sean, who is a neatnik himself, tiptoed in my brother’s apartment. I, as some of you may know, would describe my attitude towards cleaning as “relaxed.” Diego would likely describe it as “disgraceful.” Cue the iconic music and enter the Summer of the Odd Siblings.
He wasn’t always this way, you know. As a toddler, he reveled in a mess. The orange juice went into the spaghetti and the spaghetti went onto his head – each slimy spaghetto was slid from his sauce-drenched hair by his fingers and popped into his waiting mouth. As a child he was more interested in soccer and poop than he was in keeping his things neat. Then, without warning, by the time we were in our teens, he had begun taking advantage the few times I left my door unlocked and wandering into my lair. Invariably, I was at my typewriter working on a “novel” with Broadway musical soundtracks blaring from my cassette player. My brother would stand, his arms crossed and snug against his body like a smug, judgmental Mr. Clean.
“Just look at this mess,” he would announce. I would look at the sheafs of papers scattered across my desk and the discarded outfits strewn across my bed, then down at my hands – grimy with cracker dust. It would all seem of no consequence to me; I was a writer/future Broadway actress, after all. I, of all people, was allowed to wallow in my creative filth – the grime of genius.
“Think about it,” he would say. I would think about it – and I would always ultimately conclude that there was nothing wrong with my way of living.
In the intervening years, I’ve learned to take a less “relaxed” approach to my standard of living, although for most of my 20s the situation was admittedly grim. I lived alone and I didn’t care – I was the queen of my pig sty, even if I did dream of coming home each day to a fastidiously-clean-yet-cozy apartment smelling of freshly-baked plum cake. Living with Sean helped me get my act together and in time, I began to enjoy knowing that I could invite people over to my apartment at any time without warning. Thanks to Sean continually cracking the whip, I now pick up after myself several times a day and wash dishes as soon as I use them. If you ask me, I’m the New and Improved E with Increased Sudsing Action and I’m proud of that.
These are the criticisms Diego has had for me this week:
I tracked dirt on the floor. Okay, he’s got me there. I’ve been rather aggressive about wearing shoes indoors since I no longer have to take them off according to social more. New York City is rainy and muddy these days and I have no doubt that the dirt was my bad. I’m sorry.
I must squeegee the shower each time I use it. I must also spread the shower curtain closed rather than leave it open to prevent mold from growing on it (it hadn’t occured to me to do either of these things).
I must wash at least the utensils in the dishwasher.
“But Diego,” I protested. “Washing dishes by hand saves water and energy!”
As I spoke, I caught the beginnings of a scream curl around the edges of his mouth.
“Trust me,” he said. “I’m too anal. Just wash at least the utensils in the machine, okay?”
Well, certainly. I am not only the New and Improved E with Increased Sudsing Action, but I am grateful, too. His house, his castle. And to be sure, these three criticisms are nothing compared to what I feared. Perhaps Diego has noticed the Increased Sudsing Action! Perhaps Diego is finally proud of me, even if I “shed more than a dog in heat.” Perhaps I will learn even more in the ways of Cleanliness this summer. By the time Sean and I are roommates again, maybe I, too, can boast an apartment as spotless as this one.
Until then, I tiptoe through the two rooms, stooping to pick up the loose hairs and fold my T-shirts into neat squares. I hold my breath when I notice a smudge on the white kitchen tiles. Was that me? Did I do that? Ah, no; it’s just a stain on the old tiles. I can remain in one piece. It wasn’t me.
At least not that I know of.