Mr. Clean

Mr. Clean

I’m a slob.

I realize this is not exactly a “Stop the Presses!” news flash for anyone who knows me- and especially for anyone who has known me for any length of time.  Look at the state of my car, my office, my corner of the basement, or something as simple as my shirt tail – usually hanging out at any point in time- and the evidence is quite conclusive.  And as I’ve blogged before, it stems in part from a certain amount of obliviousness- I really don’t notice messes the way most people do, and it has to get really really bad before the neurons start firing in my head and it slowly dawns on me that something should be done.  In my car, for instance, it’s about the time that the accumulated junk is piled up to the rear view mirror that I begin to think “Hmmm. One of these days I should maybe tidy up a bit.”

In light of this, I chose my wife very wisely.  (Whether she chose wisely is another matter.)  Kathy is certainly a neater person than I am (as are most people three years old and older) but not so focused on such things that she can’t tolerate yours truly while nudging me towards neater and more organized ways.  I would have been miserable had I married someone equal to me in slobbiness (my head spins at the thought) and on the other hand would have never gotten past the first date with someone too caught up in such things.  Kathy is for me, like the veritable porridge in the Goldilocks story,  Just Right.  And I am a very very fortunate person indeed to have her as my life partner.

Marshall has been my best friend since first grade and I sometimes wonder what he thought when we were youngsters and first playing at each other’s houses- I must have seemed like I was from an entirely different planet compared to the spotless home where he lived.  But our friendship took root and if anything is stronger than ever, despite this Felix and Oscar aspect to it.  And during my bachelor years,  I had certain friends who would actually wade right into the midst of my mess and help me rediscover the color of the floor.  I still feel a powerful twinge of gratitude and pity for Jeri Smith, who willingly offered to help me clean out my Shagback Apartment the summer of ’91, right before I got married.  By the time I left 3906 Washington, I was like one of those eccentric 75 year olds with mountains of newspapers and magazines piled up everyone and with a fairly narrow path cleared where one could still walk without risking life and limb- if you walked slowly and carefully, that is.  Jeri came by, bravely armed with a small white bucket full of cleaning products in one hand and a mop in the other – and somehow when she entered, she resisted the urge to throw up – or run away screaming – or both.  She stayed- she cleaned- she earned my eternal gratitude.

In early June, our good friend Kurt Oian braved the dark hole which was our garage – where there was so much crap that we could not get either car in – and by the time the three of us were done, we had brand spanking new shelves on the walls, clean floors, and room for both cars.  It was mind blowing to me. . .  and all that was missing was a choir of angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest. . . “  That’s how mind-blowing it was.   And wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, it’s still clean and we’re still getting two cars into our two car garage!

On Monday and Tuesday, a similar event occurred in Johnson Art Center, room 139 – my office – which has always been a rather chaotic corner of the universe but which became incredibly bad in the late spring when life got complicated.  Stir into that a huge influx of music and books inherited from Dr. Sjoerdsma and the situation rather quickly tilted from disgusting to disastrous.

One of my voice students who just graduated in May, Trevor Parker – he’s mentioned a time or two in this website, so at some point I should just start talking about ‘Trevor’ and leave it at that –  offered to come up sometime and help put my office in order.  Trevor is an amazingly organized young man, and how he managed to put up with five years of voice lessons in JAC 139 – the perpetual mess must have made his skin crawl – is beyond me.   But put up with it he did and furthermore he was willing to step in and help make it better. And fortunately,  like our friend Kurt, he came armed with enthusiasm, good humor, optimism, and plenty of muscles.

(As I was leaving the reception after Grandma Nauta’s funeral – the one where Aaron and I sang Mercy and Love- one of Aaron’s young cousins, Kayla, asked why I was running off so soon.   “I have to go clean my office because it’s really messy!”   “Do you need to borrow our vacuum cleaner?”   “No thanks, Kayla.  I really need more like a steam shovel.”   Puzzled look.  “But don’t worry.  I have someone coming to help me. . . a football player with lots of muscles.”  “Ooh!   Brett Favre?!?”    “Well, no- he wasn’t available.  But I think this guy will be just as good, if not better.”)

And indeed he was.  I could prattle on for a long time about the amazing job which Trevor did, but I will limit it to just a couple of things:

First, it was really amazing to spend eight and half hours the first day and seven and a half hours the second day in the presence of someone with so much energy and physical strength.   By the end of it I was absolutely exhausted- but in the most exhilarating sort of way. It felt great to work that hard for that length of time.  Well, it was mostly great.  🙂

Second, it was really interesting to see how Trevor (as Kurt did with our garage) had such vision – a real gift for looking at an enormous pile of videotapes and being able to figure out that those will fit on these three shelves over here.  Maybe even more important, Trevor thought about things like If these tapes are like this on the shelf, you’ll probably be tempted to just leave them lying around.  But if we put them this way, then they will be much easier to put back. He was thinking about ways in which I would be able to function in the office with at least a fighting chance of keeping it clean.

Third, and in some ways most amazing of all, Trevor did this without making me feel like some disgusting Creature from the Black Lagoon.  As I told him in an email afterwards, there are very few people with whom I would have felt comfortable doing this, because most neat people would have only ventured in there wearing a contamination suit and oxygen tank.  Trevor just did it,  with a smile, and with a no-nonsense approach that made it a lot less embarassing than it would have otherwise been.

Fourth, he wanted to listen to opera music while we worked. Enough said.

If you go to the Clean Sweep page, you’ll see for yourself the fruits of our labors.  We managed to find room for everything, including my enormous collection of opera videos and compact disks – plus a collection of almost one hundred historic opera scores which I inherited from Dr. Sjoerdsma – plus all of the music that was already there.  We ended up unlocking three other rooms to use as sorting areas – one for CDs and cassettes, one for videotapes, and one for LPs and magazines.

One thing made quite a grand exit – the enormous desk which was there when I got there.  Just emptying those drawers was a major project – and cleaning the sticky gunk from the middle drawer was left to a kind-hearted expert, one of the JAC’s custodians.  In place of the desk, which in size if not appearance belongs in the Oval office,  I now have a new computer desk which Trevor assembled. He also put together a new set of shelves which proudly house almost all of my opera videos.

One pair of pictures requires some explanation.  There’s a picture of me in front of the blackboard, which got written on maybe once every year and half.   But since I had never once used an eraser, there was quite an interesting accumulation of stuff on that blackboard, including the word “Gesamkunstwerk” ***right in the middle of it which Trevor remembers being there from his first voice lesson in the fall of 2002.  So The Great Erasure was quite a dramatic moment and maybe somewhat symbolic of a new beginning.

I can’t guarantee anything- I am still at heart the original Pig Pen, despite what Charles Schulz might say to the contrary. But I think I will try like I have not tried before to keep this office clean – in large part because of the young man who so lovingly and patiently worked beside me to clean it up, and because he knows where I live and could so easily beat me up if I ever let it get so messy again.

** Gesamkunstwerk is a term used to describe the operas of Richard Wagner and his desire that all of the various elements of opera – singers, orchestra, costumes, sets, dance, etc. – should all meld together as one.  Aren’t you glad you asked?