Sunday, March 30, 2008

The war on dirt

In every home décor magazine, there is an ad of a woman lounging on a sofa with the sun filtering in from the billowy curtains behind her. She is pretty, but never beautiful; she may have a mohair throw over her shoulders. She is reading a book or a magazine with the serene expression of a woman who knows her house is clean. I have never been that woman. I dream of being that woman.

We were taught as children that ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness,’ making a clean home a moral imperative. It doesn’t help if you live in an 85 year-old house. Or if you cook. Or eat. Or have a cat that uses a litter box. Or have skin and hair. Mind you, I have an arsenal of cleaning supplies, tools, and machines; enough to fight the entire civil war on dirt. When I hear that bed bugs have made a comeback because we have ceased to use the harsh cleaning agents that kill germs and bugs but are not easy on the environment, a shiver runs up my spine. Here is where my vacuum comes in. I vacuum my bed. I vacuum the curtains. I vacuum the cat. (By some freak of nature, my cat has decided in his fading years that the carpet-sucking machine is his friend. Perhaps it is because of his failing hearing, or perhaps he has decided that to be closer to me, he must make friends with it. Either way, whenever I fire up the vacuum, there he is, tapping me with his paw for a good going-over.)

Before I make myself out to be a suburban mom from 1950, I might add that my home is not magazine-perfect. But we are a nation obsessed with the fight on dirt, and I am one of its soldiers. And like all dedicated soldiers, I am always looking for the secret weapon that will end the war forever. But there’s no end to this war; there will always be a dust insurgency in the living room, or a germ skirmish in the kitchen. I imagine that when I am able to bring my home to that glittering state epitomized by the ad with the woman lounging on her sofa, for one day my life will be in perfect balance. And I will lounge on my sofa with a book, and a mohair throw over my shoulders.

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