Thursday, August 30, 2012

Duty and the Beast

What’s the definition of insanity? Cleaning out the refrigerator. Especially when you don’t have to. 

No one is standing over you, saying, “Clean this disgusting mess.”

Since Charley has never been much on housework (other than assuming the position to watch someone else), and neither have I, well, that’s two of us who live in this house who will do our level best to con someone else into doing it. He learned this from me. I learned it from Mom.

I promised myself long ago that I would not turn into my mother when it came to chores. She was the taskmaster. Every Saturday without fail, Mom would stand at the bottom of the stairs with a list longer than her measuring tape.

“This is a list of things you have to do today before you can go anywhere.”

“But Mom…”

“Don’t ‘but Mom’ me,” she’d say, and that was the end of the argument. You simply didn't fight with her, not if you planned on being let out of the big house on good behavior. 

I called it the Big House, because it was big. But honey, when you had to clean it? It was BIGGER.

I don’t remember my brother Mike being served with The List, but my sister, Marcy, and I did. 

It wasn’t enough to hand us The List. No, she had to review it with us as if we couldn’t read the bad news for ourselves.

“The baseboards need to be dusted. Get around the legs of the chairs. Move the furniture out of the way so you can vacuum. Clean the toilets, and don’t forget around the bottom of the toilet bowl. Yada, yada, and yada.”

Did she give us some kind of spray? Something like Windex? No, that would have been too easy. We got Comet Cleanser. The powder stuff that never comes off. Hated it.You have to keep wetting the cloth and wiping until the soap residue is gone. 

And there went Saturday. The sooner we could get it done, the sooner the weekend could begin.

So, yes. I learned to hate housework properly. The least she could have done was let us do it when we could fit it in. I’m sure we’d have found time between then and oh, a month or so later?

I tried this trick with Charley once. He arrived home from school one afternoon to find me holding a piece of paper. True, it was my shopping list, but he didn’t know that, and it looked official.

“This is a list of things you have to do before you watch TV,” I said, sounding just like Mom.

“Huh?” he said, and proceeded through the door.

Plop. The backpack landed on the floor.

“I will now review The List with you,” I said. This always worked for Mom.

Plop. Off went the shoes.

“I want you to straighten your stuff in the living room, stack your CDs and DVDs, take four of your boom boxes to your bedroom, collect your cola cans, and take out the trash. And then I have a job for us to do together.”

“I work at Henry’s,” he said. (Henry's is a deli and Charley works there a couple times per week as part of his program at school.)

“Good. Then you can help me in the kitchen.”

Plop. His body landed on the couch.

“Hey. Plopping on the couch is not on The List.”

“Dis first.”

I pointed to The List. “No, this first.”

"I'm waiting," I said, and stood in the middle of the room with my arms crossed, tapping my foot.

“It’s your mess.” I said.

“Yelpin’ me?” he said, handing the backpack to me while he picked up his shoes, and what do you know? I was drafted.

It only took us a few minutes to straighten the junk, which in our house means moving the clutter from one spot to another.

I stood and looked around. It was all there, just relocated. I couldn’t help but laugh. All that training when I was growing up, all the Saturday lists, and this is what you get? Reorganized disorganized clutter?

Charley broke my self-talk. “Ya pappy now?”

“Yes, I’m happy now.”

Plop. Back on the couch. Time for TV.

And I would have remained happy, except for one thing; I opened the refrigerator door.

This job wasn’t on The List. I thought we’d clean out the car. That is, until the fridge got in the way. “Son, how’s about helping me clean out the fridge?”

“Mom, you like dis song?” he said and turned up the volume. 

“I sure could use some help,” I hollered from the kitchen.

No response.

Cleaning the fridge. It’s a thankless job. But if he thought I was going this alone, he had another thing coming.

I walked into the living room and lay down on the floor. Anything to get his attention. Maybe he'll see how tired I am and feel sorry for me.

“Mom, sing.”

I kicked my feet.

He raised his head from behind the TV and looked at me.

“See what it does to me? Having to do it all myself? Look how I’m suffering. I. Need. Your. Help. Buster.” 

I kicked my feet again and just to turn it up a notch, I slammed my arms onto the carpet. Temper tantrum anyone?

“Mom, you silly human (woman). All I can say is, this didn’t work. And why would it? How can you elicit sympathy when the other party is laughing?

“Could you help me up?”

The next thing I knew, he was standing over me and reaching out his hand, pulling me up.

And then, back to the couch. But how lucky was this? The song in his CD player was Beauty and the Beast.

I looked at him. I looked at the fridge. I looked at him again. How long had I known him? Did I think the traditional whining and pleading was going to work? 

I went to his bedroom and there it was. Just what I needed. The plastic sword he’d used in the play at church a few years ago. I grabbed it, stood in the middle of the living room and did the only thing I could think of. I held the sword up in the air and started to sing.

So it’s time to take some action boys, it’s time to follow me. Kill the beast!

Again, he peeked from behind the TV.

I started marching around the room.

Kill the beast!
Kill the beast!

And just like that? He was on his feet marching behind me. Around and around, then into the kitchen.

Through the mist
Through the woods
Through the darkness and the shadows
It's a nightmare but it's one exciting ride

Say a prayer
Then we're there
At the drawbridge of a castle
And there's something truly terrible inside

I opened the door to the fridge.

It's a beast
He's got fangs
Razor sharp ones

Massive paws
Killer claws for the feast

He held up the sword.
I held up the Windex.

Hear him roar
See him foam

But we're not coming home
'Til he's dead

Good and dead

I handed him the sponge.
He handed me the sword.
I handed him the Windex.

“Huh?” He looked at me, like, what the…

I handed him a half-gallon of milk (his favorite thing in the world). He took a swig.

I pointed at the top shelf.

Kill the beast!

He started wiping while I pulled out the shelves and gave them a good scrubbing.

He took another swig and wiped some more. Wipe and swig. Swig and wipe.

At one point he did his best to abandon post. “Mom, I tired,” he said.

“Balderdash! It’s our duty,” I said.

I pointed to the clear pullout vegetable crisper drawers.

Kill the beast!
    “Sing, Charley.”

Again, he was spraying and wiping.

Two hours later, the deed was done.

The bad news is, he’ll probably never allow himself to be tricked into that again. The good news, is, the fridge was no longer a menacing force to recon.

And then, something I didn’t see coming.

“You Bootie, Mom.”


“You bootie, I da beast,” he grinned.

“That’s funny,” I said. “I thought you were the handsome prince.”

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