By JEFF PICKELL
I used to think that the apartment above the Observer was too dark. I used to think there weren’t enough windows, that there were just too many shadows.
About a week ago, I stepped in one of these shadows and left a footprint. I realized then that the problem with the apartment upstairs was not one of lighting, but of me being a filthy slob. What I had taken to be a shadow was actually 10 months worth of dark and disgusting grimy buildup.
If you remember, last Wednesday was a nice, sunny day. A springy day. And I thought, “what better thing to do on my lunch break than to go after some of that mess?” Obvious answers now spring to mind: exercise, give to charity, swallow drain cleaner, but at the time I was feeling energetic and proactive, so I rolled up my sleeves, pulled out all the noxious solvents that I don’t reserve for chugging, and went to work. It turns out that what I had thought were permanent scuff marks on the kitchen floor were actually dirt; what I thought was dirt was actually some primordial form of life; what I thought was the dull, gray tint of the bathtub was actually a rock-hard plying of soap scum.
I’d always wondered how scum got such a bad reputation. Now I know.
If we were to compare filth to criminals (a far stretch), and homes to jail, your garden variety dirt would be the equivalent of the wrongfully accused. Dirt has its place—outside. The only way dirt makes its way inside is by way of some thoughtless human leaving a door open or forgetting to take his shoes off. Dirt knows it shouldn’t be inside, dirt doesn’t want to be inside, and that’s why dirt is so easy to clean up. A stroke of the broom, a wave of the washrag, and dirt is out of the way, in the trash, headed to that great big dump in the sky...er...ground. It ain’t coming back.
Dust is what I would call a public nuisance. Dust is a repeat offender. No matter the steps you take to limit recidivism, dust always finds some way to make it back in the slammer. Dust also keeps the executive branch occupied; it clings to brooms, it clogs vacuum motors, it corks drains. That is, it limits the effectiveness of those things created to eliminate it. Nevertheless, dust will come, take its slap on the wrist, and show up next week—stinking, drunk, and ready for booking.
Scum is a death row inmate. Scum is akin to the murderer, the rapist. You don’t want to know how it got there, but you do know there ain’t no way to get rid of it unless you burn it off the face of the Earth.
And that’s exactly what I did to the soap scum I encountered last week. After scrubbing at it with paper towel for about 20 minutes, to little avail, I looked under the bathroom sink, hoping one of the previous residents had left behind some weapon to deal with it. Luckily they did. It was a spray bottle, dated to the Reagan administration, I believe, filled with a substance called “ScumBatterer” or “ElimiScum” or something like that.
I read the directions. “Apply liberally to areas with high scum buildup. No scrubbing required.”
“‘Liberally?’ What does that even mean? Apply like Michael Moore would?” I thought.
After due diligence, I coated the entire tub with whatever was left in the bottle.
Soon after, I realized I was hallucinating from the fumes, so I opened the back windows and turned both of my fans on.
The apartment’s cleanness may have come at the expense of my own. I’ve known cleaning solvents to sizzle and pop, but never like ScumBatter. I think I could actually hear the scum screaming for mercy a few seconds after the concoction hit. The screams were followed by whimpering, and one last agonized groan, which I could only assume to be its death nell. I’m not quite sure I want to put my feet in that kind of environment.
On a side note—Congratulations to my brother John and my new sister-in-law Stefanie, who were married Saturday. The wedding went better than I anticipated—only two fights, one case of food poisoning, and five incidents of accidental swearing during my best man toast.
A couple black eyes, barfing, loud obscenity—that’s pretty much to be expected from a Pickell family gathering.
I did, however, fail to actually raise my champagne glass during the toast. I forgot to bring it with me when I went to the microphone.– March 22, 2006