Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cleaning Agent

One of the perils of Chinese New Year is the dreaded family gathering where well meaning relatives hand over a lousy $10 ang pow in exchange for the pleasure of spending the next two hours publicly humiliating you either about your single marital status or, if you’re married, your perplexing on-going infertility.
            The other peril of Chinese New Year is spring cleaning, that yearly ritual that begins one morning when you wake up, look around your bedroom and realise that you have accumulated a lot of junk.
            In the little flat I share with Saffy and Amanda, this year’s first round of drama began, as it so often does, with a television show.
            One morning, stumbling out of bed and into the kitchen, Amanda found Saffy already up. Well, technically, she was awake, but she was horizontal on the couch watching TV on the MacBook that was balanced on her tummy.
            “It’s 7 am!” Amanda mumbled.
            “I couldn’t sleep. I woke up from a very disturbing dream where I was married to my boss and he was making a move on me after a dinner that I cooked for him while I was naked!”
            As Amanda later said to me, you’d think she’d have learnt by now never to talk to Saffy about anything. “Why are we still living with her?” she asked, not for the first time.
            It turned out that Saffy’s latest addiction is an American reality TV programme called ‘Extreme Hoarding’. Every week, the cameras invade the homes of two extreme hoarders. We’re not talking about a few too many books here. It’s as if someone went to a city’s central rubbish tip and thought to himself, “Hmm, this would be a perfect place to build a house!”
            But rather than build the house on top of the piles of rotting, putrid rubbish, this person builds around the rubbish by picking a random pile and sticking a roof over it.
            In one episode, the owner walked from one end of his living room to the other on literally two feet of boxes, cartons, books, files, furniture and clothes. And because the bottom of his staircase was blocked by an entire wardrobe, he had to squeeze through a gap between the railing and ceiling to get upstairs. “My girlfriend died in this room because the paramedics couldn’t get their equipment through,” he told the camera.
            “Oh. My. God.” Saffy’s bosom inflated with horror.
            “Seriously, why are we watching this at 9am on a Saturday morning?” Amanda asked. It had been two hours since she’d woken up. She’d never made it to the kitchen.
            “It’s horrible! It’s such an addictive show!” she later told me, her retinas still haunted by the images of all that trash, mouldy kitchens and rank toilets. “How do people live like that?”
            Meanwhile, in an extreme case of life imitating art, Saffy has been on a major cleaning frenzy in preparation for Chinese New Year. “I’m not going to end up on that show!” she announced as she snapped on the cleaning gloves. The past few days have been a blur. It’s just not safe to walk past her room in case you’re hit by projectiles comprising old out of shape bras, dusty magazines, dog-eared textbooks from her numerous uncompleted night classes, dresses of varying sizes from her chequered dieting experiments, tattered Victoria’s Secret underwear, old bedsheets and assorted knick-knacks, including a shower of old Valentine’s Day cards.
            Amanda says that if you ever need an insight into someone’s life, ambitions and failed dreams, just go through their rubbish.
            “Why am I keeping this?” Saffy muttered, holding up a bundle of old pens, rusty paper clips and rubber bands.
            “In case you need to make a run for it?” suggested Amanda, who’s been watching old episodes of ‘Prison Break’.
            Saffy’s frenzied spring-cleaning has spurred me to throw out a few things of my own. And here’s the thing: throwing out the first book that you know you’re never going to read is incredibly painful. But by the fifth book and the eighth Giordano tee, you’re on your way. The sense of freedom is exhilarating and empowering.
            “I feel like I’ve actually lost weight by throwing all this junk out!” Saffy said proudly yesterday morning as she hauled out another bag of old clothes and shoes. Her voice echoed in the suddenly empty space of bare shelves and hollow wardrobe. All night, the silence bothered her. She couldn’t sleep. At 3am, she got up, turned on her computer and bought some books from Amazon.

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