At Mabel's place

Judith and Jake, Cy and Joe, three cats and a dog the size of a man live in this house, along with me. We're all slobs, except Cy. The bathroom gets cleaned only when company is coming, and everyone knows which cat pees on the furniture but nobody does anything about it, and nobody cleans it up. 

All this is mentioned not as a complaint — hey, I'm comfortable in the squalor — but for comparison purposes, because after working at the magazine today, I took a #38 Geary past Japantown, and worked in a house messier than mine.

♦ ♦ ♦   

Mabel opened the door almost instantly after I knocked. She must've been waiting for me, maybe watching me approach.

She's an attractive middle-aged white woman, and she was wearing a stained sweatshirt and sweatpants, clothes which hinted that she might be pitching in on the work, but she didn't. 

Since she's a woman, she was the first thing I noticed, but behind her was a sea of beer cans and old magazines, fast food wrappers and dirty clothes everywhere. Judge not, lest ye be judged, flashed across my mind. You rarely see a house so messy, but it wasn't that much worse than my own room.

"Follow me," was the first thing Mabel said, not even hello. She led the way toward the kitchen, stepping over laundry, auto parts, and huge trash drifts, and I followed, as we made our way down a wide hallway narrowed by junk.

A cacophony of kid noises was coming from up down all around, and I counted five filthy youngins (though there may have been more). By the way she yelled at them, I'm judging they were all Mabel's, or else she runs the world's worst daycare.

In the kitchen, the mess was spectacular, but I've seen worse. Mabel told me to ignore everything else — the clutter, the clothes piled in the corner, the stained and rusting appliances, the yellowing beauty and style magazines haphazardly tossed everywhere. I was mostly there to wash the dishes, she said.

That's the most popular chore I'm hired for, and indeed, dirty dishes were stacked in the sink, and everywhere else. Plates and bowls were stacked along the length of the counter, many with leftovers never scraped off, and dried for so long it no longer stank. More dishes were stacked on the floor, in an arching oval around the sink, with a gateway between the dirty dishes that thoughtfully allowed access to the sink.

A dishwasher was in the corner, but it not only didn't work, it didn't have a door, and the machine was filled with kids' toys, with larger toys on the bottom and smaller toys on the cup rack above. And roaches.

I've seen a few houses as messy as Mabel's, but never have I seen so many dirty dishes. Never seen so many dishes, period. Her family apparently just buys more dishes, to avoid washing the dishes they already have. There's no other way to explain it.

Across and under many of the dishes were more roaches and spiders, pests which seemed to co-exist peacefully at Mabel's place. While I washed dishes, kids often walked or ran through the kitchen, and once, one of them was carrying a live cockroach and trying to throw it at another kid.

♦ ♦ ♦   

The night wasn't entirely washing dishes. I also plastic-bagged up a great deal of trash, piling the bags at the back door. The kitchen floor was exposed as I gathers dishes off it, so I took a few breaks from the dishes to scrape and scrub the tile, then swept and mopped.

But mostly I washed dishes, until my fingers were so soggy and soft I could've chopped off a fingernail or fingertip with a butter knife. I had to stop, not because all the dishes had been washed, but because I needed to be downtown by 11:15 to catch my last train home.

About 90% of the dishes had been washed, but there was nowhere to put them — not enough cupboard space, and what shelves there were had bugs and cobwebs. Since they couldn't be put away, I stacked most of the clean dishes on the counter, taller than they'd been stacked while dirty. At least all the dishes were off the floor.

♦ ♦ ♦   

A pee stop was required before my bus ride to the train station, so I asked, "Where's the john?" and knew I'd regret it. You can't keep your bladder waiting for too long, but if I had it all to do over again I'd have peed in the bushes beside the sidewalk.

"It's this way," said the sweatshirt lady, who, incidentally had helped in no way with any of the work. "Watch out for the stereo," she added, stepping over an unplugged turntable, leading me toward what I figured would be Dante's bathroom, but it was worse than that.

"After you've finished with the kitchen some other night, the bathroom will be next to be cleaned," she said, as she nudged open a door and clicked a light on. The bathroom was a mess like the rest of the house; only the flavor of flotsam and jetsam was different, with more magazines and hair care products, less food wrappers.

I grunted — there was puke in my mouth — and walked in, closed the door and peed into the toilet, and then puked onto the pee. It was partly sick-puke, but mostly puke brought on by the mess, and my pee and puke were atop someone else's un-flushed shit. There was enough shit that flushing seemed like a gamble — the toilet might overflow, and looking around the messy room, I saw no plunger. 

To flush, or not to flush? If the toilet flooded the room, Mabel would probably expect me to clean it up, but if I didn't want to be stranded in San Francisco overnight, I needed to be on my way quickly.

Not to flush, I decided.

Mabel was in the front room, and asked when I could come back to finish the dishes, and start on the bathroom. "Never," I wanted to say, but I'm broke so "Wednesday?" is what came out of my puke-flavored mouth.

She said OK, wanted me to start early, and we agreed on 10AM Wednesday. Then she handed me my pay for the night — $30 for six hours, with no tip you fucker, and not even a "thank you."

From Pathetic Life #22
Monday, March 11, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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