He told me his house was the cleanest it’s ever been and he’s heartbroken. His voice sounded muffled over the phone and I kept asking him what the last word was.
“HEARTBROKEN!” he screamed and the first thing I thought was I didn’t know this man had a heart.
“Wow,” I said when I first walked in. He nodded but said nothing. He knew what I was thinking. That while this was still the same house, at the same time, it really wasn’t. The ghostly presence, Resident Pestilence, had been purged and been replaced with the mild scent of Febreze.
“Start at the beginning,” I tell him, because his house is the cleanest it’s ever been and he’s heartbroken and I don’t understand how or why these things connect.
“Her name is Yuki,” he tells me, “she’s Korean or something. From one of those megacities they have in Asia.”
I mutter something about Asian megacities and then wave my hand as if to say, “Continue, or this will never make sense.”
“I met her on Tinder, you know, the app,” he says, because underneath all those layered basic t-shirts is a man who likes to let you know when a thing is downloadable for iPhone.
“She likes HBO documentaries, man.” He says this and then buries his face in his hands, muttering “HBO documentaries” under his breath and through his fingers three or four more times.
“HBO documentaries, man, they’re so much better. See, you don’t even get it.”
I truly didn’t.
“And she watches these voice shows, okay? They’re like The Voice, but Korean.”
I start to wonder if this will ever make sense. Or if I’ve signed up for an entirely circular conversation about cleaning houses, Korean voice shows, and the apparent supremacy of HBO’s documentaries.
“Like The Voice, but Korean,” I repeat.
“Right. And she gave me her number. And I really mean gave.” He says this while extending his hands outward, as if to pass me a fragile imaginary egg.
I reach my hands out to catch the egg before it falls, but he drops his hands to his sides, as if he’s already forgotten about it. A part of me can feel it crashing to the floor, yolk everywhere, on his freshly vacuumed carpet.
“So I texted her, you know? We talked about a lot of stuff. Geopolitics, reality television, documentaries—”
“HBO documentaries,” I add.
“Right. Just whatever was on her mind. She’s funny like that. She is like a deep well, man, a very deep well. But she free associates like Talib Kweli.”
“A deep free associating Talib Kweli well.”
“That is exactly fucking what,” he says.
“Nice,” I say.
“Right? And it made me so nervous. I get this way. When I meet a girl online, I get nervous, because I don’t know if I can live up to myself. I am a natural dating poet. I can make myself sound interesting in a few hundred characters, but I am not a natural actor. In the real world I am so boring.”
Single twenty four year old janitor / loves documentaries about heroin addicts and wearing basic t-shirts / emotionally unavailable / with some exceptions.
“She starts calling me every night. She has this accent. Oh my god, it’s like creamy peanut butter spread across an apple. She’s a woman of substance, man, real substance. Real fucking substance.”
“Real fucking substance,” I add, since that seems to be a point that needs enunciation.
“Real fucking substance,” he repeats back to me, nodding.
“But on top of all that substance, peanut butter.”
We sit quietly for a while, sitting on his Slytherin green couch, not a crumb on it. I’ve never seen it like this. We used to eat frozen pizzas on this couch, spilling burnt crust bits everywhere, noncommittally brushing some off and onto the carpet, and so on. They’re all gone. All those pizzas and there is nothing left of it.
“So,” I say, “your apartment.”
“Oh fuck, right. I cleaned this whole fucking thing. GODDAMN YOU, YUKI!” He shouts, raising his pale fist into the air, shaking it.
I bury my unshaved and unwashed face in my hands, which still smell like gasoline from filling my car earlier and being clumsy.
“She said she would come down,” he looks over at me, his eyes wide open and red, “for the weekend.”
“Yeah. But she has this whole thing about messy houses. She hates it. She said I was the only guy she ever talked to who was messy. She hates dirt.” He says this last part like it’s a true revelation, like her aversion to dirt is perhaps a fear of iced beverages or commodities markets.
“And I don’t know, man, I kind of like living in a clean house. I think it’s nice, I mean. I’m not opposed to the lifestyle, you know? Like, if she needed me to be Catholic, that would be too much. But wanting a clean house to visit, I could understand that.”
“Yeah, Catholic is way too much,” I say.
“Catholic is way too much,” he says, shaking his head.
“So I cleaned,” he continued. “I mean, look around. The place is amazing. I vacuumed all of the carpets.”
He says it, but in reality, he’s done so much more. I’ve already been in the bathroom, which is unrecognizable from the bathroom I last entered when I was here. The shower is scrubbed. The toilet has been cleaned in a manner more sophisticated than simply pissing really hard against the shit stains—his usual method. The prickly beard hairs are all gone from the sink. The three empty deodorant containers have been discarded. There is even a bag in the trash to catch the sloppy and wet things people throw in there, so he won’t have to scrape Maxi Pads off the bottom when he finally empties it.
“You cleaned the fuck out of this place,” I tell him.
“I did. I really did, man.”
“So how did things go with Yuki, then? Badly, I assume.”
“Well I sent her pictures. I showed her before-pictures of the house. That was when she told me I had to clean.”
“And then, yesterday, I sent her new ones. Of my sparkling floors. The crumb-free couch. The bedroom, which is now uncluttered and vacuumed, the blanket is even neatly folded in the bottom right hand corner.”
“And man, you know what she said?”
“I have no idea.”
“Nothing. She completely stopped texting me.”
“She hasn’t said a word to me since I sent those pictures.”
I have no idea what to tell him.
“What do you want to do about it?”
“There isn’t anything I can do. Sometimes Talib Kweli comes into your life in the form of a very deep well and orders you to clean. And when that happens, I guess you just have to go with it…I mean, it looks nice right?”
“Hell yeah it does.”
We smoke a few cigarettes together, in his living room, and play blitz chess across his coffee table. Every time I drop ash on the chessboard, the coffee table, or the floor, he pauses the game and brushes them away.
“I’ll probably vacuum later,” he says, and restarts the chess clock.