In New York I spend most of my morning talking on the phone to one B or another. I call it "checking-in." I like to hear about everything the B did since the morning before. I ask about all the places I didn't go and all the people I didn't see. Even if a B accompanied me to a party or a club the night before I ask what happened because I may have missed something on the other side of the room. If I didn't miss it, I forgot it.
I have no memory. Every day is a new day because I don't remember the day before. Every minute is like the first minute of my life. I try to remember but I can't. That's why I got married—to my tape recorder. That's why I seek out people with minds like tape recorders to be with. My mind is like a tape recorder with one button—Erase.
If I wake up too early to check in with anyone, I kill time by watching TV and washing my underwear. Maybe the reason my memory is so bad is that I always do at least two things at once. It's easier to forget something you only half-did or quarter-did.
My favorite simultaneous action is talking while eating. I think it's a sign of class. The rich have many advantages over the poor, but the most important one, as far as I'm concerned, is knowing how to talk and eat at the same time. I think they learn it in finishing school. It's very important if you go out to dinner a lot. At dinner you're expected to eat—because if you don't it's an insult to the hostess—and you're expected to talk—because if you don't it's an insult to the other guests. The rich somehow manage to work it out but I just can't do it. They are never caught with an open mouth full of food but that's what happens to me. It's always my turn to talk just when I've filled my mouth with mashed potatoes. The rich, on the other hand, seem to take turns automatically; one talks while the other chews; then one chews while the other talks. If for some reason the conversation demands an immediate comment in the middle of chewing, the rich know how to quickly hide the half-chewed food somewhere—under the tongue? behind the teeth? halfway down the throat?— while they make their point. When I ask my rich friends how they do it, they say, "Do what?" That's how much they take it for granted. I practice at home in front of the mirror and over the phone. In the meantime, until I've perfected the ability to talk and eat simultaneously, I stick to my basic rule for dinner party behavior: don't talk and don't eat.
Of course you can have bad manners if you know how to use them.
One morning I was vacuuming while watching Capital Punishment on Barbara Walters and the phone rang. I knew it was a particular B because she's the only one who calls me before I call her. All the other Bs wait for me to make the first move. This B is a conceptual thinker from a good family. Though she has moved to the wrong side of the tracks her breeding still shows. She can eat, talk, and walk at the same time.
I let the phone ring ten times because Capital Punishment was riveting. Finally I picked it up and said quickly, "Hi, could you hold on for a second." I dropped the receiver and ran into the kitchen for some toast with jam. While I waited for the toast to toast I read the label on the jar of jam. I took the jar back with me to the phone because I like to spoon it out onto the toast, glob by glob, bite by bite.
"What's new," I said, pressing my ear to the receiver, my mouth to the jam.
B gave me a blow-by-blow description of the Barbara Walters show. I wasn't bored because I had forgotten it already. When she got to the point where she was describing what I was watching on my TV in front of me, I interrupted. "What else is new?"
"I don't know," snapped B, who hates to be interrupted. "What are you doing?" "Cleaning up."
"Cleaning is a thing that bugs me twenty-four hours a day," B answered. She's the kind of person who always has the same problem as you do, only a million times more. "I always have it on my mind," she continued enthusiastically. "Where to clean next—a drawer? the desk? the closet? I've vacuumed the room but I haven't vacuumed the closet, and I'm really going to get it all done today. I've got to shampoo the rug first. I've been using Old Glory Extra-Professional-Strength shampoo and I do it just they way they say—by putting a six-inch-by-six-inch patch. Then I scrub it with a brush and bring the nap up, then I leave the room with a lot of stuff for about three hours—a tape recorder, a couple of books, magazines, newspapers—and I go to the park and sit there and talk to the bums. Then I can come back and vacuum up all the foam. I have to make sure I have new E-11 bags because I have a Singer vacuum cleaner, the canister type. I wish I had a Hoover. Most people don't use their vacuum cleaners because they have to put them in the mop closets and if you're at somebody's house and ask to use their vacuum cleaner they say, 'Oh, don't bother, it's so heavy, it's such a mess,' and so they use carpet sweepers. And carpet sweepers are really out of date. Carpet sweepers and a broom. You don't bring up the nap on a rug with a broom. Because all you do then is get little broom hairs all over the rug, and then you have to pick those up individually and put them in the waste-paper basket, and then you've got more garbage. Unless you put them down the toilet. So then I start vacuuming. I have to decide what I'm going to do first. The floor? No. Because the dirt darts in other places. So if I haven't made my bed yet I vacuum along the bottom of the bed. With no extra equipment on the end of the thing. I just put maybe the long tube with the very tight plastic thing with just a little hole. So I can get into the corners. Then I have to do my desk. I take all the books off. i put the brush attachment on—the round brush—take my telephone book, go along the top of it with the brush and then all down the edges. If I see a spot on my alligator pocketbook which is maybe on the desk next to the phone book I have to get my shoe-shine bag out of the closet and get my saddle soap and clean that. I clean everything so meticulously there's nothing messy or dirty in the room. In the house. Nothing. NOTHING!"
"Don't shout, B," I said, spooning out a little more jam.
"Okay, but say my pocket radio's next to the telephone book. Well, after I've dusted that with the vacuum cleaner I take it out of its little leather case and vacuum the inside of that, and while I'm doing that I open the radio up and put in a new nine-volt battery and then, using the attachment with the little hole, I vacuum the inside of the radio because it keeps the battery thing free of dust and you don't get static on your radio. Then there's the jar of pencils on my desk. I take all the pencils out of the jar and put them on newspaper but I have to put the newspaper on the bathroom floor because I don't want the print to rub off on the rug or bedspread. Then I put the little pencil jar in hot Ivory soap and a little Fantastik and I started about a month ago using those— not Brillo pads, they have no soap in them—you know, they're like those wire things that might make an Art Deco pin or something? Those little wire soap pads that get the stuck ink and pencil shavings out of the bottom of the jar. Then, before I put the pencils all back, I have to make sure they're sharpened finely so I get the pencil sharpener out of the top drawer of my desk and I go back in the bathroom and sharpen my pencils over the toilet, because if I do it in my room over the waste basket, some of the dust is going to back up into the air, and it'll probably settle somewhere I've already cleaned, and I really want to GET FREE OF ALL THE DUST. After sharpening my pencils I flush the shavings and put the pencils back in the little jar. Then I take all the books off the shelves and put them in the bathroom on top of the newspaper. Then I, you know, once-over it with the brush. Vacuum. Then I have to shine it. I get the Endust out. It's better than Old Gold or Pledge or Lemon Pledge. That's such a farce, adding all those lemons to everything. Lemon was 1973. I think. Everything was coming up lemons. This year everything's a 'tingle.' So the Endust does that tingle to the furniture. I spray it on a clean yellow cloth. I have to remember, after I've done all my dusting, to wash the cloth. I just go over the shelves with it. I have a little thing with my cigarettes in it—not a box, sort of a glass—and I take all the cigarettes out and shake that into the toilet so I won't have little pieces of tobacco lying around. Then I go through the next little tin that has only pens in it, and scissors and Exacto knives and things like that, and I check to make sure all the ballpoint pens are writing. If they don't write on the first letter, I throw them right out in the garbage can. I've got a nice garbage liner twenty-two by forty-four in the garbage can so I don't have to wash the pail after I finish throwing everything out. Then I take the brush attachment and brush all the books. Down the sides, on the top. If the covers look sloppy or ragged, I take a little bit of ConTact paper covering just the outside part of the book and I type up a label in a matching color and put it down the spine of the book. If I have an old book, like say, Sherlock Holmes, that has a raggedy-edged cover, well, I take the cover off, and then, if it isn't a pretty-color book that matches the room—say it's dark brown and I don't like dark brown, I like yellow—I use ConTact paper. That way I have some continuity on my bookshelves. After that I have to vacuum the typewriter. That's such a drag. I've got to be careful or I can ruin my machine. I've got the vacuum out and I leave on the same brush attachment. I turn it on and I just brush lightly through the keys. Then I put on the long narrow hose and I unscrew the top part of the typewriter with a screwdriver and then I work on each key. I get a bottle of denatured alcohol, and a whole box of Q-tips. I plan on wasting them. Because I can only use one side for each letter. And since there's two letters on each key I have to use one Q-tip for each key. Then I blow a little bit with my mouth onto the typewriter to get the dust going toward the big hole. Then I vacuum it up. Then I get the Fantastik out and I put it on one of those reusable— Handi-Wipes, they call them. They come in yellow and white, and turquoise and white, and pink and white. I use yellow and white. Everything this year is green and white and yellow and white. Not lemon, just yellow, I don't know why. I put a little of the Fantastik on the Handi-Wipe and I go between each key with a Q-tip and a little Fantastik just to be sure the white parts between the black keys are clean. Anybody with a piano should do the same. You have to be careful not to let any of the Fantastik drip into where the keys are because that's going to ruin the insides of the typewriter. Then I have to make sure all the plugs are clean. I have to see if they're unplugged so I don't get a shock. White extension cords get dirty. When I have one that looks too dirty I take it off and make a list on a little white pad—'new extension cord, 6 inches.' Then I start doing the drawers of the desk. I have a lot of tapes in the top drawer so I have to see that all the cassettes are in order. I take a whole line of them out and put them on newspaper. Then I spray Fantastik down that space and with my Handi-Wipes I wipe that up. And then I take each cassette and I dust and wipe each one with a tiny bit of Windex which is good for their plastic coverings. I never get them out of line or out of order, they stay right in line because once I mixed up two years and it took me a long time to put it back together line by line, date by date. And then I usually get a little distracted because I see a tape and think, 'Oh, gosh, that person's dead, and I should listen to it for a minute.' So I just quickly get that done. And then I go to the second drawer which is filled with stationery: yellow legal pads on the bottom, smaller legal pads on top, then a little smaller, and envelopes in the cross-way—everything is a perfect fit. So I take out everything and check through and see if I still want it. Like, I have two pads that are from an art-supply store that are to write up television commercials and they have a shape of a television on them. Well, I know I'll probably never use them. Then I go through the envelopes. I've neatly labeled with the typewriter what's in the envelope. If the label gets dirty and raggedy-looking I type a new one. If it's for letters I'm saving, I go through the letters to see if I still want to save them. Well, I might find a few birthday cards. You know, from people who were sentimental to me a year ago. I toss them right out. And also if they're not particularly pretty—out. I don't want to bother to file them with 'Famous People's Cards.' I have postcards that are the large size that should go in a postcard-collecting box but I've forgotten to buy the postcard-collecting box so I write that down to buy. I measure the postcards first. And I go to Goldsmith Brothers and buy the box when I have enough money. Then there's all my little address books. I've got Europe, England, Spain, Rome, Paris, all with a rubber band around them. And then I've got diaries from Paris and last year's calendar which is always good to keep for taxes, and little trip books from the 60s that I really don't need but I really don't want to get rid of because they might be worth something later. When they revive the 60s. I take them all out and I get the vacuum cleaner with the brush part attached and then I pick up the extra dust there and take the ConTact paper out—there's ConTact paper at the bottom of my drawers—because I want to dust under the ConTact paper. I want to get to the wood—"
"Hello?" As usual we were cut off. B lives in a small residential hotel with an overworked switchboard. Every now and then the switchboard operator pulls the plug out on B because she feels B has had more than her fair share of talking time. Then B has to wait a few minutes for a new line. She doesn't really mind and neither do I—it gives us both a chance to go to the bathroom or something. This time, however, it was twenty minutes before B called me back. I really don't need that much time in the bathroom. I was tempted to call up another B to kill time but just as I was about to dial, the phone rang and this B was back. "Sorry, bad board today," she said. "But I was waiting twenty minutes." "A, I'm not thinking about time, I'm thinking about DETAIL!" she roared. "I'm thinking about all the cleaning I have to do! After I finish the stationery drawer, after I vacuum all the little plain white pads and the airmail envelopes, take them all out, put them back in, I still have to do the bottom drawer, the drawer filled with pictures. There are a lot of envelopes that say 'Miscellaneous' in that drawer and this is one of the things I'm trying to conquer in my life, the word 'Miscellaneous.' It's got to go. Because nothing is miscellaneous. So I've decided to take everything that's in 'Miscellaneous' and put it in another file. So I take out things like 'Releases,' and envelopes people have sent me with a picture I sent to somebody who died, and photographs from books, all these things. And I say, 'Do I really want all these releases?' So I open the packages and I look. Well, I won't save all the releases, I'll just save the important ones. The rest Til throw out. I'll get rid of a good eighth of an inch if I throw out somebody like—Lee Tallberg. Who the hell is Lee Tallberg? Rotten Rita? Well, maybe Rotton Rita I should keep. Peter Hugall . . . well, maybe I'll save releases. Maybe I'll make a book of releases. I'll keep them in the same envelope and just have it published like it is. 'Releases in an Envelope.' Then I have to go through the Guarantee File. Now, there's no point in keeping guarantees that are over the ninety-day guarantee period. So I go through the envelope and I get rid of a good inch when I throw out guarantees from 1965, you know, tape recorders and cameras, and I've mailed in the warranty and I save the little thing but they send me after a year an IBM card that says, 'If you require service on any of these parts you pay $17.00.' Then, of course, I have my receipts for taxes for three years and each month—I keep them very neat, they're in business envelopes—they don't fit very well, but I keep all of 1973 in a manila file that says 'Receipts.' Then Xeroxes of things I keep because there was a reason for me to Xerox them in the first place, so there's no reason for me to go through them. Then 'Ideas.' Well, the idea envelope is empty, but I might get some so I might as well keep the envelope for the file. 'Bills to Be Paid.' Well, actually, 'Bills to Be Paid' isn't a good file to keep hidden in a drawer, so if I want to be a better housekeeper I should actually take those bills out that I might have to pay and keep them in sight. 'Lawyer.' Well, all the letters from the lawyer are dated and I keep them in order with the last letter that he sent me at the top. That file I'll keep. 'Letters to Write.' Now that's another stupid file because there's only one letter in it, to Heiner Friedrich and John Giorno to send back something and I know I'll never mail it, so I'm going to throw it out and that's about an eighth of an inch gone now. Now, 'Carbon Copies of Letters.' That's a good file because they were funny letters that I wrote. 'Possibilities for Movies.* That's a good file too. I haven't thought of any yet but I'm always thinking. Now my 'Accountant' envelope I'm keeping. That I even add to, every time I see an article like in New York magazine about deducting your plants. I cut it out and put it in the file for the accountant—'Powers of Deduction'— writing off the home office—so I'll know for next year. 'The Dope Lawyer.' That's a script. Well, there's no reason not to save scripts. 'School Play.' That's an original screenplay written in hand. Now, I've got a little thing of foreign coins here. I guess the only ones I should bother to save are kopeks because there's not enough English money here, it's all Russian money, so I'll keep it. So that drawer's neat. Now I have to get my Handi-Wipe and dust the desk with Endust and go all around the edges. Then I have to get the most horrible product there is out of the waste-paper basket I keep under the sink in the bathroom. It's Noxon. It really is the smelliest product made. But I have to do the hardware on the desk. The little handles. I tear a pillowcase up because a rag isn't right. I've got to really get into all the edges with the Noxon. There are six fixtures on the desk and I might as well do the doorknobs too. Once it gets dry I put the Noxon on and then I polish it with another cleaning rag, so it's all shiny. Then for a week or so if I want it to stay nice and gold like that, I put on those white sleeping gloves every time I open my desk. Then I realize that I have my bureau drawer to do. Then I realize that I forgot that silver glass I keep pencils in. I might as well polish all the silver at the same time. So I go and take out my one silver spoon—stolen from my mother's—and a little silver demitasse spoon for when I'm in the mood, and my silver glass, and my silver key chain, and I go in the bathroom and get out my Gorham Silver Polish, and I put on my lined yellow rubber gloves. Lined so they don't stick to my fingers. But first I powder my hands with Johnson's Baby Powder—silver polish, and Noxon too, is very hard on your hands, they make them dry. A very funny feeling, like when you get a dry mouth. Then I clean the silver with a little cloth, then I rinse it in warm soapy water, then I polish it. But since I don't want to dirty another cloth I usually polish it with toilet paper. Then there's a flower vase on the desk I want to clean, so I put it in soapy water, and then I stick toilet paper down into the center to dry the base. Then, after that I have to do the top drawer."
"You already did the top drawer," I noted through the jam.
"That was the top drawer of my desk," B growled. "I still have to do the top drawer of my bureau. And then I have to start vacuuming because if I'd done the vacuuming first I'd have all the dust back again. So anyway, I do the top drawer. I pull it out. No matter how many times I clean it, it's always a mess. I can keep it clean for exactly one hour after I've cleaned it. I have to accept in my mind that this is a never-ending thing. The top drawer is always going to be messy and I'm always going to have to vacuum. I mean, if I order coffee in the morning and I'm pouring sugar from the little bag into the cup, well, some of those little granules are going to fall on top of the bureau, or on the floor. I may not feel that little granule of sugar but I know it's there. I may not see it, but I know there's dirt there. Then there's a part of the rug, that's sort of worn, you know, where there's a line and you can see just the thread maybe and no color. I go through all my Magic Markers till I find the right color. I test it on a piece of white paper, then I very lightly try to cover the gray line that has no carpet on it so it matches the rug. Now, my eyeglasses look filthy in here. I take them out of the drawer and put them on another piece of newspaper. On top of the towel on the bed. I don't dare put them on top of the bedspread that I brought back from the cleaners yesterday. Then, let's see. Eyedrops. Well, there's five bottles of eyedrops here: there's Collyrium, there's Visine, there's Murine Number Two, there's French Couleur Bleu—now they're not dirty but all their little caps are. They all need a once-over with Fantastik. And a dusting. So they get put on top of the towel too. Now there's a jar of Vaseline Intensive Care cream. Now it's not dirty but the top has coffee grains on it, a few crystals of salt, a hair, some lint ... if I look at it closely with a magnifying glass maybe I'll see that some soup dropped on it. So that needs to be cleaned with Fantastik. I take everything out of the top drawer and put it on top of the towel. Then I take the vacuum cleaner with the brush part and I brush and vacuum every empty space and partition. Then I go to the bathroom and make sure that the sink is really clean. I take some Lysol Basin Cleaner. Not Lysol spray for bad odors, not Lysol for john-bowls. This is Lysol for basins and tubs. And it's a spray. I spray the basin and the inside hole and down the drain-hole. I've got my rubber gloves on. Then I wash my brushes and combs to get them sterile. Then I put my five combs and my Mason Pearson hairbrush—but first I look in my jacket to make sure I don't have any combs in there and in the closet too—and then I put them in some Ivory Liquid Detergent. I let them all soak for five or ten minutes and after that I take a handbrush or nailbrush—the kind I like are from the hardware store, they cost thirty-five or thirty-seven cents and you can buy them now with white bristles which I think look nicer in the bathroom than the natural bristles. It looks nice and clean with white bristles. Then with each comb I go back and forth twice, once on each side with the handbrush in soapy water. Then I run the soapy water out of the sink and I go to the bathtub and hold each comb under the running water to rinse it. Then I lay all the combs and the brush on top of a white handtowel and wrap them up. And then I lay them on the windowsill for fifteen minutes to dry, but I leave them wrapped so they won't get dirty from the soot. So those are clean. Then I have a plastic box where I keep all my nail things, my tweezers, my pimple squeezers—now the thing I remember while I'm cleaning is I'm not just trying to clean everything to put it back where it was—I'm trying to ELIMINATE too. So if I have ten pairs of tweezers in there why not get the mirror out quickly and tweezer a few hairs here and there to be sure the tweezer works. Once I've done that I look on the tweezers to make sure there's no caked honey on it or anything like that. If it looks clean and it works, I put it back in its little tweezer holder. If the tweezer is no good, I take an envelope out of my desk—a white envelope—and put it into my typewriter and type, 'Tweezer to Be Repaired.' Then I take the clippers—they're usually in good condition because I usually put them in their clipper cases. They look dirty and dusty because the clipper cases are clear plastic on top. But they're not dirty on the outside because all the clippers have been kept inside a plastic box inside the bureau, but what looks dirty and dull is the inside of the plastic. So I have to take a piece of cloth and cut it—with a little Fantastik on it, and just stuff it down inside the case so the plastic gets clear-looking like glass. You know? Then I can put my little clippers back in. And I pour everything else out, like nail-whitener, and, oh, a few things like those wooden sticks for my nails. Well, if I see any that are dirty or that the points aren't sharp—I toss them right out into the waste basket and put it on another list. Insert it in the typewriter and put, 'Things to Buy.' Underline it and put 'Orange Sticks.' That's what they're called. Then I go through the eyebrow pencils and . . ."
Just then I yawned. Unfortunately I was spooning some more jam into my mouth and because of the yawn it got sucked in too far and my throat rejected it and spat it out all over the receiver. I dropped everything and ran to the kitchen for a paper towel and came back and wiped the receiver off. Hearing all this on her end of the line, B assumed that I was bored with our conversation, but I wasn't. I just got caught eating and talking—yawning is a way of talking—at the same time.
". . . okay, okay, okay, so I've got the whole top thing cleaned, I've emptied it and I've cleaned it. Now, I take my Hoover, the most old-fashioned kind, the best kind, the dirty old Hoover. But it's so hard to maneuver. I prefer the canister type. I have to do the Venetian blinds. Those I can always see the dust on and it drives me crazy! Crazy. Because I can really see it. And if I touch it with my fingers, I know it's blowing in the air. So I get up on a chair with the vacuum cleaner in my left hand, I've got the brush part on again and I'm—oh, I take the Venetian blind and pull the string so they're open, kind of, and I go along back and forth. Then—I've vacuumed all the dust off—I've got to wash the blinds. So here I am stark raving naked at the window and I want to wash my blinds. I'm so hot from cleaning and vacuuming— you see, people don't understand that vacuums are like toys. You know, like when children are given a five-and-ten-cent cart of little robots that they can turn on and make walk around a room. I mean that they could actually decorate like a toy. A canister vacuum cleaner could look like a little horse, it would look cute in a child's room just sitting there. I hang mine on the back of the bathroom door. And I keep all my attachments there. So once I've gotten all the dust off the blinds, because if I wash them with all the dust on, I've got a bathtub full of dust. Then I take the blinds down and I take one whole bottle of Zud—a can of Zud—and I mix it with aluminum ammonia. It really stinks. Then I put my blinds in the bathtub. I always wear my rubber gloves for this. Then I vacuum all the other drawers and the floor. What I basically want to do is raise the nap of the rug but before I start to vacuum I pick up every little thing I can find on the rug. If I see a spot, I get out my shampoo. There's a new kind of shampoo now that's supposed to be just spray and vacuum. So I spray, and it penetrates into the nap and in a few minutes I vacuum it up and it's clean. For the spots on the rugs I use those little spot-sticks. Renuzit, cleaning fluid—anything like that. I use that very small attachment. Because I get down on my knees when I vacuum and I always do it nude—I never vacuum with my clothes on—and I go back and forth in a vertical motion, very quickly with the little tiny attachment. And I look closely to make sure I've picked up everything and I think, 'Oh, God, why am I getting all those yellow bathroom-rug fibers when it's a turquoise rug?' What I'm picking up is actually yellow! Because it's all stuck, you see, to the edge of the vacuum cleaner part. So I do it as well as I can, I go to all the corners, and then when I get to a corner of the rug I even pick it up. So I decide, 'I'm going to, just for the excitement of it, run it along quickly underneath.' Underneath, below the tag, where the floor is getting old and cracked and there's a few nails. I can always hear 'ZZZZDDDZZZZZPPPP' and I'm picking up a lot. When I get to the closet I get really excited, I take everything out and I've always got five hundred million pieces of chipped paint that have fallen from the walls of the closet onto the floor, and I can hear those go click up the vacuum cleaner, and I love it. I really love the feeling of hearing it go up. I guess as much as I love to vacuum-clean ashtrays—you s,ee, if it were like a child's toy, always parked and plugged in, like a bicycle, it would be so great to just—zip right through the hose. But it's the big hang-up of taking it out of closets, being heavy, other people complaining. When I was a kid and I had to clean up after a party, I was the first one who ever thought of putting forty extension cords on a vacuum cleaner and going out by the pool to pick up forty million thousand peanut shells from the grass. Nobody else had ever thought of that. The dumb caretakers were too dumb. They'd just say, 'Go out and pick them up.' Well there I was picking them up with my fingers, but did I ever shock them when they were going back and forth on their lawn mowers and I was out there maneuvering my Hoover on the grass. That way it took me only five minutes to pick up the peanut shells.
"And then there's loose tea from teabags inside the box where I have the teabags. Lipton's tea. There's like, forty-five packages. Well, I take all the teabags out of the box and vacuum the bottom, because some of the tea has come out of the bags . . . and then, I get petrified that my neighbors are going to hear this vacuum cleaner going all the time and I keep wondering do they think they're listening to a room that has maid service at two in the morning and is preparing for a new guest? You know? I keep on forgetting I still have to vacuum all my shopping bags because they all have residue on the bottom. You know, there might be an odd little piece of paper at the bottom of the bags, a peanut, a granola, anything. I have to put the bag right on the floor and I have to put my two feet into it. Then I can put the hose to it. Otherwise, I mean if you hold the shopping bag and vacuum it that way, you vacuum up the bag. Then I vacuum-clean my plants. I have to be very delicate. I only vacuum-clean the dirt part, the bottom of the dish where the water's supposed to drain to. And very very lightly I vacuum-clean the dust off the leaves. Then I open up the air conditioner where the screen is and I turn off the air conditioner and I vacuum the screen inside the filter and then vacuum around the bottom of it and along the top and underneath and around the windowsill and if everything doesn't come off, if everything isn't right, I write on my pad of 'Things to Do' to paint the spot on the windowsill, to paint the part of the radiator that's turning brown.
"I might paint the vacuum too—green or yellow for the summer—and find a place for it. They're just so great. On the bottom, you can take the hose part with the suction, and screw it onto the bottom of the vacuum cleaner, and get blow-out air. One day I didn't have my hairdryer and I thought I could use that to dry my hair. So I attached the hose to the blow-out part and I blew out everything that was in the bag. It blew all over into little pieces of dust. One thing, you can always tell when your habits change by checking that bag.
"And A, you know how I care what the outside of my door looks like. I can hear the maid doing the hallway—she doesn't do it with a vacuum, she does it with a broom, and she vacuums the dust out of the room across the way with a broom too. Well, it's my territory and I feel that it's wrong of her to do that. So I have to vacuum up the hall. And one day, belligerently, because they don't wash the halls outside my room, I was out there with my African dress on and I was washing a wall, because I was testing a new product on their wall before I used it on my own. I was using Big Wally. I get all these products from television. So I was out using Big Wally on the walls and I was doing it and the maid kept looking at me, she wasn't saying anything. But I was giving the hint to her, like—'I know, the union doesn't let you do that.' " For some reason, this conversation was making me very hungry. But I was getting tired of plain grape jam. I wanted something more exotic, like guava. So I very gently put down the receiver and tip-toed into the kitchen. B talked on.
"That reminds me of art in the toilet. It started this way. One day I decided to tear up all the nude pictures of myself, i was vacuuming my Polaroids—I had just finished up vacuuming my checkbooks—and I decided that I had to vacuum all the little boxes where I keep my Polaroids because they were filled with food and hairs. I don't know if it happens to everyone, I don't know how I always get the stray hair in the drawer when I open it, I just can't figure it out. Anyway, I have to take all the Polaroids and like I did with the tapes I have to keep them all in order because they're all in files. So, this one day, I decided to go through the pictures of myself, all my self-photographs where I would kneel down, pull in my cheeks, put my tits together, and take pictures of myself. So I went through the file and the ones that weren't any good I tore up and put in the waste basket. And the next day the engineer came up here and he said—I'd called him to borrow another five dollars or something, because money is another thing like cleaning that I worry about terribly—but anyway, I asked him if I could borrow another five, and he said, yes, he's a Negro engineer, and then, he said, 'I have something very close to you right here.' and he patted his left-hand shirt pocket. And I said, 'What's that, John?' And he said, 'I've got it very close to me, right here,' and he took it out, and he had pasted it back together and there it was. A nude picture of me. Well, with that, I started to be really selective about what I sent down to the end of the hall. A lot of times now I take things in shopping bags out of the hotel and put them in the garbage can a block down on the corner. I have to go through the whole thing, because sometimes when I start to flush it down the toilet, I don't want the people across the hall to think that I have diarrhea for three hours while I'm flushing. Like TV Guide. Or an empty cigarette pack. I don't want to put them in the waste-paper basket because I want that EMPTY so I sit on the edge of the bathtub and I take two pages of TV Guide at a time and I tear it up into four or five pieces, put it in the toilet, flush, and I go through that with the whole TV Guide. You know, if I've come back from emptying the trash and I see, 'Oh, that's last Saturday's Guide.' Then I do it with an empty box of cigarettes. I take the silver paper out and I crumple that in a ball—I put that in the toilet—then I take the little box of Marlboros and make it into little pieces. I decided I can get pretty much down the toilet. Oh, then I remember that I've had milk sitting on the windowsill for four hours, and I think it's going bad, but I never taste it to see if it is, so I pour the milk in, and then I have to come in for the scissors because I can't rip the carton sometimes because of the arthritis in my left fingers so I have to cut the milk carton up into squares and flush that and that's about four flushes . . . HELLO . . . HELLO . . ."
"Hello," I said, returning just in time with some apple butter and a fresh spoon.
"I hate it when you leave me, A. If I could talk to myself I would, but I can't. That's why I need you." B was on the verge of tears. She is very sentimental about our conversations.
"Okay, I'm listening," I told her, unscrewing the brand new jar of apple butter.
"Sometimes I flush tons of food out. Like yesterday, I'll tell you what I threw away in the toilet. Do you want to hear?"
"What are you waiting for?"
"Okay, okay. I flushed down six times the heads of radishes, two plastic bags, one was a carrot bag, one was the radish bag, and one paper bag that the carrots and radishes had come in from the store. And then I flushed down the tops of the carrots and the bottoms of the carrots. Then I tore up the paper plate where I put the Krazy Mixed-up salt that I dipped the carrots and radishes into, and I tore up the paper plate and put that into the toilet. I flush each thing separately so that's fifteen flushes right there. Then, old pills I flush, too. And then, when I get very nervous when I hear the commercial on the radio. 'This is the one number you must know thump thump thump thump thump. Do you know your number? Have your blood pressure taken!' At that point I think I'm going to die so then I think, 'Oh, God! I better throw some of the pornography away.' So, back to the drawer of the Polaroids. Yesterday I decided to throw out the nude boys. I took the file card that says 'Cocks, Young,' and I tore it up to pieces and I flushed it, then I flushed the boys down. Then when I had muscle magazines to do the cock collages, people would give me the magazines, I was very paranoid that I was going to get busted with these magazines. So I cut all the cocks out and put them in a tiny little brown envelope, but then I had the magazines to contend with. I was too paranoid to leave them at the end of the hall so I had to cut each magazine into little squares and flush the muscle magazines down. Then I've got a lot of things that they say can't be flushed. I had a problem once when I flushed a dropcloth. That was when I had covered the rug with a plastic drop-cloth because I was having a boy paint the room, and after he was done I cleaned up the room, emptied everything, but I'd forgotten the dropcloth. So I cut it into four squares and I started to flush the dropcloth, and it became a bubble and it came out of the toilet. So. Art in the Toilet and Art in the Bathtub. A friend of mine told me that his psychiatrist had recommended as therapy that he fingerpaint while he was in the shower. So I really saw the fingerpaints in his apartment but not in the shower. Because if you fingerpaint in the shower on the tiles, it just washes away while you're taking the shower, it's all clean when you come out. So I decided to paint—when I stopped doing all that arty stuff and stopped buying Dr. Martin's watercolors, dyes and Magic Markers and all that stuff, because it made such a mess—I mean, I had to have a little glass of water, I had to have a little plastic thing to keep my brushes clean, I had to then clean my paint sets with something else, which was really a work in the toilet—to run water over a whole box of watercolors so that each color would stay its own color, because I'd get orange and green and black all in one little pellet, so I'd use up half a box letting hot water run into the watercolors and then try to blot it out with toilet paper and flush it down the toilet to clean the paintbox. So I said, 'No more painting, NO MORE ART!' Then I said, 'I've got to use up all these supplies, all the Dr. Martin's watercolor dyes so I can throw them out.' I would have thrown them out full but I said, 'To hell with it, I'll make a movie. I'll throw them out in the tub.' So I took pink and I just squirted pink down the bathtub. Then I took a little bit of turquoise blue and I squirted that next to the pink with a white towel in between and then I added a little water to it and got this beautiful pattern, and I put a sunlamp on top where the shower curtain is and it was beautiful, and I started to film it with a Super-eight movie camera and I emptied the bottle of dyes and they were in the plastic liners in the trash can, and then I just turned on the water faucets and I had a clean surface and I hadn't made a bit of a mess and yet I had a whole painting. I Polaroided it and I still have the Polaroid. Then I decided I could do Roy Lichtenstein in the toilet so easily. I wanted to get rid of all those little round balls that I have from the sixties Psychedelic Art sticker period, so I went through a drawer and as I went through I thought to throw all the dots from Childcraft, throwing all the dots in the clean white toilet and they were floating around and looking so pretty because the bowl was clean, I'd put Comet in before, green Comet—and used a johnny brush, so it was really white—and I took a Polaroid of the dots and it looked just like a Lichtenstein, and then I flushed the dots and the painting was gone. And then I had some little American flags—I don't know, I read on the street that you get arrested if you put an American flag on an envelope and so I thought I'd do some Jasper Johns on the toilet. I threw all my American flags into the toilet and then I had a Polaroid Jasper Johns. I did a Warhol in the john too, using the Dr. Sertoli's liners from the insides of my shoe. They were really ratty and they were sticking to my feet, so I thought I might as well get rid of them. So I put them in the toilet and took the Polaroid and they looked like the dance-step painting. Flushed those down. It was hard for me to do a Rauschen-berg so I just threw an announcement for his show down. I flushed it and it stayed up so I had to cut it. It's the same thing with the laundry. In a way, watching something flush is like watching the spin cycle in a laundry-mat. Or drying in a dryer. You get incredible patterns. When something's on a spin cycle, even if it's a print—all prints of tulips and everything—it looks like a Kenneth Nojand in the dryer. It has all straight lines. Just on the spin cycle. Or in the dryer when it's going really fast. Or on the extractor cycle. I buy Marlboro hard in the carton and when I take them out of the carton I take the cellophane wrapper off each box and I open the lid and take that one little silver paper out, because I know I'll have to do that eventually, so to save time I do all ten at once, throw them down the toilet and put the cigarettes in the drawer, so when I go to get a pack of cigarettes, I don't have that to do any more. Sometimes, I smoke just to make space in my cigarette container. Anyway, I'm always photographing whatever I put in the toilet and then I photographed when I peed. To give it a good effect, I like to wipe myself and then throw the cigarette I was smoking between my legs—I burned myself once that way. And I throw the cigarettes into the toilet because I'm always trying to stop smoking.
"And I throw out the covers of Oui so the hotel manager won't know it's a dirty magazine. I throw out things I don't want people to see."
"Can you hold on," I interrupted, rather politely I thought. I could have just put the receiver down quietly and snook away. "I have to go pee."
"I can't, A." "Okay, hold on."
I ran to the bathroom—and ran back. "Okay," I said.
"I'll tell you another thing," B said. "I don't like to go to the John any place but here. I'd rather come all the way home to go and then go back. But at some point I really have to."
"That's just like me," I said, wondering if way-back-when I picked up this idea from B or she picked it up from me.
"Anyway, last night I walked across the street to the deli and bought a sandwich, a beer, a cake, frozen cake, orange, Sara Lee, some ice cream. Came home, ate the sandwich with my coat still on because I wanted to throw away the paper it came in and drank the beer, too, so I could throw away the bottle. Then I thought I couldn't wait for the cake to defrost. I really didn't want butter pecan ice cream, I wanted Haagen-Dazs new honey ice cream but they didn't have it. Of course I couldn't wait for the ice cream to pour or the cake to thaw so I chewed them both. I'm so edgy that just waiting for the elevator drives me crazy. I still have a quarter of the orange cake left and all I want to do is throw out the plate, so maybe I can become undepressed right now if I flush the cake down the toilet and don't eat, to throw out the plate. I can prove right now that cleaning is more important than eating to me. I flush the cake down the toilet and put the tin box in the waste basket. Now I have to get dressed to take the basket out because it has something in it. The silver tin won't flush. It just floats on top. A number of times I've gotten really nervous because I've had a flood. What I was flushing down was 'pokers,' because I got very nervous and thought, 'Today they're going to get me.' I got nervous and flushed. Well, the plastic poker flushed but the sewing equipment stayed at the bottom right near the hole. They didn't flush. You can throw all your needlepoint needles down the toilet and they don't go down, they just sit there at the bottom. Well, I had to fish them out. So I had to put on the yellow lined gloves again and it was very hard with rubber gloves to pick up the needles. So I put—first, I put more Comet in to make the toilet clean and some Sani-Flush and I flushed again, I knew the needle wasn't going to go down, so I had to pick it up and put it in a Marlboro box, and I knew that the Marlboro box always goes down, so I put the needle in and out like I was sewing it. In the cardboard. And wrapped it up and it went down and my worries were gone. Then all of a sudden the toilet started to bubble. And when I flushed it again it went up to the rim. It didn't really go over the rim; it just stayed there. I could have dived in. You know? I said, 'Oh, I don't have a plunger and I'm broke.' I called the engineer. I said, 'John, I can't understand it, my toilet's overflowing.' He came up here and he said, 'Was it anything?' And I knew it was not like what any other girl would probably worry over, like a Tampax. I was just scared about the Marlboro box, because I knew that if it came back up it would be all soggy and there would be the sewing equipment visible right there. Then nothing seemed to come up and he asked me what I'd put in there and I said, 'Nothing, maybe a lot of toilet paper and a bar of soap, I think.' Because I always put the soap in when the Yardley's gets down to very small. I don't dig small cakes of soap. Anyway, he's plunging and I'm thinking of all the things that are going to come up. Well, I'm asking him questions about where does it all go, because all of the stuff that I've flushed for the last ten years was probably going to back up in my toilet just then. I wonder where it really does go. I flushed as a child too. I flushed everything I didn't want my mother to see. Flushing doesn't take as long as burning. Now, you can burn a letter with dirty words up in an ashtray. But God it takes so many matches just to do that little thing when you can just flush it. Anyway, after I clean my room I still have to clean my body. I don't really have any set routine of getting up and taking a bath in the morning or taking a bath at night because I can get up any time, clean any time, vacuum, flush—I just do it when I'm in the mood. My bath can be at night, in the afternoon, or in the morning. But before I take it, I have to know that I'm well stocked. With everything I'm going to need. I used to really love creams. I used to go to drugstores and spend a hundred dollars on all these different eye moisturizers and under-eye creams and all that total junk, and I realized that when I put it under my eyes when I went to sleep, I'd wake up and my lashes would be stuck together with crust on them and everything, and I kind of just began to get simpler, to eliminate some products, and yet I still just have to buy every new thing I see. I use this stuff called Time Spa, which comes in a big jar and it's a dollar ninety-five. And yet I also go and buy the essence of the same stuff which is much more expensive and comes in little packets. First I put that in the tub. I use half the jar, it's like a quart jar. I run lukewarm water in the bathtub. And I get in when the water is a quarter filled. Because when I get in, you see, it goes up pretty high. So I don't want to waste the stuff, you know? So I get in and I lie flat down in the tub with my legs sort of up because I really can't fit in the tub that well. I'd sent away for this pillow on a box of Q-tips—'Send-Away-Pillow-for-the-Bathtub.' And I thought I'd get a yellow one. So I blew it up and I suction-cupped it to the back of my tub so I can lay flat in the tub and rub hot water on me. The first thing I start to wash is my shoulders. I haven't gotten my hair wet yet, and I'm still lying down, and I've put an old ratty scarf around my head. Just so I can relax and get my neck clean. Because I'm going to take a shower after this anyway, to rinse this bath off. So I just start with my left arm, that's the first thing I scrub with my terry mitt that I put my whole hand in, then I scrub my chest, then I scrub my left leg and my left foot. I hate this foot business, because it means reaching down or lifting up, it means bringing the foot up to my mouth or sitting up in the tub like I'm at the typewriter and bending down to wash my feet. First I do it with the mitt. Then I use a vegetable brush. And I scrub like hell the soles of my feet. Then I use pumice stones called Weiss. I used to use Dr. Scholl's pumice stones but they had sulphur and the smell was so disgusting I'd have to let the tub out again just after doing my feet because there'd be all these little flakes of black stuff from the sulphur. So I found this thing called Weiss. It's German and you let it float in the water for a second, let it get soft. First I pumice-stone my heels, and up the sides of my feet, and then my toes. Then after I've done that to both feet, I'm all totally out of breath and I have to lie back again. I still have to go through the thing of reaching again and going up and down because the razor is at the end of the tub near where the faucet is. And every time I take a bath I take the razor, and I put a little soap under my arms and I shave down under both arms. Then I squat down further in the tub so my leg is sort of touching the pole in the shower and I start to shave my legs. I kind of rub them with soap, a little loose soap and water, and then I shave the hair on my legs, and then I shave the hair on both big toes. And then I open up the razor and run lukewarm water over it, because I once found a razor where the hair was stuck to the blade and it made me sick. I don't ever touch my face in the bathtub. Then I wash my cunt. I kind of lie there. I do that with my mitt too. And if I have a Tampax in I have to stand up again, in the tub, and pull it out. Because even if I have my period I want to pull the Tampax out and still do a good scrubbing. I mean, I don't scrub up inside or anything like that, but I do scrub on the outside. I scrub my fanny, but I don't get anal. I don't go in there for a separate operation. I know it's getting clean just sitting in the water. Then I always put the soap right back. I hate soap when you get it out of the soap dish and it has gotten all soft and slimy. That makes me throw up. Then I just lie there for another ten seconds and I let the water out of the tub. Then I decide, well, since I've gotten the end of my hair a little wet, I may as well wash it. I move the yellow bathroom rug that's hanging over the top of the shower because I don't want it to get dirty because then I'd have to take it to the laundry. I get under the shower and with lukewarm water I just wet my hair and then I wring it a little bit and then I decide which shampoo I'm going to use. I get a nice lather UP and I massage my head with my fingers really great. Near my temples. And then up at the top of my head. Then I rinse with lukewarm water which I let get colder and colder and colder. So then my hair is rinsed and I just take like a big blob of water in my hand, like a cup, and I splash that on my cunt and make sure all the soap is off. Then I turn the water off and I take the green—because my bathroom's yellow and green—I take the green sponge and wring it out. I always have to sponge down the ConTact paper on the wall because it begins to peel off, so I sponge from the ceiling all the way down, then I sponge the chrome bar, and then I look at that and get really depressed because there's some rust on it, and then I do the walls just to get them dry. Then I bend down outside the shower because now there's a big puddle where the water's gone and I sop that up and then I squeeze the sponge back in the tub. Then I put a white mat on the floor, put a towel around my head, tie it in a knot, and then I sort of shake myself a little bit—I like to do a kind of bird motion with my arms. And then I put on my yellow soft terry-cloth bathrobe. I learned that from the French husband of a friend. And then I use a whole brand new towel, I just stick it between my legs. You know? Then I get the hairdryer out and turn the air conditioner off. So I don't blow a fuse. Then I plug the hairdryer in and I stand in the bathroom with my legs apart, and I hold the dryer and I dry my pubic hairs. But I'm more interested really in drying the insides of my thighs. Because if they're at all wet and I put my underpants on and walk around with wet between the thighs, I can't stand it. It really hurts. When it's completely dry I just take a little bit of baby powder and with my hands softly put a little on. And then I have a comb that's like a comb for the purse. And I just sort of fluff up the pubic hairs a little. But then I never finish, because I always think, 'My God, why am I bothering to fluff them up so they come as far out as my stomach?' And every two months or so when I feel they're getting a little long I take regular art shears and clip maybe an eighth of an inch off so it's always neat. I did it once too much and it itched terribly. I walked down the street and it was just insane. A, are you there? Are you bored?" "No."
"No, I know, because this is important. Cleanliness counts, it interests you, you believe in it, I know. So—then I look at all my hairs and start to wish they would all go gray in a year. I think how beautiful it would be to be Prematurely Gray. But then I remember, 'You think you're going to be prematurely gray but you're mature already.'"
B was so involved in our conversation I figured I could make a quick dash to the kitchen to switch from apple butter to orange marmalade.
". . . on a Sunday and the stores aren't open. And Bren-tano's in the Village isn't open yet and I don't feel like goofing next door in Azuma's with the wicker laundry baskets until Brentano's opens. And I know that the man I don't like is on duty at Bigelow's Pharmacy on Sixth Avenue. So what I do is I put the immersion coil in my cup and plug it in, and then I take a spiced teabag and I put it in the cup, and when it cools off I wash my face with the tea. That makes my skin very firm and takes away the wrinkles. Then after I take the tea off I decide to give myself a masque, and there's a coffee masque—this is the newest one that Revlon's makes—a coffee-musk masque. It's really strange to feel a masque drying hard on my face. I put the egg-timer on so I know when to take the masque off because I like to hear the little bell. I either use the coffee-musk masque or the egg masque or the medicated masque, or the old-fashioned masque. The first masque I ever used had a very famous name I can't remember, well anyway, it was a mud-pack. And I used to do that in the country, but I got to thinking that it couldn't be good for your skin, sticking all that damn mud on it. And I thought, 'I'm certainly not going to henna myself. That's all I need with the size of my body—henna hair.' Then, oh, then, sometimes I plug my vibrator in. This is after I've set my hair and everything and I'm still working on a few things while I'm nude. Since I can only see down to my breastbone in both of my mirrors I feel like I need a massage on my shoulders. So I take the vibrator out. And I put on the legitimate attachment, you know, not the little tiny suction-cup attachment that, you know . . ."
I tip-toed back to the phone and picked up the receiver very carefully. B usually hears me doing this but today was special, she was talking about the subject she's most involved in, keeping clean.
". . . and then I rub a little bit of turtle oil into my shoulders. Okay, sometimes I actually use Ben-Gay. Or else, hold on, I'll tell you what it's called . . ."
I couldn't believe it, B was running off and leaving me with nothing to listen to. That's the problem, she gets so involved in whatever she talking about she sometimes forgets that it takes two to . . .
". . . Here it is, it's called Exercaine External Analgesic and Anesthetic Spray and I just love it. I spray that on my shoulders, I really massage it in. And then I have to clean the vibrator and everything because I don't want the smell of Exercaine in the bag I keep the vibrator in. The only cream I keep in the vibrator bag is old-fashioned Elizabeth Arden cleansing cream. Funnily enough, that's the best. Now, if I've set my hair and it's all sprayed crisp, it's already beginning to droop and fall apart at the center. So then I have to run around the top of my bureau drawer and put it up in what I call my 'Debbie.' And my 'Debbie' is just like a Yorkshire terrier tuft on top. I used to use rubber bands just so my hair wouldn't fall in my eyes. And I'm all neat and my blush-on is on and everything and I've massaged my shoulders with the vibrator and put the vibrator back into its bag. It's a little European makeup bag. Striped. Green and pink stripes. So the vibrator is back in the bag. But the sight of that bag. I keep looking at that bag. I think to myself, 'Oh, well, why not?' So I pull the blinds down. If I don't have two C-batteries alkaline on hand, I call the bellman and I say, 'Will you please go across the street to the camera store and bring me up two C-batteries alkaline.' Then while he's waiting for me to pay him I test them with my little professional battery tester. Then I pay him, tip him, he leaves, and I'm all set . . ."
I was beginning to doze off. B was talking about how since 1968 every time she had sex with someone she taped it and now she uses those tapes for atmosphere when she needs it. She went on and on describing the way she caters to her more personal needs but I only heard phrases between snoozes.
". . . long or short session . . . afternoon quickie? . . . Arden cream ... four pieces of Kleenex . . . come simultaneously with the tape . . . remote-control button ... try to be quiet . . . decided there's nowhere to go . . . just take another bath afterwards . . . machine du massage in Paris . . . had the current changed from two-twenty to one-twenty . . . reading the stories with my left hand . . . forgot the 'Don't Disturb' sign . . . strung it through a wire coat-hanger ... in one of the loops of the radiator . . . waiting to be electrocuted . . . what if my mother found me like that . . . rest of her life would be a trauma . . . Tiffany blue ... too prudish to buy the really big size, now I'm sorry . . ."
The doorbell rang and I snapped up and ran off to answer it. When I returned to the phone B was in a state of panic.
"A? ... A? ... A! You really freak me out when you leave me! A? A? A?"
"Hello? I had to answer the door."
"How could you? A, you know how much our phone calls mean to me. Eye contact is the worst contact to have with somebody—I don't care about that. Ear contact is so much better. This morning talking to you about all these things is just like the old days. I don't see anything in people really. I just hear things in them. But when you walk away from the phone it freaks me out. When you go off to another part of the house with the delivery boy or the plumber, I get really upset."
B paused. I guess she was upset because it was her first pause in an hour.
"I wonder if the pigeon on my windowsill knows what I'm doing," she said, when she caught her breath.
"I'm out of cream."
"That's okay, B. I have to go."