Thursday, August 5, 2004

En Vacances II: Je Reste Chez Moi

Well, here we are in day four of my vacation, and I feel ever so relaxed... despite the presence of Small Children in the house. I'm getting all sorts of sleep, and am spending loads of quality time in bed with books and movies, and it's simply Heaven on Earth.

On the downside, of course, I am not getting much of anything done... even the things I wanted to do during my vacation. I tried doing some fiction-writing yesterday, but I hardly got started before I was interrupted by an overwhelming desire to lay down again and watch some more early episodes of Brideshead Revisited (I can only watch the first five episodes, the halcyon days at Oxford and Brideshead; the later episodes depress me); while languishing there, Grandmother asked me to take her and the Small Children to Beverly's to find some handicrafts that will keep the children busy during their visit; and since I was already planning to go with my Daddy to the movies in the evening, that shot the remainder of the day.

And then today I had planned to go out to San Francisco to do some visual and atmospheric research at the municipal courthouse and around Polk Street, two settings in my story with which I am not as familiar as I ought to be if I'm going to write about them; but I woke up at eleven, which kind of shoots a big hole in my plan... by the time I get dressed and schlepp over to the City, the municipal courthouse will just be closing. So I'll try and get up early to do that tomorrow, and spend today writing and washing dishes instead.

The kitchen is a fright... though I've been able to keep up with the day-to-day dishes, which go in the dishwasher, I haven't touched any of the cookwear (knives, pans, wooden utensils) which have to be washed by hand. There's a big Tupperware bowl and some baking sheets that I know for a fact have been there since the Fourth of July. I rinsed them, they don't stink or anything, but they have to be scrubbed and hot-water-washed and all that jazz.

That's something that has always irked me about dishwashers: the only things you can put in them are the things that are easy to wash by hand, like plates and glasses and forks... but the things that are hard to wash, you can't put in there. What kind of sense does that make?

But then, a lot of the non-sense of dishwashing stems not from the limitations of the dishwasher and the special needs of the cookwear, but rather with the Grandmother's bizarre superstitions and prejudices about dishwashers. She feels you have to rinse the dishes so thoroughly before putting them in the dishwasher that you can't tell by looking at them whether they've been washed or not... so thoroughly that, if you'd had some soapy water on the dish instead of just clear water, you would have washed it already.

I point out to her that my experience has always been that just scraping the larger chunks of food off the plate or the fork is quite enough, but she doesn't believe me. She claims that sometimes the food doesn't come off, and then you have to wash it again and the heat-dryer seals the food onto the dish and makes it harder to get off. "So turn off the heat-dryer," I reply, but she'll have none of that, because then the dishes don't get quite dry enough. They do, eventually, as all things do eventually dry out once you cease to apply water... it's in the physics of the thing, but she simply doesn't believe it.

She further believes you can't put wooden utensils or knives or pots or pans into the dishwasher because the heat-drying cracks the wood and the handles; so turn off the heat-dryer? No, then they wouldn't get dry. So instead, it's better for them to lie around dirty for weeks on end (oftentimes in standing water which destroys the handles more surely than the heat-drying) instead of putting them in the dishwasher.

Well, it's all very medieval, but I guess it's better than hand-washing everything. But the more involved I get in housework, the more I discover that Grandmother's methods don't make any sense. For one thing, we have way too many pots and pans in this house: I advocate having just one of each kind of pot or pan, so you have to wash what you want immediately after using it, or immediately before using it, instead of letting them stack up all over the place; but Grandmother will use one skillet for bacon and another skillet for eggs and another skillet for gravy, one after the other, transferring the same bacon grease from one to the next, instead of doing it all in one; and then she has to use one particular cast-iron skillet if she's making the eggs over-medium and a different Teflon one if she's going to scramble them. As a result, we actually have at least nine different skillets; and at the moment all of them are dirty and stacked up at one end of the sink.

I have come to believe that the only way around this irrational method is to take over the entire housekeeping myself, from cooking to cleaning to laundry to gardening. My only other choice is to do it her way, with her. I haven't quite decided which road I am going to take in the coming years: I know how deeply resistant Grandmother is to change, and I respect that resistance because I share it; but when something's not working, it has to be changed.

One of the things that Grandmother and I argue about is how to affect change in the way we do things. For example, I once discussed with her methods by which we could keep the dining-room table tidy: I recommended, for one, that Grandmother stop clipping coupons and saving the parts of the newspaper that advertise sales; she doesn't ever use the coupons, and buying things just because they're on sale is a wasteful practice that ends up costing her more than it saves (buying a $5 object you ordinarily would not buy in order to save 50¢ on it means that you just wasted $4.50). Her answer was that she should use the coupons instead of not using them... which not only doesn't solve the problem but doesn't even address the point under discussion, that the dining-room table is a mess. Whether or not we use the coupons or take advantage of the sales has absolutely no effect whatsoever on how messy the table is with all these bits of colored paper floating around all over the place.

On the same token, I advised that she not cut out gardening and cooking advice columns from the newspaper, since she doesn't have the ability to carry out the advice anymore; again her answer is "I should be able to"... which simply doesn't address the fact that with her age and weight and arthritis she simply can't, and whether she should or not is entirely moot — and furthermore that even if she did follow the newspaper's advice, that doesn't prevent the bits of paper from littering the dining-table. Most aggravating.

One thing I have done in the last few weeks, starting when Grandmother was practically bed-bound and continuing now that she can get around a bit, is taking over the production of dinner. It occurred to me lately that, cost-wise, it is not much more expensive to eat prepared food all the time than it is to try to prepare fresh food all the time... prepared food comes in these convenient table-for-two portions, and fresh food always comes in great bulk that tends to get wasted. Bags of pre-mixed salad cost about the same as the various heads of lettuce you'd have to buy, and you use the whole bag, so there's less waste. We've usually eaten frozen vegetables instead of fresh, so why not have frozen entrees as well? They taste better than anything we could make, and though they have more preservatives and salt than fresh food, they have considerably less fat and other crap in them than what Grandmother cooks.

But dinner is only one comparatively small facet of the housekeeping routines (though my method cuts down considerably on the use of non-dishwasher cookwear), and leaves the kitchen and bathroom (which I really ought to clean more often for mere hygiene's sake), the wildly untidy dining table, the wildly untidy other parts of the house, and the entire hateful expanses of the garden to deal with.

Perhaps the answer is to hire a service. We have a gardening service to mow the grass and trim the plants, but they come twice a month and don't do the watering and don't tend the plants that Grandmother in her infinite farmgirl fantasies keeps planting (she always tries to grow tomatoes, and encourages the apple and peach trees to bear; repeated failures, tiny thick-skinned flavorless fruit, and the unbelievable expense of limb-trimming and plant-buying never dim her zeal). Similarly, a cleaning service would come in to mop and vacuum and dust, but could do nothing about the untidiness of Grandmother's end of the dining table, her corner of the living-room, and her bedroom (they would not be allowed in my rooms).

But it would still be something, a move in the right direction, dealing at least with the hygienic issues of dust and toilet-bowls and kitchen grease and what-have-you. I would certainly be willing to chip in for such a service, if not pay for it myself. But then, I'd have to resolve some of my more pressing financial issues first.

I can't quite believe I just spent all this time and energy writing about housework... if I had spent it doing the housework, I wouldn't have much of anything to write about.


So anyway... the movie I saw with Daddy last night was Fahrenheit 911. It was a powerful experience, moving and affecting. It didn't change my views so much as it reinforced them; and though I know Michael Moore has an agenda and an axe to grind, and that many of the scenes portrayed in this film were melodramatic or unnecessarily sentimental, it was good to see all of the solid factual research that also went into it. Daddy liked it, too (and wonders if the soundtrack is available), though he got a little choked up at the end when that woman was talking about losing her son in Iraq; with his grandson (my nephew) possibly on his way over there, his life in extreme danger, the episode had a great deal of resonance.

My problem with this film, and films like it, is that it preaches to the choir. Nobody in that theatre had his mind changed by what he saw... those who believe otherwise from Michael Moore and Daddy and I (like the Grandmother) will not see this film. The nature of our media-driven society is that there is too much information out there at any given time; one has to pick and choose what one sees, and it is natural to choose to see and hear that with which one already agrees.

That is the secret of the success of Fox News: it convinces the ignorant, the uninformed, and the simply stupid people of this nation that they are in fact quite learned, informed, and intelligent... they present their information in tiny dramatic pieces that even the meanest intellect can grasp and remember... and having convinced them of this fictional intelligence, can tell them anything else they like, no matter how fantastic and irrational.

It is the same trick the Republicans are currently using, aligning themselves with the recidivist tendencies of the Great Unwashed: "Scared of all this progressive social change? Pissed off that you can't beat up broads or niggers or fags or even your own chilluns anymore? Terrified that you might possibly be wrong in your beliefs and traditions? Well," (says the Republican Party via the Turner-and-Murdock-strangled right-wing media), "you're right to feel that way! You may not have much book-larnin' but you have good folksy common sense: so support this other moron we put in office, who can't remember his lines and mispronounces common words, because he's just as smart as you are." And having been convinced of this, the newly-enfranchised sheep will obligingly look the other way while you rape the resources of the nation and line your and your friends' pockets with billions and billions of public dollars.

So now I'm talking about politics... somehow I felt on surer ground when I was talking about dishwashers.


Well, anyway, I had better get along with the rest of my day. I have those dishes to wash, and now I have been drafted into helping Caroline enter some stupid contest where she might get to meet Duran Duran. Like I have nothing better to do than help her find a cream-colored necktie and take pictures of her dressed as Simon LeBon in the Rio video. The things I do for my friends.

No comments:

Post a Comment