The Form and the Substance

I am put out by the mess in my kitchen.
  January 28, 2003

My roommate Rajiv suddenly announced that he would be moving out soon.  I felt a weight lift off my shoulders, because I concealed from him my own intention to leave in April.  The deception was necessary to convince him to rent his room from me (so I thought).  Looks like each one of us played a game of cat-and-mouse with the other, except my mouse turned around and ate the cat.

As he told me about his plans, he looked nervous.  I suspect that he thinks I have a short fuse; what he does not realize is that it is an impression I cultivate deliberatey to ensure upper hand in any negotiations.  I had learned this lesson while working in a law firm in the Big Apple: surprisingly often, assholes get their way.  It takes practice to be an asshole without remorse but once mastered, the skill is invaluable.  For better or worse, I haven’t really practiced it since leaving New York.

To make up for the inconvenience he had caused, Rajiv promised to find a replacement for himself.  A couple of days ago he brought in the candidate.  It was someone he knew from work, a short, swarthy guy with dark hair and the mannerisms of a cat.  Gay, I think.  Not that I care.

Rajiv showed him around for about ten minutes while I stayed in my room and worked on some writing.  At the end of the tour the guest came in to meet me.

“Hi,” he said. “Are you the guy who’s staying?”

“Yes,” I said.

He had a sour expression on his face, like he smelled something faint but unpleasant.

“Your room is clean,” he said, “but over there, in the living room and the kitchen…” a weak wave of the hand indicated direction through the walls, a grimace indicated distaste, “over there it’s disgusting, no?”

Rajiv left the dishes in the sink and the unpacked boxes sitting out, I thought.  He never wiped clean the stovetop after cooking his curry.  Balls.

“There isn’t much of anything in the living room,” I said with an ingratiating smile.  “My old roommate took all the furniture.”

He squinted at me.  I did not like him much; his quiet disgust stung even worse than outright accusations of slovenliness.  The mess he spoke of wasn’t mine but I suppose there was guilt by association, since I tolerated it.

I tried to distract him by talking up the apartment’s strong points.  It’s a beautiful apartment in a beautiful neighborhood, so the task should have been easy.  He didn’t pay much attention, though.  In mid-sentence, he interrupted me with “What is this?”

He was looking at the notice ordering me and Lanie to show up before an Immigration officer (because we could be faking our marriage, you know).  I tacked the notice onto the big bulletin board over my desk.

“Who’s immigrating?” he said curtly.  “You?”

What does it matter? I thought.  None of your business.  “Yes,” I said aloud.

He grunted.  The atmosphere in the room was chilly.

“Well, I’ll let you know what I think,” he said, shook my hand and left.

“Hey, Rajiv,” I said to my roomate when the door closed.  “Tell your friend not to bother.”

Alone in my room, I pondered what had happened.  Someone, perhaps my mother, tried to convince me once that the state of a man’s household is a snapshot of his soul; the mess outside reflects the mess within.  The form is determined by the substance, so to speak.  I thought the connection was too neat.  Sometimes a mess is just a mess, not a bursting forth of some cluttered spirit.  In the course of nature the world slides towards chaos, of which kitchen messes are a subset.  The state of our souls hardly figures in this process.  Perhaps souls, too, degrade as entropy progresses, but that means they succumb to chaos rather than cause it.  In any event, I scrubbed the kitchen clean the next day.

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