In Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man is Hard to Find, a grandmother goes on a road trip. She wears her finest organdy garments so in case of an accident, “anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”
We’re supposed to be put off by her superficiality. Deep down, though, I know that similar safeguarding of my own self-image, in case of doomsday or unexpected guests, has always been the key force pushing me to wash my dishes.
Just-shy-of-squalor is my default mode, and it makes no sense: the stacks of dishes routinely left unattended by a roommate were what spurred me on to solo living.
But it’s said we hate in others what we see in ourselves. I’d mastered my own dish-degenerate impulses and couldn’t bear such bad influence. It reminded me I was perpetually one skipped salad bowl away from ruin.
My prompt tending to the dishes, then, was a triumph—until recently, when my landlady stopped by on short notice. A Galluzzo native of a certain age, she oozes an impossible mix of housewifely know-how and career-gal chutzpah. I’m eager to impress her.
Surveying the flat, she exclaimed, “No one has ever kept it this clean!”
I beamed. But then she entered the kitchen. “It’s almost like you don’t even use it!”
Since then, my “sink=self” priorities have shifted. I leave something to soak each night for posterity, aware of my high risk of relapse. But in this country, a sink with one soapy saucepan and a few stray forks is a benign sign of life well-lived.
If I’m knocked over by an ATAF bus on the viale, at least Florentines will know at once that I cooked.
Rental Diaries column by Mary Gray is now a book, buy it directly or on Amazon.com