Simulation of Bacteria on the Floor After Mopping
Distraught about the simulation of bacteria on the floor after mopping, we leave for our respective superstores in such a hurry that we forget to shut off our TVs. We can see them, the TVs, from the road as we pass, in our neighbors’ windows, or in the apartments across the alley from ours as we peek out a staircase window or up at the tired brick facades from the sidewalks below. While we’re gone, the latest mop-replacement advertisement airs a dozen more times during commercial breaks from afternoon soaps and talk shows, informing our kitchen appliances and living room sofas of the unwanted microorganisms dirty mops leave behind.
Yet at all our Walmarts and Targets and Krogers and K-Marts and BJ’s Wholesale Clubs, traditional mops are still a purchasing option. Why?
A stray ant or two carting bread crumbs across a marble countertop we can handle. But when we’re using a broom to scoot dust bunnies from behind the washer and we discover a colony forming around the base of a ripped dog food bag, no damp paper towel is quilted enough for us to attempt a raid.
This simulation, it is the maggots in the wet cat food dish we forgot to clean out last week.
What we mean is traditional options aren’t working.
The steam vac infomercial devouring the late-Sunday-morning-to-early-Sunday-afternoon programming block on the local cable station argues against the use of the latest mop replacement, whose disposable sheet can scratch dirt and grit like sandpaper across hardwood floors. We don’t trust infomercials, but when the same product is demonstrated with only minor errors live on QVC and HSN, the phone lines are flooded with orders. A sweet-voiced woman with a southern accent tells us she is buying a second steam vac for the studio apartment her lover rents downtown for their clandestine rendezvous.
“Those floors can get so filthy,” she says to the doe-eyed saleswoman.
Meanwhile, Larry Whitmore, an Iraq War veteran from Syracuse, NY, spots Lexi, the chipper SU senior from across the hall, lugging cleaning supplies into her apartment, including the latest mop replacement with a Wegman’s bag full of disposable sheets. She’s cleaning up after a small Super Bowl Commercial party she held the night before. He offers his assistance and his mother’s steam vac, on loan to him. While he’s steaming sticky alcohol and nacho cheese remnants from the floors he overhears her apologizing to another neighbor about the previous night’s noise, reciting a line from Williams about the crowd at the ballgame moving uniformly, without thought.
“I do that to disarm people,” she confesses. “Reciting poetry usually calms people down. Or at least makes them see you in a different light.”
He tells her later, over lunch, that he only remembers Williams’ red wheelbarrow.
“I can’t imagine anything nowadays holding such weight,” he says. “Can you?” And recites for her:
so much depends
a green Swiffer
covered with old
beside the trash
can and recyclables
They discuss the cultural, community importance of the red wheelbarrow to the implied farming family, like the bicycle in De Sica’s Bicycle Thief, so much unlike Citizen Kane’s Rosebud, which means nothing to the men who toss it into the furnace. They discuss how Kane’s wealth made all but sentimental objects meaningless to him. How this was the movement of the country Welles was perhaps trying to convey — from humble, impoverished pioneers to pretentious, community-impoverished capitalists.
Oh, we listen to them from the adjacent booths at Applebee’s, grumbling to ourselves. Who do they think they are? Who even watches Citizen Kane anymore? What kind of cultural importance does it have to anyone besides English majors and film school dropouts? Isn’t that the purpose of art? To be culturally important? To be important to a wide audience? To be important to a community as a whole?
What about our art? we want to argue. What about cavemen commercials and annoying ringtones that get stuck in your head? What about the one-liners from The Hangover or the lyrics sung on American Idol? These are the things we discuss around office water coolers. Why aren’t they important? So much does depend upon TV ratings: jobs, incomes, careers, stocks. Entire families and suburban developments. School districts supported by the sales of General Mills cereals.
Our art is a nation-wide means for sustenance.
Larry and Lexi don’t see that the steam vac brought them together. Not Orson Welles or William Carlos Williams. Not a mutual cultural background. Not love. But a steam vac. A steam vac, on loan from his mother, that Larry uses to break the ice, to impress a young woman he’d been eyeing for months. He’d come home from a day at Pep Boy’s and close his door to the empty hallway, only exchanging brief greetings with any neighbor that might happen to pass by. What kind of community is that?
We, on the other hand, gather in crowded living rooms for the series finale of Lost. We form Paris Hilton fan clubs online. Years from now, we’ll still be writing X-Files fan fic. We do things together. We make decisions about our culture, including traditional cleaning options, by fidgeting en masse on Black Fridays for doors to open. Early bird shoppers may form a semblance of a line, but by the time store managers are sweating with keys in hand we are like the simulation of bacteria on the floor after mopping: all movement, no order. Kill enough of us and things will start to sour. Shit will fester on the store shelves, unbought. Stagnant stocks will rot undigested in your portfolios.
We build cul-de-sacs and church steeples. We rent hourly motel rooms and spend fortunes on birth control and anti-abortion legislation. We donate to charities then die slowly together in nursing homes after states have absorbed our estates, our children bringing us reaching claws and sleeved blankets they ordered from a toll-free number, as seen on TV.
Danny Pelletier’s short fiction has appeared in Pear Noir!, Quarterly West, Monkeybicycle, and Night Train. One of his poems appears in the latest issue of Contemporary Haibun Online, and he has an essay at BookLifeNow.com. He lives with his wife and one and a half children in central New York, where he teaches writing.