I was giving the ol' shower and tub a scrub yesterday, enlisting my friends the Scrubbing Bubbles to help me fight the good fight against soap scum and mildew.
I had about three different chemicals going, forming a low-hanging noxious cloud that could fell a housefly at six paces.
It even managed to make the mildew rethink its plan for Manifest Destiny in my tile grout.
And as I was scrubbing, balancing precariously, and burning out all of the mucous membranes of my nasal passages and throat, a sage warning from long ago passed into my consciousness:
"You'll burn your ass."
Those were the words of our college janitor, a tall, otherwise monosyllabic man we called "Lurch." Like the insights of Plato, Aristotle and Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski, the wisdom carries on.
Lurch had come to us like a runner-up in the Great Beauty Contest of dorm cleaning. The mediocre understudy to the Broadway star's shining talent. It was partially because of Suzy, the bathroom-cleaning dynamo and surrogate mom we'd come to love our last three years, that our new friend could simply never measure up.
Suzy knew all of our names. She remembered what classes kids were struggling with, what majors were were in, and who our friends were. She gave us advice and soothed rotten days and Suzy also cleaned a little. Or a lot, really. Because when she left-- to paraphrase Timbuk 3-- the bathroom was so bright we had to wear shades.
It was her skillz that took her away from us, to first a higher-end dorm and then a more important staff building. And that was when we got Lurch.
"Good morning," we would say to the figure, looming and lurking in the janitor's closet.
"Mnnmmmnnng," Lurch would say, peering down on us with a gaze that always made us feel just a little undressed.
This was how things went each week.
Followed by that look again that made ya want to take a shower. But soon, the shower wasn't looking so shiny, either.
Mold began to creep in on the tile walls and floors. And my roommate and I had to develop a special showering technique where the arms and elbows didn't extend too far past our persons-- lest we bump into something on the walls that might want to bump back.
I called the housing department and reported it. "There's something growing in my shower. I think it knows my name."
Which, interestingly, was more than Lurch did. But then we didn't know his, either.
The funny thing was, for nothing being very clean, Lurch was always around. Hanging in the stairwells, lurking in the cleaning closet, waiting by the common room, wandering in the laundry. The creep factor had increased four-fold, while the clean factor had reached a new low.
Until Lurch discovered lye.
At least that's what we think it was. The wall of chemical fumes would envelop the hallway accompanied by a thousand roaring flushes.
And that's when Lurch said to us the only words we ever did hear him say. "Don't sit on the pot for a half hour," he told us, pointing to the toilet. "You'll burn your ass."
I don't know what he'd applied to that toilet seat, but we didn't test it to find out. And for the rest of the year, whenever we saw Lurch hanging around the stairs, lurking in doorways or emerging from a cloud of chemicals, his words of warning came back to us. "Don't sit on the pot. You'll burn your ass."
Ah, dear Lurch-- you renaissance man of domestic engineering philosophy. Scrub on, man. Scrub on.