Saturday, August 06, 2005

reclaimed shelving

This is a piece I intend to send to the editorial page of the local paper, once I've passed it by my employers for an okay.

I am up to my elbows in this strange black grease. The posts for the kitchen shelves are marked inch by inch with a number, and the highest number is 84, so 84 times I press my rag-covered thumbnail into each groove while spinning the pole with my other hand. Eighty-four little globs of ancient grease evicted, eighty-four grooves disinfected. There are sixteen poles, for four sets of industrial wire shelving. There’s no need to do the math: each groove needs to be clean.

In a twist of irony, the expanding Common Crow store purchased kitchen shelving from what was once McT’s, so you get the picture: I am removing years of cooked-on airborne grease from hamburgers and onion rings, fishermen’s platters and French fries. I am reclaiming shelving from a carnivore haven in order to serve customers shopping for organic groceries, including (but not limited to) vegetarians and vegans. Now, I am a carnivore, in fact an omnivore if you get right down to it, but I certainly don’t want any remnants of my last burger at McT’s to contaminate my current groceries. So I clean. I believe in recycling. So I clean some more.

My mother created two cleaning aprons for my husband and me to organize our housecleaning efforts when we were first married. I sent her a picture of the apron I wanted, with pockets for my cleaning razor and my putty knife, with loops for my spray-bottles, with a pocket the size of a gallon bag for trash and, in this case, congealed brown bits. For a joke, she designed these aprons in a Mickey Mouse print, so we would have more fun, I suppose. I did not ask her for aprons because I love to clean—I asked her for aprons because it is the kind of practical project she would love, a practical way to serve us. Scott’s apron is gathering dust on the hanger, but I will need his when I wear out my scrubby sponge pocket.

My first full-time job was serving on the work crew of a summer camp in northern Indiana, and all of us got to try a hand at every kind of chore: chopping wood, raking the beach, digging postholes, and of course, cleaning. Lorraine was my beloved supervisor, and she taught me how to clean every kind of surface that could ever need to be cleaned. I did not love cleaning then, either, but I loved working with my crewmates, and the sooner the work was done, the sooner the staff went swimming in the camp’s lake. I did not want the staff to wait in the truck until I cleaned the oven again, more thoroughly, so I learned my job, well.

At that time, also, I did not like to do cleaning tasks on my own—it felt like being banished and missing the action I felt sure was happening somewhere. Now is different. I am the mother of two small children, and doing any task without interruption, until the project is completed… well, it is so rare that it practically sets me to reverie just thinking about it. I could think my own thoughts! I could sing, if I want to!

I can see Pat and Kate, the owners of the Common Crow, are concerned I will feel insulted by the nasty cleaning task, or perhaps desperate to be stuck off in the new store working endless hours alone with my cleaning fluids and putty knife, but I don’t mind. I couldn’t do this every day, but it’s good work, work that needs thoroughness and patience and elbow grease. It requires a ridiculous amount of time, and to be honest, there is no hourly wage that could pay enough to do this work. It takes a bit of love, a bit of singing, a putty knife. I have all three.

Eight hours pass and I have used two ragged bathtowels, two scrubby sponges, two microfiber cleaning cloths and two bottles of heavy-duty cleaner. The underneath sides of the shelves are the worst, hiding a black mold, as well as the other stuff. My cleaning razor definitely needs a new blade and the entire cleaning apron needs a good wash to be freed from the smell of old grease.

There are good shelves here, for vegetables untainted by cooking grease. Or organic meat. I go home to shower off the gooey globs and wash my hair with some organic lavender shampoo from the store’s sample basket. I emerge to find a long thank you message on the answering maching from Kate for my heroic cleaning effort. The new and expanded Common Crow will open in a few weeks, and I’ve given a good effort toward the move. I play the message three or four times and sit down to a nice dinner my husband has grilled for me: hamburgers, thick and juicy, dripping with fat, just the way I like them.

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