Mr. Clean and the Dusty Table |

Mr. Clean and the Dusty Table

Barry Smith

Come back with me, if you will, to the year 1983. I am 17, and my brother, Bryan, around whom this tale revolves, is 11.Let me set the scene. Our father, &quotDad,&quot likes things nice and orderly. And clean. Really, really clean. Because of this, the topic of cleaning was a popular one around the house.Example:BARRY: &quotDad, I got an A on that chemistry final.&quotDAD: &quotDid you clean the bathroom like I told you?&quotAnother example:BRYAN: &quotDad, I am at a difficult age, and am having trouble relating to my classmates. Perhaps you could offer some words of advice?&quotDAD: &quotDid you clean the bathroom like I told you?&quotThe way Bryan and I remember it, the better part of our weekends were spent cleaning. As mid-week rolled around, Dad would start reminding us that the weekend was approaching, and that we would be cleaning the house when the weekend came. Again.&quotI will not live in filth!&quot he would proclaim come Thursday, the anticipation of a good weekend cleaning session obviously getting him all giddy. He said this with the zeal of a man who was standing knee-deep in squalor.At 17 I had not yet embraced the subjectiveness of reality, so each time Dad started on the filth speech I was like, &quotDude, show me some filth!&quotI mean, our house was clean. To say that you could have eaten off the kitchen floor was a given – in our house you could have eaten soup off the carpet and not had to worry about errant fibers.Come Friday, there was a spring in Dad’s step, because he knew the burden of filth would soon be lifted. He’d remind us in the morning before school, and then again when we returned, and then again before bed, that tomorrow was the day we CLEANED! His eyes got a faraway look when he said that word.And then Saturday came, and we cleaned. And then we cleaned some more. We cleaned surfaces that hadn’t even been given a fair shake at getting dirty yet. Dad cleaned with the focus and passion of a religious zealot. And sodid we when Dad was nearby. Otherwise, we did as little as possible, opting instead to stare out the window as yet another precious, sunny California Saturday raced by.Sunday was only a half day of cleaning. We washed cars in the morning, did yard work, then had a full six hours to embrace the frivolous distractions of youth. On Sunday nights we joined for dinner.Now the scene is set. Let’s pick up the story there:Dad is offering his usual Sunday evening critique of the weekend’s cleaning performance. And, as always, he is unhappy with the results.He’s grilling Bryan about the things he did and didn’t clean. It’s what was known as &quotfamily time.&quot&quotDid you vacuum under the bed?&quot&quotYes, sir.&quot&quotNo, you didn’t. Did you clean the shower grout?&quot&quotYes, sir.&quot&quotNo, you didn’t. Did you dust the living room?&quotThis was a deadly question, because the living room was RIGHT THERE next to us.&quotYes, sir.&quot&quotNo, you didn’t.&quot&quotI did,&quot Bryan insisted.Dad pointed to the nearest bit of furniture and ordered: &quotRun your fingers across that table and I bet they get dusty.&quotBryan put down his fork, stood up and approached the table. Extending two fingers, he then proceeded to, as commanded, &quotrun&quot them across the table as if they were a miniature person out for a jog. Doink, doink, doink wenthis fingers, happily bounding across the table, a triumphant smile spreading across his face.I knew at once that this was the funniest single event I had ever witnessed, and began to laugh accordingly. So did Bryan. So did Jan, our step-mom. We doubled over and laughed hard. Dad tried to hold it together, sputtering afew words about filth and back-talk, but he quickly broke down and laughed, too. He’d been had.Goliath, in the form of a gigantic Mr. Clean, had been felled by a pair of sprinting fingers.And no one ever even bothered to check them for dust.Aspen-based writer Barry Smith moves his lips while writing this column, and hopes you do the same while reading it. E-mail him at or visit his Web page at

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