I was on the phone last week trying to convince my friend O to visit San Francisco for my birthday weekend. He hemmed and hawed in his usual attempt to make me act like he’s doing me a favor by showing up and crashing at my place, and as usual, he was getting what he wanted. I was telling him that he was welcome to stay the entire weekend at our place and eat all our food, which he accepted with customary disdain.
“Do you guys still live in squalor?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled and slightly miffed.
“Am I going to have to sleep on boxes and boxes of shit again?”
“No!” I said, taken aback. “And you never had to. You have always slept on a bed here. I have never made you sleep on anything less than a mattress.” I paused. “Wait…you think the Boyfriend and I live in squalor?”
“No, it’s not squalor,” O said innocently. “It’s not squalor at all…if you put away the boxes, throw out the trash, vacuum and shampoo the carpet, wipe down the counters, wash the mountain of dirty dishes in your sink–”
“Oh my god,” I interrupted, aghast. “You actually think we live in squalor.” A pang of guilt and embarrassment shot through my stomach like a displaced menstrual cramp.
“–and clean out your fridge,” O continued. “Your fridge is disgusting. It’s a breeding ground for all manner of blue-green anaerobic fungi that can’t survive in higher temperatures.”
“Oh my god,” was all I could think to say again.
“Well, you can do something about it.”
“See, the thing is, you know I don’t give a shit if I live in squalor, but now I feel bad that I had to drag the Boyfriend down with me. For all these months.”
“Well, the place was a shithole before you moved in.”
“Think of it this way: you’re messy but not that bad on your own. But the Boyfriend is just as messy as you are, and from the looks of it, your roommate CB isn’t any better, and the three of you combined is a disaster.”
“This is all my fault.”
“I mean, sure it got worse after you moved in, but you shouldn’t feel bad. Just do something.”
“You have completely mortified me.” The pang from earlier had spread from my stomach into the rest of my body. I was frozen by shame. “Like, you don’t even know.”
“I’m glad I can galvanize you to do something. All I’m saying is that you guys are on a freeway to a place you don’t want to be, and there’s an exit coming up soon. You need to take that exit instead of being stuck on the freeway for another 40 miles.”
“Yup, it’s what I tell people at work to motivate them.”
I pondered and digested his words. However, there was still something I couldn’t let go. “So…do you actually think we live in squalor?” I asked again. “I mean, real squalor?”
“Forget what I said! It’s not squalor until you have 7 or 8 Mexicans living in one place and 2 of them are homeless.”
“You are awful. And I’m not talking about the Mexicans.”