Time to Come Clean About an Urban Fetish

Today’s topic is cleanliness.

Now, cleanliness, per se, is not necessarily a bad thing, but like most everything else in a democracy, it can get out of hand. And I mean way out of hand.

My purpose in bringing up this important social phenomenon is to enlighten and to educate. If you recognize yourself, take heart. You are not alone.

(You are still sick , of course, but at least you are not alone.)

If you do not recognize yourself, however, there is still no cause to feel smug. Sure, today’s topic is cleanliness, but God knows what interesting urban fetish I might examine next time around.

And I know where you live.

All right. With that out of the way, travel with me, if you will, to somewhere in the vicinity of The Immaculate Zone, that scary nether world where only The Tidy Bowl Man might feel completely at home.

I am talking, of course, about a visit to a carpeted garage.

“What can I do?” says the lady of the garage. “I never was sloppy.”

Now let me say right here that despite the lady’s apparent lack of concern over her condition, she did in fact come to me .

She wrote me a letter (typewritten, no misspellings), she invited me over, and once I was there, she even served me coffee with real cream and poured into a china cup with saucer (no spills).


This can only be interpreted as her willingness to listen to reason, a feeling within her, albeit subliminal, that something is not quite right, that indeed, SHE HAS A SERIOUS PROBLEM FOR WHICH TREATMENT MUST START IMMEDIATELY!

Not that she came right out and said that, of course. Or suggested anything even remotely similar.

But, hey, no sense in getting bogged down with details.

It is important to this examination to mention that the lady of the garage is an artist. She lives in Laguna Beach.

Yes, yes. One of those. This artist, in fact, even has one of those artist names: Syroma. Just Syroma. Like just Cher, or just Madonna.

Or, for that matter, just Geraldo, who was my natural competitor on this story.

Hey, Geraldo ! How’s this?

Squeaky clean. What does that really mean? Could the squeak be a cry for help? Tune in today to find out. Meet a woman who believes cleanliness really is next to godliness. A martyr in the war against dirt.

But, as I say, Syroma is reluctant to accept the fact that she might be in immediate need of a 12-point program, even as she relays the broad hints of loved ones who only have her best interest at heart.

“They say, ‘You can’t be an artist. You’re too neat!’ ” Syroma says.

Syroma is smiling her lovely smile. She is a lovely lady, a widow with two grown children. She has been painting for some 50 years. But she just doesn’t see.

She goes on.

“The neighbors say, ‘Oh, you’re so meticulous!’ The neighbors just can’t get over the garage.”

Which is understandable. I mean, in this neighborhood especially. Let’s just say that sleepy seems to be the operative word around here.

There is a note by the door of one neighbor telling visitors to ring the bell. If there is no answer, the note says, it means the occupant is taking a nap.

She was.

So I didn’t get the neighbor’s firsthand opinion on Syroma’s garage. My opinion, however, is that it is clean, very clean. Syroma’s paintings adorn the walls. On nice days, she paints in here. A vacuum cleaner, a broom and a wastebasket are tucked in a corner.

Syroma has parked her car on the street for my visit. To make the car more comfortable when it is in the garage, she places a foam rubber mat under it while it rests on the carpeting.

“I understand some men are extremely neat too,” Syroma says. “I haven’t met any, though.”

Then Syroma pauses.

“I think you can be too much of an extremist, too,” she says.

Yes, Syroma! Sensing a possible breakthrough, I push on.

What bothers you?

“Litter on the street. I want to go and pick it up.”

Anything else?

“Marks on walls. Splashes on a mirror. They just annoy me to death. In public places, I have the urge to get up and wipe them clean.”

And what about at home?

“Dust. I can’t paint if I see dust. I have to get it all under control before I can paint.”

There. I think Syroma feels better. She is taking a deep breath. If this were TV, a camera would be zooming in for a close-up. Nope, no tears.

Except now I am feeling a bit unclean myself. Exposing the dark secrets of otherwise morally exemplary citizens can leave one with that slimy feeling.

But, of course, it is my duty to bring such uncomfortable realities to the public’s attention. To educate and enlighten, I mean.

Right, Geraldo?