Cleaning as Conquest

Design by Jack Reed

It is October 20th, and all of Warsaw roars as concert pianist Bruce Liu takes the stage. He delivers a perfunctory bow to acknowledge the audience of thousands who have waited six years to experience again the International Chopin Piano Competition. It’s a national treasure, the pinnacle of pianism. Yet he can hardly take any of it in—the performance of his young career is moments away.

The angst evaporates as Bruce takes the bench. The audience sits on the edge of their fold-down seats in rapt silence. Bruce’s right hand disappears into his left breast pocket. It emerges with a white handkerchief—his banner of aplomb and a portent of victory. He brings it to the shining ivories and polishes all seven octaves. There’s a holiness to the practice. The keys are cleansed. The show has begun.


When was the last time you did your laundry? Sometime this week, maybe? Sometimes these weeks? We don’t judge. Whenever it was, think about the drying machines. If you’re in the know, you cheat-code your way to a free spin cycle but are faced with certain defeat at the drier. The machine demands a dollar and fifty cents. To make matters worse, the mildewed lint trap needs emptying. You comply. Maybe you even lick the tips of your fingers before you wipe the screen—the lint releases easier this way. Into the trashcan goes the gray fur. No second thoughts.

But let’s unpack. The drier, a vacuous drum, is cleared and awaiting its next load. Your visage reflects off its aluminum innards—an illusion of ownership. To you, scraping the plush fibers is but a trivial cost of doing business with the machine. In that lint trap, however, live the vestiges of the previous user and all who came before. Fiber(s) from Susie Q’s sullied cable sweater. Chips of desiccated snot from Nira’s forgotten N-95. God forbid, the symphony of secretions lifted from John D’s fitted sheet. And your sweet hand—l’Ingénu—gathers it all in one fell swoop. Quite brazenly, we might add. Reader, do not fret. It is human, all too human. On earth, we are born; we make messes; we clean them up; we die. 

Often, the messes we clean are not our own. Have you ever lived in proximity to people with penises? Chances are you have. Chances are you’ve shared a toilet with them. Undoubtedly, you’ve approached the ivory throne to be greeted by a smattering of droplets about the seat. You may merely have a high-powered flusher on your hands. Odds are, though, it’s someone’s urine, and you can’t sit down until you clean it up. Perhaps you curse the anonymous bloke’s inability to aim their own dick. Like the laundry dust, though, you probably just do your habitual duty and wipe off the piss without a thought. 

Give it a thought next time. As long as we have to clean, we ought not to hide behind the veil of habit. Flourish in the act of cleaning. Let’s clean like Bruce. Remember Bruce? When he lifted his white handkerchief from the final C, he discarded the crumbled cloth between the tuning pins. Having removed the oils of piano players past, Bruce claimed the instrument as his own. Such a simple act yet so full of pride and dominion. Be like Bruce. Find virility in the lustration of communal space. Clean to take what’s yours. Erase the marks of others, and you will make a mark on this world, kid.

Leave a Reply