Dust, dirt, clutter, filth, love

Everyone has their tipping point. It's personal.

Dust I can endure until I can endure it no more, at which point I, well, dust. Same with dirt, time to clean. Clutter bothers me but only of a certain kind. Like others who like the arts, I am not troubled by piles of books or art leaning against the wall begging for a good hanging. There's at least one framed picture in this room right now that's been begging for a hanging for well over a year and several that I need to put away. I also like to cook, and though I know a well organized kitchen would make that pleasurable activity easier, my cabinets are a mess. Like hanging the art or putting the books in shelves I keep telling myself I must do it soon -- and eventually I do. I guess among other things I'm a procrastinator.

Filth is another matter. I don't need floors so clean you can eat off them because, who eats off the floor? Oh yeah, dogs do. Go to it, pups! I can tolerate a certain amount of uncleanliness until I reach that personal tipping point and it's time to clean up. Since filth is usually accompanied by bad smells that tipping point is reached through the nose, even if I have ever-so-natural crystals and sprays to sweeten the air. Time to reach for the -- also ever-so-natural -- cleaning fluids.

How do they affect my affect? My first loves, like most folks', were my folks. Mom kept as clean a house as someone who worked full time did. Born in the manger of machismo, it never occurred to me that I should do some of the cleaning. It never occurred to my mother either. It occurred to every other woman I knew since. Welcome to America.

They say if you're going for the long haul with a woman, say marriage, you should look at the mother. They usually mean looks, and in my case, yes, my mother-in-law was lovely and judging from photos a knockout in her early years. What they don't say is look at how she keeps house. Hers was immaculate. Her daughter inherited that but not her mom's definition of a wife's duties. Thanks Ms Friedan, whose book set Ms. Fernandez -- she never bucked at my surname -- on a mission to join the founding mothers of the women's liberation movement. I cheered. I was also expected to clean. Ratz!

Over the years, with a handful of long-term relationships, or relationships that were moving toward the long term, I encountered a wide range of attitudes.

The extremes. One love was such a . . . I can't think of a polite word, let's just say her place was such an amazing display of disarray that a writer who sublet it for a while was so horrified that he went on to write a piece about it in a major publication. Another had an impenetrable kitchen -- she didn't cook -- where something dismal grew, a veritable sci-fi horror.

The other extreme. In the heat of passion someone confessed being a neat freak. When things got unhappy for other reasons, the neatness didn't help: I've never been accused of being a neat freak. Others were neat in less extreme ways but their aesthetics and mine did not play nice. And one would agonize about vacuuming, go buy a state of the art vacuum cleaner, wonder at its stealth when she used it, put it away, and continued to agonize. Frankly my dear, vacuuming is a very tiny virtue, very tiny.

Even if on the same aesthetic groove, there can be issues. Like cleaning bathrooms and scrubbing kitchen floors, both activities I tend to put off or, when I can, pay someone else to do. I had a love long long ago who loved cleaning bathrooms. To the girl who would love to clean my bathroom/and now does it only for her husband. (Sing with Julio Iglesias echo and vibrato or Willie Nelson nasal funk).

This issue is not only confined to romance. A young lady closely related to me never cleans or picks up her space. When she first had it decorated with moderne furniture and walls painted jungle green, her old nanny, a Central American, saw her sitting in the bed and said she looked like an iguana. She meant it as a compliment. No iguana would live there now. Still, I love that girl.

What's to be learned, if anything? That it's all personal. After all we're talking about affect. We can love in spite of something that's supposed to be awful. We can love precisely because something that's supposed to be awful. Or we can just not notice the awfulness because we're too busy noticing other things. In the end, as Mexican matinee idol Arturo de Cordova said in an old movie and Guillermo Cabrera Infante quoted often, eso no tiene la menor importancia.