[High Standards, 1,286 words, Genre: Realistic Fiction]
* Image courtesy of Dirk de Bruyn
There was something odd about the request. It wasn’t unreasonable, far be it from ludicrous, it was just odd given the circumstance. Perhaps Edward had taken George Carlin’s rant on the subject to heart. He had the habit of finding wisdom in the words of comedians. When he heard George Carlin discussing the reasoning behind bacteria and cleanliness, he saw truth to it. In a world where tiny microscopic organisms latched onto every unclean surface, the human race was in a losing battle to defeat the unseen world of bacteria. George Carlin had reasoned out that our immune systems have developed in harmony with these microscopic creatures, waging a war against them with commercial cleaning products was nothing more than a war with ourselves. Carlin had Edward convinced that this has been just another issue in which human beings could raise a complaint, to impose their own personal standards onto others. For the majority of the time, bacteria isn’t going to kill us; it’s testing us, it’s helping us evolve, it’s developing our immune systems to become an indestructible shield against hostile environments. The kicker of Carlin’s diatribe was when he went on to assert that you don’t always have to wash your hands; unless you’ve pissed on them; gathered a bit of faecal matter; or contaminated them in some other extreme way, there was very little point in washing your hands at every single instance. That was the part that caused the malfunction in Edward’s behaviour. Some would see it as a malfunction, others not so. Comedians are, as the name suggests and probably shouldn’t be taken seriously, however they have a habit of pointing out people’s peculiar idiosyncrasies. Whatever the case was, Edward had misjudged his company.
Edward had been looking for a room to rent for a long time now. He had set up a time with a couple of bachelors who shared a three bedroom apartment in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne. Jan and Curtis were their names and they seemed pleasant enough. Agreeable and friendly towards Edward’s disposition. The interview for becoming a prospective housemate began in the kitchen. Jan did the talking, while Curtis remained silent and stood behind him. Edward noticed a few things. Rubbish had been stacked up in the kitchen. There were three black garbage bags full of rubbish and ten towers of empty pasta sauce containers stacked up four high. Edward was careful not to knock them over. Jan offered Edward a coffee to which he kindly accepted. While the kettle boiled they made small talk, mainly about Edward’s current circumstances. He was unemployed, looking for work and the lease had expired on his previous dwelling. Jan mentioned he worked part-time, but Curtis was in a situation not dissimilar to Edward work wise. The conversation gave Edward a chance to look around. There were a couple of things he noticed. The oven looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since they first moved in. Grease had collected at the bottom of each stove burner. It had the texture of pus and charcoaled remains of food scraps had found its way in there too, kind of like marshmallows in jell-o. Edward wasn’t one to fuss. They were bachelors after all, certain standards didn’t apply with the lack of a female presence. When Jan opened up the refrigerator to grab the milk for the coffee, Edward saw that a few vegetables and fresh fruit had past their expiration date and were rotting away, it did raise some sanitary concerns, but Edward disregarded them under the tutelage of George Carlin’s wise words. After the coffee and more small talk Jan gave the guided tour of the rest of the apartment.
The spare room was cramped, they were asking to split the rent in thirds. Edward asked Jan about the boxes and random crap in the room. Jan explained that they belonged to their previous housemate, who had moved out and left all the stuff he no longer needed there. It was a bunch of useless crap; a broken alarm clock, clothes that didn’t fit and a pile of tennis balls the previous occupant had collected. Jan and Curtis had been meaning to throw it all out, but for one reason or another, just hadn’t got around to it. Once again, Edward didn’t make any judgments. Bachelors who lived a relaxed and carefree lifestyle, not to mention George Carlin’s philosophy on cleanliness, with these things in mind, Edward was not going to make any judgments. While in the room, Jan farted. Edward remembered another comedian’s one liner and voiced it, “Better out than in.” The three of them, Curtis breaking his silence, laughed. “Hey, what’s this on the walls?” Edward asked, pointing to some discoloration on the white walls that he had seen throughout the house.
“Oh, that,” Jan explained, “That’s just mould or some shit. I don’t know what it is, it’s in all the rooms. Something to do with condensation of the apartment. Water, mould, some sort of fungus… I don’t know.”
“Fair enough.” Edward noticed some other stains on the wall, it appeared as if someone had projectile vomited or thrown some other substance against the wall, and the substance had dripped down and stained the wall in various locations. Edward decided not to ask about that.
The bathroom was next. The mould that stained the walls in all the other rooms was heaviest here. The mould seemed to be concentrated in the bathtub that multi-purposely served as a shower. Jan was probably right… condensation of the apartment, water, mould, some sort of fungus. It seemed to have started here, in the bathroom, and spread out to the local vicinity of the apartment. Edward looked around the bathroom, he noted several empty shampoo bottles that served as nothing more than rubbish, dirt and grime had gathered behind the washing machine. An empty bottle of Vaseline seemed to have remained there unmoved for such an extended period of time that the mould had spread from the walls and onto the bottle. Edward didn’t care, this was what the bachelor lifestyle was all about, as carefree a life as could possibly be. The tour ended there.
The three of them returned to the kitchen. Jan made another round of coffees and they sat around, conversing and joking about. They came to an agreement, Edward would move in as soon as possible. Rent would start from the first night he slept in residence. Rent of the apartment would be divided in thirds, as would the bills. Just before they were going to all sign a handmade contract, Edward asked to use the bathroom. He just needed to take a piss. He was back in a short period of time. When he came back, the look on Jan and Curtis’s faces had changed. There was an element of disgust there. Edward couldn’t reason it out. “What’s up?” Edward asked unbeknownst.
“Did you wash your hands?” Jan asked, “I didn’t hear you wash your hands.” Curtis didn’t say anything, he just kept on wearing that look of disgust on his face. It was not an unreasonable request, to wash one’s hands. Edward had just taken the advice of a comedian to heart, which had caused a malfunction in his behaviour. The request did seem odd though, given the circumstance. “I’m sorry, this isn’t going to work out.”
Edward couldn’t quite puzzle it together. “Oh, well, I guess it was nice to meet you both.” Edward put his hand forth in a handshake.
“I’m not shaking that.” Jan ended the conversation and Edward left shortly thereafter.
As Edward walked home he thought to himself, ‘I guess some people just have higher standards than others.’