Encrustulation And Its Discontents

Two somewhat related things:

Most of what we have to do to the new place, modulo the basement problem, is cosmetic, but it’s cosmetic work that’s been left undone for years. We rented an industrial carpet cleaner to go over the rugs, and the wastewater I poured out of it when I was done was practically black. I spent last weekend pulling down vines and cleaning out rain gutters, work that might not have been done in five years; they were full of what might have been plant matter once, but now it was topsoil.

At work, because I work in I.T., I routinely put my hands on more than a hundred computers a week; it’s part of the job, but I see the same thing there: neglect. Keyboards crusted with muffin crumbs and hand cream, sticky and blackening crusts forming around the edges of the keys, squating like vermin in offices that have an organic oil-slick sheen on those surfaces that aren’t matte with dust.

I had brief, awkward conversation with the people who sold the house we bought, and they mentioned that aside from the one room they repainted, they didn’t really do much to the place, and I thought, “man, I know!” Like I couldn’t tell just from pouring that black water down the drain how well you actually took care of your home. Which brings me to the core of today’s rant:

People of earth, clean up your space.

That decaying paste between your keys, that film all over your desk? That’s months or years of bread crumbs and hair follicles, spilled colas and snarfed cream-and-sugar coffees, and everything that’s taken up residence in it since. That grey dust in corners and around the edges of your shelves and papers? That’s dead skin, dandruff and hair, some yours, some not, and every time anyone’s coughed or sneezed nearby, your office has soaked it right up.

I’m no believer in holistic medicine, but I tell you this: this crap builds up in your environment; it is how people get sick and stay sick. You feel a little tired or a a little nauseous every single day? I can’t say I’m surprised. Wondering about that chronic cough you just can’t seem to shake? I don’t wonder at all; if your office looks like that, I’m willing to bet your house looks a lot like it, passable but grimy, with stuff building up in the places you don’t quite want to look. And you’re breathing it in, all night, every night.

It’s easy to get into that state without realizing it; all you have to do is nothing. Occasionally, you should mean to get to that later! But that’s about it. All you have to do is relax into it, and you barely feel a thing – it’s a lot like freezing to death, really.

I’m hardly the cleanest person in the world, and I’m definitely not trying to drag the hypochondriacs out of the woodwork here, but virtually every office I’ve seen in this degenerate state, no matter how bad, didn’t need much more than a replaced keyboard, a bottle of windex and a roll of paper towels, at a cost of basically nothing. The hard part, of course, is deciding to do it. That involves actually confronting what you’ve allowed your environment to become, which can feel uncomfortably introspective. And we can’t have that! But I promise you, it’s so totally worth it. Feeling run down and vaguely ill every day? Look around, look really hard. How could getting out from under that not be worth five dollars worth of Windex and an hour of organizing?

I should confess here that I have ulterior motives beyond the raw, unfettered altruism for which I am so very widely known; I’m telling you all this today out of naked, gibbering self-interest. I’ll have to put my hands on that keyboard at some point, to push down keys caked grey with stale donut and ancient moisturizer, and be polite and professional the whole time, but I tell you: I think it’s damn disgusting. I mean, Jeebus, stop polluting your space like some diseased, mange-bitten animal soiling its cage and start acting like you’ve earned your spot at the top of the food chain. Seriously, the fact that you will feel immensely better about your workday and possibly your whole life is entirely secondary to me, so long as I don’t have to fight off another screaming case of the heebie-jeebies every time I touch your computer or wash my hands for ten minutes afterwards.

4 Comments

  1. Posted June 18, 2007 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I’m telling you all this today out of naked, gibbering self-interest. I’ll have to put my hands on that keyboard at some point, to push down keys caked grey with stale donut and ancient moisturizer, and be polite and professional the whole time, but I tell you: I think it’s damn disgusting.

    Dude, that’s not professional. Being professional is walking in to the office, slipping on a pair of disposable latex gloves, doing the deed, and then greasing your hands with purell before leaving. You should ask a doctor about how to be “professional” in this kind of situation.

    Me, on the other hand, I like the filth. I grew up in it, I’ve got it in me, and I’m now immune to just about everything except the Norwalk virus and tequila.

  2. Mike Hoye
    Posted June 18, 2007 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Let the record show that the only difference between your description of professionalism and mine here is that yours involves putting a hand into somebody’s ass.

  3. Posted June 18, 2007 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

    Man, the keyboards were always creepy. The user would be some perfectly hygienic-seeming person, and then you’d sit down and the keyboard and OMG. Pestilence!

  4. Posted June 19, 2007 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Professionals charge more for the hand than for just a finger, so practice your keigels and you’ll save a mint.