Funky Smells and Gender Politics

After that truck hit me when I was crossing Cotton Street in downtown El Paso, and I had to spend all those months in a wheelchair, my mother came to California to take care of me for three months. Later, she told my best friend, in hushed whispers, “She lives like a bachelor, Tabitha.

 So, I’ve been married for over three years now, but today when I open the fridge and the stench wafts out to greet me, I realize something: Married or not, I still live like a bachelor.

 I don’t even know how to locate the source of that damn smell.

 Periodically, Chris and I will clear the refrigerator of what Chris calls our “scientific experiments in progress.” We’ll dump the moldy beans and metastasized bell peppers (which I really meant to eat with a salad) into the trash, Chris holding his nose like it’s a dirty diaper as he carries the trash outside. Because we have guests in town this week, I’ve already cleaned out the fridge. So what is the mysterious item that still stinks?

 Okay, I accept that I’m a domestically challenged artist, everybody who knows me knows that (maybe I even take a sort of perverse pride in the fact), but still, I wonder: how do people keep their fridges smelling nice and fresh? Is this something most women innately know how to do? Is smelly stuff the domain of men and attacking smells the domain of women? ‘Cuz it’s not just my fridge. Sometimes when I walk in the house, I realize, with horror, It smells like my dogs in here. (Um, maybe I should bathe them more often.)

 Maybe the real problem is that I’ve always been smelly. I was late to the game re: deodorant. At just-turned-eleven, I still didn’t use it, which was apparently a terrible social faux pax, as I discovered on my first church youth group out-of-town trip. I don’t know if I actually smelled but one of the girls stumbled upon me after my shower and learned I didn’t yet use deodorant. Her resounding “ewwwww!” made me realize I needed to get with the program, stat.

 If I’m really honest, however, I have to admit the problem isn’t just funky smells.

 On Sunday after I grilled steaks and potatoes (don’t get jealous—it’s the first time I’ve done that since we got married) and we did our usual “head to the couch to watch football while we eat,” I said, “No, let’s be civilized and eat at the table.”

 “It’s covered in junk,” Chris pointed out.

 Indeed, it was. Ungraded papers and textbooks lay scattered in unceremonious heaps across the tabletop, and Chris’s gym towels were draped like smelly rags on the backs of all the chairs.


 Because I’m in-between projects (meaning: I just sent off revisions of one novel to my agent and I can take a week or two before I return to the novel I started this summer), I’m actually spending the next two weeks doing some of those things that I normally can’t be bothered to do. Like clear off the dining room table which is, I’m proud to say, spic-n-span as of yesterday. (Wondering how long that will last….)

 I know part of it is a function of time—I lack it—and will—my husband lacks it—but sometimes I wonder if I’m missing that fundamentally female gene that takes pride in a clean, sparkling, fresh-smelling house, which brings me to the question that’s really haunting me: If I can’t learn to make my surroundings smell fresh and clean, am I a woman? And, more importantly, what kind of mother will I be?  If the laundry piles up in the bathroom for weeks until I wash it and dump it in a basket, then piles up in baskets while my husband procrastinates folding it, should I do something about that? I would except the truth is: I COMPLETELY, TOTALLY, AND THOROUGHLY SUCK AT FOLDING CLOTHES. When I fold clothes, clothes feel, look, and act like victims. That’s why Chris does it, when he gets around to it, that is. Right now, we have 3 baskets of clean clothes overflowing onto the dirty floor in the garage. They’ve been there for 3 weeks and they might be there for another 3, until we run out of clothes, the underwear situation is desperate, and/or I nag long enough. Chris mentioned the laundry problem to a colleague of his—the problem being that I get frustrated when baskets of clean laundry lie around for weeks at a time—who responded, “Hey, at least it’s all clean, right?” True, but that’s not really the point.

 I would love to hear from some other domestically challenged gods and goddesses. Maybe it’ll help me think that my problems aren’t so bad, in comparison.

Comments 4

  1. Aja

    “Domestically challenged” might be the nicest way I’ve ever heard this described. I am a mess! Through and through. Our place is always a disaster, and honestly, we have plenty of time to make it not so disastrous, we just don’t. This weekend we cleaned out the refrigerator because a) we had no more clean storage containers because they were all being used to store what used to be food and is now penicillin, and b) you could actually smell the funk from it in the living room whenever the door was opened. That is where we drew the line, I guess.

    As we cleaned, Matt asked “Do you think rich people clean out their own refrigerators?” If not, I don’t think a better argument has ever been made for getting rich.

    I think my problem is that I just don’t like cleaning. I find it boring. I find cooking boring. I find cleaning boring. I find ironing boring. Etc. Etc. I would rather spend my time doing just about anything else in the world. There is, however, a nice sense of satisfaction that comes with looking at a clean room, but eh. I’ll find my satisfaction elsewhere.

  2. Jess

    LOL. That’s a GREAT argument for getting rich…But how to do it while doing what I love? There’s the kicker.

  3. Becky Powers

    I’m not a great housekeeper myself, as you should know, having been raised by me. But here’s what I do re: the refrig. Put an open box of baking soda in there somewhere. It helps keep down the smells. (Change it a few times a year.) Then a few routines help. Whatever you make for dinner, either eat up the leftovers for your lunch the next day or try to stretch it into something else edible for dinner the next day (that’s a whole other creative-cooking-on-a-budget-subject by itself but basically it means you disguise your original entree by turning it into some kind of soup, stew, or casserole). When all you kids were still home, every so often I’d serve an ORTS meal (“orts” is such a great word; it means leftovers in Dutch) in which I heated up all the dibs and dabs of leftovers collecting in the frig. What the family didn’t eat for that meal, I tossed. As part of the weekly garbage collection routine, I try to remember to check out the frig and toss everything that’s over a week old. If I forget it for another week, it usually doesn’t smell too bad yet.

  4. Jess

    My “orts” languish in the fridge for a month or more before I get around to throwing it out. I need to change all that.

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