The clean gene: It’s missing in my DNA

Posted 2/7/19

I pushed the shopping cart – we used to call them “buggies,” but that’s a word you rarely hear these days – from the back of my car to the designated depository area in the grocery store …

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The clean gene: It’s missing in my DNA

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I pushed the shopping cart – we used to call them “buggies,” but that’s a word you rarely hear these days – from the back of my car to the designated depository area in the grocery store parking lot.

As I neared, I saw six carts left there in mish-mash fashion. Four regular-sized ones like the one I pushed were scattered about along with two smaller ones used by short-list shoppers, folks for whom a hand-held shopping basket was either too restrictive or unwieldy if weighed down by a gallon of milk.

I was struck by the positioning of the carts. They barely touched another, and none of the carts were pushed all the way in, up against the metal rod-like barrier designed to keep the carts herded.

The irksome, haphazard arrangement bothered me immensely. So, naturally, I gathered the five large carts (mine now among them) and nested them tightly together on the left-hand side of the designated area, then did the same with the two smaller carts on the right.

Having completed my task and surveyed my work, I noticed a gray-haired woman approaching from my right with her cart. I walked the few steps to politely collect it from her and nested it in along with the others.

“I bet you’re organized and neat at home, too,” she said, thanking me.

“Well…” I stammered, almost apologetically, caught off guard at her statement. “Actually, I’m not.”

Part of me wanted to launch into a defense and to explain to her this contradiction in my life – that yes, I did like order and neatness; however, no, I wasn’t orderly or organized in many of my practices. All I mustered, though, was: “I’m not really neat. I just hate it when people are lazy.”

That was true. Among my greatest peeves are abandoned shopping carts and trash tossed out of car windows; to me they represent the height of laziness and ridiculousness. But flipping the coin, high on the list of obsessions I wish I had, but sadly don’t, is being a neat freak.

There has to be a correlation between neatness and industriousness, just like there’s one between slovenliness and laziness. However, what about those of us for whom those wires seem to have gotten crossed? Those of us who abhor clutter and do things like picking up stray bits of trash and refuse and collecting wayward shopping carts, but have living and working spaces that, as our moms frequently reminded us, “look like a pigsty!”?

Trot out your “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” placard and I’ll show you the one I carry, the one that says, “A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind.”

I’m not sure I believe that, because I’d love to be counted among the neat-freaks. And I wish I’d have inherited more of the clean gene, because we had plenty to pass around in my family. Both my mom and dad were fastidious as they come, and to this day my mother has an obsessive nature when it comes to cleanliness and neatness – so obsessive that we joke about it in front of her. “You can eat off her floor” doesn’t begin to describe it; she’s a retired nurse and I’m not exaggerating by saying you could perform surgery anywhere in her house, even her garage, without scrubbing up.

And my lone sibling, my dear sister Belinda, has carried on that family trait. I honestly don’t know a neater, cleaner, more organized person. She and her husband Billy don’t have children, but they’ve always had dogs – big dogs, usually Labradors, who live inside. Even so, hers is the type of house that, if she found out a visiting dignitary was showing up in an hour with an entourage of finicky aides, the only finger she’d have to lift would be to put away the already-clean dishes stacked carefully and logically in her dishwasher.

She got a double-dose of the trait, but I guess that’s the nature of our nature. If any of the neat genes were left over for me, they probably inexplicably got tucked away in a drawer or cabinet somewhere.

I’m thinking about asking Belinda to come over and find it for me, but you can understand my reluctance. Our drawers and cabinets, after all, are where we stash our mess in preparation for her visits.

The neat gene? Maybe I just need to look harder the next time I’m the grocery store parking lot.

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