Dirt (#190)

My husband is particular about his dirt.

Andy in the garden. With beans, tomatoes, pumpkins, kale, and chard.

Andy has a strawberry patch, a greenhouse, and several gardens. The dirt has to be just right for each. He tested our vegetable garden’s acidity and found it wanting. Andy added bone meal. Now our tomatoes never rot on the vine. He deemed the soil in our Southern California neighborhood too sandy and started compost piles to reduce our vegetable waste to richer, more microbe-laden dirt.

When he ordered worms (and special dirt for the worms), I protested, saying we already had TWO compost piles. Andy told me how much faster the worms would convert carrot peelings into usable dirt for my flower beds. I relented. Now my freesia and gladiolas are the envy of the neighborhood, thanks to Andy’s worm-poop dirt.

But can the man see sand or soil on the kitchen floor?

Hell to the no to infinity and beyond.

Some of Andy’s inability to see dirt comes from his first generation Chinese-American childhood. His father worked days, his mother worked nights and weekends. Both worked long hours. Making money to put food on the table was a much bigger priority than eradicating household dirt.

Andy also grew up in Hawaii, where the vegetation is lush — and the bugs are legion. The first time we stayed at his parents house, I insisted he buy bug spray. So we poisoned ourselves with pesticides because I couldn’t endure the site of a single cockroach.

Andy later explained that his parents had once fumigated their house. Unfortunately, it killed all the geckos and lizards that ate the bugs. The bugs came back. The lizards didn’t.

I grew up in a much more privileged home. My white parents mostly worked 9-5, 5 days a week. Saturday mornings, my father would barge into my bedroom at 8 AM with the vacuum. When I finally gave in and got up, he handed the vacuum to off to me. My family spent four hours cleaning the house every Saturday morning, from bathtubs to baseboards. I was used to tidy. I liked tidy.

Once I was on my own, I alienated at least three roommates because I bitched about their “filth and clutter” as I sullenly cleaned up their dishes. My friend JM and I endured an earthquake that opened all the kitchen cabinets and tossed our dishes onto the floor. Most broke. As I cleaned up the mess, JM glared at me and said, “You know, if you’d left all the dishes dirty in the sink where they belonged, they wouldn’t have broken!”

When Andy and I first lived together, I nagged him about cleaning. So Andy would run the vacuum over the living room rug and never notice the dried animal slobber coating the window panes. He would then pronounce the room clean.

Renowned nose art artists Fey and Woofie, during a rare work break.

If I pointed out the dogs’ gooey nose art and told Andy to clean the window, he’d miss the black dust collecting on the windowsill.

As for cat or dog puke, Andy only noticed it when he stepped in it. (Yes, I laughed uproariously every time.)

This inability to see dirt/ imperfection was beyond my comprehension. I had no idea what the garden’s pH was, but I could tell if the smallest picture in the living room wasn’t level.

Here’s an example of my stream of consciousness as I attempted my daily yoga in the living room:

I’ll start with a standing half-series, breathe in—shit, the dog shoved the heavy curtain aside and now one curtain is open and the other is not, it doesn’t look symmetrical, there, all fixed, where was I? Right, now into a chair pose, breathe in, breathe out – damn it, is that a Brazillian pepper squished into the rug? Ugh, it is, I’ll just put it in the trash, okay, breath in, hands to heart-center, breathe out – crap! How did that coaster wind up under the table? And is that a pink geranium petal on the dog bed? Maybe I should get out the vacuum.

20 minutes later, after vacuuming, yoga resumes:

This time I will lie on my back and do bridge and some twists. Breathe in, there we go, breathe out – wait, how is there a cobweb in that corner?! I’ll just get a rag and climb up on the couch, and there we go, all set. Back to twists, this time the left hip, oh, wow, I heard that crack and – holy mother of God there is a freaking LIZARD staring down at me from the top of the curtain rod! Damn it, must the same one that ran behind the file cabinet when the cat brought it in two weeks ago,

One of the many lizards I found in my house. This one had been inside so long he’d regrown some of the tail he lost to the cat.

I guess it never left, okay, buddy, let’s sweep you into the dustpan, yep, hold on with those sticky feet and there you, go, enjoy the compost pile, look at all those yummy bugs…

At the end of my home yoga sessions, my muscles aren’t much looser and my brain isn’t very mindful.

But my house is definitely cleaner.

I work about as well as I practice yoga when the house is dirty. To increase productivity, I keep the house clean – which is not easy with multiple pets, multiple Brazillian pepper trees, and multiple kinds of dirt in my yard.

And yes, I. Not my husband. Andy would drive miles to 99 Ranch to get the exact type of star anise he needs for hot and sour soup, but if I asked him to vacuum he’d somehow manage to sigh louder than my Miele.

Andy spent hours lovingly cleaning his Mustang Cobra, but clean a bathtub? Too onerous. Never mind that he was the one the shedding black hairs all over the porcelain. He’d never heard of washing the shower curtain until I entered his life.

Of course, I’d never heard of star anise until Andy entered mine.

Since I would rather eat Mac & Cheese than cook and Andy would be okay with a black mold biome in the bathroom, a system evolved.

I took over all the cleaning. Andy was responsible for all the food shopping and cooking.

If Andy worked long hours, had arthroscopic knee surgery, or went down with bronchitis, I serve him Kraft’s finest or take out.

If I got sick, my buddy Windex and I soldiered on through the sniffles (impossible to stay in bed when there are smudges on the mirror, you know).

Our division of labor worked well.

Until the day came when I couldn’t work.


Yes, it’s a two-part post! Check back tomorrow to see what happened. 

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

14 thoughts on “Dirt (#190)”

  1. When I realized how well Eugene and I complemented each other, I felt confident that I should say “yes” to his proposal. Much later I realized most people probably wanted to marry someone with whom they had a lot in common. But it worked out.

    I like my pictures straight, but I don’t mind a little dirt. But then, I don’t have dogs, so my house stays pretty clean.

    My first and only vegetable garden was huge and fruitful. I was pregnant with my second child and not about to wear myself out making it perfect. I rented a rototiller and planted all kinds of veggies in the lot next door. It was virgin soil in a river valley known for its fertility.

    Eugene got the farmer bug when we were in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, a land of absolutely perfect weather. He had soil trucked in from the center of the island. And everything grew fast and furiously. Every Monday he filled the trunk of the car with veggies and papayas and gave them to the secretaries at the office.

    1. Wow! Vanuatu sounds heavenly. Andy will be so jealous. He makes do with a very small plot in our yard. Yes, Andy and I compliment each other with our faults and talents. Fortunately, we value the same societal morals/ values, though.

  2. Ooh, I can’t wait for part two as this is a topic close to my heart. I can’t function in a dirty house AND I suck at cleaning. My boyfriend doesn’t care about a dirty house and also sucks at cleaning. Luckily hiring a house-cleaner is very affordable in SA.

  3. I grew up in a very different Chinese household, one where my Chinese mum insisted everything was sparkling clean, spick and span. So, I can totally feel you when you say, ‘I was used to tidy. I liked tidy’. Your stream of consciousness during yoga is like mine when I sit down in my room and try to write or do some stuff on the laptop – wait, there’s some dust on the shelf there, why is there an M&M and piece of chip on the floor? If I can see some visible mess or something that is not out of place, I have to attend to it before I can sleep. That’s the OCD and wannabe-perfectionist in me coming out.

    I really wonder what happened when you couldn’t work . Things must have really gone up dry creek 😀

  4. Hahhaa. You are not alone, my friend. When I do yoga (my scant yoga), I see the dirty floor or something on the carpet and interrupt myself to do sweep it up or clean whatever is offending me.

    And, the BF does not see dirt either. I’d say it’s a ‘man’ thing but my last BF was cleaner than I. He, too, loves to be outside with the plants and then I Swiffer after him…seriously.

    The thing is about cleanliness for me these days is I’ve been ‘broken down’ by living in SE Asia. It’s just, well, dirtier. . .and if you’ve ever lived in a desert town, you’d know that it’s a losing battle. Not that I’m in the desert, but yeah, lots of gecko poop and the dust finds its way in…so I’m much more lax about cleanilness these days – and saner for it.

    1. Oh, the dirt is gonna win eventually, I know it. Or I’m going to realize that, when I’m 80, I’m not going to wish I’d spent more time vacuuming. Of course, then my eighty-year-old self will snap back, “Yeah, but you didn’t die of the hanta virus at age forty because you held back the mice with your Miele!”

  5. Can you ship Andy to Suzhou for a few months so he can make a vegetable garden in our rooftop? Haha!

    Fortunately I am not a cleaning maniac, because I would die here with Nico shredding hairs all the time. C. got a handheld small vacuum and he’s the one taking care of all the dog hair!

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