The real dirt: Dust bunnies have men floored

MIKE LITTWIN

April 16, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

If you are reading this at your home, or especially at somebody else's home, do me a favor: Drag your sleeve across the nearest table and see what you've got.

That's right. Dust.

We are getting dusty, America. Dust bunnies are breeding like, well, regular bunnies. And our houses are getting dirtier by the day. Where's a White Tornado when you really need one?

I know we're getting dirtier because I saw a story about it somewhere. They call these trend stories. Often they're disturbing, like ones about body-piercing. This is worse. And you know who's to blame for this cleanliness-deficit? Yes, men. Completely and absolutely.

You see, June Cleaver is not wearing pearls in the kitchen anymore. In fact, she hasn't seen a kitchen since 1978. That's because she's now a corporate lawyer, working 70 hours a week, meaning Ward has to take over some of the household duties.

In a 1985 study of household duties, it was learned that women spend 1 1/2 hours less time a week cleaning than women did 20 years earlier. And men, conversely, spend one hour more.

Men have not picked up the slack. But I'm not just talking about a half-hour gap, even though a half-hour a week is enough time to, say, vacuum three rooms. At least, that's what they tell me.

This is not simply a quantitative problem. There's an important qualitative factor here.

What I am saying is -- and this may get me in trouble -- men and

women do not look at cleaning in the same way. As an example, men rarely complain about waxy buildup.

It's like wallpaper. Tell me if you've heard this conversation before.

Woman: "If I have to see the wallpaper in the kitchen one more time, I'm going to scream."

Man: "We have wallpaper in the kitchen?"

Face it, men and women see things differently. Take your typical guy and put him in a typical room. If it's dirty, I mean really dirty, I mean garbage-up-to-your-knees dirty, he will, almost invariably, go into another room.

Many women, on the other hand, might think to actually clean the room up.

Please, don't call me sexist. I'm sure this is not genetic. But I think you can make the argument that for thousands of years, women were the principal cleaners.

Over this time, men's hands grew larger, meaning they had trouble grasping broom handles. They grew taller, making it harder to bend down. Women were smaller, therefore closer to the dirt. Men were the hunters, women the gatherers. And how do you clean? First, you have to gather the cleaning equipment. You see what I mean?

It's taking time to unlearn this behavior. Have you ever been in what we used to call a bachelor's pad? A friend of mine told me about one place he went where, instead of toilet paper, the guys were down to using coffee filters. Really.

For many men, cleaning up means picking up. Or, in a pinch, sweeping under something. Men are great at sweeping dirt under the proverbial rug to the point where it looks as if you've got moles in your living room.

Now, I try to do my best. I have certain duties for which I was trained at the school for the would-be sensitive husband.

I learned to wash the dishes (yes, we have an automatic dishwasher). I also unload the dishwasher. I also clean the counters. Except every night after I've cleaned the counters, my wife sneaks into the kitchen and cleans them again.

Of course, I throw out the garbage. This has always been the male province, going back about 2 million years to an age when, if you were cleaning out the cave and taking out the garbage, you were likely to run into a saber-toothed tiger.

And I make the bed, being the last one out. But I don't understand why. What is the point?

Here's your basic bed's day. You get up in the morning. The bed is unmade. You brush your teeth. The bed is unmade. You take a shower. The bed is unmade. You get dressed. And here's the big moment: You make the bed. While you're gone all day, the bed remains made. The next time you see the bed, you unmake it and climb in to go to sleep.

In other words, the only time the bed looks good is when nobody is there to see it.

The only time to worry about mess is when somebody can see it. Which is why my theory is: Never let 'em lift the rug.

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