We don't usually think of ourselves as the Slob Couple. Except when overnight guests are on the way. Trying to see our house as others see it, we can hardly bear to look.
This time they're arriving in the middle of the afternoon. At 1:30, I ask Mrs. Slob what the middle of the afternoon means. "I don't know," she says, "but I'm panicked." That's because we've been tidying up for only two days.
On the first day, Mr. Slob tends toward a certain appreciation of things as they are. He's not really worked up about a lawn allowed to grow a little tall, the way the environmentalists recommend, or frowsy tendrils struggling toward the light between the bricks of the back walk. But Mrs. Slob is out there digging up the little things and asking if we still have sand to fill in the cracks.
"We have traction sand," says Mr. Slob, thinking it might be in the trunk of the car since winter.
The sand is pebbly and doesn't lie quietly but rises from the cracks when Mr. Slob brushes over it.
Mrs. Slob is soon on to the front walk. After doing some digging there, she goes to the garden-supply store and comes back with a bag of "finishing sweep" made especially to fill in cracks.
Mr. Slob is inspired by the concept. Before opening the bag, he decides to try to please Mrs. Slob. With a spade, edger, and dandelion lifter, he digs out all the moss between the bricks, leaving nice little trenches ready for that easy finishing sweep.
When Mr. Slob opens the bag, he wonders if the nominally fine-ground stone is any finer than traction sand. Maybe it quickly breaks down, he thinks, and sweeps it over the bricks and into the cracks.
Mrs. Slob reveals that she hadn't exactly meant for all the moss to be removed. She pats the new stuff into each individual crack, apparently soon realizing that there's no such thing as a "finishing sweep."
Then it's trimming the hedge, coifing the garden, and not just mowing the grass but squaring the stems along the sidewalk - all the things Mr. Slob usually lets go in favor of the rustic British garden effect.
Soon there are so many clippings, the lid on the compost bin can't be closed.
Mrs. Slob is doing floors, towels, furniture, refrigerator, even a window or two. The nonskid rubber backing of the bathroom rug peels off in the clothes washer (never did that before) and stops the new energy-saver machine from draining - or washing anything else.
It's just beyond warranty, and the Slobs are grateful they've come to know a nearby repair-all outfit. Mr. Slob steps around the two smiling young men lying on the floor and endlessly picking bits of rubber out of the drain pump.
When Mr. Slob gets into the innkeeper swing, he finds his own catalog of shortcomings. What about the shower faucet that almost came off in the last guest's hand?
The fitting is worn out, of course. He picks through the screws in the basement that he never throws away. Satisfaction creeps in as he makes the faucet firm as new, filing off the overlong screw to prevent a "Psycho" shower scene of water tinged with blood.
And the wash basin? Rust delicately decorates the porcelain. Zud plus sandpaper (fine, of course), plus a bit of fresh sealant around the drain does the trick.
The vintage toilet seat could use new bumpers. They have them at the same store as the discreet kitchen traps for grain moths, which are harmless but might give guests the impression they're in an open-air bazaar. "Everybody has them at this time of year," says the comforting saleswoman.
The yard furniture. Does it need a scrubbing after the birds have stopped by on the way from the feeder? The feeder! How grungy. Have to wash that clear plastic so the seeds can be seen.
The stove. Apart from the oven self-cleaning cycle, the burners seem to have echoes of egg on them.
The door jambs. How did they get grimy when Mr. Slob wasn't looking?
The recycling bags of newspapers. Keep them from blocking the hall.
The garage. Oh, my. Can everything be thrown away? Maybe the oil spots can be lightened with kerosene from the dusty lamp that was a present from Christmases past. Is Mr. Slob ever glad he went to Home Depot and bought that instant wall rack to hang up garden tools!
Bed sheets. It's Mrs. Slob again. Seems no one remembered to change them since the last guest slept here.
Sponges. Now it's arrival day. If Mr. Slob likes to ride his bike so much, would he get two big kitchen sponges and several smaller ones from the convenience store?
"Butter. Do you need butter?" Mr. Slob asks. Butter always used to be the last-minute bike ride before guests.
Well, the folks arrive promptly. We love having them, whether they notice anything pristine or not. Maybe they think the house is always ready for occupancy, and the front walk full of designer crack filler where moss could have been.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society