The world is in chaos. The economy is collapsing. The news is depressing. Children can’t stand being at home anymore. Parents need a break. Everyone is tired of the vigilance necessary to avoid the virus, which does not get tired. And I’m sorry to report that the sink is full of dirty dishes. Again.
A side effect of the fact that we now have three meals at home (and snacks too), with school cafeterias and restaurant kitchens no longer responsible for dealing with their share of the filthy consequences.
Crockery is the least of our problems. The smallest of them. And it is so easy to solve: soap, water, rub a little. On second thought, how dare we regret this simple task in the face of everything we are experiencing? And how dare you agree with that statement?
Still, a sink forever filled with dirty dishes is an image of everything that is tedious and tiring about everyday life at the least critical point of the crisis. The crockery is endless, like the quarantine. The task is repetitive, like the days we spend at home. It is tiring and dirty, like the commitments that fill this routine. And, in some way, there is still an element of shame and judgment: who can say that his life is minimally under control when you can’t even make the toaster fit under the tap?
It is true that dirty dishes are the least of our problems. Even so, it is a problem that we avoid until we find ourselves having cereal in the curd glass with a coffee spoon.
Perhaps the sum of the remaining problems has made this task more difficult. Thats how Benji Kaufman felt. “After cooking, we have to face the consequences of our actions in this daily life. Doing the dishes was not what we had in mind,” explains Kaufman, 27, an actor and logistics manager who lives in Burbank, California, with his girlfriend . Back in the day, there was a time when Kaufman and his girlfriend ate two or three meals together during the week. Now there are three meals a day, seven days a week. Twenty-one meals in all. And, after each of them, there was still the dishes to be washed, a task that never seemed urgent. After all, they had nowhere else to go.
Things went on this way to the point where there were no more clean bowls for humans, or for the cat or dog. They had to load the dishwasher twice to eliminate the buildup, and when the process was over, more dishes were dirty.
Inspired by the agony of this defeat, Kaufman decided to make a video on TikTok about the topic. The video starts with Kaufman closing the full dishwasher door. Then, when he looks at the sink, a new cup appears. Each time Kaufman looks at the sink, the dirty dishes multiply and the horror of it increases. At the end of the 24-second clip, he is leaning over the sink, crying to the music of the cartoon SpongeBob.
“How can I control my life?” he said. “I can’t even control my dirty dishes.”
Further north, in Seattle, Gwendolyn Wood feel Kaufman’s drama. Gwendolyn, 27, is a graphic designer who applied to wash the dirty dishes before the pandemic, as a way of sharing tasks with her much more orderly roommate. She did the dishes always at the same time, like clockwork. Then Gwendolyn’s boyfriend came to live with them, multiplying the dishes. Finally, the quarantine destroyed the pace of their routine and boosted their tendency to procrastination. “Well, I happen to be distracted by my cell phone, and now I need to work. There’s no time to wash the dishes.”
Now Gwendolyn’s logic for doing the dishes was reversed: she takes care of only the dishes and cutlery needed for the next meal and, after eating, leaves the dirty dishes in the sink until the time of the next meal. The sink took over the function of the cupboard.
In a watercolor she recently painted, she portrayed the effort required to face another sink full of crockery. It is a version of the Greek myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to spend eternity pushing a stone up the mountain, which rolls back to the base and must be pushed again. In Gwendolyn’s painting, Sisyphus is not pushing a stone, but a plate.
David Robertson, a father of five and a resident of Manitoba, Canada, swears that in two months of seclusion he has not seen any of his children open the dishwasher. It’s as if they don’t understand what it’s for. “No matter what I say,” says Robertson, an author, “they drop the dirty dishes on the counter next to the dishwasher.”
So close and so far. Perhaps they know that, when opening the dishwasher, you run the risk of encountering one of the most frightening images imaginable: rows of clean dishes that need to be kept. As a result, the wear and tear of parents and the resistance of children has become an exhausting cycle in itself. Did Robertson and his wife start to spare?
On the other end of the line, I hear a deep sigh from the Canadians. “We don’t stop trying, but at the same time, we have no hope that anything will change,” he says. “I really don’t know why we torture ourselves with this.”
And the Robertson family is lucky, as it has a dishwasher. After all, in some homes, Sisyphus owns a pickup truck. They press the “start cycle” button and can hear the soapy water jets that seem to whisper, “Go ahead and relax, I’ll take care of that”. The rest have to manually rub each piece of dried cheese on each plate, and then play Jenga with a colander from which nothing else seems to drain.
It is not a glorious mission, but it can bring some fleeting sense of accomplishment. Our lives are suspended, but at least that dish, shiny and ready for use, represents some kind of progress. One less task on the list. One less weight on your back.
Callum grant, a member of the Blue Man Group and a resident of Chicago, recently gathered the courage to face a sink full of dishes and then went to Twitter to celebrate the feat: “# COVID19 How did I help? How did I contribute to the greater good? were the painful sacrifices I made? …. I washed the dishes … again “.
Kaufman may be jealous of this moment of pride, however much it is only sarcasm.
Talking on the phone at 5:30 pm on a Tuesday, he reported on the current state of his dirty dishes: “The sink is full. The dishwasher is full of clean dishes that have been waiting there for two days. We haven’t saved anything yet.” He heard that there are people out there who wash the dishes immediately after use, keeping them in place.
“Whenever we reset the sink, we both say, ‘OK, from now on, we will rinse the dishes immediately after using and put everything in the machine,'” says Kaufman. A little resigned, he adds, “If that happens one day, I’ll contact you to let you know.” / Translation of Augusto Calil
Carol Francischini trains on the balcony of her home