I often enjoy shows on the Discovery Channel. One of my favorites is Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe. (If you haven’t seen the clip with him and Oscar the Grouch, you really should watch it. The mud bath is giggle-inducing.)  He goes to the filthiest, nastiest workplaces, and shows the rest of us just how good we may or may not have it with our sterile desk jobs, where we complain if the bathrooms aren’t cleaned at least weekly. These are jobs that are just gross, they have to be done, and that’s that. I respect anyone with a dirty job.

Today the show following Dirty Jobs was “Verminators,” about – you guessed it – exterminators.  Roaches and rats were on the menu today, being the most common critters that hang around. There were three places featured:  a horse stable with a major rat infestation, an apartment with roaches, and a house with a mild rat infestation.

The horse stable, I can understand. One pair of rats gets in and they can make up to 100 rats a month. Boom, huge rat infestation. Especially in a place like a stable, which isn’t necessarily kept squeaky clean because it’s impossible. The house with rats was actually a clean house, they’d just gotten rats in the attic and they were nesting behind the oven. The woman’s reaction was appropriately horrified. She was willing to do whatever it took to get the rats out because she was afraid of the diseases they might transmit to her family. Eww, gross, kill rats, yay, job well done.

The apartment was what got me. When I say “they had roaches” it wasn’t a few behind the stove, or hiding in the baseboards. They were camped out in front of the TV smoking cigars. (Frank Hayes’ “Roaches on Parade” comes to mind.) Everything they touched in the apartment had roaches on or behind it. And there was a LOT of stuff. Stuff piled up on beds, stuff piled on couches, stuff piled on tables, pile, pile, pile. And everything with roaches. The baby crib was crawling with them.  And it was all filthy. And the people living there just kind of shrugged, resigned to their filth. Obviously they had called the exterminators so they were concerned with the problem, but it didn’t look like they had tried to do anything about it.

I have had roaches in places I have rented. It’s almost impossible not to. I even had mice at one apartment, since the idiots who had installed the stove cut a giant hole in the wall and left it unpatched. Luckily, I had cats who were more than willing to camp out in front of said stove and wait for “playtime.” (The mice smartened up quick and didn’t come back.) This apartment was near a drainage ditch – not a concrete one, but a dug-out which had only a trickle of water through it that led down to a runoff-pond. It was an excellent breeding ground for damn near everything, and damn near everything thought it would be great to come inside since the food was better. At one point, the downstairs neighbors – filthy, annoying, tactless people who let the entire neighborhood of kids run in and out of their place – moved out, and the clean-up crew said it was the worst apartment they’d ever seen. So when they moved out, what do you think happened to the horde of critters living off them? They spread out to look for new sources of food. Suddenly I had roaches coming out of the woodwork – literally – to see what was for dinner.

I fought. I cringed. I scrubbed. I researched. I put down sugar and borax, I put bait paste in the corners and along the bottoms of the cabinets, I tried one of those devices that emitted sound to drive bugs away. (Which was the only thing that didn’t work. I pulled that out of the wall socket a month later to find the roaches LIVING IN IT.) I took out the wall plates and put bait paste in. I changed out roach motels constantly. I repackaged all my food to be in airtight containers. I left nothing out and no dishes in the sink. And it took a few months, but eventually I either killed them all or made the place so inhospitable that they left for good. I did not have any interest in living in a place with roaches, to have them near my food, to have them near me while I slept. I immediately started fighting and didn’t let up until I’d won. I imagined them crawling all over everything and I couldn’t stand it.

So why is it that people resign themselves to living in filth? To living in infestations, in dirt, in dust, in sticky floors and heaps of trash? I’ve had friends and neighbors who live like this, with piles of dirty clothes and things heaped up everywhere, floors unwashed, toilets worse than a truck stop bathroom, kitchens I wouldn’t boil water in, pet urine and feces left in the corners (one person I helped to move had so much cat urine in her apartment that my eyes burned), litterboxes overflowing, rooms full of junk they never look at.  I once had a sinus infection that required a month-long regimen of heavy-duty antibiotics from helping a couple clean their house.

I simply cannot understand it. I’m not spic-and-span by any stretch of the imagination. There’s dust on my shelves, my sink gets full of dishes, and cat hair gets on everything. My mother is the Clean Queen. If she says a place is clean, it means you can eat off the floor. That is, you could eat SOUP off the floor.  My house will likely never be as clean as hers, but I do attempt to keep it tidy. I vacuum once every week or two, I wash the bathroom and kitchen every other weekend, I change the sheets weekly and do my laundry when the hamper gets full.

But really… how can you come home every night to the smell, the dirty carpets, the peeling paint, the skitters out of the corner of your eye when you flip the light switch on? It’s foreign to me, when cleaning agents are so cheap and plentiful. A bottle of Mr. Clean is only a couple of bucks, and you can get a cheap knockoff that works just as well at the dollar store. The best toilet bowl cleaner out there is $1.50 a bottle (The Works – btw, will also remove rust and hard water stains). Scrubbing bubbles? Spray it on and leave it for 10 minutes, then wipe it down with a sponge and rinse. Bleach is your friend. How hard is it? Were people never taught how to clean by their parents? Was having a clean home never important? Is it just easier to resign yourself to living in junk and dirt and “someday I will clean up”?

Yeah, and someday I’ll win the lottery, too.

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