Maybe we were just moving too fast before the pandemic and before the shelter-in-place orders went into effect to notice what was going on. Maybe we weren’t here as much before we began sheltering in place and were less attentive to the state of the kitchen counters. Maybe we were entertaining guests before the pandemic, so the size of the mess didn’t strike us as unusual. Or maybe the perpetrators became more cavalier about their behavior as more and more time passed and we didn’t catch them at their dirty work.
In any case, we could no longer avoid the truth that far more dishes and cups and silverware were being used every day in our house than Marcia and I could possibly generate on our own.
We first became aware of the scope of the problem a couple weeks into sheltering-in-place when it dawned on us that washing the dishes after supper had gone from being a pleasant fifteen-minute affair to a grueling forty-five-minute marathon.
“Where did all these dishes come from?” I asked Marcia. “We had toast and tea for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch, and veggies and rice with one of your stellar salads for supper. Yet the kitchen looks like Julia Child and Guy Fieri just had a five-course cook-off in here.”
“Does seem like lots more dishes than usual,” Marcia opined. “Maybe we should start doing the dishes after breakfast, too.”
So we tried that, and at first it seemed to help a little, but then there came a night when virtually all our plates and bowls and mugs and glasses and pots and pans were stacked on the counters and stove top, all in desperate need of washing.
“This is hard to fathom,” I suggested, as I took a break after scrubbing the third frying pan of the session. “Almost as hard to fathom as life returning to what we used to call normal one day.”
“I know for a fact,” said Marcia, perusing the mountain of dishes yet to be washed and rinsed and dried and put away, “that I used almost none of these dishes today.”
“And I know a similar fact about my usage,” I replied. “Which can only mean one thing.”
“Other people,” said Marcia, her eyes narrowing, “must be coming in here and using dishes when we’re not looking.”
“When we’re in our studies or on walks or working outside,” I said, nodding in agreement.
“Let’s start doing the dishes after lunch, too,” Marcia suggested. “That should give us more data from which to determine the who and how and what and when of the situation.”
And so we instituted after-lunch dishwashing to go with after-breakfast dishwashing and after-supper dishwashing, yet the plague of dirty dishes continued.
We came to think of our nemeses as Those People. We even wrote a song about them that begins, Those people they get a thrill, using dishes willy-nil. We assumed they were people. Dogs and cats and skunks and deer can’t open refrigerators, take out pumpkin pie, cut pieces and place those pieces on dishes, fetch forks, pour cups of coffee, and so forth. Those are the kinds of things people do. Right? Right.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Don’t be silly, Todd. Obviously you and Marcia were generating all those dirty dishes and you just hadn’t been aware you were doing so much generating because the getting and eating of food is a largely unconscious act.
We thought that, too, and decided to do an experiment to prove conclusively whether or not we were Those People. We vowed to each use one bowl and one plate and one fork and one spoon for an entire day, and to rigorously not allow ourselves to use anything else, except, of course, the things we cooked with. If we were the only people generating dirty dishes, then by day’s end there should be, at most, two bowls, two plates, two forks, and two spoons to wash, and a pan or two.
And for a couple days that proved to be the case, but then the extra dishes began to proliferate again: and we knew it had to be Those People.
It was shortly after our experiment in Spartan dish usage came to an end that we began hearing the clanking and clinking sounds in the kitchen, and one afternoon, responding to a particularly loud outburst of clinking and clanking, I dashed into the kitchen and found a woman and a man sitting at our kitchen counter eating scrambled eggs and drinking coffee, another man making an elaborate sandwich, a boy eating a bowl of granola, and a girl eating chips and salsa and guacamole.
They were all startled by my sudden and unexpected arrival in the kitchen.
But before I could ask, “Who are you and what are you doing in our house?” the man making a sandwich said, “You may not be aware of this, but you’re almost out of mustard.”