Books

Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

The Bachelor Home Companion

A Practical Guide to Keeping House Like a Pig

by P. J. O’Rourke

In the inimitable style that has made him one of America’s most popular humorists, P. J. provides an essential guide to the practical business of living in the modern world and proves that “Camus had it all wrong about the myth of Sisyphus–it’s not symbolic of life, just housekeeping.”

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date April 18, 1997
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8711-3686-2
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $13.00
  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 176
  • Publication Date May 01, 2007
  • ISBN-13 978-1-5558-4708-1
  • US List Price $13.00

About The Book

From P. J. O’Rourke, best-selling author and expert bachelor, comes a hilarious look at domestic life. Or, as P. J. puts it, “This is a book about cooking, cleaning, and housekeeping for people who don’t know how to do any of those things and aren’t about to learn.” In addition to debunking popular myths about bachelors (they are in fact not creatures known to hang around the house in silk smoking jackets, sipping brandy from oversized snifters) P. J. offers some useful sections on cleaning – or how best to avoid doing it:

“Spill something fresh on the floor because a slippery floor is much more like a clean, waxed floor than a stinky floor is.”

“Every month or so, take the curtains down”and throw them away. Turn the lights off if you don’t want the neighbors to see what you’re doing. The same goes for slipcovers.”

“Don’t use Drano if a toilet gets clogged. Remembering, the toilet is a dog’s idea of Perrier. And you don’t want a dog with a melted tongue.”

“Sheets can be kept clean by getting drunk and falling asleep with your clothes on.”

“Mowing is tedious and can be avoided by wetting down the yard with a fine spray of #2 heating oil. Or during the winter months you can sprinkle rock salt on the whole thing.”

In the inimitable style that has made him one of America’s most popular humorists, P. J. provides an essential guide to the practical business of living in the modern world and proves that “Camus had it all wrong about the myth of Sisyphus–it’s not symbolic of life, just housekeeping.”

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Basic House Cleaning

. . .we are made as the filth of the world, and are the off scouring of all things unto this day.
–I CORINTHIANS 4:13

Especially after a party.
–ANONYMOUS BACHELOR

Cleaning, like seduction, should be done from the top down–starting with the ceiling, which is ridiculous. Gravity takes care of that. If there were any dirt on the ceiling, it would fall off and land on the floor. The same goes for the walls. Dirt falls right off them and lands on the floor. And you shouldn’t fool around with the dirt on the floor because you’ll stir it up and it’ll get all over the walls and ceiling.
Actually, the only sensible way to clean house is to hire somebody to do it. But many of us can’t afford that, and nobody will work for the rest of us. It takes special janitorial skills to cope with a bachelor household, and not many cleaning ladies are members of Hell’s Angels.

How often does a house need to be cleaned, anyway? As a general rule, once every girlfriend. After that she can get to know the real you.

Don’t try to kid women by being neat. Most bachelors are fairly neat. When the dirty clothes are stuffed in a dresser drawer, we think everything is under control, even if the floor is sticky. But women can tell tidy from clean, especially after they’ve leaned against a windowsill in a pair of white linen slacks.

To give a woman the impression that your house is clean, use Pledge. Don’t use it on anything, just squirt some in the air. This makes it smell as though you’ve dusted. Extra-dirty areas like those windowsills can be sprayed with clear acrylic fixative, the kind artists use on charcoal sketches. This keeps dirt where it is and prevents it from rubbing off on other things. If you switch your vacuum cleaner to REVERSE, you can blow a lot of dirt out of your house. This is more enjoyable than vacuuming and you never have to empty the bag. Now spill something fresh on the floor because a slippery floor is much more like a clean, waxed floor than a sticky floor is.

Your home must be reasonably hygienic or the whole affair will have to be conducted at your girl-friend’s house, and this could be a problem if she has a large husband. Also, your home shouldn’t be such a disaster that you make a filthy mess of yourself trying to get to the front door to go to work. Nor should you trail the fragrance of month-old beer into the office.

But don’t turn housecleaning into a job. The benefit package is lousy. And who are you going to fire when the tub looks like the Indianapolis Speedway after a nine-car pile up?

And don’t be tempted to make housecleaning fun. Don’t try to dust with the dog. It might seem like a good idea to squirt dish soap everywhere and hose the place down. After six or eight drinks it might seem like a hoot to get naked and slither around on the sopping wet floor with a mop head in either hand. The results will be disappointing. The house will look worse in the morning. And so will you.

And don’t get too involved. There’s a part of the human psyche that’s never satisfied with chunks of an Archduke at Sarajevo and has to have a World War I. If you really start to think about cleaning house, you’ll wind up on a stepladder polishing out light sockets with steel wool. Repent of thoroughness. Eschew the systematic.

Concentrate instead on preventive maintenance. Discard anything that’s harder to wash than you are (Remington Model 1100 automatic shotguns and Mercedes alloy wheels excepted.) Any item of clothes or bedding that has to be dry-cleaned more often then you commit a cardinal sin in it should be thrown away. Anything that has accumulated enough dust to write your name in has to go. You aren’t using it enough. It’s hard to apply this advice to the woodwork but worth it.

THE KITCHEN

Every kitchen should be equipped with a dishwasher, preferably a cute one wearing her apron and nothing else. Failing this, there’s the minimalist approach to avoiding dirty dishes, where you use nothing but a pair of chopsticks and your cupped hand. This is a bitch with fried eggs. Then there is the maximalist approach invented by West Coast screenwriter Bill Martin. Bill buys dishes by the box at thrift shops and Goodwill stores. When the meal is over, he puts the dishes in the sink and runs the tap until water covers them. Then he empties a dozen boxes of Jell-O into the dishwater (Bill favors lime). When the next load of dishes is dirty, the procedure is repeated with another layer of Jell-O just covering the soiled plates and glasses. Finally, when the sink is almost full, Bill puts two large pot lids into the last thickness of Jell-O. This gives him a pair of handles so he can pull the entire solidified mass out of the sink, bury it in the yard, and go buy more dishes.

Iron skillets are good because they never need washing. I mean, if you don’t mind tasting what you cooked last night. And if you do mind, why did you cook it in the first place? Those black-and-white speckled graniteware pans are nice, too. They always look dirty so what’s the point in cleaning them? Anyway, if you boil all your food, hot water kills germs.

Refrigerators are the only bachelor-friendly household appliances. Like anything with a lid on it, they never have to be cleaned, just sorted through occasionally. Refrigerated food turns directly into garbage. Unlike house dust, there are no bothersome intermediate steps. And food is good about announcing itself. Food normally comes in earth tones. When the cheese, milk, and ground beef go polychromatic, it’s time for them to leave. Refrigerators also have lots of bins and trays and racks to put things in. This is as good a place as any for canned goods and rifle ammo. And refrigerators will preserve cigarettes, camera film, marijuana, and so on. I recommend having several refrigerators and putting everything in them. This way you’ll never run out of cold beer and your underwear will be nice and cool in the summer.

Double up on big jobs. Wait until the floor is really dirty before you wash the dishes.

Defrosting presents a problem, however. Especially since the freezer part of a refrigerator is necessary to make drink ice–a principal ingredient in most bachelor dinner recipes. You’re never going to get the refrigerator to fit into a mircowave oven, and most microwaves won’t fit into a freezer compartment. Instead, try putting the cat in the freezer and using its body heat to melt the accumulated ice. At worst, you’ll be rid of the cat.

Stoves are another matter. The only thing I’ve ever been able to figure out about stove cleaning is to move every couple of years.

Wives and mothers use some secret method to make kitchen floors look clean. I don’t mean to get them clean. That’s easy. You wash them. But that doesn’t make my floors look clean. It just makes them look wet. And seconds later they’re covered with muddy footprints. Do housewives never let their families go outdoors? Do they put Kleenex on their shoes? Do they make the kids hang like bats from the ceiling while they make peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches?

The only worthwhile advice I ever got about floor cleaning was in Mexico. I was staying in a hotel in Ensenada that had a quarry tile floor. I have a quarry tile floor in my kitchen, too. Theirs looked great. Mine looks like wirephotos of a California mudslide. I asked the hotel manager how he kept the floor so shiny. (“”Como es el floor mucho bueno . . . uh . . . kept so shiny?”) “We splash a coat of diesel oil on it every day,” he said.

As for the rest of the kitchen, you might as well get drunk and squirt dish soap everywhere and hose the place down after all.

THE DINING ROOM

You can keep the dining room clean by eating in the kitchen.

THE BATHROOM

And you can keep the bathroom clean by going to the bathroom in the kitchen, too, I suppose. But it doesn’t sound like a good idea. You can cut down on bathroom mess by whizzing out the windows and using the bathtub only as a beer cooler. On the question of cleanliness you’re going to have to decide between your own personal self and this room. Choose yourself. Very few women have ever come to anybody’s house to kiss the sink. On the other hand, quite a few women have left because of what they found in the bathroom. It’s not a good idea to let life forms breed and evolve in the sink until they’ve developed a civilization of their own. Maybe, every morning when you’re brushing your teeth, you could just brush the sinkbowl a little bit with the toothbrush. Pretty soon you’ll have a bathroom sink that looks no worse than your mouth.

In college I once tried cleaning out a toilet bowl with cherry bombs. This worked too well. Colored porcelain fixtures in the shade “Antique Filth” might be useful if you can find a plumber who has those in stock. Pouring paint thinner in the toilet bowl and setting it on fire melts the toilet seat.

Don’t use Drano if a toilet gets clogged. Remember, the toilet is a dog’s idea of Perrier. And you don’t want a dog with a melted tongue. Use a wire coat hanger instead. Just drop a coat hanger in there and flush. Now you’ve really screwed it up. Pretty soon you catch yourself thinking, “If I’m so low on life’s ladder that I have to do this . . . If I’m faring so poorly in my profession that I can’t afford to have somebody come in even once a year in protective clothing and a mask . . . Maybe I should just give up and join the Marines.”

Bathrooms can be a source of real despair. Close the door.

THE LIVING ROOM

Every month or so, take the curtains down–and throw them away. Turn the lights off if you don’t want the neighbors to see what you’re doing. The same goes for slipcovers. They already look worse than the chairs. Don’t use any rug or upholstery shampoos. If something won’t come off with hot water and Lifebuoy soap, it’s probably part of the natural environment and shouldn’t be tampered with. Besides, no spot remover ever made will get an old hippie pal off your couch.

Excessively clean windows are dangerous and expensive. If you can’t see the glass panes, you may think the window is open and throw something through it. Confine living-room cleaning to extensive use of large plastic trash bags and vacuuming.

Use a wet/dry shop vac if you feel like a sissy with a Hoover upright. Also, the Hoover is no good for vacuuming soup. The trouble with vacuum cleaners is that you start playing with them. What will happen if I vacuum up flaming things in the ashtray? Can I catch the guppies? Will it suck all the tape out of this old Oakridge Boys 8-track cassette? How much toilet paper will come off the roll? And what will it do to the cat if he lived through defrosting the refrigerator?

In many ways a broom is just as good. You can still chase the cat with it. In the summertime I sweep everything down the living-room floor register (though I always wish I hadn’t when fall comes around and the furnace goes on). In the winter I sweep everything into the fireplace, where burning it helps eliminate household odors.

Clean the ceiling? Are you crazy? Let gravity take care of that.

A smoky fireplace does a good job of making a house smell clean–or outdoorsy, anyway. If you don’t have a fireplace, leave a lit cigarette on the edge of an end table.

THE BEDROOM

Sheets can be kept clean by getting drunk and falling asleep with your clothes on. Dirty clothes can all be piled in a heap, and maybe they’ll look like modern art. Or maybe they won’t. The art scene is changing fast these days.

The dustballs under the bed–just let them accumulate. You may start living with a woman. And she may cheat on you. And you may come home unexpectedly. And the other man may hide under the bed. And you’ll be able to find him when he sneezes because of all the dustballs. This sounds farfetched, I know. But it beats crawling around on your belly with a dustpan.

OTHER ROOMS

Close the door.

Household Cleaning Products

Many men are confused by household cleaning products. For instance, will Sani-Flush flush the dirt out of extra-filthy clothes if you put it in the washing machine? And if Comet is such a great cleanser, how come it does a lousy job on ski goggles? Below is a brief table showing the proper use of cleaning products.

Pledge–Speeds up car waxing and is satisfactory on downhill skis.

Endust–Doesn’t actually “end dust,” just makes everything in your house stickier than it is already. However, it will turn the cat into a carpet sweeper.

Windex–You can use Windex the way you use those little Towelettes on airplanes and give yourself an instant shower.

Spic and Span–Supposedly will clean floors without rinsing. Personally, I’m waiting for the product that will clean floors without sweeping, vacuuming, or washing.

Soft Scrub–Makes lousy toothpaste.

Toilet bowl cleaners–Use in toilet bowls, also sinks and bathtubs. They are the only thing that works on soap scum when your cleaning intervals are six months apart. (Do not use on self, pets.)

Drain cleaners–Who looks down your drains? Why clean there? Drain cleaners will, however, dissolve all organic matter, which is a good thing to know if you’re planning a murder.

Ammonia–A whiff of this will clear up a stuffed nose.

Floor wax–Excellent for emergency shoeshines.

Laundry bleach–Too much eats holes in LaCoste shirts; less won’t do anything at all.

Bleach is good, though, for cleaning and whitening your animal skull collection.

Saddle soap–Can be substituted for baby oil in the bedroom.

Automatic dishwasher soap–Works best if you open the box before tossing it in the automatic dishwasher.

Liquid dish soap–Great for washing the car or yourself in the shower, an excellent pet shampoo and will generally clean anything but the dishes.

Powdered laundry soap–Makes a serviceable room freshener when dumped under the couch.

Aerosol room freshener–Pressurized can is helpful for filling party balloons.

Warning

Be careful when using any of the housecleaning products listed above. Have you ever read the labels? These things contain more dangerous chemicals than Bhopal, India. Hold a lit match to the nozzle of a can of spray cleaner sometime. I’m not sure if terrorists know about this, but a flaming can of Endust can take out an armored personnel carrier, easy. These products are great for 4th of July pyrotechnics and poisoning the neighbor’s Shih Tzu. But only a crazy person would leave them lying around the house. Besides costing more than an entire cleaning staff, they all stink of bogus lemon oil. Housecleaners are presumably designed to be used by women. Maybe there really is a clique of male chauvinist woman-haters running American industry, just like Ms. magazine says. Somebody should look into this.

TRICKING MOTHERS, LOVERS, AND FEMALE FRIENDS INTO CLEANING UP FOR YOU

Some bachelors spend years in psychoanalysis claiming to have a dependency problem with their mothers just so the old lady will come over and clean every now and then. It’s hard to pull this on modern women, many of whom are in psychoanalysis themselves.

You can try being pathetically incompetent in your cleaning operation. Let your date see you wet-mopping the windows or vacuuming the dirty dishes and she may feel compelled to step in. Or she may feel compelled to step out, permanently. Knowing today’s women, what your date may do is dictate a memo on proper use of housecleaning equipment and have her secretary Express Mail it to you.

Maybe you can offer to trade a woman one service for another. Tell her that if she cleans the bathroom, you’ll do her taxes. By the time the IRS catches up with her, the two of you will probably have broken up.

Romance is another strategy. For some mysterious Darwinian reason, women feel compelled to straighten up bedrooms before and after sex. Try making love in every other room of the house. Suggest taking a shower together. If the woman loves you enough, she’ll rush right in there with a pail and scrub brush. The only problem is, she doesn’t love you enough. Nobody loves anybody that much. The last person to feel this strongly about someone else was Bess Truman, and she only felt that way about Harry, and they’re both dead now and don’t have any bathrooms to clean.

PHILOSOPHICAL, RELIGIOUS, AND HISTORICAL JUSTIFICATIONS FOR NOT CLEANING UP

Camus had it all wrong about the myth of Sisyphus. The benighted king of Corinth endlessly rolling that rock up a hill in Hell is not symbolic of life, just housekeeping. Surely there’s some philosophy that will let us avoid this fate the way Existentialism lets us avoid plots in novels. But the Kierkegaards and Heideggers have spent too much time thinking about man’s place in the universe and not enough time thinking about the empty TV dinner tray’s place under the coffee table. Perhaps religious faith is the answer. Members of the Jainist sect in India go to extraordinary lengths to keep from taking life. The most devoted even wear veils across their mouths so they won’t accidentally inhale bugs. Maybe there’s some other religion that feels the same way about grease splatters on the wall above the stove. If so, I’ll gladly give up being Methodist and convert.

Historically, we don’t know much. No one seems to have studied ancient housekeeping. We don’t know if the great civilizations of the past were slobs or what. I suspect that ancient Greeks were personally clean but lousy homemakers (pretty much the opposite of modern Greeks). Aristophanes doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who hung his chiton neatly on a peg when he got home from the Agora. The Romans were probably neat and clean but inclined to talk politics at the orgy. But this is just a guess. I’ve never been able to come up with any solid historical precedent of slovenliness that, for instance, would help me mollify a girlfriend who caught me using her electric hair curler to pluck a Canada goose.

This dirt cost $5.98 in a fancy plant store, but the stuff under your bed is free.

My best arguments against housekeeping are anthropological. The definition of dirt varies greatly from one culture to another. In societies where everyone lives in huts with dirt floors, they don’t consider that dirt dirt. Even in our society, women think dog hair is disgusting but silver-fox jackets that shed all over the place are cute.

But middle-class American ideas about hygiene and propriety are winning out all over the world, despite occasional rebellions. Some think of the 1960s as an era of social and political ferment. I think of them as a last doomed attempt to avoid Handi-Vacs and the steam iron. Perhaps distraction is the bachelor’s only recourse. Have you noticed that when a TV is on in a room, everyone will watch the screen no matter how stupid the program? Maybe you should videotape somebody else’s clean house and run the tape on your VCR. Anyway, don’t make lame excuses. Try this: “You’ll have to pardon the way everything looks, I’m psychotic.”