Compliments can be hard to come by, so I’m usually pretty happy at any I receive. Usually. This week a friend came up to me here at work and said, “Hey, is something different? You look clean today.” He said this genuinely, surprised at how very uniquely better my hygiene apparently looked to be. He did not say this in a hip hop way (“so fresh and so clean, clean”) but rather in a, “Hey, you don’t smell!” sort of way. He was wrong.
This was confirmed by my wife, literally minutes later. She swung by my office and, before leaving, gave me a hug. Since I was seated she nestled her face into my head and hurriedly recoiled.
“Ugh,” she said encouragingly. Always what one wants to hear upon being hugged. I remember a person hugging me once and saying, mid-hug, “Ugh. You’re soooo skinny.” Like she was hugging a tall mantis. Thanks, for that.
But back to the trauma at hand. “Ugh. Did you wash your hair?” went on my dear, sweet wife.
Let me break the tale here to talk showers with you. I am somewhat a minimalist in that I don’t shop often. I can’t remember the last piece of clothing I bought for myself–I’m usually gifted these things from family. If not, I’d eventually go naked probably. I don’t buy much, won’t visit the dentist for the sheer cost of it, wear two-week contacts for months (and even years if a I can). I wouldn’t say I’m cheap because I’m fairly generous; so yeah, minimalist will do just fine. However, when it comes to showers, I’m a diva of unparalleled magnitude. I shower in the morning. I shower when I get home from work. I shower, often, before bed. I shower after using the bathroom (really, I do). Yes, you can go all Freudian on this–I need to wash away sin and guilt or some such thing. But honestly, I just really like being warm and being wet in a manner which is not susceptible to drowning. I love taking showers. It is wasteful and probably wrong and I need to change it, but it is who I am.
And it is who I have always been. Once, as a boy, I went to play with two brothers named Mark and Luke. I came from a home with three sisters, where “rough play” meant Ken borrowed the convertible without telling Barbie so that she had to walk to the Lego mall in heels. Mark and Luke had a different definition, all footballs, dirt pies, trench-digging, and other boyish endeavors. When my mother picked me up–mind you, I was about 5–and asked me how the play-date had gone, I responded shamefully, desperately: “I need a shower. They play dirty.”
So with offense I answered my wife’s hair-washing query: “Yes! Of course I washed my hair!”
“With shampoo?” she added.
Now, I do not have the time nor space to sufficiently digress here. What did she assume I would wash my hair with? Ah, you’re right, dear! That makes sense why it was so red! It was Ketchup and not shampoo at all! I must have stumbled down to the kitchen mid-shower, naked and soaking wet, grabbed the Ketchup from the fridge and scurried back up, none the wiser! Silly me! I mean, I don’t really know what she thought, but I know this, her assessment was vastly different than my friend’s had been. I was very much unclean.
So in one little ten minute span, my life has been altered. I always thought of myself as having a bit of a drifter look–aided on by my lack of formal grooming. But this day confirmed that I am, most days, a pretty filthy little mess. I thought I was Frodo this whole time, but it turns out I’m Gollum. I thought I was Paul or even John, turns out I’m Ringo. I thought I was Shakespeare, but I was mangy old Marlowe all along.
I was going to make some spiritual connections here about self-deception, or looking through binoculars instead of at a mirror, or our need for a cleanliness that, no matter how hard we work, we cannot provide for ourselves, but I’m just too tuckered out from this emotional roller coaster. I think I’ll go grab the Ketchup and have a shower instead.