Well, another Moving Day has come and gone.
Not for me; just for the entire rest of the city.
The rental calendar in Boston is driven by the student population, all of whom move in and out of their off-campus apartments on September 1st and August 31st, respectively. When they graduate and move into larger, less squalid domiciles, they are still forced to adhere to this timetable in order to accommodate the new slum-dwellers taking their places, and as they work their way up the housing ladder toward home ownership the same schedule applies. Thus, the vast majority of the moves in Boston occur between the last week of August and the first week of September, and those of us who are staying put spend the entire week dodging moving vans, U-Hauls, and homeless rag pickers sorting through the bounty of discarded clothing and furniture littering the streets and alleys. Most of my neighbors grumble at the havoc and make arrangements to vacate the area over Labor Day weekend. But I like Moving Day. It inspires me.
Unlike many people, I love moving. That is, I love moving into new places - unpacking, putting away books, organizing my stuff, and arranging my furniture. The packing part I can do without. The best part about moving is the feeling of newness - the clean, empty space in which to create a new life for myself: crisp, orderly, and free from the baggage of the past. This year, I decided there was no reason I could not recreate that unspoiled feeling without the accompanying inconvenience of packing up all my stuff and physically leaving, so, armed with a carful of newly acquired cleaning supplies courtesy of Home Depot, I set to work on a complete, thorough Scrub-and-Purge of my entire apartment.
This was a more monumental task than it may seem, because I am not a particularly neat person. Truth be told, I'm actually kind of a slob. Oh, I make an attempt to maintain some semblance of order in my home, but, for the most part, I've pretty much thrown up my hands and acknowledged I don't know how to clean, have never been able to remain organized for more than a week at a time, and am, frankly, oblivious to most dirt until it grows legs and begins crawling across the floor. That's why, despite my perpetual state of abject poverty, I have staunchly refused to fire my cleaning service. I know deep in my heart the Merry Maids are the only force standing between me and that inevitable day my neighbors notice a foul smell emanating from my apartment, break down my door, and find me prostrate on the floor, suffocated to death by my own filth. I think it's worth $75 every other week to avoid such an embarrassing fate, don't you?
Over the next three days, I attacked my task with great vigor, tearing the sheets and duvet cover from my bed and throwing them into the wash along with my bath mat, shower curtain, and entire collection of towels. I emptied my refrigerator and wiped down every shelf, discarding old salad dressing bottles and condiment jars, examining each expiration date on the remaining items to ensure their freshness, and rinsing out and refilling every single ice-cube tray. I sorted through last year's magazines and a lifetime of paperback books, setting the rejects aside in big paper bags to be donated as many literate poor people as I could find. And I even held my nose and delved beneath my kitchen sink into that scary, scary cabinet where I store my garbage before it goes out to the alley for the trash man (it's also the place I hide all the other stuff I don't know where else to put but is too gross to put everywhere else – or, as I like to refer to it, the sticky, icky place where coffee grounds, drippy bottles, and old food come together as one).
With nearly every inch of my apartment neat and shiny as can be, I turned my attention to my ultimate challenge: The Filthiest Place of All.
The Filthiest Place of All is the shelf beneath my bedroom windows. Because I live in a garden-level unit, my bedroom sits slightly below grade at the front of the building and the windows are about six feet off the ground with a shelf about a foot deep running the length of them. During the summer, when the windows are open, and during the winter, when there is a big draft blowing through the completely useless insulation strips lining the window frames, copious amounts of soot and dirt from the front garden drift through the cracks and onto this shelf. Being firmly of the out-of-sight, out-of-mind school of thought when it comes to dirt (see above), this condition has not particularly concerned me since I can't see up there unless I stand on my bed – and how often do I really do that? However, as I cast about my bedroom looking for new areas to sterilize, I noticed that the cream-colored curtains framing my windows had turned an alarming shade of mottled gray. Upon further investigation, requiring a superhuman effort to suppress my crippling fear of heights which was not the least bit quelled by the wobbly ladder I was forced to mount to survey the situation, I discovered a layer of grime approximately two inches thick. Horrified, even by my own standards, I gave the area a cursory wipe down, rushed back to Home Depot, and purchased an industrial-strength grease cutter, six enormous sponges, three rolls of paper towels, two pairs of reinforced rubber gloves, and a giant red-white-and-blue feather duster with an extra-long handle and brush attachment. Back at home and suitably equipped, I mounted the wobbly ladder again and struck.
Three hours later, I had taken down and laundered the curtains, dispatched the greasy soot, Windexed the glass inside and out, dusted the window sills, and knocked cobwebs down from every corner. I even scrubbed the gook off the ceiling fan, another unfortunate victim of the Soot Factor but far more difficult to clean because, in this case, the dirt had actually congealed on the hidden top side of the blades. In order to overcome this mess I had to run back to Home Depot a third time in order to purchase a special ceiling fan brush, another bottle of grease cutter, and a plastic bucket to catch any rivulets of greasy water that might drip to the floor as a result of my zeal.
At last, sweaty, exhausted, and completely drained, I collapsed onto my bed and closed my eyes, inhaling the sweet, slightly acidic intermingled scents of potpourri and Clorox. I was fulfilled.
The buzzing began about half an hour later. I opened one eye, annoyed at the disruption, and saw a big black fly swishing boldly through the air, completely oblivious to disturbance it was creating. I sighed, got up, picked up a magazine, and swatted it.
"Take that!" I yelled, tossing the magazine aside and lying down again. I did feel a momentary pang of guilt due to years of watching my soft-hearted mother routinely rescue errant insects and release them back into the wild rather than kill them. As far as she was concerned, even the most repulsive of poisonous centipedes deserved a quick ride on a piece of folded cardboard to the safety of the back yard, even when I pointed out to her that it was fifteen degrees and blizzarding out and she was likely sending the thing to its death anyway.
"Just squash it," I'd advise her. "It's more humane. Honest."
Bugs in general don't bother me. I lived off campus for my final two years of college, and by the time I graduated the cockroaches and I had reached an uneasy compromise: as long as they refrained from crawling on me and promised to scatter the moment I turned on the light I wouldn't disturb them in their hiding places. And, when I bought my condo, I knowingly bought into all the risks attendant with owning a ground floor unit: noisy upstairs neighbors; the occasional ant; maybe a beetle once in a while. And, on rare occasions, weird crawly things that defy identification but which nonetheless must be immediately disposed of down the nearest drainspout.
But flies were definitely not part of the deal.
Within the next several minutes, I had swatted three more of the suckers and was just beginning to relax again when I heard more buzzing from the living room. I went out to find an entire swarm - well, three or four at least - of big, black, buzzing monsters swooping it up in the living room. I chased them around fruitlessly, brandishing my magazine club - now hideously speckled with the squashed remains of their other little fly cohorts - but this crew proved to be remarkably agile and they merely zoomed past me, gathering in the most remote corners of my kitchen to snicker at me as I flailed uselessly in their direction.
It was war.
Figuring I had somehow managed to stir up an entire nest of the little bastards, probably from the top of the ceiling fan, I seized a can of Raid from the now-pristine cabinet beneath my kitchen sink and began spewing insecticide in gigantic, sweeping arcs throughout my apartment, darting from living room to bedroom to bathroom with a trail of poison streaming behind me. Having evidently called for reinforcements while my back was turned, the living room fly gang merely buzzed more defiantly and easily darted out of the line of fire.
After approximately fifteen minutes of ineffective spraying, I realized I had grabbed a can of ant/cockroach spray, which evidently had no effect on giant black flies but was beginning to cause me to stumble dizzily about gasping for breath so rapidly I feared for my life. If anything, the insecticide seemed to embolden the invaders, as they now began executing a blinding series of kamikaze runs directly at me. I grabbed a dishtowel and flailed at them, every now and then managing to swat one out of the way, but the remaining insects simply soared out of sight, turned, and then dive-bombed me again. I gave up, screamed, and covered my head with my arms as I ran for the door.
Half an hour later, back in Home Depot, I trolled the aisles for the most potent bug spray available. I finally happened upon a can of something called “Hot Shot,” which promised to not only kill every species of flying insect that ever existed, but would also handily dispatch all fish, pets, and small children within a 50-yard radius. Sounded like a plan to me. I bought two cans and headed home.
The instructions warned me to hold my breath and exit the premises immediately after spraying, but I had to linger for a few minutes to watch in satisfaction as, one by one, the flies started dropping like…well, flies. “Die, die, die!” I shrieked, aiming the can directly at two malingerers huddled together behind my armoire and cackling triumphantly as they, too, succumbed to the noxious fumes. After a few more search-and-destroy sorties into the bathroom and laundry nook, I unloaded the rest of the spray all over my screens and window frames, tossed both cans into the garbage, and headed off to Newbury Street for some shopping and a nice post-genocide snack.
I returned home two hours later, opening the door cautiously and peering around before stepping inside. The buzzing had stopped, all right. In fact, my floors and furniture were littered with the desiccated carcasses of my victims. There were easily a hundred of them, which made me shudder to realize they had been breeding somewhere in my home this entire time. A few swipes of the vacuum cleaner soon took care of the bodies and, with great relief, I headed back to the bedroom to resume my nap. But I just couldn’t shake the buzzing sound that still reverberated in my head. In fact, it was even louder than the original din. It sounded disturbingly…close.
I sat up and looked around. The noise appeared to be coming from the closet. With some trepidation, I approached the door and eased it open gingerly.
And there it was. The Last Survivor. Crawling along the floor in deliberate, jerky motions, struggling desperately to get to the relative safety of the hallway and, from there, across the living room to the patio door and the freedom beyond. There was nothing particularly defiant in its actions, I observed. Just a kind of tenacious deliberation that would have been admirable in a human but was really quite remarkable in an insect.
I considered squashing it with my shoe and putting it out of its misery, as I would have so cavalierly advised my mother to do had our roles been reversed. But I admired the little bugger. It had obviously had the presence of mind to hide away during my onslaught, and, in making a break for it, obviously knew the right direction to head. For ingenuity alone, I decided, this particular fly merited clemency. Instead of squishing, spraying, or swatting it, I scooped it up very carefully with a piece of folded paper and carried it out of the bedroom, down the hall, across the living room, and out to the patio, where I released it into the wilderness. It hopped away and no doubt died shortly thereafter.
But I felt pretty good about myself anyway, and walked proudly back into my sparklingly clean apartment, turned off the lights, and went back to bed.
Humming the strains of Born Free all the while.