Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Raoul is spending more and more time at my apartment, and I need to start thinking about whether I want this to be a relationship. He's fun, he's great, he's sexy, but in the back of my mind I realize he has a fatal flaw. He has the attention span of a caffeinated poodle. He'll be doing something -- fixing his hair, texting a friend, eating lunch -- and he'll see Lady Gaga on TV, or hear a car honk, and his brain will erase like an Etch-a-Sketch. Three days later I'll discover a hair brush in the oven, or his cellphone in the medicine cabinet, or half a sandwich adding a salami scent to every article of clothing I own.

There's one little item he misplaces consistently: my dishwashing sponge. I know it's petty, but it grosses me out. Leave it on the side of the sink, and it air-dries. Leave it in the sink, and it rehydrates every time the faucet is turned on. It puffs up just a little larger until it looks like a swollen blue turtle laying there. At some point it turns gross and slimy, and I can barely bring myself to squeeze it dry and put it back in its proper place. It makes me question my personality. All of a sudden I'm the queasy gay lifeguard who won't give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dude with zits.

I try to phrase my complaint so it doesn't sound like an attack. "Raoul," I say, "wet sponges gross me out. Can you try not to leave the sponge in the sink?"

He shoots me the look your dog would make if you asked it to make you a mojito. "I don't leave the sponge in the sink."

I hadn't expected that answer. I expected either "Oh, okay!" or "Get a life, asshole." It's early in the relationship, when you're still finding these things out. I say, "Oh, I guess it must be me," and I try to forget the whole thing.

Unfortunately, now that Pandora's box has been opened, an avalanche of evidence comes tumbling out. Every day I find six or seven things where they don't belong, and it becomes crystal clear: either I'm going senile, or my prospective boyfriend has a habit that I really need to break.

I decide I have to be absolutely positive before I confront him. One morning I race around the apartment while he's still in bed. I run through every room, check every surface, examine the interiors of every drawer, closet, and kitchen appliance. I confirm that everything is in its proper place. I get in the shower, and I give him some time. I shampoo, rinse, repeat. I loofah. I deep-condition my hair. After twenty or so minutes, I towel-dry and spritz myself with cologne. I gel my hair and blow-dry.

And when I emerge from the bathroom, I discover there's half an banana on my bureau, and the magazine I was reading is on the TV. The toaster oven is on full-blast, though it's empty, and his socks are in the fridge. My flashlight is lit and the sponge is in the sink.

That night while I'm making dinner I decide I'll try again. I'll broach the subject before I get too mad and explode. I set a pot of water on the stove to boil, and chop up the broccoli into florets. I'll be totally nonconfrontational, I tell myself, and we'll settle the issue like adults. I flip open the lid on the trash can and toss in the broccoli stalks. I leave the lid up while I'm cooking, since there's a lot more trash to come.

Raoul appears just as the water starts boiling. I dump in the pasta and toss the box in the trash. "Raoul," I say, chopping up the carrots next, "can you do me a favor? You seem to have a short attention span, and I don't like having to clean up after you. Can you try to remember to leave things the way you found them?"

He shoots me a confused look. "I do," he asserts. "Always." He swipes a broccoli floret and takes a bite out of it, then grabs my spoon and stirs the pasta. His broccoli, I notice, is now lying on the counter, where it's doomed to spend the rest of its days. When he's sure the pasta isn't sticking he drops my spoon in the sink and then grabs a carrot stick.

"It's okay," I say. "I'm sure you're just distracted, and don't notice you're doing it. Maybe if you just paid more attention." I dump the vegetables in with the pasta and stir them with a new spoon.

"I'm not scatterbrained," he says defensively. "I'm constantly aware of what I'm doing, and I don't leave any kind of trace." He pointedly drops the end of his carrot stick into the garbage can.

"It's just little things. Insignificant things. But, you know, they add up, and eventually they turn into something big."

He furrows his brow. He still doesn't know what I'm talking about. "I totally get that," he snaps. "That's why I take pains to leave everything exactly the way I found it."

Everything's cooked, so I drain the pot and dump a jar of spaghetti sauce on top. "Okay," I concede, and I fling the empty jar at the trash can. After it's left my hand I realize he's closed the lid. The jar thumps into the white plastic, then careens off and smashes on the floor, sending shards of sharp glass and spurts of red sauce onto everything within fifteen feet.

I glance over at him, and his confused look is intact. "I guess I'm just being paranoid," I say.

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