I don’t put much stock in astrology. There have got to be more than twelve kinds of people in the world, and I hear the astronomy in those days wasn’t too accurate. But much to my chagrin, one of the cardinal rules of my own sign, Virgo, seems to apply to me and many other Virgos with unwavering accuracy. This would be the part of the one-paragraph summary of your personality in which you are told, “You are neat. You are clean, to the point of rigid. You prefer order and hate deviations from it.”

While I detest rules, law, and the rule of law, there is one system of rule, law and order that I take very seriously. That is the one that says: use a coaster, sweep the kitchen floor every day, line up your hair products in size order, alphabetize your books and subdivide them by genre, fold your undies and separate them by color, and there IS an appropriately-sized Tupperware, box or container for every item.

Breakdowns in my adherence to these maxims are few and far between, and occur mostly during times of extreme illness or inebriation. During the year I spent as a barfly, Rebecca said she knew whether to make sure I wasn’t drowning in a pool of my own vomit if she saw that I’d left the keys in disarray on the kitchen table and my pants in a heap on my closet floor. You see, the keys go on the little key hook by the door and pants that I’ve just removed, but am not going to wash just yet–pants that I privately like to think of as “active”–go on the hook on the back of the bedroom door, next to the “active” yoga clothes and “active” t-shirts. Deviations from this routine were indications that I might have taken dangerous amounts of illegal substances and should be monitored closely.

So, when left alone for the first 48 hours in more than a month, it’s no wonder I’ve devoted myself to simultaneously cleaning every surface in the apartment and every surface on my person. It’s been a day of beauty and relaxation for me, a mix of treats and tasks. I had a bikini wax, I mopped the floor, I used my special sea-salt body-exfoliant, I used my ostritch feather duster from the Fuller brush company, I used the non-chlorine glass cleaner. I used a special product called iKlear (chamois included!) to wipe down iPod and iBook.

Now I’m sitting here with a whiskey (neat, of course) listening to the dust settle on my freshly-wiped surfaces and pondering the source of my compulsive cleanliness. It’s hard to tell if it’s in the stars or in my genes. My father, also a Virgo, is also super-neat. One of my fondest childhood memories is of our routine each night when he would arrive home from work. My mother would altert my brother and I as to our father’s imminent return, and we would sit on the back of the couch, facing the window, and wait for him. In the winter, the window was covered in plastic to keep the heat in. I would boing my nose against the plastic, watching the world flex and bulge with its movement.

My father would come in smelling of the woolen cold, and we would kiss his five o’clock shadowed cheeks. I would follow him around the house as he put down his bag, removed his keys, billfold and glasses case and placed them in a row. He did everything with a purpose and care that made the act of putting things in their rightful place seem the act of putting things right. I would sit on the floor in front of his closet as he changed from his work clothes into his home clothes, shaking his suit pants into their crease on the hanger, putting them into the closet on the bottom bar, in line with their matching suit jacket, which he placed carefully on the top bar. He’d take his jeans and flannel shirt down from the hook inside the closet and put them on, turn out the light and close the closet door with purpose, and we’d stride down the hall toward dinner.

So maybe I came to associate neatness with my family being safely reunited and made whole again at the end of the day. Though I prefer to think of my propensity to create order in my desk drawers and closet as a way of shouldering the responsibility I’m taking on by advocating anarchic entropy and lack of order in the world at large. There is order in nature and there is order in every one of us. The systems of our body, the processes by which we replicate our cells and replicate ourselves, the predictability with which the smell of split-pea soup reminds us of the hallways of middle-income high-rise buildings–all of these are strict examples of adherence to order. There is even a kind of order to the disorder of matters as complex as love and war–people fall in love and fall out of it, people destroy people, places and things and whoever is left rebuilds them.

I think that is why I like cleaning up so much–in a world of entropy and destruction, it gives me the illusion taht things can be made right, sorted through, labeled, categorized, put away. At least things in drawers and on shelves.

Order is not inherently bad–it’s power exerted through order that’s dangerous. I only think we should each be free to define order for ourselves, and that we should be subject to the laws of other people only when drinking beverages in the sovereign nations of their living rooms. Call it the Virgo theory of anarchy.

Leave A Comment