Andy is My Name. Cleaning is My Game

Typical dirty dish pile at the Raggedys’ – business as usual for me.

I just read Ann’s No Fry Zone blog and have to agree that cleaning a grease-spattered stove would “suck.” But sucky or not it would just be a part of business as usual for me and may even fit into my kitchen game plan. Allow me to elaborate.

Let’s start with the simple fact that two major activities take place in our kitchen – cooking and cleaning. As I have pointed out elsewhere, Ann’s domain in the kitchen is on the cooking end of things while I have always been on the messy-kitchen-clean-up end of things.  

Will fixing this dishwasher shelf make my little lady happy?

Just how far Ann is removed from my daily kitchen cleanup routine was illustrated recently by a comment from an appliance repair guy. He came to fix the top shelf of our dishwasher which kept rolling out every time the dishwasher door was opened. After adjusting it he turned to me and said “This ought to make your little lady happy.” He had no idea that my “little lady” had not used the dishwasher once since we bought it almost a year ago. Nor did he realize his great fortune that Ann didn’t overhear the “your little lady” comment – I don’t even want to think about what she would have done. To be fair, and putting gender stereotyping aside, I’m sure that my obtuseness regarding our clothes washer/dryer exceeds Ann’s lack of dishwasher savvy. But that’s another story.

You would think that being the permanent messy-kitchen-clean-up guy would become burdensome and unrewarding over time, especially compared to Ann’s more glamorous role of cooking and creating wonderful meals. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard dinner guests prattle on about Ann’s “delicious” creations and asking for the recipe for the likes of her Chile Verde or her Carrot Ginger Soup. Not once has a guest raved about my clean plates or admired the spot-free glasses on the table, let alone ask about what dish detergent I use.

Yet I find my backstage clean-up role to be quite rewarding and, believe it or not, enjoyable. One reason for this is that I like being my own boss. When facing that messy kitchen I feel a sense of autonomy and purpose – even if it’s for a fleeting time each day. That’s why I insist on doing it on my own. Ann gave up offering to help long ago (without much of a fight I should add). Even when guests offer to help after a dinner party (remember those days?) I always decline. I don’t even claim it’s “my way or the highway” – it’s always just “the highway.” Anyway, most offers by guests to help are pretty much empty gestures that provide a polite exit strategy.

In the spirit of full disclosure I have to confess to another reason I like being the Lone Ranger in the kitchen. It allows me to indulge in quirky little mind games that keep me amused while cleaning up. These are not formalized games that I can play with others present, at least if I want to maintain the illusion that I am a normal, rationally functioning member of the human race. To give you an idea of the kinds of things I get up to during my cleaning up sessions I’ll share just a couple of my favorites.

My first example evolved from experimenting with a number of kitchen items to see if they would spin on our countertop. I finally arrive upon the ideal object: the lid to our Staub Enameled Cast Iron Round Dutch Oven. The Williams Sonoma on-line ad for the Staub dutch oven claims that the pot has a “heavy lid to seal in moisture.” However, the ad fails to include the important detail that if spun on a countertop (top side down, of course) the heavy lid will keep spinning for up to 2 minutes and 57 seconds. It is amazing how many pieces of clean flatware I can get into the silverware drawer before it comes to a stop.

Our Staub cast iron dutch oven lid does more than just seal in the moisture – it can spin for up to 2 minutes and 57 seconds.

A more basic example from my repertoire of solo kitchen games has to do with the open-door alarm on our fridge which goes off one minute after the door has been opened. The idea is to see if I can get all of the stuff that needs to go into the refrigerator secured and the door closed prior to the alarm sounding. Believe me, anticipation of that dreaded alarm can get your adrenalin really going.

And of course I must include one of my favorites – the blind carafe fill. This game has to do with our morning coffee ritual (mentioned in a previous Andy’s Corner). Before exiting the kitchen each evening I prepare our coffee maker so it will begin brewing the first thing in the morning. This means that I have to fill the carafe with water precisely to the 5-cup mark and then dump it into the coffee maker. The fun part of this is to fill the carafe to the proper level without looking. I have to admit that over time I have become quite proficient at hitting the mark.

Johan Huizinga, Dutch historian who wrote Homo Ludens in 1938. I wonder if he found cleaning up to be playful.

Such playful antics may be considered by some as distractions from the serious purposes of kitchen work and seen as, to use Ann’s expression, “piddling around.” I have to take exception to that. Far from “piddling around” in the kitchen, my “playful” approach to cleaning up is consistent with core social evolutionary forces that are the bedrock of human civilization. At least that’s the case made by Johan Huizinga in his book Homo Ludens which I read as an undergrad many years ago – and even understood some of it. He basically says that play is necessary for creating human culture. In other words, the fact that our kitchen becomes kind of secret playground during my cleaning up time is not only natural but it is a good thing. As Huizinga writes,

The exceptional and special position of play is most tellingly illustrated by the fact that it loves to surround itself with an air of secrecy. Even in early childhood the charm of play is enhanced by making a “secret” out of it. This is for us, not for the “others”. What the “others” do “outside” is no concern of ours at the moment. Inside the circle of the game the laws and customs of ordinary life no longer count. (p 11)

So, as I scurry to put away the last of the washed dishes before the spinning Staub dutch oven lid comes to a halt I can think of myself as contributing to the natural evolution of human culture. That certainly has a better ring to it than “piddling around” in the kitchen.


  1. Tricia says:

    Love your games! I’m also the clean-up crew for my chef, and now that I’ve trained him not to use EVERY pot and pan we own, I don’t usually mind. My game is getting the dishwasher unloaded each morning before the water boils for making the daily pitcher of iced tea.


    • theRaggedys says:

      That’s a great idea. We have some great memories of Charlie’s skill in the kitchen, although no memories of your dish-washing prowess- and I feel your pain. . Love hearing from you.


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