As everybody knows, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” Actually, not everybody knows that. For instance, though I knew the quote, I had no idea who had written it, a problem handily solved by Google. Though no man is an island, many have lived on an island. Again, to use myself as an example, I have lived on two of them, one called Manhattan and one called Long. Some people, usually the wealthier sort, own an island, often one in warmer climes than what we experience here in Wisconsin.
The island I wish to write about here, however, is of the sort that many own, to wit, a kitchen island. My previous house, in Croton on Hudson, NY, had a lovely island with a granite top, and my current house has a nice island with a wooden surface. My issue with the island has nothing to do with its utility. An island is a great kitchen feature. No, my issue with the island concerns its upkeep, specifically keeping the damn thing clean.
Now, I am not a clean freak, and you would confirm that if you dropped in on my house. Indeed, if you prearranged a visit with me, there would still be no doubt that I am comfortable living with clutter and its concomitant dirt and dust (though I hate breathing dust). I have an old cat, and his sense of personal hygiene is sadly in a state of decline, so the normal blanket of cat fur in the house is accompanied by the occasional turd nestling therein, like a sky blue robin’s egg in its nest (except that this is a dark brown turd in a dust-colored pile of dust).
But we eat most of our meals on the island, which is equipped with three tall chair-stool-thingies. We also put on the island: the newspapers (two now: the good old New York Times, and the absolutely worthless State Journal), the mail, a fruit bowl or fruit not in a bowl and often oozing the gross stuff fruit starts to ooze after about 23 seconds at room temperature, a cork trivet with the usual stuff on it (salt, pepper, napkins, a bottle of children’s vitamins).
So the island tends to be a cluttered mess, in spite of our agreement that it should not be (our son has not signed onto this agreement, however). But beyond that, there is always, and I mean always, some smear or blemish of foul food waste to be found on the wooden surface of the island. I wipe it every time I pass by, which is about a million times a day. Two minutes later, there is more wiping to be done. I have taken to bleaching the thing with Comet and a rough sponge every weekend. After the process is done, the wood is as soft as a baby’s behind (to quote the 80s era ad), but 10 minutes later, lo and behold (what does “lo” mean, by the way?), there it is: a trail of grape juice, some lemon residue, some trails of salt.
In short, I am sick of cleaning the thing, and it is a Sisyphean task. Islands appear to have a mind of their own, and that mind is on grunge and filth. Actually, that sounds a lot like people. Perhaps, while no man is an island, every island is actually a man in disguise, perpetually sullying itself through the vagaries of everyday life, getting a little help in the clean-up process, and then digging back into the muck of real life.
As a coda to this post, I will note that I did once see a man who was, in fact, an island. The setting for the tale is Times Square in the summertime. I used to work quite often in Times Square, and I especially hated the crowds when it was hot out and I was seeking the blessed air conditioning of a Broadway theater. On this occasion, the ped-lock was a solid mass of humanity. But, all of a sudden, a large space opened up, and I rushed into the beautiful emptiness. It turned out to be not quite empty, however: there was a man with an enormous yellow snake wrapped about thirty times around his body standing in the center of an otherwise bare patch of sidewalk. That man knew how to put some space around him. That man was an island.