Ah well, after $750, we have water again. Worth every penny. You know, I'd planned to stand in the shower for forty-five minutes, but I did my ten minute thing and got out, refreshed.

I realized then, that I could do the environment a favor by utilizing my new water-conservation skills. No, I didn't have to take a shower in a half gallon of cold water, but I could reduce.

You know, reuse, reduce, recycle. It's harder to reuse water, but it is possible to reduce it.

Here's a question: do you take the time to rinse out recycled jars and bottles so the bear and the rats don't get interested in your recycle bin?

I do. I add a little dish soap and try to use water that's already running off my hands whenever I'm washing them. I like them to be clean.

Clean is an interesting concept, isn't it?

I try to be clean with potential hazards in raw meat in my kitchen, but I also ruminate about the condition of my sponge and dish towel.

Now, I change out the dish towel once or twice a week and I'm pretty sure the heat of the dryer kills germs as long as the cats don't lounge in the clean laundry before I fold it. I don't dry dishes with a dish towel, just clean hands. I only grab for paper towels with the dirtiest of jobs, but that goes directly against any food-handling permit training I've had.

The sponge creates a worse conundrum.

I hate when the sponge begins to smell after a week or so and I end up washing my hands with soap and water right after I use it. Yet, I'm reluctant to throw it out until it's no longer bright yellow.

I can cook it in the microwave, but that smell persists.

I used to know a strangely fastidious man, Fred, who surprisingly never changed out his dish towel. It always smelled like a rancid sponge, only in triplicate. So after I cook my sponge in the microwave, if it still smells like Fred's dish towel, I hot-potato that thing over to the garbage can. Then, I get a new one. I'd like to use it longer, but that smell kills me.

Reuse has some things going against it.

I tried bleaching my sponge, but they disintegrated. I tried washing them, but they'd end up clinging to my underwear and going into the dryer by accident where the panties would wrap around them until they were a unit. Even if I could separate them, I couldn't separate the image of the sponge I used on my dishes wrapped in my underwear even if they both were sanitized by the dryer heat.

What is clean, really?

I have a mental image of germs in my head. Raw meat germs are vicious little predators, e-coli and salmonella. A bagger recently put raw meat on top of my strawberries and that shit just pissed me off. Then, there are the less aggressive germs that can spread viruses and upset stomachs, like a flu, RSV, or listeria. And, there's the low man on the totem  pole of viruses like the common cold. Hierarchy is important with germs as is knowing that a certain amount of dirt strengthens our immune systems. I think about that when my students touch my arm after picking their noses.

So, before the water pump was replaced, I lugged all my laundry and half my dishes over to the laundromat along with a big bag of quarters. No, they didn't have a dishwasher, but they did have a sink I could use while my laundry spun.

When I got laundry running and brought in a basin of dirty dishes, some guy in a white medical mask wandered over to the sink to chat with me while I worked. I didn't particularly want to chat with a guy in a white medical mask in case he was contagious.

"The particulate level is high today," he said as if explaining his strange appearance. I guess I learned to appreciate a medical mask after our son was hospitalized with RSV when he was four and we had to gown up and walk through a wind tunnel into isolation to see him. There was also the time when H1N1 was going around and the news was full of people in Tokyo wearing masks, but the look never really caught on in the states.

"Yeah, the fires," I said not looking up. Eye contact just egged these people on. Words did too.

"Yeah, the news said the particulate level was high."

I wondered if he was high. I notice when people don't have much to say, they repeat themselves.

"Yeah," I said.

I wasn't going to give them any ammunition to continue the conversation.

"You know what?" he asked.

"What's that?" I said. I wasn't going to be a bitch about this. Still, I really wanted to do my dishes in peace.

"A lady came in yesterday and washed her dog in that sink."

Fuck, I thought. Dog-butt water. Was he telling the truth? I was bleaching liberally, but the visual disturbed me. I'm certain that my sense of clean is a mirage only disturbed by people like this who liked to throw me off. I shrugged, tried to act nonchalant.

"I hate when they walk their dogs out on that path."

"Why's that?" I asked.

"Because the dogs poop all along there."

"Yeah, it's good when they bag it."

"But when they don't, it dries out and then it turns into dust."

I didn't say anything, but I would have thought that was better than the alternative, stepping in it.

"Then, it's airborne and we breathe the particulates."

Oh man, I thought I was screwed when it came to the question of clean. This guy couldn't comfortably walk on an open trail and breathe the air.

Thank you for listening, jules