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Quarantine Has Brought Dirty Dishes to Critical Mass

There’s a pileup in the kitchen sink, and everyone’s invited

Before we entered into indefinite semi-lockdown to limit the spread of COVID-19, we had only the vaguest idea what this confinement would be like. To judge by the hoarding of toilet paper, many of us imagined quarantine as a period of near-constant shitting and pissing. But shit and piss, as I understand them, are byproducts of food consumption, and with public dining no longer an option, we’re using our own kitchenware a lot more.

The unexpected outcome of this chain of events: never-ending piles of dirty dishes.

Doing the dishes is a thankless chore in the best of circumstances — I often rely on cannabis to get it done. But when you’re effectively trapped in the home, with way more to wash on a daily basis, the sink is a truly oppressive sight to behold. It just goes to show that the thing you imagine will drive you insane (anyone else have a partner who suddenly took up the ukulele?) are quaint compared to the unforeseen struggles. 

Dishwasher privilege has never been more pronounced. And somehow, for all the flinty optimism about how we’re going to get through this pandemic together, the universal experience of a kitchen in crumb-coated, sauce-spackled disarray does nothing to encourage our fellowship. Each mountain of dishes is a battle one must fight alone, and a crisis of one’s own making. The Sisyphean punishment is no more tolerable when we all suffer it — indeed, the very thought of someone else’s dishes is too much to bear.

Is there a way to break the cycle? Work-from-home veterans are bullish on eating off paper towels, or, if you’ve already run out of those, taking your meals directly over the sink. Allegedly, it’s possible to wash as you’re cooking (citation needed) to cut down on the mess later. And if you’re isolating with a roommate or partner, you could always strike what I think of as a culinary devil’s bargain: take full charge in planning and preparing every dinner, leaving the other party 100 percent responsible for negotiating the aftermath. Of course, this assumes they entered the pact in good faith and honor.

Whatever your solution, it will be imperfect. The entropic force of dirty dishes is not to be denied, nor controlled. Order breaks down. Pans get left to “soak.” The scrubber grows dull from overuse. The dishes bide their time; they strike when you are most vulnerable, a clattering avalanche of wet scraps and failed recipes, bits of char and indelible grease.

In other words, enjoy the clear counter when you see it — the pleasure lasts but the blink of an eye.  

The MEL Guide to Life in Quarantine