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Really Conspicuous Consumption

Dorm cleaning services would disastrously equate dirt with dough

By Alex Slack

I am napping on the black-metal futon in my harshly lit common room. My Arabic homework is indecipherable, and I dropped it on the floor as my consciousness gave up the ghost a few minutes ago. A puddle of drool is diffusing outward from my semi-open maw at a rate proportional to its density. Or something.

A phone rings. Only it’s not my cell phone, and it’s not electronic. It’s a real phone sound—something I haven’t heard since my high-school summer job at a tennis pro shop with my cheap boss who wouldn’t buy decent office equipment. The sound is coming from beneath the futon. The world slides into focus, and I realize that my roommates and I put the Harvard-installed, Hotline-surplus red phone under the futon so it wouldn’t get in the way. Conveniently, now everything is in the way of me getting it.

I pick up the receiver to the red phone and spatter some drool across the mouthpiece (cheers, future residents of Leverett G-25), unwittingly imitating Ronald Reagan making his final nuclear crisis-defusing call to the Kremlin. “Do you have time to take a short, two-minute survey?” the voice at the other end asks.

This was me on November eleventh, and it probably was you, too. Someone, I’m not sure who, is conducting phone and paper surveys about the feasibility of providing pay-based cleaning services for student bedrooms and common rooms. The phone survey, however, isn’t so much aimed at figuring out whether there is a market for such a service. Rather, many of the questions are worded to divine whether the service would be economically divisive amongst students. The sparkling single of a New York blue-blood and the ratty double of two dudes from downstate Illinois does not a happy triple make. The point is that everyone knows that there are rich people and poor people here at Harvard. This new service would just allow you to measure economic well-being by the sheen on the linoleum. Wealth probably shouldn’t correlate with dust bunny size.

What a horrible idea. It’s a college cliché that everyone lives in filth. Being clean is not something to be proud about here. My roommates and I sometimes measure our self-worths by comparing consecutive underwear-wearing days. And personally, the fact that I can produce passing-grade schoolwork from a desk where I regularly balance my laptop on a stack of unsorted papers is an immense source of satisfaction.

Moreover, having a cleaning lady—scratch that, cleaning person—in to fix all this would not only deflate my self-esteem, it would probably violate federal workplace regulations. Any halfway diligent cleaning employee would be quickly overcome by the sheer volume of dried, unidentifiable fluids coating my floor, leaving even more fluid behind as he or she wretched out the door. Actually, I doubt that. But still, I would hesitate to raise demand even higher with my hard-earned campus cash for what has to be the worst job in the world.

So to whomever is behind this new idea, stop now. Aside of posing for H-Bomb with my sister, living in a room where two roommates got cleaning persons every week and two people didn’t would be the most awkward situation ever. Harvard is already rich with ways of showcasing wealth on campus—Final Clubs, HSA laundry service, Adams House—and we don’t need one more. When I said in your survey that I didn’t agree with this service being offered, I meant it. I hate to ruin your sample bias with this comment. But hey, you woke me up.

Alex Slack ’06, a Crimson associate editorial chair, is a history concentrator in Leverett House.

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