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“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” --The 14th Dalai Lama
“Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” --Martin Luther King, Jr.
It all started one night after a long hard day at work.
My boss was on my butt about this and that; losing my damn watch. It was one of those days when you couldn’t wait to be home, away from the nonsense, sitting in front of the boob-tube, drinking a cold beer. But that wish went down the drain. Way down!
I opened my front door, threw my stuff on the floor, turned on the lamp, and got the biggest surprise of my life.
“What the hell!” I screamed.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. This couldn’t be my apartment. No way. I went to go check the number on my door. It was my apartment alright. But it can’t be. It’s always a mess.
I checked all the rooms. All clean. The dirty dishes that were stacked to the ceiling in the kitchen were now all clean and put away. Even my files that I tossed on the floor were organized and placed in their cabinet.
Somebody must be playing a trick on me. I bet a million dollars it’s my ex-girlfriend, Sonya. Yeah, it has to be her, who else? Wait a minute; it can’t be. Sonya doesn’t have a key, and plus, she has moved out of state. But who could it be? I need a drink.
I pulled out a can of Coors off the shelf and guzzled it down in record time. I pulled a second beer out of the fridge, but this time, I decided to nurse it.
Maybe my friend Pete could shine some light on the subject. I grabbed the phone off the kitchen wall and dialed his number.
“So you’re saying that you didn’t clean your place, Rick,” Pete asked.
“That’s right, man. Some weird crap, huh!” I replied.
“You’re telling me. Like UFOs or something. Maybe you should call That’s Incredible.”
“No way man! I gotta figure this out myself. I don’t want people laughing at me when I’m walking down the street, alright. And no cops either. They’ll lock me up and throw away the key.”
“I gotta get going, Rick. You know me and my cars.”
“Thanks for listening, Pete. I’ll figure it out, don’t worry. It’s all under control.”
I hung up the phone and sat on a chair. Pete’s right, I said to myself. Some weird crap is going down. But that doesn’t leave me any closer to an explanation, except for the fact, that nobody owns a key but me. Unless, of course, they broke in?
I checked the front door. No signs of forced entry; not even a scratch. Next, I checked all the windows. The same. This is crazy. I need another beer.
Three beers later I felt pretty good.
“They think they can out smart me, eh?” I said a little drunkenly. “I’ll show ‘em.”
I began messing things up: tossing junk on the floor, breaking dishes, kicking a plant over, tossing clothes here and files there, until the whole apartment was completely trashed.
“Now that’s what I call spring cleaning,” I said out loud. “UFOs, huh, take that!”
I threw an old autographed baseball through the window, shattering it. I felt like a new man. The whole place was back to normal.
I decided to turn in early. All that spring cleaning wore me out, and besides, I had to go into work tomorrow a little early anyway. I don’t want that jerk of boss to yell at me again.
“Sal, you wouldn’t believe this weird dream I had last night,” I said, pouring a cup of coffee.
“I’m all ears,” Sally replied.
“Last night I had the strangest dream. I dreamt that someone, or something, cleaned my apartment. The kitchen. The bathroom. Everything!”
“That is weird! You never clean your apartment, Rick.”
“I know. But it all seemed so damn real, like it really happened. So, what do you think it means, Sal?”
“Sally, not Sal. Maybe you should talk to a shrink. They understand that kind of stuff. They could probably analyze your dream and tell you what it means. That’s what I would do, if I were you.”
“But I can’t afford a shrink,” I cried!
“That’s because you waste your money on beer and cigarettes!”
I left work that day, again, pissed. I couldn’t believe Sally, wanting me to go and talk to a shrink. The only thing those jerks care about is getting their money from you. They’ll pretend to listen to your problems. Ask you to lie on a couch, as you pour your heart away, crying like a little baby. But in the end, it is, you, that looks like a jerk.
I fumbled with my keys until I found the right one, then slid it into the lock and turned the key until it clicked, then opened the door. I turned on the lights and screamed.
“This can’t be! I dreamt this.”
I checked all the rooms, and just like my dream, everything was cleaned and organized.
The phone rang. I picked it up.
“Yeah,” I muttered into the receiver.
“Hey, Rick, it’s me, Pete.”
“Pete! I’m glad you called, man. Some weird crap is happening. I had this crazy dream last night that someone cleaned up my place. Then, I walked into this!”
“What are you talking about?” Pete replied, puzzled.
“My apartment, it’s clean!”
“I know, Rick. You told me that yesterday, remember?”
“Yesterday?” I said confused.
“The UFOs cleaned your place, Rick. Don’t you remember?”
“No. All I remember is this weird dream, in which I remember my place being clean when I came home. I drank a lot of beers and thrashed the place. Even broke a window in the dream.”
“When you left this morning for work, was the window broken?”
“Uh, I think it was.” I said, scratching my head.
“So it wasn’t a dream, then! You broke the window because you were pissed yesterday. And you say that your place is clean, now?”
“Yeah, it’s clean.”
“Well, I gotta go, Rick. Will you be okay?”
“Don’t worry, man. We’ll figure it out. Catch ya later.”
Maybe I do need to see a psychiatrist. I’m really losing it. Pete seemed to be Mr. Control; all calm and all. And I have some weirdo that likes cleaning my apartment. Maybe I could learn to live with it. They’ll call me Mr. Clean. I felt like barfing. As long as I don’t look like that freak with that shiny bald head of his. No thank you.
I went to grab myself a cold Coors out of the fridge. I laughed. Pete likes to call ‘em “Sewers.” Old Petey. But my hand pulled out a can of Squirt, instead.
“What the hell is this? I cried!
I opened the refrigerator all the way, only to find more cans of Squirt.
“I can’t believe this! I’ll get that jerk.”
There has to be some logical explanation for this, I said to myself. Maybe I bought these by mistake? Yeah, right!
All I remember is that stupid dream.
“So, how long has this been going on?” asked the psychiatrist.
I couldn’t believe this. Here I was, in a shrink’s office, wasting my God damn time and money. A damn quack was more like it. I laughed inwardly. Any jerk could do this: Talk and pretend to understand.
“I guess three days. It all seems like a dream to me,” I replied. It seemed true. I don’t know. But old Pete said it was real—ghosts or something.
“So, you’re saying you dreamt all this?”
“I think so.”
“But you said you woke up one morning and your house was all clean.”
“Yeah.” I felt like a damn fool. Wasting this guy’s time. Wasting my money. I need a cigarette.
I pulled a pack out of my jacket pocket, but came up with a pack of gum, not my cigarettes.
“What the hell’s this?” I cried, staring at it in disbelief.
“It looks like a pack of Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum,” replied the young psychiatrist.
“I know that, damn it! But this isn’t mine. I bought a pack of cigarettes last night, I remember.”
“What I think, Mr. Mead, is that you didn’t leave the store with cigarettes; you left with somebody else’s gum instead.”
“No way!” I screamed.
“There’s a logical explanation for everything: You’re cleaning your house and you don’t know it, in your sleep probably. There are no ghosts. No UFOs. You’re probably under a lot of stress at work. Your girlfriend left you. And you’re cleaning your apartment to take out your frustrations.”
“You are saying I’m cleaning my place. No way. You’re crazy.” I couldn’t believe this: Cleaning in my sleep. This guy’s whacked. But I didn’t have any better explanation. Just the fact my apartment is clean. No! I never clean it. Even if I have company, I just say: “Move the junk over to the side.” And the cigarettes, I could have left with somebody's stuff. That’s possible.
“Maybe you’re right, Doc,” I replied. I’ve been under a lot of stress lately, with my work, and with my girlfriend leaving me and all.” I stood up and shook the doctor’s hand. “I’m glad I came in.”
“I’ll see you next week, alright,” stated the doctor, smiling.
“Your apartment is really clean, Rick. I’m impressed,” stated Sally, giving everything a good look over. She even gave it the finger test, coming up with no dust.
“Well, just call me Mr. Clean.” The “Mr. Clean” bit had us both laughing hysterically.
“You’re a riot! So, what’s for dinner?" She asked cheerfully.
“Uh, Sally a le mode.” Sally punched me in the arm. “Ow, I mean steak. Take it easy, Sal!” I held up both hands up in a gesture to show I meant no harm. She looked at me sideways. Then we both laughed hysterically again.
“Can I help?”
“I guess you can set the table.”
I couldn’t believe how well things were going. Usually, Sally never wants to have anything to do with me. But now… I guess being Mr. Clean really pays off. Sally smiled at me. I thought my heart was going to burst. I couldn’t believe she was in my place with me. I best not blow it.
“I almost forgot,” Sally said, handing me a small grocery sack. Probably a bottle of wine, I thought. Instead, it was a bottle of Martinelli’s Apple Cider. Sally looked confused.
“Light drinker, eh?”
“I didn’t buy that! I bought a bottle of wine. I even have the receipt to prove it.” Sally showed me her receipt, proving she had paid for it. I decided to let her in on my incidents: beer turning into Squirt, cigarettes turning into gum, and Mr. Clean.
“So, what do you think?” I asked.
“You know, I’ve heard of things like this before. I think you have a ghost here and it’s trapped.”
“Here! In my apartment?” Sally nodded.
“You have to free it,” she stated.
“It wants to go to Heaven, but it’s trapped here. It wants you to free it.”
“But how?” I cried.
“It’s simple. Just ask it!”
It was fifteen minutes after twelve, and still, no sign of the ghost, if it was a ghost. I’m getting pissed. We’ve been at this thing now for at least twenty minutes! There are no such things as ghosts, I decided. Only in fairy tales and That’s Incredible. I think I need another session with my shrink. Then, something incredible happened.
I heard a low humming sound, followed by a blurry image. It was a man, but I couldn’t make out any details. He seemed transparent, like a ghost. He is real! I glanced at Sally. She seemed calm.
“Aren’t you going to talk to him?” she asked, nudging me.
I nodded, although, it was more of a hesitant one. The ghost understanding my nervousness spoke for me.
“I need your help, as you probably already know,” the spirit said. His voice sounded dry and dusty, like the Santa Ana Winds. “I can’t go to Heaven because of some mistakes I have made in the past.”
“So, how can I help?” I asked, feeling more comfortable now.
“In order for me to go to Heaven, I’ve got to help others. That is why I’m helping you.”
“Oh! I get it. By straightening out my life, I’m helping you.”
“It’s not that simple. You’ve got to create a chain. What I mean is, I help you, and in turn, you help someone else and, then, that person helps another, creating a chain.”
“That’s a lot of work.” I replied.
“But it’s worth it.”
“I’m in. I’ll help.”
“I’ll help, too,” Sally said.
“Thank you both. I’m truly grateful,” said the spirit, before fading away.
Sally and I were both sprawled out on my couch, watching the late night movie, feeding each other popcorn.
“You know, Sal, I wonder if our ghost friend ever made it there,” I said. “It’s been two months since we last saw him.”
“I wish he’d give us a sign or something.” And with that, the lamp in the corner of the room blinked itself on and off.
“I guess he’s alright,” I said, reaching for Sally’s hand. She gave my hand a little squeeze and kissed me. We grabbed our cans of Squirt and then tapped them together.
“To us,” I said.
“To us,” she repeated.
As Sally finished her words, the light in the corner blinked on and off again.
“I suppose our spirit friend is joining in our toast,” I stated, taking her hand.
Sally smiled. We both laughed and enjoyed the rest of the movie.