06/26/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness, My Apartment Is a Temple, and Other Stories of OCD

Getting older usually, and hopefully invariably, means knowing yourself better. We all have quirks, idiosyncrasies, thoughts, and habits that make us unique and, if viewed in the desired way, attractive to other like-minded individuals.

My family has traits associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Not that I want to label it as such, since the term doesn't usually evoke a casual response of, "Oh, cool!" It's more often followed by, "Yikes, are you a germaphobe and have to wash your hands, like, 50 times a day?"

Personally I find my family's predicament amusing. Sure, growing up it was a pain to mow my father's lawn twice a week, in a set direction, in order to make a pattern appear. Do you know how baseball stadiums have immaculate lush green outfields? I do. We were also, from what I can tell, the only people in Augusta, Maine who raked their own woods. Not yard; woods. My father was a bit more concerned about how the woods around the yard looked than letting nature do its own composting.

When an escaped convict decided to off himself by hanging from one of the trees in our manicured woods, my father was furious. I told him to see if from another perspective: the convict could have done it anywhere but felt this was a nice final resting place and that my dad should feel honored, albeit in an odd way. At least the convict was still up in the air when they found him, my father reasoned, and so the underbrush still undisturbed.

So my family is a bit neat. Ok, OCD even.

I've never met, or dated, a woman who was as neat as me. And this has led to some funny situations, best displayed during a Seattle radio show in 1994 when, on the urging of my co-workers, I called in to discuss the perils of dating with the female host.

The show producer told me over the phone that I would be the next guest, to turn my radio off (as it was on delay), and to wait in queue. Two minutes later I was live, on the air, and a few of my coworkers quickly appeared by my cubicle, giving me the thumbs up, elated to hear of my perils.

The host chimed in over the phone, "We have Todd on the line. Todd, tell us what you look for in a first date. You are single, correct?"

A bit nervous to hear myself on the radio I took a deep breath. "Yes, I'm single. What do I look for in a first date? Hmmm. Neatness is pretty important. I mean, I've already pre-qualified her looks and she's accepted the date, right?"

"Yes Todd, you're actually on the date. And you say you look to make sure she's neat, right?"
I was going to muster a quick "Yes" but decided, instead of letting the host lead, I might as well explain to her, my cohorts, and the listening audience, just exactly I meant. So I began.

"You see, everyone in my family is very neat." I intended to go on but was quickly interrupted.
"What do you mean neat?" She asked, probably thinking it meant nothing more than I liked to dust occasionally or had the 'no eating in my car' rule.

I was all in, so I showed my hand.

"Well, I wipe off everything I purchase at the store with a wet paper towel before I put it away. Every month I take everything out of my apartment and clean it entirely."

"OK. Hold on Todd. Why would you wipe off everything you buy with a paper towel? I'm having a hard time following."

The wiping off thing was actually the easiest to defend so I answered that quite confidently and easily. "Think about it; everything you buy is dirty. Most people wipe off the top of a soda can before they drink from it. Most items on the shelf have been at the store for a long time. If you don't wipe them off then your fridge and cupboards will get dirty. Wipe them off and everything stays clean."

"So how does this equate to dating, Todd? How on the first date would you know if she's neat?"

"If I'm at her apartment I look around, take mental notes, but the most telling thing is when you go to the bathroom. Check the medicine cabinet. See if things are lined up, or are messy. You can also see if she's on any prescription drugs."

On air you could almost hear the DJ collect her thoughts. The next comment hit a nerve. "So, Todd," she said in a slow drawl, "when was the last time you were in a women's apartment?"

"Hmm.." I slowly rejoined, "do you mean when she actually knew I was there?"

"Ok, let's change the subject. What kind of bed do you sleep on? Is it a poster bed, or a futon, or some kind of man-cave thing?"

Having just moved to Seattle from Philadelphia I was living very modestly. I did have a futon but, at the time, thought owning multiple sets of sheets for a futon did not make sense. So I gave an honest answer. "I sleep in a sleeping bag."

Click. I was off the air.

The next four callers all asked if I was a true caller and answering seriously. A couple thought I was a hoax, or crank caller. None believed my story. My co-workers thought it was funny.

Six months later I was in the local coffee shop getting my morning tall Americano. The coffee shop was actually in my apartment building so it was quite convenient. One did not even have to put on shoes to walk down and grab the morning's first caffeinated rush. Since I love coffee, as many people in Seattle do, and I am not a "morning person", I tend to be a bit grumpy before that initial cup.

That morning, coffee in hand, I was waiting to use the condiment station. In front of me was an attractive brunette, about the same age as me. For some reason she could not figure out which cover would correctly snap onto her cup. I could only wait so long.

"Excuse me," I said, a bit perturbed that I could not reach around her to get my coffee in drinking condition, "Remember in kindergarten when they taught that the round peg goes in the round hole and the square peg goes in the square hole? Did your parents sign a sheet that had you excused from class that day?" I reached for the correct cover, which to me was plain as day.

"Funny," she said nervously. I think she was a bit concerned;.She was taking too much time and maybe she did miss that day. There were now three people in line behind me who would eventually pass this test with ease.

"Sorry it took me so long. I'm very tired and just flew in from Philadelphia yesterday."

"Oh, no way, I moved out here from Philadelphia last year. I love it here." I said. She smiled.

We talked for a bit and she was impressed with the resume of schools I'd attended and worked. She was even more excited to hear I worked in a software company as an artist. Her name was Sarah.

"I do voiceover and I would love to have the contact person at your company who hires out for talent."

She also asked for some helpful advice on where to find an apartment and had questions about specific areas of town. She was very nice. I then asked a simple follow-up question that is the internet equivalent of typing in a URL one letter off; you get something totally unexpected.
"So, you moved out here for voiceover work?"

"Not exactly. See, I am a radio DJ and I have a new gig that starts here in two weeks."
"Really? What kind of station?"

"It's a FM talk station. I was out here about six months ago when I did a test fill-in for the current host. We talked about dating."

Yep. One letter off and see what you get? At this point in the discussion I knew this was the host I talked to. No doubt about it. Right now I know that you know that I know. So, did I tell her?

I milked it for a little bit.

As I was leaving the coffee shop I turned to her, held up my cup as I was about to give a short toast or perfunctory wave. "Sarah, I forgot to tell you..."

"What?" she said, with a nice genuine smile. As if we were newfound friends.

"I still sleep in a sleeping bag."

"You? That was you? Really?"

"Yep. Me." And I was gone. I never called her.

She had left the condiment station a mess.