Importance of the shine

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Editor's note: This column originally ran Jan. 9, 2001. A new column will appear next week.

I've done it, there's no going back, and now I'll come out of the broom closet and unabashedly admit it in the pages of our local newspaper.

I've hired a cleaning lady. There. I said it.

It takes a strong woman to admit she's paying someone else to do her job. Women have been responsible for the home since the first time Eve yelled, "Dammit, Adam, how many times do I have to say it? Put your dirty fig leaf in the laundry basket, not on my clean floor!"

My mother, a woman from good German stock, was absolutely religious about housekeeping. We cleaned the house as a family once a week from top to bottom. Furniture was shoved aside for the vacuum. Cushions were lifted and brushed clean. Knick-knacks were removed from shelves for dusting.

The only time I move furniture to clean under it these days is when I'm moving and trying to get my deposit back.

To make matters worse, I've had little time to clean since taking my new job. I began to suspect I was spending too much time at work when I realized I hadn't had to buy toilet paper in a month and a half.

The Other Half isn't much help with cleaning. Don't get me wrong -- he'll keep things perfectly straight and in order, but he simply will not clean. For example, he will arrange magazines on the coffee table in a perfect fan with the bound edges exactly 1.5 inches apart, but he won't notice the 1.5 inches of dust on top of them.

Thus, the cleaning lady -- I'll call her Rae -- and the beginning of my immense guilt.

A friend recommended me to Rae after determining whether I was good enough.

"She has certain products that she likes to use," my friend said. "Don't argue. Just buy them."

A day later, Rae came to assess my apartment.

"Hmmmm," she said. "How much Comet do you have?" I looked in my broom closet. "A lot. About half a can." Rae rolled her eyes. "A half a can? You need the six pack. Let's see your mop." I held out my twist-and-squeeze mop, used about once a month since its purchase a year ago.

"Go to Dollar General and get the $3 mop," Rae commanded. "And oil soap. And I like to clean glass with newspapers and I need some good rags. I'll be back Thursday."

Rae cleaned like Mom cleaned. And, for the price of packing my lunch instead of eating out, I got the benefits of her skills.

The most amazing part of this whole story is that I used to be a cleaning lady. I cleaned to supplement the paltry income earned on my first full-time reporting job. My boss, Mrs. B, was always home when I cleaned, but she was narcoleptic and typically nodded off during one of her tirades over the quality of my work.

She wanted her shower doors rubbed down with baby oil. She wanted her plastic vines sprayed clean with Lysol. She wanted her paneling scrubbed with Cinch.

Mrs. B once saved a rotten potato that had rolled under the microwave cart. She'd bought a new cart and found the potato, thus realizing I hadn't been mopping under the cart. I was no Rae.

After six months, she called early one day and told me not to come.

"By the way," she said. "Did you see a new tube of Aquafresh when you were here?" I told her I hadn't. She insisted I had. I explained that, as poor as I was, I could afford toothpaste.

Fired for stealing toothpaste.

I don't mention that on my resume.

Heidi Hall is a former managing editor of the Southeast Missourian who currently lives in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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