My Short Happy Cleaning Life

by jkatejohnston

Dear Max,

On Saturday, while Teresa was on a doggy playdate with Colin, I cleaned the living room. I waited until she was gone because I know that my cleaning drives her crazy. There’s no method to it. Everything is turned upside down, and I do things in a strange order, as the impulse takes me. It’s like a natural disaster.

Enzo helped me move all the furniture out. I swept and then we cleaned the wood floor with Murphy’s oil soap, lots of warm water and a bunch of raggedy towels. It’s a rectangular room with a high curved ceiling. Empty, it felt like a mini-gym, as if there should be a lines painted on the floor and a small basketball hoop at each end. Enzo kept sliding in his socks and shouting to make an echo. Pete came in and started lapping soapy water off the floor. I sent them away.

I was on my hands and knees in the middle of a big sudsy puddle, scrubbing and thinking, “I wish I hadn’t started doing this.” Then I remembered an interview I heard on the radio a while ago. It was about a guest worker program, and the reporter said something about how Americans (meaning Anglos) don’t want to do farm work. The farmer he was interviewing said, “They don’t have the skills to do farm work. Harvesting crops is skilled labor.” And I knew that cleaning is also skilled labor and that I’m not very skilled at it.

Still, it turned out well. It smelled good. We got all the furniture back in place. Enzo dusted a bit. I cleaned the coffee table on both sides of the glass. I was exhausted, but satisfied.

The whole scene reminds me of a job I had after college picking up trash and cleaning the bathrooms at El Capitan State Beach. On Mondays we sprayed every surface inside the bathrooms with a horrible blue chemical. Then we scrubbed like crazy and rinsed it all off with a hose.

One Monday a big shot from the State Parks was driving around inspecting us. I was doing a bathroom by myself for some reason. (We usually worked in pairs.) I came out of the bathroom as he was getting out of his truck. And he just started cracking up. My clothes were sopping, every stitch. My wet hair was dripping into my face. My boots squelched as I walked toward him. And he laughed and laughed. He was a middle-aged black guy. He slapped his knee and wiped away tears. Eventually—when he could speak again—he said something like, “Girl, you gotta pace yourself.”

I don’t know if he actually said that or if that’s the impression I got from his complete amusement.