Cleaning Lady, Exit Stage Left

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Time is escaping under the covers of stress.

I had hopes of working on part II of Snippets of a New Yorker Dragged Against His Will to Houston, but I don’t have the energy to reminisce and evaluate myself; besides, although I claimed last time that this is a perfect time to reflect on my last three years, I’ve not been doing much of that lately. Next Thursday, I leave Houston for good, a joyous thought. Once I start my real vacation, I should have time enough to reflect, evaluate, and ridicule, the usual.

I’ve been quiet here because my plate has been rather full. (To help explain the plate analogy, I just finished PG, my post-gym food, consisting of Boston Market. Today, I gorged myself on a quarter chicken chock-full of tasty dark meat covered by a deliciously greasy and crispy skin, mashed potatoes with brown, chicken gravy, and tangy, sweet coleslaw.) Besides visiting Doolies, I’ve been organizing, cleaning, preparing for the move, relaxing, and saying goodbye to my few Houstonian friends.

Speaking of goodbyes, it’s strange how easy it is to say goodbye to a person you will probably never see again. I’m not talking about any of the friends that I’ve made in Houston—this means you, Tamer, Rebecca, Ella, Steven, Ari, Tuan, Carlos, and Natalia--who I will see when they visit me in Seattle (I originally wrote Houston but I quickly corrected this terrible Freudian slip). I’m talking about acquaintances that I’ve made throughout the three years I’ve been here.

One such acquaintance is my cleaning lady. During the last few months, I succumbed and hired a cleaning lady for my apartment. It turned out to be a rather a brilliant move. After her first visit, her husband called me. Her native language is Spanish and she is self-conscious about her English even though it is rather good. We spoke about scheduling, and I told him that I preferred a biweekly (i.e., every other week) cleaning schedule. He spoke to his wife for a few minutes and then came back to the phone. He told me that his wife would prefer come every week for the next four weeks, after which she would clean biweekly. I got the hint: my place was so dirty that it would take her that long to get it to a state where maintenance cleaning was possible. Obviously, I thought I was a much better cleaner than I actually was. The accumulation of three years of dirt cannot be wiped away in a week.

I was originally against the idea of hiring a cleaning lady because I can’t stand the thought of watching someone clean while I do nothing. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I think it comes from my childhood when my mother would clean while I watched television. She would walk in front of the TV often, blocking my view (which, in itself, may help explain my streaks of insanity). While I don’t remember what occurred during those cleaning/watching television moments, I’m sure, knowing my mother, it involved some convoluted guilt treatment, which trained me to associate being close to someone cleaning while sitting on my butt with bad. That is not to say that I ended up actually cleaning; just that I ended up not wanting to be near someone cleaning.

Getting back to the cleaning lady (I know, I know: I shouldn’t assume that the cleaning person is a lady, but I don’t know many cleaning men), I was reluctant to hire one because while I didn’t want to be there while she worked, and I didn’t want her to be by herself because of trust issues. Tamer suggested I hire his cleaning lady, who his brother trusted to watch his children, and I agreed. It’s been a blissful few months living in a clean apartment. We’re talking cleaner than Doolies-is-visiting clean, or even Doolies-is-visiting-and-she-can’t-stand-living-in-David’s-dirt-for-one-more-moment clean.

When I said goodbye to the cleaning lady and her daughter after she finished helping me get my apartment ready for the move (I didn’t watch her clean, I actually organized and Clean Sweep’d my apartment, throwing out years of accumulated junk, while she cleaned), I said goodbye, shook her hand, and knew that I would never see her or her daughter again. It’s not like I had much of a connection with either of them. After giving my keys to her the first time, I didn’t see her again until today--every other Thursday for the past few months, I came home to a clean apartment and rejoiced at the work of the silent faerie.

Storytelling has three types of characters: main characters, minor characters, and placeholders. This seems like a good analogy for real life. The placeholders are the people you see once and forget about: the cashiers, waiters, etc. The main characters are the ones who play an important part in your life. The cast may change, but when they’re there, they’re important people who, when they leave, affect you. Family, good friends, girlfriends are main characters in your life. Finally, there are the minor characters. They play a small role in your life, usually have names that you remember, but rarely stay long or affect you. I’m thinking the cleaning lady fell somewhere between a minor character and a placeholder, making it exceedingly easy to say goodbye. Or maybe it’s just that I’m a cold and cynical person.