I have always made fun of people who clean for the cleaning lady, but yesterday morning there I was. A friend had advised, “Go around in front of her, picking things up. The idea is to have her clean actual surfaces.” I started in the kitchen, doing the dishes and trying to find places to put things away. My apartment is like a Rubik’s cube: to find a place for one thing, you have to move a whole series of other things. The oven is for storage. Unfortunately, so is the dishwasher, which has never been hooked up, because the building's plumbing will not support it. Did I mention that it's a galley kitchen?
She arrived early, before 8 A.M. She's Polish. When she came in, she changed into bedroom slippers. She made two requests: small rags, which I provided, and, when she saw how low I was on cleanser, Soft Scrub, which I ran to the store and bought. She started in the kitchen (my instincts were good), then tackled the bathroom, the bedroom and the hallway, and finally the living room. Meanwhile, I did the laundry, put away clothes, cleared the desk, and paid my car-insurance bill (it went up). She charged me a hundred dollars for this one time. If I asked her to come regularly—say, once every two weeks—it would be seventy dollars (eighty with laundry). I didn’t even ask if she does windows.
She cleaned with incredible enthusiasm, finishing in three hours, and vacuuming twice. I paid her willingly, thanked her and praised her effusively. I said it would have taken me all weekend, because I’d have dragged around—I am an extremely reluctant housecleaner. “Is my profession,” she said proudly.
I thought I would feel guilty for having a cleaning lady. My mother didn’t have a cleaning lady until she was in her seventies. My grandmother WAS a cleaning lady. I looked around after my new Polish cleaning lady had left: O.K., she’d pitched my spare bottle of dishwashing detergent (what the British call “washing-up liquid”; I love that); I kept a small amount of diluted detergent in it for rinsing my eyeglasses (a household tip, ladies). And she all but ruined the cat-dancers—those wire things with sprigs of cardboard on the ends that the cats chase for exercise—by bending them severely, rather than coiling them gently, to get them out of the way (they’re hell on vacuum cleaners). And I believe she cleaned my bong, which was totally unnecessary. But I felt the opposite of guilt: a burden had been lifted from me—everything was clean.