I returned with the cats to Manhattan last Friday morning, and found a Tuesday-Friday 9:30-11 spot outside the good independent coffee shop, which is now closed, gone, defunct, kaput. Then I rushed home (via the bank) to await the bathtub reglazers. The apartment was an unholy mess, having been uninhabited most of the summer: dusty, sticky, stale. I needed a cleaning lady.
I’d been hoping for a Portuguese cleaning lady, because I noticed how clean the Portuguese island of Flores, in the Azores, was (except for the beach: I guess Azorean women don’t swim). My last cleaning lady was Polish, and she was a pro, but somehow, perhaps deliberately, I lost her number. I may be destined never to employ the same cleaning lady twice: they clean once and they know too much.
I asked a neighbor whom I ran into last week on the elevator if she knew the name of the blond girl on my floor who had given me the Polish cleaning lady’s number, thinking I must face down this peculiarity. She didn’t know the girl’s name, but her own cleaning lady happened to be in her apartment just at that moment. “Do you want to meet her?” she asked. Her cleaning lady is Peruvian, the sister of a porter in our building, who died suddenly a few years back. I can still picture him in the basement, energetically breaking down cardboard boxes and bundling them for recycling. Maybe she had his clean gene.
She arrived on Saturday morning, late, with a sore big toe. I ran to the store for proper equipment: rubber gloves (size medium), Clorox cleaner in a spray bottle, scratchy sponges, paper towels. She started in the kitchen, while I sorted my clothes in the bedroom and did the laundry. More than an hour later, she was still in the kitchen. I began to feel anxious. The laundry was in the dryer, and I was running out of things to do. I had already removed the brown paper and masking tape from around the blindingly white, freshly reglazed bathtub, and told her not to touch it (I had to wait twenty-four hours before using it: plenty of time for the reglazers to disappear into Queens with my $335 before I noticed the little nubs on the surface). She knew my vacuum cleaner better than I did, which was heartening. But it looked as if she was never going to get to the part where she mopped. I began to think there might be a reason that I had never heard of a Peruvian cleaning lady.
Finally, after vacuuming the bedroom, she requested the mop, and then she was done. “So,” I said, broaching the mercenary topic, “you’ve been here about four hours—”
“I no work by hour,” she said. Ah! That would forgive a lot of moving at one’s own pace. She considered briefly, and then said, “Eighty, for you.” She had not bustled around, but somehow everything was clean. She had handled all my little treasures—the tile from the Alhambra, the chicken Christmas ornament, the two mosaic-glass candleholders—and arranged them prettily, as my mother would have done. It took me a while to realize that I no longer had to move around my apartment in a spirit of recoil.
On her way out, lying in the hall between her and the door was Norbert, sprawled on his back with his hind legs splayed, airing his prosperous white belly. She got out her cell phone and took his picture.
I think I have a cleaning lady.
Too much excitement attended my return to the alternate-side-parking circuit. This morning I put on a new dress that I bought yesterday, the pink of certain French geraniums. I was parked in an ordinary 8:30-10 Monday-Thursday spot. I drove home first, to unload the trunk, which was full of things I had brought back from the beach. In my absence this summer, the Muni Meters went up. I attempted to feed two quarters into one, realizing that I wouldn’t be able to leave the windows rolled down because someone might steal the little piece of paper off my dashboard. The Muni Meter refused to admit my coins. A doorman told me it wasn’t working and pointed me to one up the street. I started out for it, clutching my quarters, and then decided that I might as well take my bags out of the trunk and ride up the elevator and drop them off in my apartment, which, after all, was on the way to the Muni Meter. Then, of course, as I had not yet gotten a ticket when I came out, I couldn’t resist pushing it by going across the street for a cup of coffee from the guy with the cart, and by the time I got to my car, two—not one but two—cops were giving a ticket to the truck that had pulled in behind me.
Back on Penny Lane (Italian barber, Chinese laundry, Greek coffee shop), the Broom had just passed, and I pulled in behind an S.U.V. with vanity plates, which had not moved. (Later I saw that it had a permit on its dashboard from the D.O.T. The agencies that make the rules are always the first to flout them.) It was hot, sitting out there facing east, once the sun rose over the high-rises. I had with me the ticket for my winter coat, which I left at the Chinese laundry last June. Occasionally in the summer I thought about my winter coat, but not with longing. I never had the ticket with me when I was near the Chinese laundry, and I wasn’t about to make a special trip. Belatedly I noticed the warning on the ticket: “Not responsible for items left over 30 days.” I was almost in front of the Chinese laundry, so I went in to see if they still had my winter coat. Eureka! The cost was $14. I gave the man a twenty and said he should keep the change, to cover the cost of storage. “Thank you,” he said, accepting graciously.