Friday, February 6, 2009

Cleaning Lady Redux

Where have I gone wrong?

My Peruvian cleaning lady called a few weeks ago to say she had returned from Peru but couldn’t come the next day, her usual Friday, because she was sick. (She blamed the food in this country. She said it is not as good as the food in her country. Maybe she got some of that bad peanut butter.) I was just glad she had come back from Peru, and we arranged for her to clean the next Tuesday afternoon.

While she was gone, her fee, eighty dollars, began to seem like a lot. The truth is that once she had done the initial cleanup, for which she gave me the “special for you” price of eighty dollars, the place has stopped accumulating eighty dollars' worth of dirt every two weeks. My friend G. thought so, too, and suggested that for that price I should get her to do the laundry as well. So I did: intimate as it seemed, I left a note asking her to please do the laundry, and I put the laundry basket and the detergent and the prepaid card for the washers and dryers in a prominent place.

This week I was wondering if the cleaning lady planned on reverting to Friday, when I am expecting guests. I saw two problems: having her still be there when the guests arrived, and having had even less time between cleanings to justify spending eighty dollars. So I called her up, and I asked if she could come Thursday and then (Sorry, sorry!) if she would work for me for only sixty dollars. She was not happy (who would be?), but she said, rather resignedly, “Special for you” and agreed to come.

I puttered around on Thursday, cleaning, in fact, and even pondering doing the windows (fortunately, it was way too cold to do windows). I had to go out to a doctor's appointment in the afternoon, and I found myself consciously leaving things for the cleaning lady to do. There were some vegetable shavings on the kitchen floor, and the rug needed to be vacuumed, and some of the clutter contained.

So I’m sitting in the examining room at my throat doctor’s. I had presented him with a gift: a copy of “Vocal Rehabilitation,” by the late Friedrich Brodnitz, an eminent laryngologist. It was spiral-bound, with a pale-green hardcover, and I knew he’d like it, because he told me that he is something of a student of the history of his field. (I had consulted Brodnitz some twenty years ago.) Here is my favorite passage from the book: “Freud has used a rubber hose with two olives, one in the nostril of the patient and the other one in the ear of the examiner to determine hypernasality acoustically.” (I don't think it was THAT Freud, but, more important, what kind of olives?)

Now my doctor is telling me a story about a jazz singer with a tiny, breathy voice, the voice of an eight-year-old girl, whom he examined and whom he made the mistake of informing that she owed her artistry to a deformity of the vocal cords (she did not take this well), when a cell phone rings: it takes me a moment to recognize my own ring tone, the Ride of the Walkyries (you know, Elmer Fudd’s aria in the Looney Tunes version of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle: “Kill the wabbit, kill the WABbit …”). I didn’t answer it, but after I had left the doctor’s office, planning to go to a movie before heading home, to avoid the cleaning lady, I checked to see if whoever had called had left a message. Sure enough: it was the Peruvian cleaning lady, saying she was sick, and would it be O.K. if she came next Tuesday.

I was discouraged, but I will say that it meant I could go straight home. She called again last night, and I had to tell her that, as I had guests this weekend, I would have to be doing the housecleaning myself and it wouldn’t be necessary to clean again next Tuesday. So we will go back on a Friday schedule, two weeks from today.

I hated to have to get the vacuum cleaner out this morning. And I am up to my old tricks again, of leaving the Clorox Cleaner and the Windex and the broom and bucket in prominent places, to reinforce the sensation that the house is clean. I kept telling myself that at least I had that envelope with the extra sixty dollars. But it didn't seem like enough.

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