Dec 7, 2020

Housecleaning in the Time of Pandemic-onium

An admission of grit—and other failures

By Ed Goldman

While this year’s holidays are being equally anticipated and dreaded, it isn’t the first time I’ve awaited them with trepidation. It means I have to clean my home, based on the hunch that one or more people will actually accept my invitation to stop by for a drink.

Let me dispel a male stereotype: I don’t mind cleaning. In fact, I like to scour the counter tops, sweep and mop the floors, and vacuum my carpet and rugs. I even do windows. But—as Shakespeare, Aladdin and the guy desperately perusing the spice display at the meat counter say—Ay, there’s the rub. I like to clean but I’m remarkably terrible at it.

“American Swiffer®”

After sweeping and while prepping to mop, I look back at the wooden floor that runs throughout the first story of my condo and sometimes literally gasp. It looks like I haven’t done anything at all. There still appear to be hundreds of scatterings of dust, rubber bands and what crossword puzzles refer to as “orts” (leftover scraps; the clue is usually “unexpected treats for Fido”). Did I imagine having just swept it? Did everything dive back onto the floor a split second after being whisked into the fibrous vortex of my modern Swiffer® and traditional storekeeper broom? 

But no, when I turn the Swiffer® and broom upside down, I find I really did remove a lot of the offending debris, all of which continue to cling, though somewhat tentatively, to the implements.  

DUST BUNNY #1: Just hang on until the idiot turns his back.—Yes! Now!

DUST BUNNY #2: Geronimo!

Eventually, after re-sweeping, I satisfy myself that the floor is sufficiently clear to be wet- swabbed. For this I use one of those old-fashioned mops that look like a very skinny person with a dreadlock perm gone horribly wrong. (For the Politically Correct: This is not a slam on Rastafarian fashion. In fact, my own coiffure once caused a stranger to ask me if one or more of my parents was Jamaican. I probably didn’t help matters by responding, “No, mon”). 

I won’t kid you. I liked it better when I had a regular housecleaner. But I more or less furloughed her when the pandemic hit; then brought her back when California was getting A-pluses for our diligent masking; then had to re-furlough her when complacency replaced common sense and the county in which I live, as well as all of the surrounding ones, went back on quarantine, this time with cheerful Crayola® indicators to determine just how oblivious we were to our own health and the well-being of others. 

Government officials must think using primary colors implies seriousness, as we learned when we were on constant terrorist-attack alert almost two decades ago. I guess using pastel tones—like baby blue, mint, mauve, pink and my go-to hue, periwinkle—might give the misimpression everyone at the top is relaxed. (“Remain calm. This is a peach alert. There is no need to panic. Please save that for the lavender alert. But if we hit azure, flee.”)

I sent a couple of checks to my housekeeper during her absence, which might have made me feel a little better but did nothing to improve the cleanliness of my home. I kept marveling at how rapidly shower stalls could develop mold, toilet water could turn so overcast and grime could take up lodgings on bookshelves, leather couches and kitchen appliances. 

I asked myself: When did my stovetop amass so many crusted-over remembrances of meals past? Also: How did a weak parody of a Proust title slip into that last sentence? 

I bought a box of porcelain-cleaning pumice bars—and after scrubbing the toilets for about 20 minutes each, pronounced myself Lord of the Rings. But within a week, the dirt returned and I had to face two facts: (1) I hadn’t done a very good job. (2) Parodies of book titles still have no place in this column.

Last week, my housekeeper and I connected and she agreed to return to the scene of the grime. Naturally, this means that for a couple of days before that, I’ll scour my condo from top to bottom. I mean, I wouldn’t want her to think I was helpless without her.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).