I didn’t think I’d post more of these so soon, but my last article Adventures in Housekeeping: Stories from the Broom Closet, which included five anecdotes from my day job, was both popular with my readers and fun for me to write. So here are six more stories. I was joking when I said I could write a book of these, but I might do just that!
1. We Three.
One of my favorite things about cleaning houses is the pets. There’s a house that belongs to an alcoholic dermatologist, whose retired husband spends his days tending after his three huge Golden Retrievers. Max is the lively one, no longer a puppy, but he thinks he is. Standing on his hind legs, he’s as tall as a tall man. You have to be careful coming up the basement stairs to let yourself in, because there’s no handrail and the dogs are never put out of the way. More than once, Max, in his rambunctious joy over seeing me, has almost knocked me down the stairs while lugging all my equipment. The solution to this problem is to go upstairs first, round up the dogs in the kitchen, and then go back downstairs to fetch my equipment.
Max lives with Dottie, a scaredy-dog if I ever saw one. She’s beautiful but very shy and hesitant, so I think she might have been abused when she was younger. Lex, the third Retriever, is older than Max and slightly less rambunctious, but not by a whole lot.
Max is the dominant personality of the trio. Before I learned it was best to keep the dogs in the kitchen while cleaning, he would try to eat my equipment. One day I went with a partner, and she was in hysterics as he jumped about six feet in the air and tried to grab the vacuum tubes with his huge lion-like paws and pull the whole contraption toward his huge jaws.
The alcoholic doctor, who’s usually sleeping off a binge on the couch in the afternoons, doesn’t seem to care much for the dogs. They are her husband’s babies, and she just tolerates them. One day she complained to me that she can’t ever have anything nice in the house or ever go away anywhere because of “those damned dogs.”
On another day, poor Dottie was in in the way while my partner was vacuuming, and her feathery golden tail got caught in the hose. The poor terrified dog yelped and whimpered. My partner, feeling terrible, began to apologize to the woman, but the doctor was already doubled over with laughter. She held her sides and could hardly speak. After she pulled herself together, she said next time she’d have her camera ready because that was so funny it belonged on Youtube. Dottie, tail now free and unharmed, slunk away and we didn’t see her again that day.
2. The Clotheshorse.
A wealthy (“old money”) older woman lives in an 18th century plantation-style house that has four stories and a pull-chain toilet in the basement (out in the open, unenclosed by anything). The grounds are vast and immaculate, the ceilings and woodwork are ornate, and the house is brimming with valuable antiques. She’s one of my most annoying customers, for these reasons:
1. She is a slob and her master bathroom vanity always has mystery fluids and toothpaste caked all over it. She never picks up her clothes or shoes off the bedroom floor and there’s always about 100 used tissues under the bed. (She suffer from allergies, but I guess she’s never heard of a trash can).
2. She’s obsessed with moving furniture, and every time I go to her house there’s always some piece of old furniture in an inconvenient place, like blocking a doorway.
3. She keeps her microwave inside a cabinet high above the refrigerator. I understand she doesn’t want the “ugly microwave” on display in her Old Worlde style kitchen with its exposed brick walls, fireplace, and hardwood floor, but being that she’s about 5 feet tall, and the microwave gets a lot of use (it’s always coated in bacon grease and crusted on boiled milk), it makes no sense to keep it in such an inconvenient place. I wondered about this until the day I saw her pull a large stepladder out of the pantry to fetch a plate of bacon from the microwave.
4. She’s a world class snob who treats someone like me as “the hired help,” not that I expect or want my customers to talk nonstop either (and some do that too) or treat me like I’m royalty or something. Just being treated like a human would be nice.
She has a huge walk in closet that used to be a second bedroom adjoining the master. French doors with yellow-gray, antique glass open out onto a large deck that contains a hot tub and a gazillion potted plants. In this “closet” are racks upon racks of expensive designer dresses, gowns, pants, blouses, and other garments. One entire wall has shelves built into it that contain about 300 pairs of designer shoes.
One day last spring as I pulled up in the circular driveway, I saw that the French doors upstairs were left open, and all the racks of her clothes were out there on the deck, the garments blowing in the breeze. Obviously she was airing them out, but she wasn’t home. I soon got busy with other things, like scraping the dried toothpaste off her bathroom vanity and trying not to break her collection of miniature antique teapots.
After a while, the wind picked up and the sky began to darken. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I remembered the racks of clothes outside, and I had an evil thought. For a moment I was tempted to leave them there outside to get rained on. The visual of this unpleasant woman’s thousands of dollars worth of designer gowns and dresses getting soaked in a rainstorm filled me with a kind of mean, psychopathic glee. But my conscience won, so I ran upstairs to roll the racks back inside the huge closet and leave the woman a note. I never got a thank you.
3. Trustafarian Animal House.
I really can’t stand people who have everything and don’t appreciate it. There’s a woman of indeterminate age who inherited a huge rambling two level house in one of the most affluent areas in town. The house, which could be stunning, is a disaster. It’s completely trashed by her and her redneck lover, which they share with her five dogs, four cats, two grossly overweight brindle rabbits (who have the whole sunporch to themselves), and a giant turtle who lives in the dining room and whose smelly quarters are never cleaned. The front yard, which was once nicely landscaped, is overgrown with weeds and the winding stone walkway to the front door is a crumbling ruin.
This owner is whiny, loud, lazy, and childish, with a grating voice, but she’s less annoying if I compare her to a cartoon character because when thought of as this way instead of a real person, she really can be kind of funny.
She obviously came from wealth and I’m not sure what happened, because she works as a store clerk at the mall. Maybe even with that monster of a house, she’s strapped for cash. Her lover works in landscaping, but I don’t think either of them works much because they are always at home and they are always high. Sometimes they have friends over getting stoned with them. They also drink a lot. There are always empty cans and boxes of Bud Light or Pabst Blue Ribbon scattered everywhere.
The many animals come and go as they please. The dogs are allowed to run all over the upper middle class neighborhood unsupervised and none of the cats are fixed and the house always reeks of male cat urine. The dogs and cats are friendly, but they walk all over the floor you just mopped and then she whines about the paw prints that were missed.
I remember the first time I went there to clean, she told me to “watch out for dead animals” when I vacuumed under the couch. It turned out she was referring to the possibility of finding dead mice and birds brought in by the cats. I didn’t see any, but wondered if she’d actually live in that house with a dead mouse or bird under the couch until I came to clean again. Probably, given the usual state of the house and the fact she’s such a lazy person who doesn’t appear to ever clean anything herself.
The last time I went to her house, she was sitting at the kitchen table building a Lego tower. I noticed other Lego structures sitting on the fireplace mantel. A huge stuffed Snoopy sat on the living room couch. She said her mother gave her the Snoopy for Christmas. I think this lady is eternally 10. Not that an adult playing with toys is a bad thing, but she’s 10 in almost every other way too, like something bad happened to her at that age and she got stuck there. You gotta feel kind of bad for someone like that.
4. The Jilted Lover.
One of my customers is a writer of novels who is probably in his early sixties. He’s a very friendly and pleasant man, who always tips and offers coffee. The first time I went to his house, he introduced me to his fiancee, a gorgeous and very thin woman about half his age. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a man his age so much in love. He’d regularly bring her flowers and candy, and the two of them would hold each other and kiss and stare into each other’s eyes like smitten teenagers.
One day he answered the door and I could see he’d been crying. Either that or he had a very bad cold. He smiled at me sadly and I asked if he was alright. He said no, he wasn’t, because his fiancee had left him. I was shocked. Choking on tears, he said he was going to go in his office and try to write for awhile. I watched him close the glass doors behind him, and dejectedly trudge over to his desk.
Later I was vacuuming the area in front of the office, and looked up and saw the old man holding his head in his hands. He certainly wasn’t writing anything. I didn’t know what to do. He looked up and his face was wet with tears. Embarrassed, I looked away quickly. I felt terrible for him but I knew it was best not to say anything. When I was finished with my work, I let myself out quietly and drove home.
They are back together now, and going ahead with their wedding plans. They both made me listen to “Happy” by Pharrell Williams. They held hands and said that’s going to be played at their wedding. It’s as if nothing ever happened. I hope things last this time.
5. Mandarin Oranges.
There’s a divorced mother who lived in a big house with her two teenage sons. The older son, about 16, lived in the attic. Besides his bedroom, he had his own bathroom and sitting room with a big screen TV. There were blankets out on the roof, so I think he slept out there sometimes.
You never knew what to expect when you went up to his room. He liked to leave “surprises.” He collected expensive basketball shoes, and they were usually out of their boxes and strewn all over the floor, along with all his clothes, which never saw a hanger. One time there were plates with dried up food that must have been there for a long time, because flies and maggots had found a home in the dregs. Another time there were porn magazines under the sheets and a jar of Vaseline (I tried to pretend I didn’t see this). More than once the toilet was clogged but he hardly ever flushed it anyway.
The biggest surprise was the day I opened the toilet lid to find it filled with mandarin orange slices. There must have been 20 or 30 of them in there. For what reason would anyone put mandarin oranges in a toilet? Of course it was clogged. I knew I had to tell his mother, who had just come home. She was pissed. “That’s it,” she snarled. “I don’t ever want you to clean his room again. He’s spoiled rotten, because of his father. That boy needs to learn to clean his own damn room and if his toilet won’t flush because he did something stupid like throw expensive fruit in it, then he needs to fix it himself.”
At least she’s not like this other woman who won’t allow her teenagers to clean their own rooms because “they weren’t raised to have to do that sort of thing.”
6. The Best Reunion Ever.
This isn’t really a housekeeping story, but it still belongs here. Several years ago, I was visiting a friend in New Jersey, who worked as a pet-sitter, and I accompanied her on a few of her jobs.
We had to go feed and check up on a cat and dog whose owners had been away for two weeks. They were due back any time. The dog, Eddie, had a tennis ball that was almost destroyed, but Eddie wouldn’t accept any other tennis ball except that one. Not only that, he refused to eat his food until you sank the tennis ball in his food bowl, and then he’d happily eat around the ball, and finally pick up the ball and finish the food under it. It reminded me of the way a kid eats an Oreo. After Eddie and the cat, Missy, were fed, we took turns throwing the ball to Eddie for him to fetch.
It was at that moment the owners pulled in the driveway. Eddie and Missy both ran excitedly to the door, and both started pawing at it. Eddie barked and whimpered and ran around in circles and danced in front of the door.
The owners came in and their pets ran to them like children on Christmas morning. Eddie barked and jumped up and down, and Missy rolled ecstatically on the floor, chirping and coming as close to smiling as I’ve ever seen a cat do.
The owners looked just as thrilled to see them. In all my life, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a reunion quite like that. The innocent joy and love for their humans those two animals displayed really touched my heart.