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A Real Housekeeper

Last summer I gave away my corkscrew. I enjoy wine, but my enthusiasm for imbibing the fermented grape waxes and wanes, and that summer the corkscrew was gathering dust. So when my neighbor Stefan appeared on my doorstep begging to borrow it, I told him to take it and keep it.

Fast forward a few months, and my boyfriend was here, a bottle of Portuguese “tinto” – red wine – in hand. But no corkscrew. So we got creative. I made an attempt to open the bottle with my Swiss Army knife, trying to lever the cork out by sliding the blade in beside it. No luck. So Joseph took over, with a confident glint in his eye. I suspected he had done this before. Certain that he would handily solve the problem, I left the room for a moment.

I returned to find my beloved happily sipping from a glass, and dabbing at his face with a kitchen towel. Happily but sheepishly. I gave him a questioning look, he pointed upward, and what did I behold but a reddish spattering in a wide swath across the ceiling.

Well, the wine was good. But that burgundy-colored galaxy hung over our heads for weeks. It would need to be painted over, it couldn’t be washed off, due to the special paint (which isn’t actually paint) used in houses in this area. The wine simply soaked into the ceiling’s surface and would be there until it was covered up. I arranged to hire someone for the job, but the only person available was booked up for weeks.

So every day when I sat in the kitchen, I looked up at those red rash-like stains, and became more and more despondent. I couldn’t invite anyone into the house lest they think Joseph and I must have an alcohol addiction, or, worse, that the stains had been made by a fluid other than wine. At best, they made me look like a Very Bad Housekeeper.

Alcohol isn’t my problem – housekeeping is. As a housekeeper, I’m both compulsive and incompetent. I can’t stand to see, for example, the yellowish grime that slowly accumulates in the ridges in the old-fashioned doors of my house – which of course are painted white. But I don’t really know how to clean them. How do you get all the dirt out of the corners? Is there some special tool or trick? I’ve tried searching YouTube but haven’t found any answers that actually work. 

So I just keep trying – scrubbing with sponges and microfiber towels and paper towels and various cleaning products – and the grime just sits in the corners sticking its tongue out at me. Every time I walk through a doorway, I feel like a failure. No wonder I want a glass of wine now and then.

Then there’s the bathtub. I love taking long, hot baths with candles flickering and music playing, and when I do this I want the tub immaculate. But there’s something about cleaning the tub that has always defeated me. I seem to have a housekeeping disability. It’s ironic and painful, because I love a clean house so much. I’m like one of those guys who always wanted to be a fighter pilot, and built model planes when he was a kid and hung them around his bedroom, and then it turned out he had myopia or a heart murmur. Only my F-16 is a bucket and mop.

I have always felt like an imposter, a fake housekeeper, like the bunny in The Velveteen Rabbit. I wished someone could come and give me a hug, or wave a magic wand – or maybe it would be a broomstick – and turn me into a Real Housekeeper.

Recently, though, I seem to have had a breakthrough. It started with a case of Internet serendipity. Somehow I came across a blog post that held the secret key to cleaning a bathtub. I have to confess I didn’t put it into practice immediately – I’ve had too many housekeeping disappointments, and anyway you can’t believe most of what you read online.

But eventually, one afternoon, I found myself crouched over the tub, a sponge in one hand and a bowl of the magic elixir in the other. A bit of light scrubbing, and abracadabra—the tub was spotlessly clean—like new. I didn’t even have to work hard. In fact, it was so easy it was almost fun. 

From that moment, I felt myself beginning to transform. Maybe it was the first step in becoming a Real Housekeeper.

The next thing happened a few days later, when I was feeding the cats. We have five of them: a calico named Cleopatra Jones, who lives in the house, and four black cats that live outdoors: Serafina Pekkala, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Lixivia – which is Portuguese for bleach. The neighbor’s niece named her Lixivia/Bleach because she has a white spot on her chest.

I was watching them eat on the patio and suddenly I thought: Bleach!

The next day Joseph found me up on a stepstool with a bucket of bleach in one hand and a sponge in the other. Magic! I wiped the bleachy sponge over the stains and they immediately began to vanish, like the opposite of a Polaroid picture. It reminded me of erasing a whiteboard. In thirty minutes the stains were all gone and the ceiling was pristine again, white as snow, as it had been before.

This made me so happy. Even now, I will sit in the kitchen just looking up at the clean ceiling. When I do that, someone who doesn’t know the situation might think I was crazy, or drunk. But I’m not, I promise. I’m just feeling fulfilled as a housekeeper.


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