Saturday, February 23, 2013

Housekeeper 9-1-1

After a rather lengthy night's sleep combined with a nap, with no break  between the two, I'm far less tired and much more equipped to deal with real-world matters.  I'm not so ready that I'm getting up and cleaning our house, which is something of a bone of contention.  It's not really that I'm expected in my presently impaired state to restore order to this dump in which we live. My parents, imperfect as they may be,  are not slave-drivers and don't expect me to crawl out of my sick bed bed and scrub showers, tubs, and floors.  It's just that without me doing it, much of the housework is not getting done, and we're all growing a bit tense under the strain of living in a virtual pig sty.

When we lived in northern California and both parents were working beyond what would be considered full-time and Matthew and I were young,  we had a regular house cleaner who came in three days a week for four hours each time. That seems excessive by the standards of most people I know who use housekeepers or housekeeping services, but it was the apparent difference between our living like normal people and the health department showing up and declaring our home uninhabitable.

I frequently paint a verbal portrait of my family that is realistic (in my unbiased view) to the point of being blatantly unflattering.  Thus, I should make one thing clear, which is that  while we're not neat and tidy, we're absolutely not food slobs. The dishes  are done and the kitchen is cleaned following each meal no matter how tired or sick or stressed anyone is. Dishes aren't left all over the house, and food messes are one of the few things the four of us agree upon as intolerable. Furthermore, the bathrooms get cleaned whether or not anyone feels like cleaning them. Usually it's my dad  who does most of the bathroom cleaning. Spending so much time staring through the lens of a microscope has perhaps made him hyper-aware of the evil microbes that lurk even in clean bathrooms, much less in those that are cleaned infrequently. I clean my own bathroom because I like my own space perfect. I have a really cool bedroom/bathroom combo with a wet bar (which, unfortunately, is not stocked with anything very exciting) which is almost like a really cool hotel suite designed for an eighteen-year-old girl. If there were a way I could pack the entire room with me when I move out, I would do it.  Logistics of my plan notwithstanding, what is the point to having a really great room if it looks like a pigsty and smells bad?  I've been paying a friend to clean it for me twice a week since I got sick. If my mom were not so busy she'd clean it free of charge, but under the status quo, with her working full-time and all, she'd ask "What makes your room so special that it should be clean when the rest of the house looks like it got hit by a tornado?"

As my brother and I got older, we were expected to pick up a little of the slack, but we still had someone coming in for two days each week. When we moved to our present location, my mom decided that because she was no longer working full-time, she had little justification for paying for any outside help at all. My dad said, "Who the hell  needs justification as long as you can afford it, and we can afford it. Hire a damned housekeeper!"  My mom dragged her feet on the issue-- all things considered, she'd rather not have strangers going through our house -- and I did as much as I could to keep the place from reaching official hoarder status.  I started taking out all my parents'  laundry except for towels and sheets, which I laundered,  (I  wash my own clothing as well), which made a big dent in the workload. Still, every time we knew company was coming, there was a three-hour mad rush to make it look like the place wasn't inhabited by a pack of aborigines who had never seen an actual house, much less lived in one and knew how to operate its features.

Then came myositis a couple of weeks ago. I can't do my own laundry and the sheets and towels, much less pack my parents'  clothing off to the local cleaners.  My Aunt Ilianna had been helping out a bit because she knows how challenged my mom is in this area, but she's out of town.  My mom is teaching three courses at the university this semester in addition to having four private university piano students and two private vocal students, which is considered a full-time load.  In this case it's not just laziness; she really doesn't have the time and energy to take care of what needs to be done around the house.

Just before she left town, my aunt left my mom with a list of cleaning services, one of which both she and her daughter use. My dad, after making two trips to the cleaners in one week and  after doing one too many loads of laundry himself, called the cleaning service used by my aunt and by her daughter and asked them to come in for a consultation.  We need to prepare for the consultation, as the hourly price the company  quotes you, or even their willingness to take you on as a client, can be heavily influenced in a very bad way by having your house look and smell as though farm animals live inside it with you.

My dad  very wisely took my advice of hiring four of my university friends who are cash-strapped to scrub the place before the cleaning service gets a look at it. This begs the question as to why not hire university students in the first place. The answer is that they're, by nature, flaky. I know this because I am one. I'm  more responsible than most, but even I am flaky. You can get university students to come in any one time and do a job for big bucks, but if you're using them on a twice-weekly basis, chances are that the week of a major event you're hosting at you're home, they'll have a paper due that they forgot all about or will be too hung over to clean your house. A general rule is that the proximity of time between the cleaning appointment and the day the rent check is due is directly proportional to the chance that the university student will show up to clean your house at the appointed time.  Other than that, all bets are off. Some university students , who work at legitimate businesses because they cannot remain in school and keep roofs over their heads if they don't, manage by sheer necessity to beat this stereotype, but by and large, a student who signs on to clean a person's house is going to be flaky. We lived in a university town previously and initially tried using students as housekeepers,  and such was the case there as well, though nowhere is it as true as in the party capital of the west coast.  If you get lucky and  if you pay extremely generously and stock your refrigerator and pantry with truckloads of foods a starving student might find enticing, you may be able to find a decent babysitter from the enrollment of a local university, but don't count on one of them to keep your house clean or your yard mowed  unless you don't mind being viewed by the rest of the neighborhood as white trash (or trash of whatever ethnicity applies in your particular case).

I type this with the full knowledge that every stereotype has its exception.   There are sane Mormons in the world -- few and far between, but if one looks hard enough, they can be found. There are litigants on Judge Alex (the single greatest TV courtroom show ever to grace the airwaves)  who are neither clinically insane nor retarded  cognitively disabled, though one must watch the show consistently for at least  four weeks to come across one. (Watching the show consistently for at least a few weeks is a good use of one's time even if one is not in search of individuals lacking clinical insanity or cognitive disability.) There are divorced couples  with children who can show up together at a parent-teacher conference and not force the teacher to earn her pay three times over by functioning as a family counselor while she's supposed to be discussing the child's academic and social progress with the parents. (A good teacher actually earns his or her pay three times over simply by teaching, but it's all the more true when dysfunctional family dynamics make their way into the topic of discussion at parent-teacher conferences.)  There are extreme conservatives and liberals who can marry and stay married,  James Carville and Mary Matalin as case in point.  Likewise, there are probably a few university students  hiding under rocks somewhere out there who would show up faithfully on schedule to clean your house twice each week and would do a bomb-ass job of making your home appear spotless for the approximately  twenty-minute interval it took before you showed up and started  throwing your dirty socks on the floor and leaving dishes all over your family room.

Nonetheless,  most stereotypes (of the non-racial variety) came into existence because a pattern was observed and was found to be generally true.  University students as house-cleaners  will most likely be inconsistent.  If you live near BYU or Liberty University, your luck may be  a little better than that most people would experience, but if a housekeeper is needed on a consistent basis,  your safest bet is to hire an agency with an excellent reputation or an individual who comes to you with outstanding references from people you know and whose recommendations you trust.

As I type, the four university students my dad hired are scrubbing away at the filth of uncivilization to which my family euphemistically refers as our home.  One of the four students is clearly hung over. My dad offered to drive her home, but she's desperate for the cash, so he gave her an Ondansetron tablet. It's the kind that dissolves in your mouth and works quickly. He had her rest on the sofa for half an hour while waiting for it to take effect. He gave her the anti-emetic medication both because he's a nice guy who can empathize, as he's been hung over more than once himself,  and so that the hard  work someone does in cleaning the bathrooms is not immediately undone by someone else hurling in one of the toilets.

The appointment on Monday is a sort of reverse job interview. We'll do anything under the sun, moon, and stars to make the people who represent this company like us and want to work for us. We'll bake cookies for them and serve them tea. There's probably no cost not above the average hourly wage  demanded by an extremely high-price hooker that my dad would not agree to pay (let's hope that my dad does not know the hourly wage demanded by an extremely high-priced hooker)  in order to once again have our house clean on a consistent basis.


  1. My mom kept our house looking like a museum. She ran a business out of our home, so it always had to be pristine. Plus, she was an Air Force wife and back then, you were expected to keep a nice house. I am a slob, though I keep the bathrooms and kitchen clean.

  2. Students. You gotta love 'em. They turn up for work and end up having to be treated for alcohol poisoning.

  3. The catholic church. This is all too real.

  4. Wouldn't it be a hoot it Roger mahoney got elected. He was bishop of the Fresno Diocese when one of my dad's good friends was in school and an altar boy there. Thr friend of my dad said Roger Mahoney gave him a couple of bottles of sacramental wine for his 21st b'day. I guess Mahoney does have a few cover-up scadnals as baggage.

    My vote would be for Father Alberto Cutie, but since he got married and went Espiscolap so he could stay in the priesthood, he's probably not under consideration. Furthermore, I don't think he was a cardinal.

    I think every catholic should be allowed to vote instead of just the cardinals. Canyou even imagine what a fiasco that would be? It would make the election shenanigans of either Joseph P. Kennedy or Karl Rove seem like honest dealings.

    1. Father Alberto Cutie? Well he is a cutie.