Today, I’m cleaning Midge’s house. She is one of my favorite clients but also the one I need insurance for, or a Hazmat suit. Midge is a short, sweet, 60-something divorcee living alone in a spacious condo in a gated community. She also has a penchant for vodka and covering sharp objects with towels. Every two weeks I prepare for Midge’s cleaning day as I would prepare to go into battle: Boots with thick soles, water resistant pants, rubber gloves, extra sponges and paper towels and a bandana in my pocket to be used as a face mask just in case.
I let myself in with my key and walk toward the kitchen. I hear the sound of broken glass crushing under my feet and slowly back up and turn on the hall light. There is the towel, and underneath, the remnants of Midge’s glass that slipped out of her hand the night before, or perhaps the week before. Not today you little glass bomb, I came prepared. I look around the condo and three more towels are littered on the floor like landmines waiting for an unsuspecting foot to gouge.
I put down my rubber gloves of cleaning supplies and listen for Midge by the bedroom door. She is snoring soundly. I breath a sigh of relief that she has not succumbed to any injuries in the two weeks since I had been here. I’ll let her sleep until I have to clean the bedroom.
I walk to the kitchen and survey the damage. This is by far the most perilous part of the house. Midge loves to cook but can not bring herself to clean any dishes or put any food away. And in the two weeks in between my visits, the kitchen becomes the stuff of zombie apocalypse-level pestilence.
Today is no different. A sea of pots and pans and dishes cover every inch of three walls of countertop and fill the double sink. Green fuzz encases indistinguishable mounds of food on plates. There is enough mold in this kitchen to supply the country with penicillin for a year. The floor is covered in spilled salt and there is a pile of uncooked pasta by the refrigerator, which, in turn, is covered in hand prints of white flour. Hmmm, baking or frying, I thought. I like to play a little game of “Name That Dish” with the contents of the floor. The winner gets a tetanus shot and a month’s supply of antibiotics.
So, to the work at hand. In the ten years of cleaning Midge’s house I’ve pretty much got it down. I put on my gloves and clear the sink with the garbage disposal in it. I take out my trusty handkerchief and wrap it around my face, covering my nose and mouth. Turn on the faucet and dump the contents of all the plates down the disposal, then into the dishwasher, which as far as I can tell, I am the only one who has ever used. Now the fun part. I open lids on the pots and survey the contents. Ah, there’s the rest of the pasta, floating in a sea of red spaghetti-sauce-slime sprouting little fuzzy bushes. In the next one, a few pieces of fried chicken, extra charcoal crispy. Yup, she fried. And another, which I won’t relay the contents of for my more gastronomically challenged readers.
Once I rid the kitchen of biohazards, it’s pretty much smooth sailing. The whole kitchen can take up to an hour and a half. Non of the noise ever seems to wake up Midge, so I am free to utter expletives under my breath and wonder what fresh hell I am in.
Of course, I wouldn’t be subjecting myself to this if I didn’t truly like Midge (and she pays me well). She is very worldly and intelligent, and we have great talks while I’m here. From what I understand, she was once a woman of some means, and still is to a certain extent. Her taste for grandeur can be seen in the gilt-framed artwork and antique furniture that, most likely, once adorned a more lavish dwelling but looks a little too forced in this space. To my knowledge she has no friends, aside from a few neighbors she chats with at the mailbox. And she is estranged from her two children. So she spends her days alone, staring at the past and trying to drown it out at the same time.
So it’s worth the risk of a few diseases to make a lonely lady forget her troubles, even if it is only for a few hours. It is what I do. A cleaning lady has many responsibilities. Time now to put the coffee on for when she wakes up.