Art and I have had the same CPA for as long as we have been together. I like Herb. He’s a straight shooter. He doesn’t try to sugarcoat our tax returns. He just tells it like it is.
So one day when I was looking over his work for the year, I was appalled to see that in the space where he had to give my profession he had written in, “housewife”.
Well, it’s true that I don’t bring in a paycheck from the outside world. None of my songs have made any money to speak of. My writing seems destined to be an act of altruism for the rest of my life, which is not by choice, but okay with me. But – a professional housewife?
Look, let me make this clear. Martha Stewart I am not. I don’t dig in the garden because I’m afraid of worms. (Another little phobia). I don’t make my own wrapping paper. I don’t bake souffles. The majority of my cooking goes from freezer to microwave. I dust with Endust. I vacuum once, maybe twice a week. Ironing is considered optional (and rare). I prefer the Swiffer to hands-and-knees scrubbing. I do not perfume the sheets or count their threads. I have several drawers and cupboards that look like Fibber McGee’s closet.
Once when we went to another couple’s house for supper, I wanted to help clear the table after we ate. I looked around and said, “Oh, these butter knives look like they weren’t touched. Do you want me to put them back in the drawer?” She looked at me like I was a two-headed creature. “Oh, no! Once they’ve been out on the table. . .” Her voice drifted off – I guess she thought it was useless to try to educate me. She just picked up the knives and stashed them in the dishwasher. I felt my face redden. She had recognized me for the slob I am.
Another time when we lived in Tennessee we hired a crew to come out and clean our house there. It was a very large, rambling, open floor-plan of a house with very high ceilings. Once in a while we both agreed it was time to call in the professionals. They would be able to reach the places I couldn’t reach and scrub clean what I could not. There was one spot that bothered me more than anything in that house. It was the spot behind the faucet in the bathroom. There were green hard water stains and greyish-black mold there, and no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get them out. The woman who had come out to help us assessed the situation: “Well, that’s been buildin’ up for quite a long time. Some people just don’t bother with it fer a while and then you get those tell-tale rings around the. . .” She stopped herself, since she and I both realized that she was well on her way to scolding me for my unacceptable cleaning practices. She cleared her throat and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”.
On the other hand, I have known people who think nothing of leaving great piles of newspapers and magazines stacked in their living rooms for months, if not years on end. People who have a constant pile of greasy dishes left in a greasy, grey sink. People who see no need to change the sheets more than once a month. People who make a regular habit of pulling their wardrobe out of the dirty clothes hamper or off the floor. I once knew a guy who was a smoker who habitually flicked his ashes into his shirt pocket. There are people who would not feel at home without a half-inch coating of dust on their furniture. People who do not sweep the dirt under the rug because they don’t sweep, period.
Art and I like to watch Home and Garden TV. (It’s the most benign thing on television, even if it does tend to be a little vapid at times). We enjoy the “before” and “after” stories. We like to imagine how we would refurbish an old Victorian or craftsman style home. But just once I would like to see a follow-up to some of these make-overs. What does the house look like six months or a year after the designers have done their magic? And I don’t mean when the owner has been forewarned of an impending visit. I’d like to see the place au naturel; the way the family really lives. I always think – What’s the good of having a Queen Ann bed piled high with European pillows and shams – if there’s a half-eaten Domino’s pizza perched in the middle of it and a Coors can on the matching nightstand?
I was taught from the time I was little that “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” (especially when I was being dragged to the bathtub). But another part of me would like to paraphrase Oscar Wilde: Housework . . .”is the refuge of people who have nothing better to do”.
So, I guess on the bell curve of cleaning I fall somewhere in the middle, not more than one standard deviation from the norm. I try to keep a modicum of tidiness without falling into an obsessive pattern. I can’t work in too much clutter. I can’t even think in too much clutter. (There’s already too much clutter in my head). I guess that’s what saves me.
So, Herb – On our next return, could you please put down “Domestic Diva”?
© Robin Munson