With birdsong starting to fill the air around my home and my gearing up for some heavy-duty spring cleaning, it has come to my attention that I need a wife. I almost found myself one in the fall, but after three dates I realized a divorce would be imminent. Besides, she had kids and I already have a few of my own, plus a grandson. I didn’t need any more children in my home.
Her name was Maria and she was young and energetic. I was so excited the first time she showed up in my driveway. She got out of her minivan, dark hair pulled back into a serious ponytail, armed with a bucket, cleaning materials, a vacuum, and rubber gloves. She took this cleaning job seriously, I could tell.
After our first time, my stovetop glowed, the bathroom shined, and the living room parquet floors were scrubbed so clean, she nicked the wood in one spot. But I was prepared to overlook that because it was such a luxury to have someone else doing my domestic, wifely duties.
I’m not some spoiled little housewife who needs someone else to do her dirty work; I just need help once in a while with the big things, especially in summer. My daughter and her boyfriend usually come home from Hawaii and stay with us for a few months, and my son, who has his own home in Montauk’s harbor area, tends to still live here and joins us almost every night for dinner.
Factor in my (messy) husband, (shedding) dog, (spoiled) cat, whose name is Storm but is called Princess Pussface because of her disposition, and (beloved) grandson, who leaves little clumps of colorful Play-Doh in his wake, and you can imagine my workload.
On our second date, Maria decided to spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on the kitchen floor cleaning out my refrigerator. Since I like to get out of the way when anyone is working in my home, I didn’t realize this until she left and I opened a now thoroughly empty fridge. I don’t keep old or rotting food in my fridge; I’m actually pretty fussy about that and have a two-day rule: If it’s not eaten in two days it gets chucked or saved for the cats.
I didn’t need her to clean my fridge; that’s a job I do myself. I needed her to scrub the tub and shower stall, wash the kitchen floor, and do some dusting. A lot of food in the fridge was for the feral cats I feed in my backyard. One of them found her way down to my house from a colony at the Montauk Lighthouse many years ago, and she expects a good meal each night. There is not usually kibble on these cats’ menu, but that’s what they ended up with and seemed to relish. They’re probably sick of all the lobster, steak, fresh fish, and scrambled eggs I leave for them.
The relationship’s defining moment came on our next date, a Wednesday morning, when Maria showed up with her little boy, about 4 years old. He was adorable and I got him set up in front of my TV before I went back to my computer in the back of the house to work. Soon, I heard a loud banging noise. I ran back in and found the no-longer-adorable little boy using a vintage wooden sailboat I keep on my bookshelves to smash though the invisible waves of my yellow-painted — and now chipped — coffee table. We quickly put a stop to that.
Shortly after returning to work, I heard him making a swooshing noise. This time I found him surfing my rose-floral couch — with his dirty little-boy sneakers on! While he was riding the wave, Maria was cleaning my bookshelves, another job I would prefer to do myself. She rearranged every book on the shelves and tucked all my household candles in the lower cupboard section. She threw away some magazines I was saving, and tossed a few things that I didn’t want tossed. I was able to fish them out of the garbage, and while doing so, I knew our relationship was over.
I haven’t had much luck with cleaning people; I have found them to be a bit persnickety. My brother and his wife, who are both medical professionals and probably the cleanest people I know, were recently fired by their cleaning team because they were too much trouble, they were told. Meanwhile, their house out here is rarely used in winter and only on weekends in summer. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen it messy, much less dirty.
Another I hired from a cleaning service was lazy and wouldn’t do windows. When I left her a note and a bottle of Windex asking if she’d clean the back sliding glass doors, she left me a note that said she could no longer clean my house! And then she left — without so much as picking up a damp cloth.
One brought her husband, who sat on the couch and watched television for the entire time she cleaned. When she left she charged me double for two people. She also threw out anything in my house that she didn’t like: glass vases, a sentimental conch shell, tin candleholders from a special Christmas trip to Maine, etc. That was it; I raised my white flag.
So that’s my history with household help, a phrase I’m embarrassed even to use — I mean, I’ve been the household help! If I ever consider hiring someone again, the classified ad would read: Housewife looking for wife. Husbandly duties not involved. Must know how to clean!
Janis Hewitt is a senior writer for The Star.