Monday, December 17, 2012

Goodbye to the 14th Floor

I finally made it to the Anthony’s yesterday at 12:15 and finished at 6:45 which meant I was still there when Doug arrived from the airport with their son and daughter in law.  I had cleaning gloves tossed on the rug under the dining room table, and spilling out of the plastic grocery bags I use to tote them to and from houses.  That same rug was also cluttered with a stack of boxes that I had moved to wash the surrounding bare floor.  The condo was in various stages of disassembly (to get at hidden dirt) and I had not even cleaned the guest room.  But of course I was lucky, as I almost always am, because they were just coming to stow their luggage before going back out to pick up Lisa at work.  She had to work late yesterday.  We haven’t seen each other nearly as much in the last three years as we did before she took this job.  She is working for an organization that has something to do with education and scholarships or fellowships.  I think it is connected with the University.  It sounds like she has to put in very long hours and is still focused on the job when she comes home from work.

When I was racing through the last tasks, trying to finish up the most important ones- I did neglect a few minor things like vacuuming Lisa’s closet and washing the part of their bedroom floor that doesn’t get drip marks- I glanced up quickly at the nightscape from the south windows.  I get a pang of regret now thinking I will never have a chance to enjoy that view as a solitary housecleaner again.  Last night I raced to wind up the cord on the vacuum and put it away even as I thought I should take a more leisurely last look and smiled at the thought that I would miss the view more than I would miss Lisa and Doug.  One day we will have a chance to share a laugh about how they live on such a posh piece of real estate the house cleaner didn’t want to retire and miss gazing down on the city lights.

This morning, as I write about Lisa’s job, I am reminded of what I will miss about her.  I admire all of my customers.  It is one of the most difficult aspects of my role as house cleaner, the psychological effect of looking up to the people I work for.  I will miss the role model that she has been for me.  I guess this gets to one of the top reasons I am writing about my years cleaning houses, this need to document how my customers have set a spiritual example for me of a life dedicated to family and community.

Last night was a perfect illustration of their unfailing tolerance- I did not detect a single note of impatience or disappointment in their voices or actions when Doug arrived with his two tired travelers from the airport.  They had been on planes for at least 12 hours and were ready to rest and relax, but came home to find that the well paid housecleaner still had not finished.  All I got was a friendly “Hi Mary Pat, how are you doing?”

When I said, cringing, “Good, but I’m late!”- their only response was, “Well don’t mind us,” in a completely relaxed tone.  I had not met Ha, and Tim brought her to the bathroom where I was scrubbing the sink and introduced her.  We had a quick friendly exchange and they returned to the living room where I could hear Doug discussing something about the Christmas tree with them.  No one seemed the least bit inconvenienced by my tardiness with getting the job done.

The Christmas tree brings up another joy of being a housecleaner; the amazing THINGS people have in their homes!  Their tree this year- how do I describe it?  First of all it was just sticks, maybe an inch by half inch thick.  Secondly, it was suspended from the ceiling.  They were very short at the top increasing in size toward the bottom, and arrayed around a central cord which must have been very strong but thin, because I didn’t notice it.  The ‘trunk’ was really formed by the central intersection of the several sticks spaced in all directions to make several diameters of a circle, or branches of a tree.  It was adorned with traditional ornaments and hand crafted originals such as a spray of small wheat stalks tied with a colorful ribbon, and a small sculpture which looked like something the artist son would have made one Christmas as a fun exercise in forming the human figure; formed of dark modeling clay it was…well I have to stop here again and explain something about art in people’s homes.

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I got up to make some tea and realized just how bad I feel.  Is it just how bad or badly I feel?  These are things I never worry about when I write in my journal.  I feel like sh…  Aspirin is helping but this is no fun.  The thing is I know these aches will return often so I don’t have to worry about failing to describe them.  What I do want to relate is the delicious taste and texture of a sweet bread I toasted to go with my tea.  When I left I grabbed, without even leaving a scribbled thank you note, a big bag full of goodies from the local natural foods store.  There is so much to tell about; the ornament, the big bag of Christmas goodies, the card I have not opened.  I have to approach this like cleaning a house and just take one item at a time and give it the time it needs for completion.  But even cleaning a house I skip from one area to another, changing from cleaning a sink because my gloves are soaked on the inside and I want to give my hands a break from water so I dust, or return to running the vacuum cleaner.  When I clean a house I don’t have to worry about losing the customer’s attention or boring, or confusing them.  I am glad I have read authors like Camilo Jose Cela, otherwise I would despair of anyone taking the trouble to read my story.

This bread is healing me.  It says on the package it is a sweet from medieval Sienna.  Pan Forte: an Italian holiday dolci with honey, hazelnuts, almonds, orange peel, citron.  Flour and butter are at the end of the ingredient list.  I have never eaten fruit cake and have always been afraid of the day that surely must come when I will be forced by Christmas courtesy to try a taste, but this bread gives me courage.  The powdered sugar on the outside of the round loaf helps, but really, after a little warm-up in the toaster this treat makes me forget what ails me.  One more piece and I hope to return later.  Right now Una (that’s her real name, everyone else gets an alias) is sitting at attention beside me.  That could only mean it is time for the morning walk.

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