We gave our cleaning ladies an extra $20 last week. Why was that? It’s very simple. Except then you will ask, “Oh? Why was that?” But if I answer your second question, I’m quite sure that even if you’re too polite to keep pestering me with further questions, you may very well say to yourself, “What did she have to do that for?” And eventually, if we tracked the reason behind the reason behind the reason for the extra $20, we would get back to the summer of 2009.
That kind of thing happens to me, and probably you, a lot of the time. Quite innocently we do X back there in 2009 or whenever….and before we know it, or a little longer than that but not very much longer, we’re confronting Y and then Z — which we hadn’t been thinking about at all when we first considered X and thought, “Yes!” The $20 here is not a particularly alarming example of Z, unlike at least one other Z I may tell you about later on, so let’s use it for illustrative purposes. We’ll start with the two cleaning ladies.
Every other Thursday, they come to our condo unit for about two hours to do the housework I’d rather give up almost anything you could name in order to have enough money to pay them to do. I really and truly do hate what is called housework. (Maybe it’s because my mother did so much of it, every single day of nearly her whole life, even when it wasn’t necessary since everything was already very clean.) There are only about three exceptions that I can think of right off the top of my head.
The first is laundry, which I don’t mind doing now that everything can go into the washing machine — underwear too, on the delicate cycle. You don’t even have to measure out the liquid these days; there’s a multi-colored detergent laundry pod you throw in after the soiled clothes. Just remember to close the machine door.
I learned about the pods from a private limousine driver while he was taking me to the Philadelphia airport to visit my son and his family in Florida; he — the driver — had begun doing the family laundry after he and his wife discovered the pods. We don’t use this driver anymore. I was making that particular trip without Bill; after I got out of the limousine and paid, the driver leaned over the money he had just taken from my hand and kissed me wetly on the mouth. I didn’t think our conversation about laundry pods was sufficiently intimate to justify that, and Bill certainly didn’t when I told him about it after I got back. So now we use A-1 Limousine, a commercial enterprise, when we travel. They charge about $15 more each way than the randy private driver did, but there’s no danger of unwanted open-mouth kisses.
The second exception to my hatred of housework is making the bed, because I’ve done it every morning since going away to college, which was a very long time ago. As a result of so many years of bed making, it has become, like brushing teeth, part of getting up and getting dressed in the morning and is practically automatic. Actually, I don’t even have to make the bed anymore, because Bill has decided that bed making is his contribution to household maintenance. According to him, I don’t do it properly, or the way he likes it, with the pillows arranged just so. I could argue with him, based on my decades of experience, but it’s easier not to. Besides, it’s not as if I love making the bed.
Changing the sheets is another matter. Bill claims he doesn’t know how, which is ridiculous. I mean he’s 86! (I know he was 85 when I started this blog, but he has had another birthday since then, in January.) So I force myself, in order not to have to pay the cleaning ladies more than the $80 we already do. Now that the cats have come to live with us, they “help” me. They love changing sheets. First, they hide under the unfolded parts. Then they sit all over them when I’ve finally got them unfolded but before the corners are tucked in, so that the whole business takes longer than it needs to and lifting the mattress for the tucking-in part becomes much harder on the back. By the time we get to the duvet, I sometimes give up and spread it on top of the bed with lumps of cat underneath. It looks funny, as if the bed had two large tumors, but when they get tired of being there they seem to know how to tunnel their way out and onto the floor. When I see them in another part of the condo, I know it’s safe to go back and straighten out the top layer of bedding.
The third sort of housework I don’t mind is seasonal. It’s washing dishes by hand in winter. Yes, we have a dishwasher but unless we entertain, there’s just the two of us and it takes almost a week to fill the dishwasher, by which time we’ve run out of clean flatware to eat with. In fact, I actually look forward to doing the dishes during half the year because my hands are always cold, except in summer, and the warm water feels good. [Isn’t there an old saying, “Cold hands, warm heart?”]
I once suggested to a doctor that I might have Raynaud’s Disease since my hands and feet are always cold, but he said, “Nonsense! Lots of perfectly healthy old people have cold hands and feet. Put them in warm water if it bothers you so much.” Well, I certainly didn’t bring that up again! He didn’t even hedge in using the word “old!” And I am not going to sit around with my cold feet in pans of warm water! What an appalling waste of time. Thick socks or lined boots are a much better idea. In fact, I just bought a new pair of UGGS for that very purpose!
In the summer, washing dishes is less appealing. Sometimes we use paper plates. At other times, Bill can be prevailed upon. He doesn’t do a great job, since he is of the “swipe once, rinse under the tap, and on to the next dish” school of dishwashing. But life, alas, is compromise.
Now back to the cleaning ladies. They are Polish, a mother-and- daughter team: honest, reliable, hard-working, and fiendish about locating and destroying moth nests and other potential household problems. They bring us cute greeting cards for the cats’ birthdays and boxes of perfectly awful chocolate-covered liqueur-laced candied cherries from Poland for Christmas. They also make us mayonnaise-laden cucumber salads and potato-and-cheese stuffed pierogi to thank us for the Christmas bounty we heap on them. (Which is mainly in the form of money equal to two weeks or more of extra pay, but also Christmas-wrapped treats for their two cats and a dog, and fancy boxed Christmas pastry from Germany or Italy because they seem to appreciate it so much.)
At last we’re ready to address the extra $20 we gave them last week. However, it may no longer be necessary. I’ve already made my point. Haven’t you noticed how one thing has led to another? I began by explaining why we had the cleaning ladies in the first place — and before you knew it, you were reading about kiss-crazy limousine drivers, and cats making lumps under the duvet, and untactful doctors, and how much we give the cleaning ladies for Christmas. You may have thought that’s just how slightly dotty old ladies are; they run on and on without ever getting to any point whatsoever because they’re so glad someone’s listening (or pretending to listen) to them. But suppose you were wrong? Suppose ninamishkin.com knew all along exactly what she was doing? Suppose she fooled you — and now you find yourself at Z, just because you were gullible enough to begin reading back there at X?
Nonetheless, I do always try to finish what I start. We gave the cleaning ladies an extra $20 for the following four-part reason: (1) Because the deck off the sliding glass doors in the kitchen was covered with fairly deep snow which had crusted and become both hard and very slippery. (2) Because we are elderly and, although not very weak, are not especially strong either, whereas the daughter of the cleaning team is both young and very strong. (3) Because we needed at least a path through the snow, if not a completely clean deck, in order to reach the three bird feeders hanging off the porch railing without slipping and falling, and felt unable to create such a path on our own. (4) And because we thought the daughter of the cleaning team, who — together with her mother — lives on what they can earn mopping and vacuuming, would welcome extra compensation for attacking the hard-packed and slippery snow with chopper and shovel.
I know what you’re going to ask next. Here’s the answer: We needed to be able to reach the bird feeders without falling in order to bring them back into the kitchen, refill them with black oil sunflower seed and safely get back to the railing to rehang them, so that birds would come to eat, which they won’t do when the feeders are empty. And we needed birds to come eat so that our two cats, who are house cats and cannot go out, should have something interesting to look at through the sliding glass doors of the kitchen. [They do gaze for hours at the birds — when the birds come — making that little chattering noise that cats emit when they see prey and know they can’t reach it.] We further needed cat number 2 (Sophie) to keep cat number 1 (Sasha) company after our prior cat number 2 (Rudi) needed re-homing. And we needed Sasha (and Rudi) to keep us company because our collective five children — Bill’s three and my two — are all grown up and living far away, and we can no longer make children of our own together. So we bought Sasha (and Rudi) in the summer of 2009, which led to Sophie, which led to the feeders, which led to the birds — except when the feeders are empty and we can’t get to them over the hard-packed slippery snow on the deck to refill them — which led to our paying the cleaning ladies an extra $20. Q.E.D.
I was also going to tell you a more serious story about a silly X that led to a foolish Y that led to a life-altering Z. But I think I’ll leave you hanging on that one. Something to look forward to. Maybe tomorrow.