My Dirty Little Secrets
Do you ever wonder what your cleaning lady thinks of you? Do you worry whether or not you measure up in her eyes?
“Who cares?” you might say. “She’s an employee—just like the air-conditioning repair guy or the garage mechanic. I pay her to clean. Why should I give a damn what she thinks?”
Until recently, I felt the same way. But then one evening, I caught myself straightening out my desktop, putting away dishes, and picking up my clothes off the floor. Juanita was coming to clean in the morning, and here I was, preparing for her arrival.
“What am I doing?” I wondered, but I couldn’t restrain my urges. One morning I noticed a speck of encrusted food on my counter—a tiny morsel of filth—staring back at me, taunting me.
“Ignore it!” I told myself. But I couldn’t. Juanita would be here soon. I couldn’t let her see this trace of squalor. I started to scrub.
Why was I doing this? Juanita was not some kind of princess? She was just a hardworking, undocumented immigrant. I was paying her good money to clean the damn counter. I wasn’t paying her to judge me.
I tried to convince myself Juanita would agree. And yet, lurking in the dark, insecure recesses of my mind was a question mark. “What did she think of me?”
I didn’t want her to see me as a slovenly old fool, slopping breakfast cereal on the carpet. Juanita also worked in the much larger houses of our respectable neighbors. Their homes conformed to the latest redecorating magazines. I couldn’t imagine those owners ever left underclothes on their polished floors or had less-than-immaculate kitchen counters.
My mind started racing with a horrific thought: cleaning ladies probably make the same sloppiness comparisons my wife and I do. We always inspect and evaluate other people’s homes when we visit. Juanita had plenty of time to access everything in our house. She was a reservoir of big data about all the intimacies of our home and personal life.
She knew everything about me. My wardrobe, for example. Were my garments in the closet stylish or dowdy? Was my underwear new and pristine, or was it threadbare? She wasn’t going to say anything, but Juanita was probably as harsh a critic of my fashion sense as my wife was.
She also knew whether my wine closet contained Grand Cru or lowly schnapps. And what about all those times I hid in the closet, smoking cigars or eating chocolates? She probably knew I did that too.
“Oh my God!” I thought. In the bathroom, there was more evidence. She could tell when I shot straight in the hopper and when I missed my target. She knew what meds and illegal substances we were on. Was my Viagra bottle still full after all these years or constantly being refilled? Were we practicing safe sex?
Call me touchy, but these are things I don’t want other people looking into. I tell the world—I even tell myself—“I’m an open book. I’m a boring guy. Nothing to hide!” But that’s not true. Once you rip off the covers, once I stand before you naked, there are things I don’t want broadcast on television.
But my real problem is, I don’t know what Juanita notices about me. Does she perform a perfunctory cleaning, or does she have an inquiring mind? And what happens with her observations after she leaves? Does what happens in Barclay’s house stay in Barclay’s house? I have no idea. But I don’t want her sharing any of this stuff, making judgments or comparisons.
What if she keeps a diary of her clients, writing up her unmentionable discoveries? What if she ranks us in categories such as Acceptably Tidy or Deplorably Squalorous? If our neighbors learned of our position on her “Tidy versus Squalor” list, we’d have to pack up and leave town.
For all I know, Juanita attends the annual convention of Cleaning Ladies International. Maybe that’s where they find solace, comforting one another from cleaning nightmares. Do they evaluate and establish what minimum standards they will accept before taking on clients? Do illicit photographs of my domicile show up in her PowerPoint presentation of home hygiene horror stories?
I imagine celebrities must get a pass, a special dispensation when their housekeepers do their rankings. Certainly, the hoi polloi are not evaluated by the same standards as the privileged. But how do I measure up?
If celebrities get upgrades, is there anything we mere mortals can do to boost our standing among the cleaning fraternity? Would it help if we dropped empty champagne bottles in the trash along with occasional Tiffany and Gucci boxes?
Juanita is an honest lady. She has always spoken to me with deference. But still, I want to be on her good side. I wish to avoid the possibility of extortion. And so, I shall continue to scrape that speck of food filth off the kitchen counter.