Before I was married I wanted to taser happily married people, stick them in a lab and study them. I thought they must be chemical, genetic or biological anomalies. Like the characters in the Pixar film UP, they seemed blissfully happy staying home holding hands or picnicking under trees and gazing at one another. Wildly independent and deer-in-the-headlights terrified, I ran as fast as I could in the other direction from love. I thought love meant your life ended, your hair got gray, all your teeth fell out, and you wound up a bitter widow at a church coffee hour showing bored strangers pictures of your ugly grandchildren.
The love I ran particularly hard from was one of those James Dean characters who sings in a band, smokes, wears leather and calls you ‘baby’ in a deep dark voice. And yet, I was constantly being pulled back to him by an invisible force that felt suspiciously like addiction. I went as far south as Panama and as far west at Arizona to get him out of my system. Then a series of electrifying, life-changing events happened that are not the point of this story, and the man I had been running from stripped the Brando identity and became authentically wonderful. After that he was even more terrifying: he was the man I’d always dreamed of when once in a while I let myself dream that maybe I was one of those people who could be blissfully married. The next day I woke up with a ring on my finger. A year later I was wearing a velvet dress with a train and a tiara and a week after that I was an old married woman.
The first six months we had some kinks to work out, mainly calming that voice inside that screams: Help! This was not the plan! But the years since have been, well, blissful. Every morning I wake up to a love letter and in the evening I meet him naked at the door. We spend our nights together, me: doing yoga, him: reading aloud to me. We roll around in bed and dream up things we’ll do in the future, though we might just as happily spend all our lives staring into each other’s eyes and never do anything else. I’d rather sit around smelling his neck than visit the Taj Mahal, my heart still jumps when I see him on the street, we almost never walk next to each other without holding hands, and we haven’t had a fight in nine months. I like to count. I put it on my calendar “fight”, and then I just wait and see when another pops up. It takes ages and ages and ages. If I’m bored, I try to start one up, but he always makes me laugh in the middle of while I’m trying, and I just plain forget what I’m up to. So, everything is just perfectly divine, and I am so happy I could be tasered right now and frozen in marital delight.
Except for one tiny little thing: Cleaning. With a capital C.
My husband is a modern man. He vacuums before my writing salon every Tuesday, washes the dishes, does pounds of laundry, takes the garbage out, Pine Sols the floors and can wipe off countertops in an efficient, almost ritualistic, way. But when I say clean, I mean Cleaning, as in the Mean Clean. Cleaning with a toothbrush around the light fixtures, making the faucets so shiny you can see your face in them, that sort of Clean.
A clean house makes everything seem right again. It makes me feel like there is some kind of semblance of control in the world. I wish I had a Jetsen-like robot that would polish up the brass lamps every Saturday and dust off my book jackets on a monthly basis. I don’t really like to clean, but I love it when it is done, and I really like to talk about it: when it will happen, if it will happen, how it will happen. The problem is that my husband hates to clean and hates to talk about cleaning, and because I love my husband, cleaning has become a problem. He is okay about quick half hour cleans but the Mean Cleans goes right up his proverbial ass. So, we don’t Mean Clean much, we just do the quick countertop clean.
This quick clean worked for a while, but then we got clothing moths. Clothing moths are disgusting little creatures that crouch in cocoons in your suede boots and on your best wool sweaters that cost an inordinate amount of money from Jcrew, and after they have made holes in them with their larvae, they sprout wings and fly around dropping a billion little eggs before getting stuck in heartattack traps you buy enmasse from the hardware store. They ruin your grandmother’s oriental rugs and the only winter coat you ever loved.
We had moths, and I wanted to talk about the moths. I wanted to vacuum every last piece of everything in the house at least once a week. I wanted to take all the furniture away from the walls, throw every cushion off every couch, pull up all the rugs and go after those moths. My husband was not interested in this project. In the middle of the closet with the spray can in one hand and the vacuum cleaner tube in the other, hunting moths, I suddenly realized that he was no longer listening to my diatribe and was in fact not even in the room. I found my considerate, supportive, beautiful soulmate with whom I was going to spend the rest of my days sitting in front of a sports program on t.v. (maybe even NASCAR) eating tortilla chips in his underwear without a moth-beating implement in sight. All at once he became the man I never wanted to marry. That did it. I almost had to put the word “fight” on the calendar after a months long record. I told him the sexiest thing he could do was vacuum, and he didn’t crack a smile at the joke and for about five minutes my whole blissful marriage went up in smoke. I had been warned about this cleaning problem from the couples I had previously wanted to taser. And I had not listened because when you are drugged up on marriage bliss, any piece of advice just seems ridiculous.
Right away I called my friends, Marshall and John (the most taser-worthy of them all), in a panic. John calmed me down. He gave me the name of a man in Westminster West who comes and cleans your house anytime you want him to. I called the man the next minute and right straight away we made a date for that very week. He was going to come my house at ten a.m., while my husband was at work, and he was going to bring his own supplies. He was going to block off three long hours, and we could do whatever I liked.
My cleaning affair had begun.
There wasn’t any sex involved, not even a flicker of lust, but there was something illicitly exciting about this man coming to my house in the middle of the day with his mop and bucket and eco-friendly sprays to Clean with me, with a capital C. It turns out his name was the same as my husband’s, which was very handy. He looks nothing like my husband, actually I can’t quite remember what he looks like except that he was very eager. To clean. He said things like this, “Where would you like me to start?” “Is it okay if I go for the cobwebs first?” “Do you mind if I take the furniture away from the wall?” “Isn’t it great when your house feels really clean?” (he actually said that!) He said, “I’d like to dust in here now.” And, “I think I’ll vacuum this one more time.” When I told him how happy I was that he was there, he said, “It’s my pleasure!” He got up on the furniture to dust our eleven-foot ceilings, he scrubbed the light fixtures, he took the bed out from the wall and just about licked the baseboards. We talked about eco-friendly Bon Ami and the virtues of my vacuum cleaner.
About half way into it, while I was down on my knees scrubbing the wall behind the stove, and he was vacuuming the gold chair where my husband sits to snack and read, I finally told him about the moths. I said, “My husband is so tired of me talking about moths, moths, moths. I can hardly mention them anymore.” And my cleaning affair stood up, gave me a sympathetic look, and said, “Oh, I know, most men don’t really like to talk about cleaning.” And with that nod of “go-ahead, confide in me…” I told him how horrible it had been, the moths nesting everywhere, how I thought they got there from an antique shop down the street, what things they ruined and how the sprays were so chemical I hated to use them. I showed him the newest storage suitcase where I thought the moths might be nesting, and he squatted down next to me, just like the perfect cleaning affair should, and studied the tiny little moths’ eggs as though he were genuinely interested, and then he said, “Would you like me to vacuum that for you?” “No,” I said, “I think I’m going to have to throw the whole thing away.” “What a shame!” he said. “That looks like such a nice storage suitcase!” And then he went into the other room and vacuumed both sides of our biggest oriental rug.
For almost three hours my cleaning affair and I cleaned, and he never once complained or sat in front of the television in his underwear saying he’d rather be getting his teeth drilled than hunting moths. And then I paid him. It was so satisfying. He is coming again in four weeks. I can hardly wait.
My husband, of course, looked sexier in a clean house. He listened patiently while I told him about the cleaning affair, but I saw that glazed look in his eye. “Is she done yet?” And, “I hope she doesn’t mention moths.” Now we have a clean house to be happy in. I can do yoga, he can read aloud, and I can daydream about my next dalliance with my cleaning man. How interested he will be when I tell him about the dust on the lampshades, it just sticks on more when I try to wipe it off. It’s really the best kind of affair. And like I’ve always heard them say but never actually believed: It doesn’t bother my marriage any. It actually makes it better.