July 9, 2010

Cleanliness Is Next To...Solvency? (from the archives)

It’s happening again.  I’m having one of my moments.  My husband is self-employed, which means every now and then “the checks are in the mail” – to us.  Now, as history will prove, the checks really are in the mail.  We’ve never landed in the poor house, never even close.  In every economy we’ve been blessed, and I don’t use that word lightly.  I’m not the serene type of woman I imagine earns the right to use it.  No, I am the type of woman who exhibits what we call “Scarlett O’Hara Moments.”  Perhaps you recognize them.  They occur when the bank account gets a bit lower than desired and I forget to breathe deeply and remember that everything works itself out.  “Scarlett O’Hara Moments” occur when I hyperventilate unnecessarily, fall to my knees, grab two handfuls of dust-bunnies and say to myself, with jelly smeared across my forehead, not “I’ll never be hungry again,” for that would be too optimistic.  No, I say, “If we must be poor, then we will be clean!” for this, at least, seems noble.  My patient husband, recognizing my symptoms, looks forward to the brief bout of domestic organization that inevitably follows.  

I concluded somewhere in my parallel learning curve - HGTV and VH1 - that being rich and sloppy is bohemian, poor and sloppy simply negligent, so with stoic resolve I decide to scrub the entire house and each of the children (even the boys!).  

Now mind you, all of this takes place during a brief glance at my checkbook balance while paying for a low-carb scone, not at midnight as we pour over our finances under a flickering bulb while deciding which of our children to sell, whether to cancel the cable, begin reading the paper online, or whether we can afford the www at all.  Do I overreact?  Maybe!  Do I lean toward the dramatic?  Good!  I majored in theatre!  I am getting my money’s worth!   And now on to some cleaning.

I  channel my paternal grandmother and her hardscrabble depression-era instincts.  I wear an apron – all day.  I yearn for homemade lemonade from jelly jar juice glasses.  I scrutinize my cupboards (“Too much clutter!”) and plan to buy the really cute 1930’s replica glasses at K-Mart after yoga tomorrow.  Now, some cleaning!

I plan a garden.  I will grow my own produce.  This will save bags of money!  I will grow all of our fruits and vegetables starting today.  I will go to the garden center after the massage therapist.  Now, to clean something.

Aah, the cleaning, the noble scrubbing.  I know the smell of lemons and bleach and Comet ground into my fingers will make  me feel better about this hole (however imagined) that we are in.  

I fold laundry, determined that the clothes will be handed down from child to child, regardless of gender or fashion trends.  I will mend holes, replace buttons.  I will throw shoelaces from gym shoes in with the whites!  I will wrap scotch tape around the frayed ends to replicate the pointy endy things so they can be re-laced.  We will survive.  And I will clean…something.

I hunt and gather in the pantry and concoct endless casseroles from on-hand ingredients.  Noodles and canned soups and frozen vegetables, oh my!  For the first time in my life, I consider breakfast cereal a condiment.  I am clever and nostalgic and cholesterol-challenged, but I am thrifty.  I have saved enough in theory to order pizza for dinner!
Not immediately, but very soon, right about the time I am done Swiffering the floor and am considering sponging or damp mopping or maybe waltzing around on a couple of wet rags doing the Fred Astaire floor dance, I’m thinking, “Can’t we just be sort of poor and sort of clean?”  Because you see, I am starting to remember that I really hate to clean.  I consider some options:  Poor and politically active?  Poor and immensely helpful?  Or maybe poor and deliriously happy?  If we play and laugh and sing loudly enough, nobody will notice I only vacuum the traffic patterns!

As I’m pondering these alternatives, the mail arrives and included are “the checks.”  My apron falls to the floor all by itself.  It is a sign.

I visit my sister, a neat-nick by nature, and start to feel like an also-ran in the housecleaning department. I console myself with a little smirk and a different kind of Scarlett O’Hara moment,  “Hmmm, things must not be going so well…”     

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