Friday, August 14, 2009

Amelia Bedelia

posted Thu, 01 Jul 2004

Tomorrow is the first Friday of the month, which is the day Esperanza cleans my house. That means I need to spend this evening putting post-it notes everywhere that I want her to pay special attention.

You might think by special attention I mean once-a-year things like polishing the silver or washing all the light fixtures.

No. I mean things like washing the floor between the oven and the cabinet (a good six inches wide and a place where dirt likes to accumulate) and not leaving the dirty rags on top of the radiators.

Remember I told you what a great job Esperanza used to do? Well, she has deteriorated. She rarely applies logic to the job and when she does, it is faulty logic.

Here is an example: I leave the blinds raised about four inches on the open windows so that the air being pulled in by the attic fan doesn’t cause the blinds to flutter about madly. On the windows that are closed, the blinds are closed as well. I came home one day to discover that Esperanza had very carefully raised every single blind to the exact level of the open window blinds. Who knows? Maybe that’s just her esthetic.

But what about this? I have had to leave a demo t-shirt and a note not once but twice to show her that I want shirts folded right-side out. Now, I lived in Latin America for several years and I know they do things differently there, but I don’t recall ever seeing people wearing their shirts inside-out. We can’t chalk this one up to cultural differences. Nope, this one is just plain carelessness.

All I want is a little bit of logical thinking and some initiative. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so. I shouldn’t have to write a note that says, “Please get rid of the cobwebs in the northwest corner of the kitchen ceiling.” But I have.

One of the reasons I fired my cleaning lady Susie – the one before Esperanza – was because I came home one day to find a bag of garbage removed from the kitchen trash can but not put into the outside trash can. I found a note from Susie: “I didn’t put the trash out because the back door was stuck.”

OK. But how about taking the trash out the FRONT door and walking to the back of the house? I have a little house. It wouldn’t have taken that long. It only took me half a second to realize that was an option. Shouldn’t Susie have been able to think of the same thing after a little bit of deep thought?

But neither Susie nor Esperanza can hold a candle to Marisol, my cleaning lady in Chile. She wasn’t a very good maid, but she was the sole support of her ailing, widowed mother, so my roommate and I felt compelled to keep her. We also couldn’t bear to pay her just five dollars for a full day’s work; instead, we paid her ten for half a day, which probably ticked off my Chilean neighbors as I was ruining pricing in the cleaning lady market.

We had a wood-burning stove in the house. Sounds romantic, I know, but it’s not. Wood-burning stoves cast off a lot of smoke, which turns the white walls of the house brown (and casts a brown haze that hovers over the entire city). One day, I asked Marisol to clean the doors around the doorknobs – to get rid of all the hand dirt and fingerprints. When I got home, I saw that she had done so – a perfect 18” radius around the doorknob of one door was perfectly white and the rest of the door was brown.

The next week, I told her she had done a great job with that particular area of the door and now I wanted her to clean the rest of the door and to do the same with the other doors in the house. She did, but don’t you think she should have noticed that there was a huge discrepancy between the clean and the dirty part of the door and figured out by herself to clean the whole door?

The most disconcerting episode happened the day I stayed home sick from work. I noticed Marisol was scrubbing the toilet with a hand brush, not with the long-handled toilet brush. Marisol, I said, I didn’t know you brought your own cleaning supplies.

“I don’t,” she answered.

Then whence the hand brush?

“I got this from under the kitchen sink,” she replied casually.

Oh. That’s the one I use for scrubbing vegetables, I said carefully.

“OK! I’ll put it back,” she said.

No. Never mind.


  1. Wow, that was a fantastic story and I could relate to each and every thing you described! I can't believe you've faced the same issues with your experiences with maids that we do in Karachi all the time. Have so often found myself baffled at the complete lack of logical thinking, and/or ability to see the obvious. Like cobwebs in the northwest corner of the ceiling!! :)
    What she did with the blinds was a hoot!
    Btw, is this a different blog? I've only read most of your 'class factotum' posts....

  2. Mun, thanks! Sorry it's taken me so long to respond - I have the notices about comments on this blog sent to an older email. I need to fix that.

    These are the archives of my old Class Factotum blog. I used to be on journalspace, but it crashed in Dec 2008. I had backed up most of my posts, so have been re-posting in blogger, although I have left out the political stuff that I used to talk about because I am tired of arguing about those issues.