Sunday, August 16, 2009

Out, damn’d spot! out, I say!

posted Sat, 03 Jul 2004

Even though I left work early yesterday, I didn’t get home until mid-afternoon. I made a quixotic trip to the expensive dry cleaners in hopes they could salvage my teal silk skirt with the beaded fringe. It’s part of a suit – the jacket has the same beading on the hem. A really cool outfit.

I got it at the fancy consignment store in town – the one where the rich ladies sell their clothes after they’ve worn them once because God forbid that someone see them wearing the same thing twice. (For the record, I have never been so hard up for money that I have had to sell my old clothes rather than donate them to charity.)

I bought it last November and stuck it in the closet, hoping it would fit me by spring. When I pulled it out last month, I discovered a stain on the skirt that had not been there in November. Unless someone is wearing my clothes without my knowledge, that skirt was damaged before I bought it. My clothes wouldn’t fit Harpo or my cleaning lady and no one else has my house key, so there you go. Well, my cousin Becky, who is a student at the optometry school has a key too, but she is from Kansas and very honest, so I know she wouldn’t wear my stuff.

After I took the skirt to the cleaners, it looked like they had gotten the stain out enough that it was wearable. But getting dressed at the gym Thursday morning, I realized that this was not the case. One of the locker room little old ladies noticed the stain. She pulled up my skirt to look at the back side of the fabric.

“That’s not going to come out,” she announced. “The only person in town who could get that out is Mr Jack at Stout-Haley Cleaners, but it’s not going to come out. If you go there, don’t leave your clothes with anyone but him.”

I didn’t follow her advice, taking the skirt to a different very expensive cleaners, but even they said there was no way to get the stain out – that the other cleaners had damaged the fabric too much.

The moral of this story is don’t buy anything at the consignment store unless it has a dry-cleaning tag stapled to the label, because those rich ladies will spill white wine on their clothes and then sell them uncleaned without a twinge of conscience. When the new owner wears the item, the stain will have emerged – and it will be too late to have it cleaned, much less get a refund. Even though we can send a man to the moon, some stains cannot be removed, which makes we wonder if we are focusing on the proper issues in scientific research.

Anyhow. I was in a bad mood when I got home, but my cleaning lady put me in a better one. I had forgotten how funny she is. Usually, I don’t get home until after Esperanza is gone, which is how I like it, because even though in theory I don’t have a problem with paying someone else to clean my house, in practice, it is a little weird to be there while that someone is actually doing it. But my early return put me smack dab in the middle of her work.

The first thing she said was, “Thank you so much for all those little notes you left last time!” (The ones that made me feel like I was being petty and nitpicky.) “They helped me to see the dirt!” She pointed to her eyes. “I didn’t know it, but I’ve needed glasses for a while. Even with your notes, I had to get way up close to see what you are talking about. But now I have these glasses and I can see! It’s incredible the difference they make!”

She went on her merry way, whistling as she worked. (Really.) I was sitting on the porch swing reading when she came out holding two mops. “Do you think you could get a different mop? These don’t work very well. Let me show you.” She demonstrated the performance issues with the mops, of which I had a pair because they had been on a two-for-one sale at Walgreen’s. “Get the kind that close like this.” She held her wrists together and closed her hands. “They work better.”

“OK,” I said, returning to my book, thinking I would need to pick up a new mop sometime in the next month.

“Do you think you could maybe do it today?” she asked.

I looked at her. “So now my cleaning lady is bossing me around!” I said.

She laughed. “Not this moment, but if you were going to go to the store for anything else.”

“All right,” I said, heaving a deep sigh. “Is there anything else you want, madame?”

“Yes!” She pulled me into the kitchen and held up a bottle of glass cleaner. “Get Windex. Windex Original. Not this store brand. Windex is more expensive but it works.” Then she showed me a feather duster. “I use this to clean around your windows and in the corners because it doesn’t leave marks the way the rags do. I don’t mind bringing mine, but you might want one.”

I had to go to the store anyhow to get brown sugar, so I donned shoes appropriate for being seen in public and went. When I returned, she asked, “Where were you talking about when you said last month that the kitchen windows weren’t clean?” I showed her the section. “I scrubbed and scrubbed that window!” she explained. “The problem is that there are little bits of paint.”

Telling her I had the perfect tool, I showed her the razor blade scraper I’d used for cleaning paint off the glass after I painted the exterior trim on my house.

Her eyes got big. “This is perfect! I’ve never seen anything like that! I use razor blades all the time for cleaning tile, but I’ve never seen anything like this! Where would I buy one of these?” I told her any hardware store would have one and she smiled in anticipation. “I’ll have to take one of those back to Mexico with me!”

I started making the cake while she was cleaning the bathroom. She came into the kitchen with water all over her. “I like cleaning the shower,” she said. “It cools me off! I just take off my shoes, get in the tub, and scrub the walls. It’s easier that way and I get a little refreshment!”

She advanced to washing the floors. Every few minutes, she squeezed the mop into the kitchen sink. I finally asked why she didn’t use a bucket. Oh, she answered in horror. Not for discarding the dirty water! No, she gets the clean water from the bucket and then squeezes the dirty water out in the sink. Otherwise, the floor would still be filthy. Made sense to me – as long as she cleaned the sink afterwards.

The kitchen was next and I didn’t want to be in her way, so I hurried with the cake. It was a new recipe – peanut butter, chocolate and chocolate chip – and the batter tasted just fine, even though the chocolate wouldn’t melt. Those squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate didn’t want to budge. Instead of turning into a nice, creamy liquid, they got clumpy and sticky. It couldn’t be that they were old, because I go through baking chocolate fairly quickly. Still, the batter tasted OK, so I decided reluctant chocolate wasn’t a problem.

It wasn’t until later in the evening that it hit me: I had gone to the store specifically for brown sugar – yet had not used any in the cake. I looked at the recipe. I had used the cup of regular sugar it called for, but in my haste to get out of Esperanza’s way, I had forgotten the brown sugar.

I cut a piece off the bottom of the cake – which I had made to thank Harpo’s colleague who had done all the work to get us on the flight to Denver last week – to make sure it tasted OK. It wasn’t as sweet as cake usually is – it was more like a coffeecake – but it still tasted good. I put extra sugar in the frosting to make up for the cake.

I don’t know why all problems aren’t so easy to solve. I’ll bet if I gave that stained skirt to Esperanza, she could figure out a way to fix it.