By Greg Clark, April 28, 1934
“What’s up?” asked Jimmie Frise. “You look a little down to-day?”
“Oh, it’s the house cleaning,” I replied. “They’ve started at my house.”
“Dear me,” said Jim. “I had forgotten about house cleaning. I suppose they will be at it at my house any day. Isn’t it funny how you forget it from year to year? Yet every year it bobs up again, in the spring, to rob this most lovely season of all its joy.”
“I honestly believe,” I said, “that women don’t realize how terrible house cleaning is for a man. The coming home from a hard day’s work to a house as comfortless as a barn. With everything topsy turvy. The floors bare. The pictures gone off the walls. Furniture stacked in halls. Rugs rolled up along the wainscot. Ladders and pails and mops leaning up. Supper in the kitchen. Everything smelling soapy and queer.”
“I suppose house cleaning,” said Jim, “is one of those things we have to allow women, the way women allow us to go hunting. It’s a sort of deep instinct with them, dating back a million years.”
“I don’t see the use of it,” I confessed. “They have all day, every day of the year, to do their little chore of sweeping and dusting and washing. I see them at it all the time. What do they want to hit a man’s home like a cyclone for?”
“And can you ever find anything you really want, after house cleaning?” demanded Jim.
“Listen,” I said, “it takes me until June every year to get my books rearranged properly on their shelves. Women have no instinct for arranging books.”
“And I lose valuable things,” said Jim. “Last year, the horns off the deer I got last season had simply vanished. I admit they smelt a little. But nobody had even seen them go. Now you can’t lose the antlers off a big buck just by accident.”
“Take collar studs,” I said. “What man ever could find the little dish with his collar studs on after house cleaning?”
“A man ought to be allowed to go downtown and live at a hotel for a week during house cleaning,” said Jim.
“If he did, he might just as well surrender all his rights to his home,” I retorted. “When house cleaning is on at my house, I make it my business to pop in at lunch and come home early for dinner. Otherwise, they might throw out all my clothes and perhaps even my bed!”
This conversation with Jimmie gave me courage, and that night a certain discussion at my home resulted in my walking over to Jimmie’s after supper and asking for a private interview.
A Man Takes a Dare
“Jimmie,” I said, when he closed his studio door. “Now I’m in for it!”
“Well, you recollect how we were talking about house cleaning this morning?”
“Well, I repeated some of it at home tonight, and I got in hot water.”
“Yes, so my family have announced they are going to drive out to visit Aunt Agnes to-morrow – that’s at Georgetown – and I am to do the living room!”
“Do the what?” cried Jim.
“Sshh,” I said. “The living room!”
“Good heavens!” gasped Jimmie.
“House clean it,” I said. “I said I would I took the dare. I said I could do the whole house in one day. So they said they had heard enough of this for the past twenty years. And they would just go for a drive out to visit Aunt Agnes for the day. And I could do the living room.”
“I’m sorry, old boy,” said Jim.
“You’re more than sorry,” I assured him. “You’ve got to help me. It was you that egged me on.”
“I did nothing–!”
“Oh, yes you did!” I cried. “You egged me on. You sympathized. You agreed with me. Now the least you can do is help me out.”
Right after breakfast the following morning my family piled in the car and drove off. And a little after 9 a.m. Jimmie arrived. I had two aprons and mob caps laid out. Since my family would not even go so far as to explain how much or how little I had to do, and as I had not told them I was getting any help, I had to try to recall what the tools of house cleaning are. I knew that mob caps should be worn over the head. And pails, mops, brooms and numerous rags called dusters were essential. Also, soap, floor polish and, it seemed to me, I dimly recalled tea leaves. Yes, far back in my childhood, I recall tea leaves being strewn over the carpet before sweeping.
Jimmie got into an apron in lively fashion.
“Now,” said he, “who’s to be boss? Shall you direct me or shall I direct you?”
“We will work in harmony,” I said.
First we removed most of the living room furniture into the halls. The chesterfields, chairs, lamps, radio, tables. Then we rolled up the rug and Jim carried it into the yard.
“Where’s your carpet beater?” he said.
“I haven’t seen or even heard of a carpet beater since before the war!” I said, astonished.
I took down all the pictures and ornaments and dusted them. Then Jim and I got a pail of hot water and scrubbed the floor.
“Personally,” said Jim, “I don’t believe you scrub waxed floors.”
“Then where does the smell of soap come from in house cleaning time?” I asked.
“Look how funny it looks,” pointed out Jim.
The living room floor did indeed look pale and blotchy where we had scrubbed.
“I’ll do the windows while you do the floor and rails,” said Jim.
So Jim toiled back and forward from the scrubbing pail to the windows, and made a lot of splashes on the floor and all over the window sills. But he certainly made the windows gleam. Meanwhile, I scrubbed the floor, the floor rails and the plate rail along the ceiling. I am sorry to admit that I was half done with the plate rail before I saw that the scrubbing brush made a lot of awkward stains on the wallpaper. The more you rub them with a cloth, the worse they get.
“Take a look at this,” I said to Jim, pointing out the nasty daubs along the wallpaper.
“Oh, they’ll dry,” said Jim. “But look here. We are doing this wrong. We should first have cleaned the furniture before we did the floors. The dust and dirt from the furniture will only mess up the floor after we are done!”
So we started in on the furniture. We washed the tables and the wooden parts of the chairs. We bent and thumped the chesterfield and upholstery. We shook out the curtains. The tables and woodwork of the chairs turned a funny color from the washing, but Jim said a lick of floor wax would soon put back the pretty shiny finish.
Meanwhile the stains along the wallpaper got worse the more they dried.
And the windows got cloudy.
And the walnut table started to turn gray.
“Jim,” I said, “it is nearly noon and I don’t like the look of all this!”
So we sat down and looked at it for while. Our backs ached, the backs of our necks ached and our arms ached.
“Well, it smells right,” said Jim. “Even if it looks funny.”
The room did look funny.
“Especially the floor,” said Jim.
At that moment the door bell rang.
“You answer, Jim,” I said, “and tell whoever it is the lady of the house is not home.”
I could hear a quick-talking lady chatting to Jimmie. He came back in excitedly.
“Saved!” he whispered. “It’s a lady demonstrating a wonderful new kind of a vacuum cleaner. It both blows and sucks. It inhales dirt, blows down behind radiators, has long arms for reaching up high, and polishes waxed floors, and scrubs, and –“
“Bring her in,” I hissed.
A Magic-Maker Arrives
A very nice lady, a kind of a young forty, came in, carrying a large suitcase. She stared in astonishment at the room, at Jimmie and at me.
“Mercy,” she said.
“Madam,” I said producing the telephone chair.
She sat down.
“Now, madam,” I said, “what have you?”
So she launched into a speech, full of ups and downs of voice with gestures. And at the right place she got up from her chair, opened her suitcase and laid forth the most wonderful nickel-plated collection of tubes, bags, brushes, mops and so forth.
Without interruption, she joined up the machinery and started to work. She dipped the mop in the pail and in a minute, she had made that contraption spin around on the floor until she had a space about a yard square as white as the day the floor was laid. Then she turned on a kind of blower and dried it. Then she spread wax on it and polished it with a revolving brush. A beautiful, glowy, rich tan spot appeared under her magic touch.
“Marvellous,” breathed Jimmie and I.
Then she went around with a long-handled tube and felt high up along the plate rail and into corners and behind the radiators. In about two minutes, she spread out on a piece of white cloth a pound of dust.
“Mercy,” said I. “Don’t tell the neighbors!”
“That really isn’t from your house,” explained the lady. “That is some I carry around in the bag. It is more for surprising the ladies. I wouldn’t fool a man.”
“How about that wet spot around the plate rail?” I asked. “Could it help that any?”
“Certainly,” said the lady, and she blew the hot air on to the wet spots, brushed them with a long-handled revolving brush, and in a minute you could see no stains at all.
“Windows?” I asked.
She took another gadget, fastened it on to the hose, and one by one she made the window panes glitter with a vibrating polisher.
“Chesterfield?” I asked.
She went over the chesterfield and found, besides what dust there might be, five marbles, four bobbie pins, a toothbrush, two dolls, five cigarettes and a pair of scissors.
“Thank goodness,” I cried. “I have blamed everybody over those scissors. They are my favorites on Sunday morning.”
“Now,” said the lady, “let me show you how easy it would be for you to use this machine. This afternoon, you could do the whole floor like that bit I did. You could make this room nicer than if you were married.”
“I am married,” I said.
“Ah,” she said, “I thought I was speaking to a bachelor.”
She handed me the long hose and longest nickel tube.
“Now,” she said, “this is the basis of it all. With this button, you switch the tube to suck if you want a vacuum cleaner, of to blow if you want to operate any of the polishing or scrubbing devices.”
I took the machine. I turned the switch. It blew. And it so tragically or, should I say, happily happened, that the end of the tube was right over the pile of sooty dust which the lady had brought in her bag to astonish my ladyfolks.
And as I turned on the switch, Jimmie, the lady and I all disappeared in a black and suffocating cloud.
“Hiyah!” I shouted, switching the tube to one side. I felt it touch something metallic, and then I knew it was the pail full of soapsuds, because there was a bubbling, burbling sound, and the air was filled with spray.
“Turn it off!” screeched the lady demonstrator from somewhere in the fog. I turned the switch, but I felt it sucking, and it was sucking out of that infernal pail. I returned the switch and it blew again, and blew what it had gathered, like a bathing elephant, all over us three, the room, the windows, the walls.
When the lady finally got it under control, we were all shaking from head to foot. The room was beyond recognition.
“Well?” I said.
The lady started to cry.
“I have a husband to support,” she wept.
“This is pretty terrible,” I said, surveying the disaster.
“I will get some friends to come and help me,” she wept.
“Not at all,” I said. “My friend and I will gladly help you.”
Jim said it was touching to see how magnanimously I placed the blame on the poor little lady.
“Legally,” said the lady, as we sat at lunch in the kitchen, because we decided first to have lunch before starting in, “I am to blame for anything that happens during a demonstration of my machine.”
“Morally,” I countered, “it was all my fault.”
I then revealed the secret of Jimmie and me being shamefully engaged in house cleaning. I said it was as the result of squawking too much and I was being taught a lesson.
“Then I hope,” said the lady, “that if I come back some time when your family is home, you will throw the weight of your influence in favor of this machine.”
I assured her I would
Never Again Such Triumph
After lunch we got busy. Jimmie and A simply did the rough lifting. This lady dried, brushed, polished, vacuumed, blew, until all traces of water and dust had vanished, and by a clever rearrangement of the pictures, the three or four places where soapsuds and demonstrating dust had made too bad a spot, nothing of the tragedy remained.
“I’ll get them off with art gum the night I come to demonstrate for your wife,” said she.
She got away about ten to five.
I persuaded Jim to go home so as to leave me in my glory.
And the family arrived about five-thirty.
Never shall I have such a triumph. I was seated in the chesterfield chair. About me shone glory, in glass, in floor, in wood and fabric.
The family all came in the smiles vanishing from their faces as they climbed on chairs and ran fingers along the plate rail, as they felt the electric light fixtures, slanted pictures to see the glass, looked under the chesterfield and examined in mute amazement the glorious glow on the radio.
“Well,” I said, “it’s the best I could do, but I suppose you’ll have to do it over again.”
“My dear boy,” said the head of the family, with all her supporters gathered around her, “we expected to find you in tears.”
“Ha, ha,” said I.
“You can stay home the rest of the week and help us,” said she.
“No, no,” I cried. “I have simply shown you that even a mere man can do these things smoothly and painlessly, without a lot of fuss. And with no experience.”
The head of the house walked over and looked at the scissors.
“Ha!” she said.
“Yes,” I assured her, “I have already made up my mind to write to your mother and apologize for accusing her of having run off with my Sunday morning scissors.”
Behind the Chinese vase with the lamp on it she picked something up.
“Ah,” she said.
It was a handkerchief. A small handkerchief with the initial M on it. There are no M’s in our family.
It smelt faintly of floor wax.
“M’mmm?” said the head of the house.
So I had to tell the whole story.
And I have agreed not to be silly about house cleaning from now on.
Editor’s Notes: Collar studs can be used now for holding down the collar wings, but can still be used for attaching or fastening a detachable collar. These types of collars were used as one could have multiple collars, but fewer shirts. The same reasoning applied to detachable cuffs. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that separate collars lost their appeal, as it was felt that it made you look “stiff”.
Mobcaps were still worn at this time for maids and those who cleaned.