LITTLE boys are usually at the mercy of their mothers when it comes to cleaning their rooms. Occasionally, fathers will be used for enforcement if health or fire hazard threatens, but my memory is of my mother persuading and cajoling me into keeping my room clean.
College can be a respite from maternal bedroom management, and many young men take that opportunity to live in unwashed, undusted, unkempt splendor. But after graduation and leaving home to take on the responsibility of employment, a man soon realizes that if he expects to have any social life at all, he has to clean his room.
He must face the reality of putting sponge to porcelain, know how to make a bed without finding the top sheet around his neck in the morning, and learn that dust bunnies propagate faster than their furry, pink-eyed cousins.
When a job becomes a career and a room an apartment, a cleaning lady often becomes a part of a man's life. These housekeepers are the unsung surrogate mothers who clean little boys' rooms after they grow up. They coax and scold, demand and flatter as well as any real mother. Dorothy Brown was mine.
In the six years that she worked for me, I never saw her in the apartment. Our communication was confined to notes placed under a paperweight on the left-hand corner of my desk. They were written in pencil on old corporate memo paper or phone message pads that I had pilfered from some hotel. Hers consisted of the usual reminders and requests, but over time they took on the nature of maternal admonitions, critical appraisals, and letters home. Requests could be direct and specific.
Now, I will need cleanser by next week. Please get tall cans of Ajax. Ajax does a better job than Comet.
We need soap powder for the wash. I would like you to get Cheer. It has bluing in it. Please have by next Wed.
She was very effective in putting me to shame.
Please get a large bottle of bleach. Your dish towels look awful.
There were reprimands when I invaded her domain or failed to put things where she said they went.
Don't get out sheets for the bed for me. I will get them out when I come in. You see the clean sheets I put on the top and take from the bottom. In that way you keep rotating.
Her observations could convey displeasure, resignation, or persuasion.
When I got in the living room and saw the dining platform I said out loud, ''What will he do next?'' I can't say I like it. Of course, it is not for me to like as long as you like it. Enjoy it.
Your quilt is beautiful, but it is not a bedspread. You still need a bedspread.
She frequently changed things around for what she considered my benefit. The result was a series of ''if you are looking for'' notes.
If you are looking for your two frying pans and pot that usually sit on top of the stove, I put them in the oven. The top of the stove looks better without them.
There was the saga of the foyer, begun when I was delinquent in taking a couple of off-season suits to the dry cleaner.
I am feeling fine these days. What's with the clothes on the chair in the foyer? There were clothes on that same chair last week. Let's move them please.
They escalated after I overcrowded the foyer with a love seat.
When are you going to move sofa from foyer? It is in my way and I am tired of climbing over it and cleaning around it.
I am feeling fine. Your foyer is a holy mess. I am planning to be away Xmas week.
After implementing my foyer master design plan, the severity of her comments abated.
I take it you are getting the sofa covered. Great. Then where will you put it?
I am certainly glad you took up the fur rug in foyer. Of course this is your apt., but please don't put it down again.
She did offer genuine compliments.
The chocolate cake is very good. I think it is better than the one you made a few weeks ago. Keep up the good work.
Oh, what a surprise. I love the couch. It is beautiful.
I received one admission of guilt made startling by its headline.
The stand for this dish fell behind the bookcase when I was dusting. Sorry.
She took three weeks of vacation in the summer and one at Christmas. She always left reports of her outings.
Have a nice weekend and holiday. I am going to D.C. for a little fun.
I am taking Xmas week off. I am going to Va. for the holidays to be with my family. I have not been home on Xmas in 25 years. Home is Hampton, Va. I will come in the first Wed. in the new year.
I had a wonderful vacation. I flew to Detroit and back. I also went to Windsor, Canada, Battle Creek, and Lansing. It was my first plane trip and I loved every minute of it. I had a grand time. Your apt. wasn't too bad. Just needed a woman's touch, smile.
Dorothy Brown was not alone in the apartment on all those Wednesdays -- my cat was there. She never mentioned him in her notes. I have no idea whether she tried to engage him in conversation or threatened to terrorize him with the vacuum cleaner. But after he died suddenly one weekend, this note was on the desk the following Wednesday:
What did you do with Romberg? I miss him.
P. S. We need Ajax.
That was 10 years ago. Dorothy retired a short time later and I now have another cat whom I try to engage in conversation and another cleaning lady who doesn't leave notes. I miss Dorothy. And I still need Ajax.