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Chores, by Nancy

June 4th, 2009

Here’s an essay for you, since we’re talking housework. It’s from twelve years ago, it would appear, cuz Steve and I weren’t married yet. Living in sin, woot!

by Nancy

Here’s a conversation I had recently with my grandma. Um, actually it’s more of a monologue.

You know how it goes.

“So Cora went to stay with her daughter last month” (she begins) “and she said she had to change for dinner. So she goes into their bedroom… well, her daughter is a college graduate. She is! She graduated with a degree in… in… psychology I think. She’s a smart girl! Anyway.

(She continues.)

“She married this bozo well my God he doesn’t even have a high school diploma I don’t believe. And he’s not the nicest man in the world, either. Doesn’t take very good care of her and the kids. I think she supports them I don’t think he even has a damn job. So Cora is changing and she says to me later ‘I don’t think those sheets had been changed in two months they were filthy!'”

(At which point I offer up, helpfully:) “Maybe she’s depressed and doesn’t feel like cleaning her house?”

Grandma: “Ha! Depressed my ass! She needs to get up and clean her house. That will make her feel better!”

Well you better not mess with Texas and you sure as hell better not mess with my grandma so that was about the end of that discussion. But it did get me thinking. Would Cora’s daughter have felt better, had the dust bunnies disappeared?

Magic 8 Ball sez: In all likelihood, no.

In “Chore Wars: How Households Can Share the Work and Keep the Peace” (Conari Press) James Thornton recommends that couples ask themselves the question: Would you rather have okay sex in a clean house or great sex in a dirty house? A poll of 555 married couples found that 53 percent of women and 56 percent of men opted for OK sex in a clean house; 31 percent of women and 31 percent of men wanted great sex in a dirty house; 16 percent of women and 14 percent of men didn’t know what they wanted. (Edited later to say, the fact that 16 percent of females and 14 percent of men don’t know what they want seems somewhat low to me. wm)

Response from my girlfriend Nina: “Do they mean clean sheets? Cuz I don’t care how dirty the house is, but that bed had better be clean.”

Thoughts from my ex-boyfriend: “I never really understood it with them, what his deal was with her. It wasn’t like she was that good lookin’ and she didn’t keep his house that clean.” (Now we know why he’s an ex.)

Ah, housework. Is there anything more likely to start World War III on the home front? Dust, vacuum, do a load of laundry, load the dishwasher (if you’re fortunate enough to have a dishwasher), windex the windows, scrub the tub, mop, do another load of laundry and next week (or the next day) you’re lucky enough to get to do it all over again.

My girlfriend Fiona, in a poem she wrote: “Sylvia! Get your head out of the oven! I need to talk to you.”

“The day I worry about cleaning my house is the day Sears comes out with a riding vacuum cleaner.” — Roseanne, comedian

One of life’s most embarrassing moments: My Good Housekeeping fanatic of a friend, her overbearing prick of a husband and their two perfect blond kids are over at my place, having a visit. The older kid smacks his hand hard on the arm of the couch; dust flies through the sunny living room.

“Hey Dad!” he hoots, “Look at that!”

My friend winces; her daughter observes. I smile, and mention the time. “My it’s getting late, isn’t it?

OK then, shampoo the fucken furniture, change the cat litter box, take out the compost, pick up the dog crap in the backyard, ignore the weeds for the time being, consider watering the garden, head back into the house.

Transplant the houseplants, water them, do another load of laundry hey didn’t I just wash these towels a couple days? nevermind, start getting dinner ready. And scrub the toilet. Thinking of Cora’s daughter, change the sheets.

When I come home/
my house is dark and my pots are cold”

“You’ve Got to Change Your Evil Ways”

Now, I am a lucky woman in my life. My husband-to-be actually does the dishes, not just once in awhile, but generally. He does the grocery shopping, too. And he cooks — not just the fancy stuff, like the occasional pasta carbonara — I mean the fancy stuff and the everyday stuff: scrambled eggs, a big pot of soup, a stirfry.

Like my mom always told me, “You’ve got to have the meat and potatoes.” He’s a vegetarian, but you know what I mean.

Don’t you?

So let’s say your significant other doesn’t clean house. (And stop saying “helps” OK? Doing your own laundry is not “helping out”; taking care of your own kids is not “babysitting.” So let’s say he doesn’t lift a finger, except to change the occasional light bulb. My advice?

Dump his ass and find someone nice who knows how to scrub out a sink.

My friend George, talking to his new bride and moi one night after dinner at my place, observing the myriad cobwebs in my corners: “Did you know that those aren’t even dust? They’re 90 percent human skin.”

So I shake out the throw rugs. Think about throwing them. Sweep the kitchen floor. Did I mention the dust bunnies? They’re breeding again. So git ’em! Knock the cobwebs from the ceiling, think of exfoliating, right after I take out the garbage and the recycling.

And now, a word from our sponsor:

The following is from a 1950s high school home ec textbook:

How To Be a Good Wife

Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal, on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home, and the prospect of a good meal is part of the warm welcome needed.

Prepare yourself. Take fifteen minutes to rest so that you will be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair, and be fresh looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Be a little gay and a little more interesting. His boring day may need a lift.

Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. Then run a dust cloth over the tables. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift, too.

Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children’s faces and hands (if they are small), comb their hair, and if necessary change their clothes. They are little treasures, and he would like to see them playing the part.

Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer, dishwasher, or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. Be happy to see him. Greet him with a warm smile and be glad to see him.

Some don’ts. Don’t greet him with problems or complaints. Don’t complain if he is late for dinner. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or suggest that he lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in low, soft, and soothing tones and with a pleasant voice. Allow him to relax and unwind.

Listen to him. You may have a dozen things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first.

Make the evening his. Never complain if he does not take you out to dinner or to other pleasant entertainment. Instead try to understand his world of strain and pressure, his need to unwind and relax.

The goal is to try to make your home a place of peace and order where your husband can relax in body and spirit.

It’s me again, hi. A few thoughts on these helpful home ec hints: It’s not enough to be happy to see him? You have to be glad, too? Whatever. (Which translates in our house to: I’m not even going to argue with you, but if we did argue, I’d win.)

So. My opinion? Fuck housework. Do the bare minimum. If you keep throwing away rotten food from your refrigerator, maybe you’re doing too much grocery shopping. In the famous words of the matchbook cover: Enjoy Life! Eat Out More Often!

My favorite trick is stashing dirty dishes in the oven when I’m expecting company (for drinks, not dinner). I mean, what? They’re going to bake a loaf of bread for me or something? (My beloved, the Dish Man, put the kibosh on this when we started sharing a place.) (Edited twelve years later to say: He totally stole this trick from me. I find dirty dishes in the oven all the time now.)

A friend of mine stuffs dirty laundry in the trunk of her car when the in-laws are in town. “Because they’ll check the closet — but they won’t check your trunk.”

And while we’re on the topic, what was up with the guys in “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie”? It was always, Samantha! How could you? or Jeannie, I warned you! every time the ladies did them the favor of an instant eight-course meal or a spotless house.

If all I had to do was blink my baby blues or wiggle my nose and that rug would be vacuumed, I’d be happy as a goddamn clam, and I think everyone else would be, too. Heck, I’d come over to their places and do the same thing for free! And blink them up a chocolate cake while I was at it. Here’s what you do: Go on a rampage once or twice a year, putting together loads for Goodwill, scrubbing the top of the refrigerator or whatever else makes you feel virtuous and call it good. If you’ve got kids, play with them. If you have fish, feed them. You like to do art, build some. Make some love. Read a magazine. Watch a special on UFOs. If you feel like it, bake some cookies. Then leave the cooky sheet in the oven until the next time you use it.

Bon appetit, babies!

— wm


  1. WackyMummy says

    Loved it! You should do more writing. :)

    June 4th, 2009 | #

  2. WackyMommy says

    WackyMummy, thank you! I love Thee Blog and Thee Facebook, but I want to do something more… bigger.

    June 4th, 2009 | #

  3. Nan says

    You are a woman after my own heart!

    June 4th, 2009 | #

  4. wacky cousin says

    Yeah. If I could blink it done, I’d be the happiest woman ever. I’d also be the richest housekeeper on the planet.

    June 5th, 2009 | #

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