My family has the mistaken idea that I enjoy housecleaning, all because I like living in a clean house. Some people might even think I’m a little OCD when it comes to cleanliness. When I was younger I never noticed dust on furniture, fuzz balls on the floor, or a ring around the toilet or tub. It all changed when I began cleaning repossessed mobile homes while in my twenties as an undergrad.
I already worked two part-time office jobs, had a Pell grant, and a couple of scholarships, but as a full-time student and single mother I was still financially at poverty level. I had to alternate monthly bills in order to survive, always a month or two behind on utilities, mortgage, and credit cards. I used my credit cards only for emergencies like when I needed new tires for my ten-year-old Camaro and had to replace my water heater. And there were a few times I was too broke to pay doctor bills or even buy groceries.
So I put an ad in the paper and started cleaning houses and A-1 Mobile Homes. The mobile homes were the worst. Very rarely were they hooked up to the dock where I could use running water and electricity. I often dragged a bucket of water and electrical cords to the various locations on A-1’s lot. Because I had such a long way to walk to refill the bucket I used the water until it was black and oily. I learned to appreciate running water and electricity.
First, I threw out all the items the previous owners left behind. I loaded the trash into the trunk of my car and drove it to the dumpsters. There I deposited motorcycle parts, clothing, broken toys and a wide range of household items. I remember one home where, in the back bedroom, I found a closet full of dolls with their eyes either poked out or scribbled on with markers. On the walls were certificates and photos of a little girl with dark brown hair receiving academic awards. She smiled in the photos, but it was a sad smile. Goosebumps erupted all over my flesh as I tried to imagine what she didn’t want her dolls to see.
At another place I tossed plywood that partitioned off a corner of the kitchen. Behind the wood stood a pile of dog shit three feet high. Long, deep scratch marks marred the cheap, paneled walls where a large canine had tried to claw his way out of his living hell. I found a big box and stationed it outside the back door where normally steps would have been. Then I shoveled the shit into it.
The worst trailer had to be the one where cockroaches scurried around the floors and kitchen and bathroom counters. They weren’t afraid of the light nor were they the only insects occupying the pig sty. Fleas jumped on my ankles and bit me as I swept the broom about trying to kill the roaches. I told the manager the place didn’t need to be cleaned, but burned to the ground. He said, “Do the best you can to make it look livable.”
It was a windy day. I opened the windows and smoked as I worked to block the stench. I couldn’t scrub the toilets because they hadn’t been flushed. The water was murky brown and stunk of . . . (well, use your imagination). As I thought about the poor fools who might end up buying this foul piece of junk, I flicked my cigarette butts out the front door. Later, I threw a soiled and stinky mattress out as well. It wasn’t long before I smelled smoke. I glanced outside. The damned mattress was on fire! I tossed my bucket of dirty water on it, but it kept burning. I jumped in my car and sped to the office building where the manager was busy talking to a potential customer. I took him aside to tell him about the fire. He rushed to the trailer. He and a salesman managed to drag the mattress far away from any of the other repossessed homes to let it smolder. He shook his head at me and laughed. “You weren’t kidding, were you?”
It really was an accident but it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit if the structure had burnt to the ground. I cleaned the place the best I could and the manager promised they would spray to kill its current inhabitants. That was the last time I worked for A-1. I quit. The ten dollars an hour wasn’t worth what horrible disease I might catch.
Afterwards, I looked at cleaning in a different way and developed a new-found
respect for maids everywhere. How could anyone live in such filth? Obviously, there were many mobile home owners who did, or at least, the ones who couldn’t afford to keep them. If I could make a home, that deep down was still dirty, look clean, I would make sure my house not only looked clean but was super sanitary.
I still hate cleaning but I can’t rid myself of the nightmares. Now if only I could get my family to care about a dirt free environment as much as I do perhaps I could get them to help me out.