My apartment is a complete mess, and I like it that way; it tells me without using words, that I am doing other things, more important things, with my time. My mother tells me, “All you need to do is clean a little bit every day, and your apartment will be spick and span.” This is coming from the woman who told me that I should make my bed each morning and tidy my room growing up. Perhaps, after years of reminding, I take perverse pleasure in letting everything go.
“Leaving a messy bed sets the tone for the day,” she said. If that’s true, my life is complete chaos, and I’ve been leaving it messy as often as I can. There’s freedom in chaos. But my mother is not so easy to dodge; she knows my psychology.
“Andy, your toilet needs cleaning. How can you expect a woman to enjoy your company if you leave a dirty ring around the porcelain?”
“Mom, toilet cleaner costs money; and it takes time to clean the toilet. It is decidedly feminine to change oneself to meet someone else’s expectations. I feel it will do me more harm than good if I’m worried about what other people think.”
“Who taught you to think this way?” She asked. “It wasn’t me.”
“Thankfully, you taught me how to read, and I have come under other influences.”
“That man’s a pervert.”
“He taught me so much.”
“Well, I never… If you come over, be sure to clean up your dishes. And why can’t I call you?”
“I ran out of minutes on my cell phone.”
“Well, why don’t you get some more?”
“This way, I don’t have to talk to people, and I save money.”
“Andy, I’m worried about you. Well, at least, email me.”
“I shut my internet down. I still use the library though. You remember how you threatened to kick me out of the house if I didn’t go to college?”
“I don’t know if it happened that way.”
“Well, I realize my fear was unfounded. There is so much freedom in being homeless, and I nearly have enough money saved for my van.”
“Andy, why don’t you get a condo; you deserve it! You’ve worked so hard.”
“I’m afraid mom, I was destined to be a vagrant.”
She started to tear up, and I felt bad. “Don’t worry mom, I’ll be okay, I have the best books to keep me company, and I’m not homeless yet.”
My dad came into the living room. “Forgot to pay your power bill, uh?” He asked.
“Yeah, but I avoided the penalties.”
“You need a wife to take care of that sort of thing.”
“Dad, it’s the age of feminism; women don’t do that anymore. A man must make his own way.”
“Honey, talk some sense into him; he doesn’t shoot straight anymore.”
“Well, I was going to ask you guys if you wanted to come over for dinner this Saturday.”
“Clean your apartment first,” my mother said.
“Okay.” I went home. It was bad. There was trash under my bed. I didn’t have a table, so I was eating all my meals in bed. Perhaps, this motivation came from the realization that I might live with a woman one day (although I’m doubtful) and she would never let me eat in bed.
It didn’t matter; what did matter was the enormous mess; I just didn’t have the inspiration to clean. Sometimes I did, and I always waited for it. Now I live my entire life by inspiration, kind of Toa-centric, which means, mundane business gets put on hold.
The solution was not coming to me.
“Let’s cast some light on the situation, shall we?” I opened the curtains. It was the dry humor of one of my accounting professors, and the joke fit my personality now. Strange, I couldn’t stand that guy when I took his class. I guess it’s like spinach, you hate it when you’re young, but when you get older, you realize it’s good for you and it doesn’t taste half bad. I looked through the window. There was that cleaning store on the corner, I’d past at least half a dozen times. What was the name? Ernesto’s Brooms and Vacuums. Maybe they hired out maids too. That was beating the system. Bachelors always had maids, at least the cool ones did, and then I thought about what bachelors did to their maids. It was a fleeting fantasy, and in real life, they probably screamed RAPE.
So, I went to the corner store. Going out of Business was written on the window in red marker. “I wish I came here sooner,” I said. “Sorry you’re going out of business.”
“Oh, no problema. Landscaping is the rage now. My uncle has just acquired another truck. Times are changing; one needs to change with them.”
“I can’t argue with that,” I said.
“The guy came out from behind the register; he wasn’t even Mexican. “Are you Ernesto?”
He had an enormous pot belly, and he was red around the eyes. I couldn’t tell if it was drugs or alcohol or both.
“Why are you talking like that?” I asked.
“When you’re in the cleaning industry it pays to be a stereotype.”
“But you’re going out of business. Do you even speak Spanish?
He shrugged. “No, but one needs to adapt to the lingo, if you know what I mean? Maybe it didn’t pay as well as I thought it would. I blame the virus and the government shutdown. Good news is, I’m getting a big stimulus check and I’m going to buy an XBOX.”
“I’m glad the government’s money is being spent well,” I said.
“Heck, the rich get richer, but nobody knows how to have a good time like me. Now, if I can get a six-pack of Coors, I’ll be all right. Say, why did you come in? Is there something I can help you with?”
“My apartment is a mess and my parents are coming over for dinner this Saturday. You don’t hire-out maids, do you?”
“I wish we did; maybe I’d get a little action on the side. My wife died last year, the virus and all.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“I’m not; I’m a free man. It was her idea to open this cleaning store. What is it with chicks and cleaning? I don’t know. What was it she used to say? It was her dream. Now I remember… ‘My house will have a thing for everything and everything in its place.’ What a horrible slogan. After she died, I traded all my stuff to the Good Will. Now I’m living out of my car.”
I saw myself in him, and it scared me. “So, no maids… Do you have a vacuum?”
“No vacuum. Not even a broom. I’m sorry. There’s not much I can do to help you, but wait… I do have something, but no, I shouldn’t.”
“I’m open to suggestions,” I said. “I don’t have the inspiration…”
“Wait here a second.”
He went into the back room that was mostly bare and boxed up. When he came out, he was carrying two suitcases. “These are direct from Mexico. You open these, and your place will get clean in a hurry.”
“Really?” I asked. What’s in them?”
“It’s not drugs; I would’ve taken them if it was drugs. No, it’s something else. And you can’t give them back, and you can’t get rid of them, once you take them. Just know, you’ll probably never have to clean again.”
I took the faded lime-green suitcases from him. The sides were chipped, leaving spots of yellow. I wouldn’t take them through airport security. Like hundred-dollar bills, they probably had traces of cocaine on them.
“Well, that was the last thing I needed to get rid of; thanks for taking them off my hands; well, I got to go.” And he just up and left, like that. I hoisted the suitcases off the counter and walked the block to my apartment. Strange thing, the suitcases started to rattle a little bit. I wondered if it was a dust buster, or some antique from before the 80s, but Ernesto said it would help me clean my apartment, and I was willing to try anything, at this point. When I got home, I bounced the suitcases on my bed, and flipped the metal latches. I turned them on their sides, and opened them wide. Inside, was a little man in a Mexican suit, and in the other one, I assume it was his wife. She wore a faded red dancing dress with a midnight top. They were like dolls, but they were also like people. They stood two feet tall. There was no life in them.
“They must be worth something; I wonder why he wanted to get rid of them.” I put them on the floor and decided to take a nap. It might’ve been hours when I finally woke up. It was late at night, and my bedside light was on. The smell in my apartment was gone. The wood was lemon fresh and there was a pine fragrance in the air. I turned on the greater light, and everything was clean.
“What the…?” Then I looked at the figurines. They were smiling like ventriloquist dummies. I decided to make eggs to take my mind of the miracle. I cracked them and dropped the shells in the sink.
I whipped around. “Que?” Their eyes were following me, even though their bodies were lifeless. “You tell me, are you alive? Do you speak English?”
“Si Senior.” And the dolls came to life. They were like miniature servants who wanted to please. “I can make you the best huevos rancheros. My name is Margarite, and this is Jose, my husband.”
“I’m Andy. I really need some help cleaning and cooking.”
“We know.” They started cooking the eggs with salsa, in perfect harmony, dancing to Mexican music. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was magic.
When my folks came the next day, they were thrilled. “Andy, did you get a girlfriend?”
“More like a husband and wife.”
When my parents went home, the house was in perfect order, and the dolls started watching a Mexican soap opera.
“Can you change the channel?” I asked.
“No, this is our entertainment in the evening.”
“I want you to change the channel or I’ll put you back in your suitcases.”
Jose gave me an evil look. “You wouldn’t dare.”
“I would, especially if you look at me that way again.”
“Margarite, we best do as he says.”
They walked into their cases and I closed the latch. I turned off the lights, but I couldn’t go to sleep. Those dolls were giving me the creeps. Then I heard the latches snap. I went to turn on my light, and something sharp cut me on the wrist. I flicked the switch. Jose was holding a salad knife to my throat.
“We want to watch our soap opera,” he said.
“Okay… Okay… here’s the remote. My apartment was filled with Mexican drama and song. I was hostage in my own apartment, so I decided to call my mom.
“How’s the cleaning coming?” I asked. “You said your house would be perfect when I finally left.”
“Well, it hasn’t turned out that way,” she said.
“I have the solution for you. It comes in two Mexican suitcases. I’ll drop them off on my way home from work.”