In My Next Life: Cleaning house, facing rats and other homeowner ills

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davidnichols110BY DAVID NICHOLS

As it turns out, 2009 was the Saddam Hussein of calendar years. I don’t know anybody who was sorry to see it go. In fact, if there was footage on YouTube of last year being blindfolded and hung I suspect it’d rank right up there with the skateboarding cat or whatever’s popular today.

And just like a wounded animal saves its most vicious attack for the end, ’09 went out with a bang— or at least tried to. I’m thinking, of course, of the attempted underpants bombing on Christmas day. Every time I have to pad through Burbank Airport while my sneakers get X-rayed I curse that moron who tried to set fire to his shoes and started the whole business. Now God only knows what we’ll have to take off and throw into those grey plastic tubs. I take enough flak in my own bedroom about the state of my briefs. I’m not looking forward to additional commentary from armed security personnel. But 2009 left a trail of small disasters closer to home as well.

The seeds were sown when My Loyal Housekeeper of 20 Years asked to take off three weeks to spend Christmas with her family in Guatemala. I say she “asked” because she always requests time off in the nicest way possible. But we both knew what my answer would be. She occupies a very powerful position in our household and I’ve always thought it wise to give her whatever she wants. If the appearance of my underwear is questionable now, I hate to think what it would look like if she ever got mad while she was doing the laundry.

After getting “permission” from me to take three weeks off, she spoke separately to N. about having one of her friends fill in while she was away. Not having been there, I can only assume they spoke Spanish, as they like to do. Whether the subject of my underwear came up, I can’t say. All I know is that somehow something got lost in translation. N. thought we were talking about only a one-week absence and said we could get by on our own. By the time the misunderstanding was discovered My Loyal Housekeeper’s friend had taken another job. Now we were faced with nearly a month during which N. would be working, Christmas shopping, cooking for holiday parties, decorating, wrapping gifts, and all the rest. Meanwhile The Boy would be off from school and he and I would be busy doing…well, not cleaning the house. That’s the point. Clearly a substitute housekeeper would really come in handy. N. took it in stride. She called the woman who cleaned for her when she was single and made arrangements for her to come on the next three Thursdays. Problem solved. Or so we thought. But the Old Year had a few final, annoying stings left in its tail.

I was upstairs at my desk, going over some very important status updates on Facebook when I suddenly heard screams and shouting coming from downstairs. “There’s a dead rat in the basement!” The Boy told me. His voice carried the same note of thrilled excitement boys have used to convey news about gross dead animals since the days of Tom Sawyer and beyond. Sure enough, there it was, caught in a trap just inside the basement door. N. had made the discovery and the shock of it had rendered her temporarily inarticulate. But the way she was squealing and flapping her hands sent an unmistakable message. I needed to get the thing out of there now.

A lot of our thinking about gender roles has changed over the past few decades. But when it’s time to dispose of a dead rat there’s still absolutely no question whose job it is. And having been a homeowner for more years than I care to recall, I’m depressingly familiar with rodent removal procedures. I grabbed a pair of kitchen tongs I keep for precisely that purpose and carried the critter to the trash, bolstered by the thought that I was accumulating some fairly major “Man of the House” cred. In a typical year that would’ve been the end of that. But not in 2009.

The next morning N. informs me that none of the burners on the stove are working. Previous owners equipped our kitchen with some rather eccentric British-made appliances and I’ve found only one company in the Valley that services them. I call and they promise to send someone within a couple of hours. During that couple of hours, however, we discover that the furnace isn’t working either. And there’s no hot water. When the appliance repair guy comes he charges a mere forty-five dollars to confirm our suspicions. “The gas is off,” he says. “I don’t turn on gas.” He leaves, wishing us a happy new year. I bite my tongue.

Then I call the gas company. They ask if it’s an emergency. Now, I tend to think in global terms and compared to, say, the situation in Darfur, this really isn’t an emergency, so I say no. They tell me somebody will be out in the next eight hours. N. tends to think closer to home, where it’s currently freezing and The Boy can’t take a shower. She calls back and tells them it is an emergency. Ten minutes later there’s a gas company guy at the door.

We go to the basement to look at the gas meter. Turns out an empty box has slipped and bumped into the earthquake detector on the meter, which then automatically shut off the gas. “Something must’ve knocked over that box,” the gas guy says. I think of my flattened furry friend in the trashcan. The gift that keeps on giving. The gas guy lets me know I can save sixty-three dollars if I re-light the water heater myself, rather than having him do it. I’ve tried reading the instructions they give you on that sticker. The only parts I understood were the illustrations of the tank catching fire, exploding, and knocking over the little stick-figure homeowner who did something wrong. I decide it would be sixty-three bucks well spent to keep that from happening. And any “Man of the House” credits I built up by getting rid of the rat have long since expired. No point blowing the place up trying to get them back.

Pretty soon we’re literally cooking with gas again. And we have hot water. Which is a good thing, since N. and I have a lot of cleaning to do. “But wait,” you may be thinking. “I thought the Substitute Housekeeper was supposed to take care of that.” Funny, we thought so too. Here’s how that went….

Thursday Number One: N. hangs around the house all morning, waiting for The Substitute to arrive. Finally, around noon, N. gives her a call. “Oh, I thought you meant next Thursday.” The Substitute says. She promises to come the next week. N. reminds her of the bus route to our house. We spend the day cleaning.

Thursday Number Two: N. hangs around the house all morning, waiting for The Substitute to arrive. Finally, around noon, N. gives her a call. “Oh, I had a dentist’s appointment,” The Substitute says. She promises to come the next week. N. reminds her of the bus route to our house. We spend the day cleaning.

Wednesday Night Before Thursday Number Three: The Substitute calls. I answer. She confirms that she’s supposed to come in the morning. “You live near Coldwater Canyon, right?” she asks.

“We live near Laurel Canyon.”

“Oh, I know. Right across from Universal Studios.”

“No, we’re farther west than that.”

“Oh. Could you text me the directions?”

The thought of texting any message longer than “I’m waiting at the bar” gives me chest pains. N., an inveterate Blackberrier, sends her detailed instructions.

Thursday Number Three: N. hangs around the house all morning waiting for The Substitute to arrive. I go run errands. My phone rings. It’s N., only slightly less agitated than when she found the rat. “She’s in Encino!!” she wails. We…well, you know.

Finally, the day before New Year’s Eve, My Loyal Housekeeper of Twenty Years returns, right on schedule. But she’s grumpier than we’ve ever seen her. “I’m sick,” she tells me. “You don’t need to stay if you don’t feel well,” I say. She shrugs. “I’m responsible.” At the end of the day I give her a bonus and we wish each other happy new year, as we have many times before.

The next night N., The Boy, and I celebrate New Year’s Eve at The Wine Bistro, near our house. That is, west of Universal, east of Coldwater. It’s a great evening. N. dances with J.B., the owner, who’s as good a dancer as he is a host. She dances with me— clearly a case of year-end charitable giving. And then, with only minimal cajoling, The Boy dances with her in front of an entire restaurant full of adults. “That,” she tells him, “made it my best new year’s ever.” My Beautiful Grown Daughter sends me a text at midnight. Fortunately texting back “Happy New Year. I love you too” is within my capabilities.

And since 2010 gave 2009 the boot, the only animal we’ve found in our house is a ladybug. That’s supposed to be lucky. Which is good, because I don’t have a pair of tongs tiny enough to carry it outside. Somehow, I think this year is gonna be okay.

David Nichols is a TV writer/producer who has worked on such shows as “Caroline In The City”, “Grace Under Fire”, and “Evening Shade.”  He’s currently making a”mid-life” career change and joining ‘Merry Maids.’

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.