Labor Note:
Spring Cleaning
11 May 2018

In Ian McEwan’s Saturday, the protagonist recalls that his mother used to spring-clean the house every day while he was at school. I sit at the opposite end of that spectrum, possibly because the cleaning ladies whom my mother put to work were as busy as Mrs Perowne. I grew up thinking that “spring cleaning” was somehow Victorian, rendered obsolete by the elimination of coal from the domestic scene. But Fossil Darling has always done it, usually in the early summer. All the furniture gets moved away from the walls, &c &c. It makes me feel completely derelict to hear about it. 

Preserving me from the nethermost sinks of barbarism, however, the building management sends handymen around every April — and again in May, to deal with the delinquents — to change the HVAC filters. This means that the chairs and the Pembroke table in the bedroom have to be moved away from the windows, revealing sordid clouds of dust, as well as one or two items that have “gone missing.”

At about noon today, my favorite handyman rang the doorbell. He’s a gift, there’s no other word; he moves all the furniture himself and puts it all back. Or would put it back if I didn’t ask him not to. It was high time, I thought, to find out what’s in the stack of four pandan boxes beneath the Pembroke table, and to run the vacuum cleaner over that end of the room while the chairs were elsewhere. (The handyman goes after the HVAC unit and the surrounding flooring with an industrial vacuum.)

After I put things back where they belonged, I went on to tidy the bedroom as usual, without any extraordinary flourishes of diligence. Except for one: I dusted, or rather wiped with a damp cloth, the twelve-paned opaque cloth shade on the monkey lamp, a bijou item that is the first thing you see when you walk into the bedroom (if it isn’t the large watercolor hanging over the bed). The dust came off the lampshade in mortifying clots — but it did come off, and the shade, which is dull green in color (almost as grey as dust, in other words), looked somehow smarter. 

How do bedding, clothing, and little bits of people become dust? Could anyone explain it without being a bore? Because, really, you would want to learn only a little bit at a time. 

Shuddering, I remembered the HVAC filter that the handyman replaced. He laughed when he showed it to me. A carpet of grey mass approaching the condition of felt, it was a grim reminder that nothing lasts forever, except maybe dust. 

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