Wednesday, February 28, 2007

If My Floors Are Spotless It Means
I'm A Really Good Person.

A couple of Sundays ago me, my sister and two of my sister-in-laws threw a wedding shower here at my house. My brother is getting married in a few weeks and we wanted to give a warm welcome to my future sister-in-law, something to redeem ourselves after an incident where her teenaged daughter was unintentionally subjected to a recent dinner conversation between me and some of my family members. That would be the one where we were discussing the movie Borat, specifically the naked fight scene in the hotel and about what the fat guy's genitals might possibly look like.

The shower went off without a hitch, but I'm still trying to recover. Not from the event itself, but from the countless hours of prep beforehand, the frenzy that precedes any instance where people will be entering my home and in my mind, judging me mercilessly on the placement of my couch cushions and the number of scuff marks on my walls. It's as if I can hear them saying to each other after they've left, "You know, I used to like her, until I saw the dirty grout in her bathroom and that hideous shower curtain." You get the picture.

I've written here before about my tendency to stress out whenever people are coming to visit, but it merits some more scrutiny to see what is at the bottom of this freakish behavior. I'm convinced it has it's roots in my childhood, when I remember hotel stays where my mom would furiously clean the room before we checked out because "We don't want anyone thinking Japanese people are slobs." This also explains the lavish tips she would leave for the maids because "We don't want anyone thinking Japanese people are cheap." I figure that ninety percent of my neuroses can be explained by this, that in failing to do certain things or present a certain image I am in a sense disgracing my entire culture. In other words, it's entirely possible to bring shame on the Japanese race as a whole just by letting anyone see that salsa stain on my coffee table.

But save for a couple of million dollars in therapy or a successful brain transplant, I'm stuck with this affliction for now. Unfortunately it's gone beyond a personal problem, as the days or even weeks leading up to any type of gathering at our house involves the torture of the entire family as I enlist their help in making our place a gleaming glimmering shrine to cleanliness and orderliness. I know it's confusing for the girls when our living room, which on a good day resembles a homeless encampment for pre-teen packrats, suddenly is expected to look like page 45 of the Pottery Barn catalog. Or when I have to nerve to actually ask them to pick up the thirteen pairs of shoes they've managed to amass in a pile near the front door.

I have to say that Rigel suffers the most from my pre-party hysteria but to his credit he's usually pretty accommodating. For instance this time he dutifully agreed, on the day before the shower, to buy an outdoor patio heater because I was convinced all of my guests would freeze to death outside while eating their plates of miniature quiche. He braved the insanity of Home Depot on a Saturday and then stayed up past midnight assembling that behemoth in our cold backyard. I believe his last words to me before he went to sleep that night were, "It better be cold, damn cold tomorrow." When we awoke to a warm, sunny day it was understandable why he was in no mood to consider any of my remaining tasks I had laid out for him, absolutely refusing to paint the trashcans to match the garden as I had requested.

From what I can tell, men don't seem to suffer the same affliction. I can bet you'll never hear your husband say, "You know, the guys are coming over tomorrow. I'd better vacuum the hallway and put out some matching towels." A couple of weeks ago a friend of Rigel's stopped by to work on some music, and I carefully watched the preparation that took place. From what I could see it involved nothing more than him checking the refrigerator for cold beer and then kicking a bag out of the way that was blocking his amp. It was as if he could care less that the entryway was littered with the girls' clothes or that there were absolutely no guest soaps to be found in the bathroom. What freedom! How I envy him!

My obsessive rituals aren't entirely without merit, as our house never looks better than in the days leading up to a party. It feels good to finally scrub that months-old tomato sauce stain off the counter and there's no match for that warm fuzzy feeling you get when the newspapers are cleared away and you see your dining room table for the first time in six months. I'd be lying if I said my domestic inferiority complex is getting any better, but I certainly don't want to discourage anyone from visiting - all of my family and friends are welcome whenever they please. Just give me three months notice.

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39 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think your mother's obsession with cleaning the hotel room probably had something to do with her being interned and feeling like she needed to take extra precautions to prove herself after the war. Understandable. Just my two cents.

KC said...

During our will-breaking but amazingly effective clean-up in order to prepare our hovel-house for prospective renters, our house became so lovely that we vowed to periodically place an ad on Craigslist for a mock-move.

Mrs. Chicken said...

My husband is the one who goes into this pre-guest frenzy. He even makes me do it when MY mother comes to visit. You should see how he acts when HIS mother is coming to town.

But I'll admit that however much I hate the work, I do love that brief shining hour of godly cleanliness!

Veronica Mitchell said...

I admire your energy.

When the husband and I were dating, I could tell he had "cleaned" his dorm room for my visits when his mounds of books and papers on the floor were in four piles instead of eleven. That was pretty much it.

mk said...

I do the same thing before people come. It drives Mike crazy!! I make him work just as hard as I do and I always want him to fix things and help me clean. I am always worried about what they will thikn of my house!

barbex said...

Oh, seeing the table top! Yes, a glorius sight.

When my friend from overseas visited two weeks ago, I had a complete cleaning and decorating frenzy. Now noone seems to take away the rotten flowers.
Strange that.

Anonymous said...

Take it from me, some men suffer from the same affliction! My husband has a near panic attack anytime someone says they're coming over. The difference is that he would prefer to supervise the clean up rather than participate. Once I remind him that we don't live in Stepford, he starts running around frantically with the vacuum cleaner in tow. Poor thing!
You should have seen it when we sold our apartment last year - insanity!

MetroDad said...

Must be an affliction that affects both Japanese and Korean families. Once a week, my wife can be found furiously cleaning the apartment, scrubbing floors, and dusting until near midnight. The special occasion? The maid is coming the next day.

God forbid the maid thinks Koreans are dirty people!

Anonymous said...

I'm the same way. I can't bear the thought that anyone will see the grimy buildup inside my oven.

-annie

wayabetty said...

I'm laughing at your post and also at MD's comment. It must be the Asian thing! We never wanted other people to think we're dirty/cheap/uncultured, etc...

As a matter of fact, we're having a 2nd b-day for my daughter next Sat. and the in-laws will be in town next friday. So you'll be sure I will start scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush with my 6 month belly by Tues night! My sisters always joked that they'll be bringing their white gloves with them.

Cynthia said...

I do the same thing. I'm not a good housekeeper but can clean like a demon, and I go nuts before I expect company. My house reflects me, and since it's a mess, I'm a mess and unworthy. Where's the big red letter to wear?

dennis said...

about Rigel...well duh!

men learned a long time ago (ie..college) proving the presence of women in the abode is a good thing.

What he should have done tho' is pick up the kids clothes and drop yours around :)

That and keep the beer cold of course!

shelly said...

Oh, so nice to hear someone else is a wreck like me before visitors arrive.

The last time my in-laws were in town I found myself scrubbing the control plate of my washing machine. Ridiculous!

Sayre said...

Oh, don't worry - it's not just a Japanese/Korean/Asian thing. Southern ladies, Jewish mamas, and midwestern homesteaders all suffer the same affliction. No one wants to be regarded as a pig - even when one lives in a sty.

I'm not the neatest person in the world, but I also live with two guys. A big one who is fairly neat but not big on clean, and a little guy who strews things just by virtue of moving (kind of like Pig-Pen and dust, only with my kid it's STUFF). I often fantasize about how nice and clean my life would be if I lived alone - but I trade the clean for the love and am perfectly satisfied. But I do admit to shoving things in closets when guests threaten...

Diane B. said...

I'm the same way, always frantic whenever anyone is setting foot in our house. My sister is the opposite, she'll invite guests over and have a big ol pile of laundry sitting on the couch. As you said, what freedom! How I envy her!

Deanna (Domestic Chicky) said...

Sigh...I am the same when my MIL comes over...not quite as crazy as when one of my friends comes over, and the cable guy is lucky if I spray a little air freshener...

mamatulip said...

I am the same way. I hate it when people drop in, because they see how I REALLY live. Although after we sell this goddamn house I'm not cleaning until we move...I'm sick of keeping things so fucking tidy all the time (although I'm getting good at cutting corners to make it 'appear' like it's clean, LOL).

gorillabuns said...

i can totally relate to this feeling. yesterday, a good and very clean friend of mine, dropped by my house to give me a birthday present. i met her on my porch, complete with wet hair while wrapped in my robe, because i wouldn't dare let her see the living room filled with three suitcases, 2 sleeping bags and 5 piles of dirty clothes artfully placed in different corners of the fighting ring.

so, yes, i must have a least 3 months notice if you want to drop in for a cup of sugar.

Jodi said...

hahaha, I need AT least 3 months if you want to stop by my house to do any old thing. I am terrified of Publisher's Clearing House showing up and seeing my dirty rugs. :)

I HATE having people see my house....ugh...I want to look PERFECT. My family just doesn't understand that, they like to make big old huge messes every second of every day.

When I was a kid I can remember my Mom when I was a kid before we had any parties of any kind cleaning like a demon and scrubbing everything in sight, changing everybody's sheets, ect...My Dad would stand there and look at her with a puzzled look on his face and say, "Just what KIND of a party are you girls having anyway?". He so didn't get it. This is something most men suffer with and will probably outlive us and enjoy their friends visits even more because of it!

Lisa said...

This? Makes me love you even more! Same here, lady.

urban-urchin said...

I'm the same way. I wish I could just be tidy all the time then it wouldn't be such a freak out when people come over.

Jenny said...

Amen. My secret weapons:

1. A maid service.

2. The magic eraser. (I want to marry it.)

3. Buying new throw pillows for the couch. I think I've boughten 3 thousand in the last 2 years.

4. Drinking 2 glasses of wine before the guest arrive. Wine goggles always make your house seem shimmery and perfect.

LA Daddy said...

It could be the defining difference between men and women. LA Mommy and I fight over this every time. She cleans like a madwoman to get ready for the party. My thinking is, "Why clean BEFORE the party?! Shouldn't we WAIT and clean after the damage has been done?!" To me, it's like painting a car just before the tow truck comes to haul it off to the junkyard.

Oh, The Joys said...

I just gave up after feeling too much like Sisyphus all the time.

gingajoy said...

Ha! I am completely with you. Except my husband is a clean freak--I am sure he is at home vaccuuming right now, in fact. If not one is coming to visit, I don't care--dog fur everywhere. But as soon as I know we have company I turn into a massive cleaning freak, which pisses my husband off because I am a lazy betch ordinarily.

Nancy said...

I'm pretty sure I drive my husband crazy with my last-minute requests before we entertain, too (as if the weeks of insane preparation and my crankiness wasn't bad enough...) I think once I wanted to completely swap the living room and dining room furniture before family arrived for a holiday party. It would have made more sense to have the family HELP (since it was a lot of heavy stuff) -- but no way could I let them see a household in transition. Not to mention all the roaming dust bunnies!

Jocelyn said...

I love this post. I have your same affliction--okay, maybe not quite a strongly--but your articulating the feeling is so reassuring to me.

Too bad the cleanliness doesn't last as long as the party...An hour into it, and there are crumbs on the floor again.

Kim said...

I once painted the ENTIRE main floor of the house on December 22nd so the walls would be clean enough to entertain guests for Christmas eve. I've been there!

Angela said...

Oh man, I'm definitely the same way. I have to clean up the living room before the pizza delivery guy shows up because I can't have even him thinking that I'm a slob.

Lisa V said...

I am completely the same way, only I can't blame it on my heritage because all the Irish are known for is drinking and killing each other. Which may explain my children's behavior and my fully stocked bar.

My husband travels a lot. When he is late my mind wanders to the "what if he is dead", I immediately start worrying about the state of the house for people coming for a funeral. But then I have a drink and forget about it.

Petite Mom Blogger said...

"It feels good to finally scrub that months-old tomato sauce stain..." um, that's me..TOTALLY.

We had my son's 6th birthday party last week and I think I did the same thing for the whole week. Now, we are back to a mess.

Kevin Charnas said...

Will freaks out and goes crazy cleaning when people are coming to stay. It's great, because the place ends up looking great.

But, if it were left up to me, I'd tell the guests to bring their garbage and add it to the pile.

Pattie said...

Marsha,
I am having a suprise party for a friend here next week. Can you come over and help me out?

:)

Ruth Dynamite said...

I share your affliction, and I'm not proud of it. Just this morning, a few hours before my in-laws were due to arrive, I was sewing curtains. Because they were coming. Stupid.

Jonathon said...

I just can't bring myself to do it. Unless it looks like a bomb exploded three or four times in our living room (and Lady-A would kill me in a ritual sacrafice before that happened), I figure it's fine.

edj said...

I can not relate at all. I am not someone who would paint their entire living/dining room before having someone over for dinner, just because their 2 y/o knocked a bottle of red wine over a white wall 2 days before the invitation. In fact, my house is always spotless. And well-painted. Isn't everyone's?

BlondeMom said...

We're having family over for my daughter's 2nd birthday on Sunday. I've already found about 989 things wrong with our house and sent the hubby to Home Depot yesterday to purchase a new flag for our front porch as ours looked like it had been flying high since 1807. I'm just going to hope and pray no one wearing black pants sits on our floor...the dog hair has taken over my house!

AdventureDad said...

Our house usually look alright but it's not the shrine of cleanliness most Latin women are so proud of. My wife doesn't like to clean the bathroom, iron, and mop the floor every single day like some of her crazy friends.

I'm not a neat freak but I don't enjoy the house being a mess. And I might be the only man who makes sure the house is looking nice if any visitor is coming over. Male or female. Luckily, there are quite a few coming by so our place never gets out of control. having at least 30 beers or 50 bottles of wine is not on the map. I guess I have some kind of fear alcohol will run out some day and we will all sit around and talk. Without being drunk **gasp**.

Perhaps an good strategy would be more visitors so your house never has time to get messy?:-))

kim said...

I just feel like people will think I'm a bad person. I can't imagine feeling the responsibility for the entire Japanese race.

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