It’s eleven o’clock at night and I’m in my office, working.
I’m not writing. I’m dusting my pickax.
I got the pickax two years ago at the Left Coast Crime conference in Denver. Yes, it seems odd that Denver hosted the Left Coast Crime conference hundreds of miles from the west coast beaches, but it was fun.
Denver is better known for mountains and mining. The engraved miner’s pickax was the Lefty Award for the funniest novel of 2008. I probably have the only engraved pickax in south Florida. Maybe the whole state. I wasn’t about to take it home on a plane. UPS shipped the pickax in bubblewrap.
I keep the pickax in my office. Where it got dusty.
It’s spring cleaning.
Florida doesn’t have spring like my hometown, St. Louis. There are no daffodils or flowering dogwood. An outburst of palm-tree pollen makes our eyes itch, but that’s nothing to celebrate. Yesterday, a small tornado took out a fence and some tree branches. That did remind me of a St. Louis spring.
My family is German-American, better known as the Scrubby Dutch, which is a corruption of Deutsch. For the Scrubby Dutch, cleanliness isn’t next to godliness. It’s a whole religion. If certain female relatives met the Pope, they’d ask his Holiness how he got the cobwebs off the Sistine Chapel.
Scrubby Dutch women held cleaning competitions. If they could clean something the neighbors never considered, they won. One woman managed to clean her furnace ducts. I have no idea how she did that, but she showed her pristine ducts (sounds dirty, doesn’t it?) to everyone. She was the envy of the neighborhood.
Grandmother was no slouch at cleaning. She washed, ironed and starched her kitchen curtains every week. She scrubbed her floors on her hands and knees and attacked the dirty wax buildup with a knife.
Spring only upped the ante for competitive cleaning. When the Scrubby Dutch ran out of things to clean, they started rearranging the furniture. I’ve seen 70-pound women move heavy three-cushion sofas like they were made of balsa wood. This spring event created great bouts of unclean language when husbands tiptoed in late from bowling and fell over relocated coffee tables.
I swore I would never be a Scrubby Dutch fanatic but I still have occasional ancestral outbreaks. Once, Don found me scrubbing the light-switch plates.
"What are you doing?" he said.
"I’m celebrating!" I said. "I got good news."
"Most people use champagne," he said.
"Leaves a sticky residue," I said, as he gently pried the cloth out of my hand.
When I was fired from my newspaper job in 1994, I went into a cleaning frenzy, following Don around the house with a howling vacuum. He was afraid to walk on the floor.
That ended when a plasterer showed up to fix our ceiling. His boots were covered with thick white dust. "Wait!" I told him. "Your boots are dirty." I got down on my knees and gave the astounded plasterer a shoeshine on the door mat.
I’d gone clean out of my mind. I had to either clean houses for money or write for a living.
Fortunately, the mysteries sold. I’ve resisted the siren song of the sponge mop and bucket. Our home is only reasonably clean.
Until last week, when I started attacking dust. It was everywhere, on everything. I took the wing chairs apart and vacuumed under the cushions. (And found two ink pens.) I polished candlesticks and ornamental tables. Saturday, the first sunny day in weeks, I escaped the house and cleaned the car.
I wish you could have seen how it shone.
Too bad it’s rained ever since. I’m stuck inside, where I noticed the vents at the bottom of the fridge look a little dusty.