WHEN MY PARTNER LEAH AND I FIRST OPENED OUR OWN BUSINESS, we didn’t have time to eat or bathe regularly, let alone clean our house. After three months of my groveling about how much more fulfilling my life would be if someone mopped the floors weekly, Leah finally succumbed to my begging and said we could hire a house cleaner, though she made it clear she wasn’t thrilled with the idea.
We knew only one or two people who used house cleaners. One finicky gay couple told us they paid a little old lady to clean their house, but they said she did a terrible job. They described at length how they only used her because they used to employ her daughter, who was meticulous, but who moved away and handed the job over to her not-so-tidy mother. Then the mother cared for their dog when it was dying, and they felt indebted to her because it pooped on the rug with clock-setting regularity, and ultimately they didn’t have the heart to fire her.
I turned to craigslist. Under “household services,” there was a grand list of employment-seeking cleaners from which to choose. One post was titled “Barefoot Clean.”
I liked the sound of that. Even my do-it-yourself mother would approve. When I was growing up, she washed all the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, rendering it impossible to tell when it was time to empty the machine. On a weekly basis, she religiously changed the sheets, laundered the towels, scrubbed the bathrooms, vacuumed, dusted, and mopped. Her house was barefoot clean; you could eat off the floor even if a bite of dropped food loitered there more than five seconds. When I walked around my own house barefoot, I ended up with dog fur, cat litter and pretzel crumbs on the bottoms of my feet. I wore slippers constantly to prevent a dirt-triggered anxiety attack.
But while I inherited my mother’s preoccupation with cleanliness, I did not inherit her work ethic. I set up an appointment for “Rob” to come to our house.
The next day, a smiling 50-something-year-old man, sporting khaki shorts, a sparkling white t-shirt and a potbelly, sauntered up the walk in bare feet.
“He’s not wearing any shoes,” I whispered to Leah, who was working at her computer at the kitchen table. That explained the “Barefoot Clean.”
I invited Rob inside, thinking how it was rather convenient that I didn’t have to ask him to remove his shoes. “You’re barefoot,” I said. I was a former social worker trained to name the elephant in the room as soon as it reared its mighty trunk.
“Yes,” Rob replied with a big grin. “As often as possible.”
We showed him the house, which took under 60 seconds since our one-story bungalow was only about 700 square feet. Perfect for the two of us, small for the six-member family who lived there for the twenty years preceding us.
Rob and I stood back at the door after the mini-tour. Leah returned to her seat at the kitchen table, but I knew she was following every word.
“Do you have references?” I asked.
Though not as suspicious as Leah, the idea of a stranger poking around my belongings made me uneasy. While I was pleased to own a copy of Playboy’s Girls of Home Depot edition, I didn’t want anyone else perusing my nothing-but-an-orange-apron vixens. I also loved looking in people’s medicine cabinets when I was visiting their houses, but that didn’t mean I wanted someone exploring mine. (I’m guessing I’d get fewer invitations to parties if people knew my habit.)
“Well…” Rob hesitated and glanced up at the ceiling, over at the walls and down to his bare feet. Then he stared me straight in the eye. “Only from my nude modeling job,” he said. He waited for my reaction.
“I guess that’s fine,” I said.
I tried to keep his gaze, like a good non-judgmental therapist whose client had just blurted an awkward confession. I’d nude modeled for artists in my younger, experimental hippie days. To break the tension, I joked, “As long as you don’t plan to clean our house nude.”
Rob frowned. “Oh, would that be a problem?”
Suddenly I got that Barefoot Clean actually meant Bare Ass Totally Naked Clean. “Um, yeah, um, I think, um, it would,” I said. I could feel Leah trying not to laugh behind me. I too struggled to maintain my composure.
“You said in your email that you preferred your house cleaned while you were at work,” Rob said, “so why does it matter if I’m nude?”
I imagined a naked man vacuuming my rugs while his man-parts enjoyed their lack of restraints. Then I considered how when one reaches up to clean the top of the tall mirror in the bathroom, one’s pelvis presses against the counter. “I think it would make me uncomfortable,” I said.
“Oh, okay, well…” Rob said. His eyebrows furrowed crookedly, which made one half of his face look disappointed, and the other half appear irritated that I had just wasted his time.
“Um…” I said.
“I’d better be going,” he said.
“I’ll, um, be in touch or something,” I said.
Leah and I immediately googled “nude house cleaning” after Rob left, which presented us with 290,000 search results. Some people even advertised that if allowed to be naked, they would clean your house for free. I contemplated whether Rob’s services would be more appealing if we didn’t have to pay him. I wanted a clean house that badly.
I called my mother to ask her opinion. “You’d have to check for ass prints on your kitchen chairs,” she said. “And I don’t want to imagine where he’d carry your house key.”
That night, we cleaned the place ourselves, top to bottom. For free. And while it wasn’t Bare Ass Totally Naked Clean, it was as close to “barefoot clean” as we’d ever get.