Saturday 20 January 2018

Longing for a scrubber

He might be gay, but Donal Lynch is desperately in need of a wife. He'll just need to tidy up a bit first, though

Cleaning needs to be done at some stage.
Cleaning needs to be done at some stage.
Donal Lynch

The headline caught my attention: "Most career women would love a wife". Not a secret lesbian spouse, it turned out, but someone who would stay at home and do the cleaning and hand them up a dinner. Not for the first time, I thought, "Hey, get in line, career women - who wouldn't want that?"

One of the downers about being a gay man is that there are no traditional stay-at-home wives in the equation. Unless some fashion-forward gays decide that's the trend after the referendum. Or unless you're an Arab gay man with oil money, but even then it's very expensive, and from what I hear, it's essentially double the nagging.

The main reason I'd love an Eamon De Valera-era skivvy-wife, is the cleaning. With the cooking, you can tell yourself you're still sufficiently manly, just whipping something up like Jamie Oliver, even if it's only because you are tipping a jar of Jamie Oliver sauce over some pasta. But there is no affirming celebrity-male template for cleaning. Mr Muscle was as close as we ever came, and he was creepy and bald, like the brothers in Right Said Fred.

And yet cleaning, you learn as you get older, does need to be done at some stage, by somebody. Squalor is my natural setting. It forms around me quite quickly. When I was about 13, I read a sentence that stayed with me for years: people who do housework are in a chronic rage by 10.30 in the morning. Looking around me, I observed this to be true. Housework was killing everyone's buzz. My mother's, because she did it all; and ours, because we had to watch her. I resolved that the only thing I would ever clean was my own body. Or, as I kept telling people, "after four years, a room can't get any dirtier".

You'd think with no kids to support I could afford a cleaner, and you'd be right, but it isn't that easy. I live in a constant state of near embarrassment. I can get unbearably clenched on someone's behalf. Having someone clean my toilet would be embarrassing for me, because I'd be thinking, "Oh Jesus, did I aim right every time?" And it'd be embarrassing for them, because they're probably a physicist in their home country. I would start cleaning for the cleaner, which would be doubly embarrassing.

There is something quite invasive about cleaning. If I'm in a hotel, I feel terrorised by the "housekeeping" knock on the door. What if she finds money, or someone cowering under the covers? Will she just clean around them? Or does the 'finders keepers' rule kick in? Once, in a hotel, a friend of mine proposed a test: we'd leave out a joint, and if we came back to find the maid passed out on the bed, then nothing was safe and we'd have to keep our passports in our underwear.

Irrationally, perhaps, I also have a lot of guilt about people who do jobs like cleaning. You know when you say hello to a maid in a hotel and she doesn't really speak English? And you find yourself wondering for a second if she's been trafficked or exploited, and if, in a small way, you're now complicit in that? And then you just ask for extra towels. I hate that. Especially if the towels aren't thick and luxurious.

When I moved from boom-era Dublin to New York, I decided part of being distinct from previous generations of poor Irish immigrants was to have a doorman and a cleaner. And to people who thought of this as an obscene extravagance for a 26-year-old, I said, "they just came with the place". My cleaner did make the room subtly better in a way that I never, ever could, but she moaned constantly about her bad back, the subtext of which I took to be "I'm not here to pick up after you". When the recession kicked in, she was the first thing to go. My mother can nag me at home, for free.

But now house prices are recovering, everyone's deciding they can actually afford kids again, and I think I'm ready for another cleaner. A friendly, well-scripted one, like Agnes in The Brady Bunch. She will probably have to dress like the guys in Ghostbusters. But, as a bonus, she will probably be in line for some class of civilian award.

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