When Cleaning Gets Heated
Updated: Jan 21, 2022
Cleaning is serious business in the life of an Italian. In fact, we can be incredibly neurotic when it comes to the overall cleanliness of our possessions, families, and homes.
Grandma Marion was a master cleaner. My grandparents lived upstairs from us and the muffled sound of the vacuum was a very familiar one. It was never a short pass over the carpets, though. It was always a loooooong process to make sure that every crumb, string, and speck of dust was picked up. Her kitchen floors sparkled and the furniture gleamed. The counters were organized and the dish rack was always empty. The shelves were dusted and even the plastic on the couches had its own shine (no doubt from a wipe down with Windex). The closets were in order and the drawers - including the junk drawer - were organized in such a way that would put Marie Kondo to shame.
Grandpa Tommy was the same way, only his cleaning neurosis was with the garage, the garden and his cars. I remember his silver Cadillac. Not only was the exterior clean and polished, but so was the red leather interior. Since no one ever wore seatbelts in the backseat when I was a kid, there were things that happened that were out of my control. He would make wide turns and I'd go flying across the slippery, polished back seat and smash into the door on the other side. He'd scold me for playing too much. Then I would try to brace myself by holding onto the handle that was attached to the ceiling. He'd scold me for pulling too hard and almost tearing it off. Of course, this problem would have been solved had we just worn seatbelts, but it makes for good stories and I never did rip out any handles.
The garden was separated into immaculate, perfectly spaced rows. The sticks for the tomato plants were all the same height. Grandpa had special pavers to walk on that I'm pretty sure he swept on a daily basis. The garage door was always open but it was never an eye sore. He had a work bench with his tools hanging on a peg board right above it. There was a fridge, fully stocked with fresh seasonal fruit and drinks. The back wall of the garage was storage space that held a variety of things I never saw him use, but were organized nonetheless. Things like crabbing cages and fish tanks. There was even a phone connected to my grandparents line. It may have been a garage, but it was also an extension of my grandparent's apartment on the second floor.
As an adult, I can completely understand my grandparents' need to clean and keep things orderly. I haunt my son about the state of his room. I look forward to power washing my patio, driveway, and front walkway once the warm weather hits. There's something satisfying about an empty sink and shiny counters.
It's not very often that you hear of accidents happening during a cleaning spree. Maybe something gets dropped occasionally or you discover that a treasured decorative piece is missing a part or has been cracked. My family, though? We deep clean things that the average person wouldn't normally deep clean.
The thermostat, for example.
One Saturday morning, in late August many years ago, my grandmother was doing her Weekly Wipe Down. She was a petite woman, around 5'0" on a good day, so she couldn't see very well on top of most things. This particular day, she decided that the thermostat was probably dusty and needed to be cleaned. Maybe it was because she was so deep into her cleaning ritual and distracted by the sound of Jimmy Rosselli singing on the stereo. Maybe it was because she was so enraged by the mere thought of dust in her home. Maybe it was because she wasn't tall enough to see what she was doing. Whatever it was, she didn't pay much attention to the dial as she wiped down the thermostat and walked away without giving it another thought.
Grandpa was sitting at the kitchen table that morning having his coffee and watching the news when, all of a sudden, he started to feel hotter than usual. He changed into a white sleeveless undershirt and turned on the air conditioner in the dining room. Much to his surprise and discomfort, the A/C didn't seem to be working. The apartment kept getting hotter and hotter. It eventually got to the point where he had to call one of us to come upstairs and figure out what the hell was going on. We heard him yelling from the top of the stairs with a tone that was the combination of panicked and pissed.
When my brother, Richie, got upstairs, he found Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table with a wet washcloth draped over his bald head, muttering to himself in disgust and shaking his head. He quickly started yelling about the heat when he saw my brother standing in the doorway. Once I heard the yelling, I had to go find out what was going on so I joined them upstairs.
(upon getting hit the face with oppressive heat) Oh my God!
I know! It's so damn hot! I dunno what's goin' on!
Is the air conditioner on?
Yeah! And it's not doin' a damn thing!
Suddenly, the sound of water rushing comes through the radiators. Grandpa reaches his hand down to make sure he's not imagining things.
That sounds like the heat is on! Who would put the heat on?!
I don't believe this shit! Go check the thermostat!
Not only was the heat on, but it was on 90. My grandmother's cleaning frenzy had turned their apartment into a sauna. Naturally, this escalated into an argument with accusations of attempted murder.
Marion!! (no response) MARION!!
(emerging from the bedroom, her brow covered in sweat, fanning herself with a moppine) Why are you yellin'?!
You turned on the damn heat!
(astounded) What?! When?
When you were waving that damn rag around!
No I didn't!
Yeah, you did, Grandma.
You got a problem, Marion! You're tryin' to kill me!
(shuffling over to try and see the thermostat) Let me see this.
You can't see shit.
Oh, shut up, Tommy.
Every time I clean, I'm reminded of the events of that day and grateful for the fact that my grandparents lived right upstairs. I'm thankful for a number of reasons, the three most important being:
1. They were hilarious and unknowingly provided me with tons of comedic material.
2. They instilled in me the importance of taking care of the things you own and people you love.
3. Pay attention when you're wiping down the thermostat.