27 June 2010

LIFE: The Cleans

SARONNO, Italy - There’s something going on over at the Cleans. Something odd. It’s almost 8 AM and Mr. Clean has not come out on his balcony to start sweeping and cleaning. And he didn’t pull his blankets and pillows off his bed and carefully arrange them on the freshly cleaned balcony railing to air either. He didn’t even sweep the floor in his bedroom or make coffee.

Now l wouldn’t want you to think I’m some kind of stalker, spying on my neighbors, so let me explain: my morning routine usually starts with a cup of coffee out on my balcony. As I sit enjoying the morning and planning my day from my 5th floor vantage point, I can’t help but see the Clean’s apartment, which is on the first floor of the apartment building across the street. It’s like a theater performance. First the taparelle slowly wind upward, like a stage curtain, then Mr. Clean pops out and the cleaning starts. Except for today.

The Cleans have a set routine. The tapparelle in Mrs. Clean’s bedroom go up just about the time Mr. Clean is back in the kitchen making coffee, after having cleaned the balcony and setting his bedding out to air. The first thing on Mrs. Clean’s mind is to strip her bed and drape her bed linens out on the sill of her bedroom window, which she has already wiped down. However their morning cleaning routine doesn’t begin in earnest until the bed linens have had enough air and are brought back in and the beds are made.

As soon as that is done Mrs. Clean shakes out the throw rugs and puts them out on the balcony to air, and then she starts to clean the bathroom in earnest. She buffs and polishes everything, including the bathroom window and the inside and outside of the aluminum window frame as well. She’s very keen to keep things clean and shiny.

But today none of that happened. Something isn’t quite right. I’m worried because there was no steady buzz of the vacuum this morning, and that is disturbing. Normally I can see Mr. Clean in the living room, often still in his pajamas, diligently sucking up any and all bits of dust in every nook and cranny that he may have missed on the first sweep through.

Mr. Clean is like a kamikaze dust pilot, spotting his target, zooming in and poof, that dust ball is history. No wonder all the dust comes over here to hide out in my place. And usually, while Mr. Clean is attacking dust in the living room, Mrs. Clean is in the kitchen scrubbing and polishing the counter top and sink. Then she cleans the floor. Again.

They work as a team, cleaning and polishing, vacuuming and scrubbing and I’m so happy they found each other. It truly is a match made in heaven. Which is why I’m concerned.

Now my neighbor in the back, Mrs. Mean, is another story. She used to be just as aggressive a cleaner as the Cleans, but all that changed because of an incident that occurred when I first moved into this building. She has never forgiven me for it and she hasn’t spoken to me in years.

What happened was I hadn’t been in this apartment very long when one day I was in my office working on an article, and out of the corner of my eye I spot an elderly woman on her hands and knees keeling on the windowsill, outside of her bedroom window. My first frightening thought was that she was going to jump. I stood up and went out on my balcony to see if what I think I saw I really saw, and I must have let out a gasp because she looked up and saw me standing on my balcony with my hand over my mouth and terror in my eyes.

You have to know that even though I say I live on the fifth floor, it is really the sixth floor since what we call the first floor in the USA is called the ground floor here, and they consider the second floor the first floor. Anyway it is long way down.

Then I realized she was trying to clean the inside of the deep flower wells that run along the front of our windows and as she scrambled to get back inside her window, I went back inside my apartment too. I happened to mention the incident to one of her sons a few weeks later and he obviously said something to his mother. She never got out on the window sill again, at least as far as I know. And she hasn’t spoken to me since either, like it’s my fault that she’s a clean nut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for neat and clean, it’s just that my neighbors seem to take the concept to whole ‘nuther level. Someone told me once that the Italian kitchen cabinet manufacturers have to put dozens of coats of varnish on the cabinet doors because the Italian women scrub the bejeebers out of them and have been known to scrub the doors down to the bare wood.

I don’t remember my neighbors in Genoa or Milan being quite so fanatical about cleaning, but then again it may just have been that I was too involved in my work to bother looking out the window. It's possible. But here in Saronno my neighbor’s cleaning habits have become part of my routine too. So while I don’t know what is going on over at the Cleans, I hope by tomorrow everything will be back to normal and they will be out there sweeping and washing and dusting and wiping and making everything right in their world - and mine too.

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