September 26, 1997

Ira Pilgrim


When Universal Widget closed it's doors, Sisyphus MacDuff joined the ranks of the incurably unemployed. Apparently no one needed an efficiency engineer. Every company seemed content to do things in the same wasteful ways as they had done them in the past.

His wife Emily had a lucrative job with a local insurance company. They had, in the past, shared many of the routine housekeeping chores although, it must be admitted, Emily did the majority of them, with the exception of repairing the house and automobile.

"I'll be damned if I'll bring in all of the money and take care of the house too!" she said, when Mac decided to stop looking for that job that just wasn't there.

"I can understand that," said MacDuff. "Would you be willing to be the sole support of the family if I took care of everything having to do with the house and made my own spending money doing odd jobs?"

"I would, provided it's done right. None of this stuff like the way you fix your lasagna, with the dishes left for me to clean up. We can't have the house looking like your shop. If you'll do it as well as I do, I'll buy it."

"Let's try it out. If it doesn't work, we can go back to the way it was and I'll look for any job that I can find, even if it's just pumping gas."

At the end of a month, Emily grudgingly admitted that Mac did a fine job of housekeeping and that his cooking and baking were good now and getting better all the time. Mac, in turn, said that his job wasn't a hell of a lot different from his factory job: "once you know the ropes, it's just a matter of getting it done efficiently."

House cleaning day was Thursday, so after Emily had left for work, MacDuff plunged in.

First, he stripped the bed, loaded the bedding into the washing machine and started it.

Next to the kitchen where he took a plastic pan from under the sink. Inside the pan was a toilet brush, a spray bottle of window cleaner, a can of lye, a can of Sani Flush, an old tablespoon, an old measuring cup, a can of cleanser, a rags and an old newspaper. This was his armamentarium; no more, no less.

He went to each toilet, flushed it and sprinkled the Sani Flush around the bowl.

Then he placed one tablespoon of lye into each sink drain and rinsed it down with one cup of water, as recommended on the can.

Back he went to the first toilet, where he sprayed window cleaner on the mirror and wiped it clean with his dry rag. Then he started the water running in the sink and swabbed out the toilet bowl with the brush, flushing it and rinsing the brush at the same time. Then he sprinkled some cleanser into the sink and wiped it with his wet rag. After rinsing most of the cleanser off the rag, he cleaned the faucets and wiped them dry, taking a moment to gaze lovingly at the gleaming chrome.

From there, he went to the next toilet, where he repeated the procedure.

Back to the kitchen, where he cleaned the sink and replaced his paraphernalia under the sink.

He had wasted no steps. He could clean the entire house in three and a half to four hours while at the same time providing the necessary prophylaxis against stopped drains. He also repaired anything that needed repairing: a dripping faucet, a leaking drain pipe. The key was efficiency, no wasted motion.

When Emily had kissed him good-bye that morning, her parting shot was, "and don't be niggardly with the cleanser!" She knew how he hated that word, niggardly; yet she always contrived to use it at least once on Thursdays. "and, by the way, Mac, don't forget that the fireplace needs cleaning," she had said that morning. He was irked that she didn't have the tact to refrain from giving him advice. She knew that he rarely neglected to do what needed doing.

Sisyphus grabbed a handful of wheat crackers and munched on them as he wiped the kitchen counter tops with the dishrag.

Next he took the broom and dustpan out of the closet and swept the kitchen and bathrooms.

Replacing the broom and dustpan, he next removed the upright vacuum cleaner from the closet and started vacuuming the bedroom. He loved the strong whirr of the Kirby. Fine tool if it's kept up , he thought. Not like the canister vacuum whose only worthwhile sound was the thwack it made as it ingested the power cord. He relished watching as the rug revealed its autumn colors; rich browns, yellows and reds, as the vacuum cleaner removed the dust. Back and forth he pushed the vacuum cleaner, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth as he simultaneously moved laterally across the rug. Then he advanced a yard and back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. When his right arm tired, he switched to his left and back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. Under his ministrations, the carpet nap stood erect, proud of its cleanliness. Mac Duff remembered his mother's admonition to stand proud and erect and clean -and he had. He stopped just long enough to transfer the bed linen from the washer to the dryer and returned to the vacuum cleaner and back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. When the vacuuming was done, he carefully dusted the furniture and window sills, being careful not to neglect the tops of the picture frames.

Back to the kitchen he went, where he got out the mop and mop bucket. It was not one of those flimsy sponge mops with a small plastic bucket, but a large galvanized bucket complete with wringer and a mop that any sailor would be proud to swab the decks of a battleship with. Back and forth went his mop, back and forth, back and forth.

He emptied the bucket outside and rinsed the mop with the garden hose. While outside, he laid some newspaper on the ground and emptied the vacuum cleaner bag, being very careful to shake the bag and reach up and remove any clumps of rug fibers that were lodged in it.

Lastly, he undressed and stepped into the shower. Wetting down the walls, he scrubbed the tub and tiles with a stiff bristled brush -no mildew on his grout. He polished the chrome and rinsed down the stall and tub. Lastly, he took a complete shower. Stepping out, he dried himself and dressed.

Sisyphus MacDuff surveyed his completed work, then looked at his watch. "Three and a half hours," he said, "not bad; not bad at all."

The kitchen floor having dried, he went in and fixed himself a sandwich and cup of coffee.

He was just sipping the last of his coffee when he started to shake. It startled him and he wondered what kind of illness he had just acquired. The tinkling of glass in the cupboard and the swinging lamp informed him that it was not him, but the entire house that was shaking. A platter fell off the shelf and shattered on the clean kitchen floor; then another and another. A loud dull thud emanated from the direction of the living room. Then, as suddenly as it had started, the shaking stopped.

MacDuff stepped over the shards of glass and went to the living room door where he was greeted by a cloud of white dust from the fallen ceiling plaster. A similar dust cloud emanated from the bedroom door.

He stared, unbelieving, at the sight, then he sat down on the dusty couch and put his head in his hands.

"Oh God!" he wept, "Oh God, Oh God!"

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