READY: Housecleaning: The art of staged perfection

Mary Ready, Ready or Not

The in-laws are coming. For me, that can only mean three hours of scrubbing the guest bathroom. Then I must decide whether or not to buy a new shower curtain liner or just take the scissors and cut two inches of mildew off the old one. And the guest bedroom must have all new linens and maybe new “window treatments,” too.

Whatever I do, I have to hurry. I have less than a month before they get here.

Frank never participates in the pre-company cleaning and re-furbishing frenzy. So he probably will not be straightening out our disgraceful garage, washing the car, or clearing out the mountain of boat junk stacked against the fence since 2007. It makes me furious that he is not as phony as I am.

Doesn’t he realize that preparing the house (especially for “his people”) requires a production that makes the Academy Awards ceremony look like a spontaneous gesture?

He just doesn’t understand how important it is that his mom and dad think we always prepare our morning coffee by grinding expensive epicurean beans, and we always use little perfumed soaps shaped like sea shells.

So, while I’m shopping for gourmet food and lace doilies to hide the stains on the couch arms, my recliner-bound spouse will be reminding me for the 17th time that we used to have a cleaning lady, but he had to let her go for my own good. He claims I was killing myself, making the house spotless the night before she came so she wouldn’t think we were slobs.

Like so many clueless males, he just can’t relate to a woman’s dedication to false impressions. If that means I must buy all new living room furniture and replace the wallpaper for weekend visitors, then so be it.

So, with little encouragement or assistance from him, I have to remove the lawn sprinkler and automotive parts off the kitchen counter, polish the silver, chase the dust bunnies, buy new towels, put fresh caulking around the bathtub, shampoo the carpets, clean out the fireplace, “shock” the pool (and the creatures dwelling in it), mow the lawn, weed the flower beds, replace all my sick houseplants, bathe the dogs (should I buy them new collars?), put fresh flowers on the table, alphabetize the cans in the pantry, polish the sliding glass doors until they’re hazardous, buy brand name everything, and fold little pointy ends on the lead sheet of the toilet paper. I also have to arrange in a fan shape all those unread magazines on the coffee table, the ones to which they send us gift subscriptions every Christmas.

When my in-laws arrive, I want them to find their food and accommodations rival the Waldorf Astoria’s (maybe, little mints on their pillows?) My mother-in-law is an excellent cook with an international flair, so I am going to try making something exotic. In truth, the only things I cook well are beef stew, meat loaf, and Mrs. Smith’s frozen apple pie, but since, I’ve already served this to them on every previous visit (and they remarked on that fact last time), I’m going to step out on faith and lunacy. Frank says he’ll help with the cooking because he likes to live dangerously, and he’s a better cook than I am anyway.

The goal is to achieve staged perfection, with everything so impeccable that my guests will find no evidence that anyone actually lives in my house. Only then can I sing as Rosemary Clooney once did, “Come On-a My House, My House-a Come on.”

I will be sane again when I see the taillights of Mom and Dad’s car leaving the driveway and heading back to Tampa. Don’t get me wrong. They’re very nice, delightful people, and it’s not their fault I’m obsessive compulsive. I sincerely wish there were some therapy or medication for my “company-coming-makes-me-crazy” disorder.

After they’re gone, it’s best that I be left alone for a week or two, babbling quietly on my freshly power-washed back porch, rocking back and forth in one of my new patio chairs, and totaling up the staggering cost to the budget and to my self respect.

Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.