Unleashing My Inner Florence Johnston

Before she was a BAWSE on 227, Marla Gibbs played Florence Johnston, George and Wezzie’s snarky housekeeper on The Jefferson’s. I knew George was a bit of a douche and not a nice guy over all, but as a child watching the show, I never quite understood what Florence’s deal was. Why was she so indignant all the time? And why did she have that look on her face? You know – like she was stepping in a perpetual pile of George poo.

Well, thanks to my new job, I get it.

Yes folks, that’s right. You’re looking at Roswell’s newest housekeeper. I have joined a maid/housecleaning service.

For those who know me and went to school with me, this line of work makes absolutely no sense. I am not one known for her uber-cleanliness. I can’t abide clutter, but cobwebs in the corner or dust on the mantle don’t bother me in the least. In fact and historically, I was so nonchalant about the finer details of cleaning that term after term, I singlehandedly caused my dormitory to kpe inspection because I had refused to dust a ledge in my closet, or the rim of my bunk bed, or fold my sheets in a perfect tidy square. Our house mistress, Mrs. Martei, would gleefully deduct marks every time she came into my room.

Ooooh…ah! Malaka Gyekye! You too why!

Oh gellout! Why are we making beds anyway? We just have to sleep in them and spoil them again tonight. Mstew.

Meanwhile, my very tidy sister and her dorm mates would cheer with joy when they were proclaimed to be the winners of the clean-up competition or whatever it was called. Did they win anything? No. They just got bragging rights over absolutely nothing, and I got the satisfaction of not having to overexert myself for no good cause, dusty desk and all.

And now, nearly 20 years later, I’m a housekeeper? And I LIKE it. Oh the irony.

Now before your head explodes with the question of why I have taken on such menial work, I have another confession for you:

Despite all my years and numerous destinations, I have never flown first class. No, not once. I don’t count that time I tricked the stewardess on Ghana Airways by feigning sickness midway through the trip, because I wasn’t treated to a complimentary glass of wine (because I was supposed to be sick) and she set me in the very back of first class so that she could monitor me (because I was supposed to be sick). My BFFFL is celebrating her 35th birthday in a 3-day bash by the beach and I plan to be there with bells, whistles and weave on.  I’ve taken on this job to help fund that effort.

That, plus working at DSW and caring for my four kids as we enter into the swing of summer has sadly left me with little time to write. I literally work 7 days a week. But Lord have His sweet mercy, do I have so much to write about!

First let me tell you about the company. I can’t tell you the name of the owner, nor can I tell you the name of the company, because I am about to divulge some things about her clients that I am sure they would rather not be known to the e-universe. This of course would jeopardize her business, and we can’t have that.

*Harriet is a single mom who started this business about six months ago. She is tall, statuesque, in her late 20’s and can sell ice to a mute walrus. When I asked her why she started a cleaning company of all things, particularly given that she has a degree, she told me that she “likes to start businesses for things that she knows she could use herself.” That, and the start-up cost was very low. Her operation is small, but super efficient. It’s staffed with a group of mature women and sister-friends, so there is no nonsense…only work. I love it. We clean, we speak when we need to, we roll out.

The first house that I went to belonged to a young family. The woman was about 33 and she had just had her first child, 8 months ago. I remember what it was like to be a first time mom, and cleaning was one of the furthest things from my mind. I could forgive our client, but one of the other women couldn’t. She carried on and on about how nasty the house was, and how she couldn’t understand why the woman didn’t just wipe up when the baby was asleep.

This is one of my biggest pet peeves about people who don’t have kids, or have had kids so long ago that they’ve forgotten what those early days are like. The last thing you feel like doing when the baby is asleep is “wipe up”. You either want to take a nap yourself, or watch TV, or take a shower. First time moms rarely shower. That’s just a fact.

As I cleaned gobs of White people hair from the shower floor and scrubbed off lime scale, I felt good. I felt like I had done my good deed for the day and helped a fellow mom. It didn’t hurt that I was fiscally compensated for my deeds AND given a tip. How kind of her!

It turns out that would be the first and only tip I would receive.

Americans, or Georgians at least, are very tight-fisted when it comes to tipping in the sanitation industry. Harriet explained the types of people you can expect NOT to receive tips from:

“Foreigners never tip. They think you should be happy to clean their houses,” she said. “And old people won’t tip, but they’ll offer you some water or something else to drink. Middle-aged white guys don’t tip either. Sometimes younger women will tip, but usually they won’t.”

Well good golly gosh! Who does that leave then?

Armed with insight into our customers’ profiles, I have modified my expectations and now no longer expect a tip. Instead, I look for other ways to satiate my dearth of intellectual stimulation. What better way than to observe and process the details of my environment so that I can share them with the M.O.M Squad?

First and foremost, I see that although they differ on the outside, most American households are the same. They all have that 20-30% coupon that comes from Bed, Bath & Beyond laying somewhere on the kitchen counter, no doubt destined for the trash before being used and mounds of dog hair embedded in fabrics in every room in the house. In the bathroom there are splatter marks on the mirror and drips of water on the floor. Your typical American bedroom will also boast a bottle of KY Jelly on the side table or wardrobe, empty except for the last dribbles that have gone unused because you’re either too lazy to go out to get some more, or you just can’t bear to part with those last drops. You haven’t needed to use them recently, but what if you do in the weeks ahead. What then? Nothing hurts like dry hoo-hah, I know.


Some households are wonderfully unique. Take this one house I went to clean in the country. It smelled of stale cigarettes and ham. But I could overlook all that because the family had constructed a water garden in the back. The sound of rushing water calmed me as I scrubbed and swept. Working backward from the bedrooms, my team mate and I ended up in the family’s game and show room. Every surface was covered with dust, including the lamps. The lamps made with deer hoof bases.

Yes, you are seeing correctly. Just above this ‘eclectic’ item sat the head of a buck that I assume once roamed the nearby forests with these very severed feet. I dusted, vacuumed and sprayed the room, suddenly eager to escape the aura of mammal death.

Overall, the job hasn’t been bad. Most of the houses haven’t been filthy, just unkempt. My worst job to date has been an empty house that was being rented out.

 Have a gander at this refrigerator. I nearly gagged when I opened it. It looked like the woman cleaned it every Tuesday at never o’clock. And had the nerve to ask how long it would take to finish the house.
Heifer, have you looked at your fridge? I wanted to ask. How long do you think it would take you?

The answer is 40 minutes, in case you were wondering. The oven and microwave were no better.

But the best, and we always save this for last, is this one house out in Cumming. That house right there sent me into a spirit of worship!

It was about 4,500 square feet of awesomeness and belonged to the ‘perfect’ family. The mom came out and greeted us with a big smile on her face and her hand extended to shake ours. She was just in an incredibly good mood. And I would be too, if I woke up to the view she had every morning. Her master bedroom faced a small like surrounded by lush rolling hills. I mean, actual, literal ROLLING hills. Mallard ducks nibbled serenely on algae and aquatic life and a small black terrier bounded in the grass. There was a cross in some form in every room, and motivational sayings on the walls of her kids’ rooms.

Wish it…
Think it…

read the one in her son’s room. His book cases were stuffed with trivia books, motivational texts,  Mensa queries and John Grisham novels. His sister’s room was devoid of clutter. Only her hand scrawled periodic table taped to her mirror looked out of place amid the perfection…and even THAT carried an element of excellence.

Like I said, the mom was in the most excellent mood – even when her teenaged son scratched her late model Honda Pilot as he backed out of the garage.

“A coat of paint and it will be just fine!” she laughed. She sounded like a fairy, or some other friendly creature of yore.

I had to agree with her. Who disagrees with fairies?

“It sounded worse than it actually was,” I said congenially.

As we cleaned the home – all THREE levels of it – my last task was to do her bathroom. She had already made the bed (a double California King monstrosity) so I dusted and walked into her bathroom. And I walked and I walked until I realized that that marble and tile room that I suddenly found myself  in was NOT another living room. It was her freaking bathroom!

I have no words. She literally takes a dump in an environment of excellence; every day.

So I am determined now. First on my agenda is to earn my way to a first class plane ticket, and next it is to earn myself a first class home. I doubt it will be one toilet at a time, however. But who knows? Maybe I’ll clean the right toilet and end up on someone’s creative writing team.