My cleaning lady Maria has followed me from apartment to apartment, and I consider her a friend: I’ve encouraged her daughter to be the first in her family to attend college. But she can be destructive, and the list of things she’s broken during her vigorous cleaning sessions is extensive.
I know she’s in a hurry because she works two jobs a day, so she goes through the apartment like a whirlwind, and when her teenaged daughter joins her, it’s like a tornado in here and Whitley and I run and hide out in the nearest coffee shop. She shattered the knob on our oven, meaning that I had to get it replaced by a repairman. Since the oven is old, he couldn’t find a duplicate, so I now turn on the oven with a knob that has a line drawn with magic marker on it, pointing to the temperature I want to use. She broke the water filter on our faucet so many times that we asked her not to clean it anymore ("just leave it"). She bent the gas connectors to the pilot lights on our burners so badly that we had to ask her not to clean those either.
But the funniest destructive cleaning she did was when she "cleaned" the whistle off my tea kettle. I still haven’t figured out how she did that one (I’ve told her the kettle doesn’t need cleaning). Occasionally she will demonstrate her honesty by leaving a nickel or dime in a prominent place on a table if I’m not home when she leaves. At first I was impressed by this, but after it happened a few more times, I realized it was a "cleaning lady ploy" to show that she wasn’t dishonest and so didn’t pocket any small coins she found in the couch cushions.
The only thing she’s ever swiped from me was a spray bottle (I bought two, but one of them walked off). Sometimes I get miffed and enquire about where the second bottle could be, and when I do, she feigns profound innocence–but we both know that I know she took it, so hopefully she won’t do it again. I figure a few bucks isn’t too much to pay for such good (if destructive) cleaning.
Ana is not only good at "finding" coins, she is EXCELLENT at hiding things as well. I know that her goal is simply to have clear surfaces to clean and dust, but the result of this is that she puts away all items that are cluttering up these surfaces, such as toothpaste tubes, etc. I’ve learned to clear away things BEFORE she comes, so I know where to find them again. For instance my watch: I usually leave it on the dresser, but before she comes, I make sure to put it inside my top drawer. It’s not that I’m worried that she’ll steal it–it’s that I think I may never find it again if she puts it away.
If I’m missing something in the bathroom, I know to look inside one of the drawers (because that’s where she’s put it), but some items really do get hidden. For instance, Whitley’s slippers: He keeps them by the bed and one time we came home and we couldn’t find them anywhere. We actually wondered if Maria had thrown them away (they ARE kind of old). We searched and searched, then found them in what would be the logical place (for someone like Maria) to put them–on the floor of his clothes closet.
When I’m in my apartment in Los Angeles, which is shabby but in a nice part of town, I think about the genesis of Whitley’s novel, which will be published on December 17. It’s MY novel too, because I thought of the idea. It’s about a beautiful young girl who moves (along with her pushy "stage mother") from the Midwest to a high-rise building in Los Angeles in order to try to break into the TV and music business. She discovers that there’s a ghost living there too, but not the scary "boo" kind–he’s a gorgeous young wild man who knows about (and controls) everything that goes on in the building, since he brought himself up inside it after his father, a construction worker, was killed falling off the roof.
I got the idea for it when I woke up one night certain that there was someone in our living room, because I could hear the "creaks" of someone walking around. Our building went through the 1994 Northridge earthquake, so it does tend to make odd noises at times, and I was familiar with these, but this time I was SURE there was someone out there. Instead of waking Whitley up, in the classic female "there’s a burglar downstairs" scenario, I tiptoed out there myself to find–nobody. But after I got back under the covers, the whole story of "Melody Burning" came into my head.
But nobody wanted to hear it. I pitched it to several sets of agents, but they all blew it off: nobody wanted to make a movie of it, nobody wanted to make a TV series about it, despite the fact that whenever I told the story to anyone I was simply chatting with, they loved it. Then I decided to pitch it to Whitley and he wrote a novel about it!
I’ve learned so much about writing for this age group: You have to write a book that can have a sequel and it has to appeal equally to adults too. Perhaps because adult novels have been so gloomy and self-involved in the past few years (I know I’ve found that to be true), grown-up readers are picking up to the same books that their teenagers are reading.
What does this say about the state of literature today? Are authors so eager to express themselves that they’ve forgotten that most of us read to enjoy ourselves? Yes, we want to grab some meaning along the way, but if the journey doesn’t seem like it will be fun, we don’t want to embark on it.
For me, there’s almost nothing as wonderful as the anticipation of the first page of a new book. I love to brew a cup of coffee or tea, put my feet up in my comfortable chair (Whitley and I each have one) and open a new hardcover book–and so far, despite Maria’s arduous cleaning, my recliner still reclines.
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