Remember how Jerry Seinfeld would say “Newman!” and make an angry face whenever he was foiled by his evil mailman neighbor? My sister and I do the same thing, only we say, “Martha!” referring, of course, to Martha Stewart the woman responsible for raising the bar to unattainable levels for all things in the domestic arena.
Example: the hardwood floor.
Long ago, Americans lived in houses they built themselves, mainly of wood. Floors were almost universally made of wood, and early housewives probably gave as much thought to their floors as they did to their fingernails, ie very little. They noticed when they were dirty, cleaned them, and then forgot about them. After many years, wood floor went out of fashion. Wood has an annoying tendency to be very dusty. And hard and cold. And it is easily damaged. Wall-to-wall carpet was introduced , which was warm and soft, and which absorbed dust, rather than allowing it to float freely about. You could quickly vacuum and then go on your way. And yet, carpet came with problems too, mainly that people tend to spill things on it, and then it gets stained, and if you don't clean spills thoroughly and immediately, they may start to smell, and soon a wall-to-wall carpet is a giant sump of germs and dust mites.
So wall-to-wall became distinctly down market and hardwood enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. But somewhere between the time of wall-to-wall carpeting's rise to popularity and its downfall, Martha Stewart came into power and now, cleaning a hardwood floor has become as complicated as rocket science. Everybody—everybody!--has an opinion on how best to clean hardwood floors, and not only is everybody's opinion different, everybody says that everybody's else's methods will lead to that fate worse than death: dull floors.
I used to wash my hardwood floors fairly often but then I went to nursing school and gave up cleaning, and so as of yesterday, they hadn't been cleaned since October. I used warm water to which I'd added a little dish soap and a generous dollop of white vinegar, and you know what? This turns out to be the formula Martha recommends too, although she specifies “plant based dish soap.” Whatever.
It was a pain in the ass because my entire house is hardwood, and as I mopped, I reflected on medieval times and how the custom was to throw a big pile of rushes on the floor and every six months, or even once a year, rake them out along with the food scrapes and dog crap and whatever else had accumulated, and replace them with new rushes, and I thought that method had the great advantage of convenience, although dog crap on the floor wouldn't be very nice at all. Still, when your kids overfilled their cereal bowls and left a trail of cheerios and milk drops from the kitchen to the couch in front of the TV, you could shrug and say, “Meh, I'll just rake it out in April.” And by April, you could be dead of the plague, so who has time to worry about floors? But we don't get the plague anymore. We have Martha.
Speaking of hardwood, my mother-in-law is trying to sell her house. She has been trying to sell it since February. It is an unusual house, in that it is a tiny piece of Hollywood in Buffalo, NY. It is the second-kitschiest house in Buffalo, the first-kitschiest being a reproduction of a medieval castle, which happens to be on the very same street as my mother-in-law's house. It was built sometime in the 1920s or '30s by a man who wanted an exact copy of Norma Shearer's house. Norma Shearer was a movie star of the 1920s and '30s.
This is Norma Shearer:
This was her house:
My mother-in-law's house, it turns out, is not an exact copy, but it is close. My in-laws raised a family of seven children in that house, for nearly forty years, and it worked great for them, but it is really not a good family house. The only people I can imagine wanting to buy it now would be a gay male couple. I mean, there's a fountain in the living room, for fuck's sake. I can't believe that my mother-in-law's Realtor can't see this and rustle up a gay couple, but perhaps there is a shortage of gay couples in the housing market in Buffalo.
Anyway, the Realtor has been telling my mother-in-law that she ought to replace the wall-to-wall carpet in the bedrooms and upstairs hall, and Jon and I are nearly apoplectic in our efforts to talk her out of this idea. Old wall to wall carpet says, “There's great hardwood under here.” New wall to wall carpet says, “There's something crappy under here that the owner is trying to hide.” Jon and I are telling her to get rid of the carpets, buff the floors a bit and throw down some area rugs to hide the bits that look dull. My mother-in-law's Realtor must be more than a little dim. Maybe Martha should start helping people market their houses.
Anybody want to move to Buffalo and live in kitschy reproduction movie star house?