Monday, March 29, 2021

My Soap Opera Pandemic

 You know those people who mastered baking sourdough bread during the early days of the pandemic, posting on Instagram a line-up of top-browned mouth-watering loaves? Or, those who took to the garden, posting a beautiful arrangement of flowers “straight from the soil out front.” One friend posted the impressive number of miles she’d logged on her Peloton. Another, who kept a daily journal. “I’ve got enough to publish a book!”


I can boast of nothing close to these fine achievements during the lockdown. I must admit, I became a crashing bore riddled with anxiety that I’d catch the dreaded Covid virus. Worse, I became a cleaning addict. I mean, crazy time. My mother would say that it beats “hitting the sauce,” but my husband, Hank, might have argued when he woke at 4:30am one morning in April to the sound of me mopping the floors.


“What are you doing?” he asked, standing in the kitchen blurry-eyed.


“I couldn’t sleep, so I’m doing the floors.”


It started with Clorox Wipes. Six jumbo containers of wipes arriving in an Amazon box, twinkling as if they were rare jewels.  To me, they were. Grocery store shelves at that time were empty of Clorox anything. Random weird brands of bleach replaced them and only “1 per customer.” Like toilet paper, it was the big “get.”


Before the pandemic, I was always coming and going. I was at SoulCycle, perusing the cosmetic aisles at Bloomingdales, seeing friends, dining out with my husband when we were in town and planning Sunday night family dinners. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time at home and when I did, I didn’t focus on whether there was dust on baseboards in the living room or hard water spots on the shower door. During lockdown, we gave our housekeeper of eighteen years paid leave to stay safe and I’d walked into her job with gusto. 


Cleaning became my obsession, a way of control in a world that seemed out of control. The virus was raging. News was bleak, and there wasn’t a whole lot of guidance from the powers-that-be. Cleaning was a diversion. It was something constructive to do with all of that pent-up energy building inside me while trapped inside like a rat. Sure, I got outside with the bike, fresh air and all, yet while pedaling away in the neighborhood, I’d plot my next cleaning task. Hmmm, the shutters in the den. Have I tackled that since Sunday? 


Soon, Clorox wipes weren’t enough. It was an addiction. I searched on my computer and phone for stringer solutions and soon cleaning products popping up on my Instagram feed – that sneaky drug dealer whispering in me ear. I’ve got something better for you.


I swiped right up. Click to buy!


First it was the rubber gloves with little silicone spikes, claiming to get the grime with less elbow grease. Next, it was Clean Freak spray, followed by a silicone seal-in-a spray to coat my stainless steel to a shine. “Users claim their appliances “shine for a month; no finger prints!”


Instagram was on to me. New cleaning product ads flooding my feed daily. I swiped up and clicked. More! More!


Ultimately, I came upon what I thought was the couture of cleaning products - The Power Electric Spin Scrubber. “Scrub away, dirt, mildew, soap, burned messes, and hard water stains!”  I was in.


I set to work as soon as the box arrived, hitching up the elongated brush for those hard-to-reach areas in the shower. I was hooked, watching the whirl and the twirl of those pesky hard water spots disappear. Awww. Now, this is a cleaning tool. Three attachment brushes! 


“April,” I called my sister, “you’ve got to get one of these. You can’t believe how it works on grout.”


“Text me a picture of the box.”


Whoosh, off went a picture.


Seconds later, the phone rang.  “Heath, this chick on the box looks orgasmic. What the hell is this thing and what exactly is she using it to clean?”


I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt.


“I’m worried about you,” she said.  “Who gives a s**t if your tiles sparkle and your grout is clean. No one can come over!”


“Cleaning passes the time.”


“You need to calm down before your hardwood floors wear too thin.  This is getting weird.”


Days later, as I reached for my latest package of Swiffer Picker-Uppers to get a microbe of dust under the upright piano in the sunroom, I stopped myself. At this rate, I’ll be taking a Q-tip to the baseboards by next week. I put the package back. 


I stood in front of the cabinet, gazing at the plethora of cleaning supplies, my new Cadillac of a broom beaming back at me. All the disinfectant in the world wasn’t going to be able to clean up what was going on. I shut the cabinet door. My obsession was losing its luster. My sister was right. I was getting weird.



A year later, I remember the early days of the pandemic and wonder what I learned about myself. When I had time on my hands, did I really choose to while it away with a tile scrubber? Was my claim to fame a shiny floor that no one besides Hank would ever see?

I look down at my phone now. The Instagram ads have changed.


Interiors. Lipstick. Shoes. An occasional cleaning ad, BUG MD (to get rid of larvae) slips in, reminding me of my obsession during those months of Spring 2020.


But, the shallow me is back. Preferring pretty things to cleaning floors at 4:00am. 


Nope, I have no merits to boast of from my early days of the lockdown. Nothing besides sparkling tiles.


What I did learn, though, was that humor helped to heal my anxiety.  It was that tile scrubber box and April’s comments. I pulled the box out again the other day. She’s right: the woman looks like she’s on the verge of an orgasm. That moment was the game changer for me.


Thank you, April.


  1. Heather, just finished reading your book and I just want to say…thank you. Our childhoods had some similarities; sad, painful, embarrassing and funny. I found your book compelling and had a feeling of completeness turning the last page! Bravo