I parked in front of a home with Frank Lloyd Wright flair. This was my new beginning, and I felt like the phoenix, a mythological creature being reborn. I was rising from the ashes of my former self and sawing at the shackles of “the secret.” I had rose-colored plans to prosper—materially, emotionally, and spiritually—wrapped in the loving embrace of the California sun. My first gig would not be glamorous or brag-worthy, because I would be hobnobbing with dirt rather than superstars. I would be doing windows rather than the waltz. I would be wearing an apron rather than a ball gown. Yes, I was taking a job as a maid. I was going from debutante to dust buster, a fact I planned to hide from Dad.
Thank goodness my housekeeping duties were light, because cleaning was not my strong suit. Feather dusters and I were not on friendly terms. My recurring nightmare as a child had involved an odious vacuum cleaner situated in the front yard that kept me prisoner. It was the gray devil with its menacing cylinders, humming motor, and chord that whipped around in the wind. Terrorized, I’d run from window to window, feeling like a bug in a box. Then I’d wake to both good news and bad news: I was relieved that there was no hell-sent Hoover, but sad that I was still trapped in Georgia.
In addition to my shortcomings in the housekeeping department, my cooking skills were subpar. When I was twelve, Dad and my brother, Buddy, had laughed at my quiches and soufflés, calling them “sissy foods.” They refused to eat anything I made during my stint as an amateur chef, so I never cooked for the family again. Plus, the butler sheltered Buddy and me from what most kids consider normal contributions to the household. All I had to do was feed the dogs and make my bed. My brother did zilch, probably because he was male and not expected to need domiciliary skills.
Although I was now a maid, I received no pay per my deal with Bernie and his fifteen-year-old son, vacationers whom I had met six months earlier at the pool of a Vegas resort. They needed a housekeeper and offered me free accommodations if I would move to California and do some scrubbing and tidying each day. I slept on a twin bed in an otherwise empty room, using an electric blanket each night because they kept the house so cold. At the time, I did not know that electric blankets create a magnetic field that penetrates through the skin by six or seven inches. Some studies link them with cancer.
I hated being a domestic servant, but figured physical labor was good for my soul. It was a way to remain cognizant of the back-breaking tasks some people do regularly to survive. Cleaning helped me maintain a balanced outlook on life. At least, that’s what I told myself.
The worst part of the job was Madge, Bernie’s jealous girlfriend, who had frightened off the former live-in. She was sixty-two, hated having a younger female in the home, and regularly berated me. “Don’t you think you should go on a diet?” “It must be horrible being so short.” “Do you think you’ll ever get married?” One day, she made a confession about snooping and my predecessor. “When that slut wasn’t home, I went through her room and found a douchebag.” Then, she stared at me in horror. “You don’t have one of those, do you?”
I shook my head feverishly, appearing guilty, even though I barely knew what a douchebag was, apart from the living, breathing kind.
Madge looked me up and down. “I suppose sex is the only way some girls can get male attention.”
I never fought Madge. She was technically my employer, too. But I immediately started searching for a less hostile living situation. I call this the “hear no evil” phase of my California residency. I had to pretend to be deaf.