"I'm a big fan of bleach."

Her dog must have thrown up on the white shag carpeting again.

Gena had on her corkscrew smile while holding a spray dispenser. I was barely awake. I had eased into the kitchen after a shower, and was making my way toward the coffee. Gena was in her lime green running outfit, and she'd been moving for 90 minutes before I even woke up. Gena buzzed around the corner from the living room into the kitchen, saw me there, saw me looking at the bottle with a "What now?" look on my face.

We're in a rented house. We have to keep the place clean. Most women would react badly to the dog vomit if they like to keep a neat house, which Gena does, but Gena does not react badly. Most women, however, who have gone the college-marriage route, have senses of urgency that are quite different from her own.

Gena is a perpetual motion machine. She's cooking, cleaning, stowing food into the refrigerator, wiping down countertops, or doing laundry. She takes small steps while she's darting around. When she encounters someone in the house, like me or one of her friends (they're always about, her friends), she looks up, and the first thing you see is her striking blue eyes and her short blonde hair, and then that perpetual smile and her happy energy. She makes things happen.

Consequently, in this case, I was not thinking of the vomit in the other room. I was wondering about the exact nature of the miracle Gena was going to perform that would remove the puke without leaving a stain.

Gena does this routinely. She encounters a problem, and then she makes it go away. She manages to do this cleanly too, like a speedboat without a wake. It is not surprising any more that she does it - I've seen it happen too many times before to be surprised. The surprise is the manner in which she accomplishes her goal.

You can learn a lot by hanging around this woman.

She buzzed by me on the way to the kitchen sink, and said,

"This is a special bottle."

She washed the rag out. Bleach and vomit - gone! She buzzed back into the living room, ready for a second pass at the offending stain.

"A special bottle?"
"Yes. Bleach dissolves the plastic innards of most other spray bottles."
"Is that true?"
"Mmm hmm."
"I didn't know that."
"Yep. I spent a long time looking for this bottle. Bleach doesn't affect it. Industrial strength plastic. So don't throw it out, like you threw out my favorite go cup."

Ouch. That hurt.

"I didn't know it was your favorite go cup. There are about ten other travel mugs up in the cupboards."
"Yeah, I know, but my uncle gave me that one."
"I'm sorry. Didn't know it was special to you."
"It's my fault. I should have told you."

I peeked into the living room. Gena was on her hands and knees directly above the stain, scrubbing hard. Her special beach spray bottle was at the side. She must have doused the area with bleach a number of times, because the entire living room smelled like a swimming pool after it's been shocked with chlorine. All of her energy was focused on that stain. She was in the moment. She was devoting thirty seconds to this stain, thirty seconds! It was the stain, or her, and she put her mind to the fact that it would come out. Her eyes were blue lasers of intensity. Her shoulder muscles were taut. She scrubbed furiously.

Then... done!

On to the next thing!

She jumped up, satisfied, and turned to come back. I slipped back into the kitchen, quietly laughing at her directed concentration.

She flitted back from the living room. Then she very briefly stopped in front of me and turned up her face and kissed me a few times.

"Smooch smooch."
"I have no natural defense mechanisms that work against your kissy kissy sounds."
"I know."

Do you see what she did there? She did four things:

  1. She cleaned the carpet. Furiously.
  2. She told me, subtly, not to throw out the bleach spray dispenser bottle which she had spent a great deal of time finding.
  3. She told me that she was a little bit upset with me for throwing out her favorite go-cup.
  4. She deftly defused the situation, just in case I wanted to argue with her.

Fast. Easy. Smooth. Like a shark through water.

She did not go the college-marriage route. Her route was high school, then some lost years bombing down black diamond ski slopes, then college, then the Army. She lived on her father's houseboat on the Potomac River in DC for a while. Her sense of cleanliness comes from keeping that houseboat clean. Her sense of speed and urgency comes from the military. In the military, you learn to do things fast, because any second your orders could change and you might be ordered to doing something else.

Housework is thankless. If you do too much housework, you might be the sort to complain about it. Gena is not the complaining type. She is cheerful, even when she's juggling multiple tasks simultaneously. She cooks eggs for breakfast, makes toast, makes coffee, fastfastfast, like a short order cook. She slides the eggs onto my plate and then hers, then sits down with me, and after a few kisses - smooch smooch - she eats. After we talk, she's on to the next thing. She wants to clean up, but I shoo her out of the kitchen. She needs to shower, since she's still in her running gear, glistening from a six mile walk with the dog. She showers fast, dresses fast.

If I'm in the bathroom and I crowd her and she bumps into me, she won't say "You're in my way." She'll say, "Oh I'm sorry." Like it's her fault. It's not her fault. It's mine.

She's nice to bump into in a crowded bathroom, especially when she's just stepped out of the shower. This happens far more often than you might think.

Anyway, back to the bleach. I got to thinking about bleach, a common cleaning substance. It makes shirts whiter. I don't know if I'm a fan of bleach - it's like saying I'm a fan of concrete sidewalks. OK. It's not a subject to which anyone devotes a great deal of thought. Frankly, I'm bleach-neutral. But Gena's a fan of bleach. And I can learn something from Gena. Hence, this investigation into bleach's usefulness, and how it fits into her personality.

The 1950's housewife was a fan of chemical products that cleaned the kitchen. She'd light up when asked to extol the virtues of Lemon Pledge, say, or Palmolive dishwashing detergent. You could see these commercials on black and white television shows on TV Land. But this was a cultural aberration, overturned by the hippie culture of the late 1960s. Still... Gena, a housewife?

Gena holds that spray bottle like a loaded Beretta. It's the stance that says it all. She believes in bleach to get things done. It makes no difference who makes the bleach. Dow, I.G. Faber, Monsanto, who the fuck cares, as long as it makes her life easier. She does not give a shit about the environment. She's not green. She is all about effectiveness, my own Short Skirt Long Jacket girl.

She buzzes around the house, still holding the bleach bottle menacingly, looking for offending stains that might need a dose of her attention.