Lazy Housewives

Las Vegas summers are serious business. The cicadas know it.

Every waking hour, from every tree, even as the sun sets, the cicada’s electric buzz is the summer’s background static. Well into the night, the cicadas hum, and hum and hum, because it’s so damn hot. It’s a special kind of insanity.

By Jonathan Gleich

One summer day, we’d spent the afternoon at our sitter’s trying to see how long we could stand barefoot on the sizzling rusted scraps of sheet metal tossed at the side of the house before running to cool our burning feet in the plastic wading pool. Loafing outside during a Vegas summer is taxing work, and days like this called for frequent breaks inside.

This time, though, we couldn’t get back in. Sam, a freckled 12-year old, stood on the other side of the locked back porch door with a nasty grin.

Sam had once had chased my younger brother around the kitchen table with a carving knife covered in ketchup. Now he disappeared as we pounded on the door, and came back momentarily, stripped down to his underwear and eating a big bowl of ice cream, still grinning. When we shouted to be let in for water, he just licked his spoon, and soon wandered off to watch tv.

Too small to open the side gates and get to the front door, we decided it was better to face punishment than death by thirst and voted to break into the house through a bedroom window.

That side of the house was littered with pellets of rabbit poop that stuck to our bare feet as we gingerly picked our way through old appliances and shovels and a rusty lawnmower. I agreed to let Sam’s sister stand on my back while she fiddled with her window. There was a trick to getting the lock to spring from the outside. Expressly forbidden, of course, but weren’t we in dire circumstances? It was a leap of trust for me to heave her through and wait for her to unlock the door for the rest of us. If my memory’s right, she decided to join the tormenting instead and I had to figure out how to pull myself in through that window.

After getting in, and getting a drink, I walked down a narrow hall to peek in on our sitter. “The Baby Sitter,” as I always called her, even to her own kids, sat in her room, in her armchair, bathed in the glow of The Young and the Restless. She wore the same flip-flops as always, heels chapped and cracked.

She smiled when she saw me.

“Sam locked us out,” I ventured, my eyes wandering to the piles of old magazines stacked in the corners of her room.  “We had to come in through the window.”

She sighed. A long, long, heavy sigh. Her gaze shifted back to the screen.

“All right. I’ll talk to him.”

Years after we moved on, I would think of The Baby Sitter and how her husband worked all day while she sat back there and watched the TV and left the older kids to make tuna sandwiches for lunch, maybe, and then you had to fight for one. She seemed to me to be a Lazy Housewife of the worst sort.

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Skip forward 22 years. My living room floor is strewn with yesterday’s mail, two sets of blocks, and a mangled ham sandwich. I stare blankly at my laptop while the kids wail to be let out from behind the baby gate. And I am thinking of The Baby Sitter, twelve children, and a worn armchair in a cluttered fortress of a bedroom. Remembering one late afternoon hearing her sing, sitting in the front yard on a battered lawn chair. She sounded like an angel.

I never heard her sing inside the house.

Across two decades, I want to reach out and squeeze her hand.

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Lazy Housewives

  1. I remember days like this in Phoenix. August, with the humidity of the oncoming hanging around you like a weight. Cicadas fat on the trees, buzzing away, so alien there with their huge red eyes, so different from the molted off skins you could find stuck to the bark.

    I remember being thrown out of the house, told to ‘go play outside!’ Which meant either going out to lurk in the citrus orchard behind the house, where it was cool, and you could eat oranges (or throw them at other neighborhood children), or run barefooted along the sidewalk towards that one neighbor, who had a pool, seeing how long you could last on the concrete before jumping off into the grass to cool off your feet for a few seconds before running another couple yards further on.

    I it seemed horribly unjust at the time, torn from the basement, with the TV, or the legos, or the computer, or whatever, and thrust into the terrible, oppressive overbright, but I suspect sometimes that I was not the best behaved child in the history of the world, and that my mother was pleased to have some time for herself.

    There was also my grandmother. She lived just across the orchard from where I grew up, and she would watch my sister and me – take us to the antique store where she worked (we were always better behaved for her), or let us loose in her basement (which was pretty kid proof) while she did whatever it is that grandmothers do. I’m glad I had time to spend with her, and in retrospect I’m glad that my mother had the option to unload us onto someone at very little notice, or who was able to give comfort, and support, and company.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, except to say yes. I agree with you. It’s not for nothing that William Morris says that heaven is found in fellowship, and hell in a lack thereof. There is nothing worse that sitting apart, and alone, not being your own person, and it’s the fact that this is put forward as the ideal existence is a pernicious evil; the idea that someone is a failure as a human being for admitting they need help, and company, is monstrous.

    Mutual aid, fellowship, friendship. These are the things that build a society, and bring us closer as human beings. I’m ashamed it has taken me this long to learn this, and ashamed that I’m still petty, selfish, and full of judgement.

    I want to sit with your sitter of decades ago, and sing, and laugh, and let her know she is not alone.

    • Me too. There are so many ways that a SAHM who looks “lazy” or feels “lazy” could be just suffering or misunderstood or in need of help or just doing her best (seriously, just making sure the kids don’t end up in the hospital takes all my energy some days. What is this “housework” people speak of?) Also, I think that a lot of people don’t realize is the sheer mental energy it takes to occupy a space that makes you unhappy. It is understandable that it gets really hard to cook and clean when the fact that you aren’t free to do other things is crushing you. Thanks for sharing your experience! I really enjoyed reading it; both the content and the prose.

  2. Pingback: More Lazy Housewives « No Dead Beetles

  3. Pingback: Who Are You Calling Lazy? Housewives Working It Out « No Dead Beetles

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