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Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures
     

Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures

by Louise Rafkin
 

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"Alone in a house, I piece together strands of life stories as if I were an archaeologist, the home a midden... I don't read diaries, I read clues." After earning an M.A. in Comparative Literature, Louise Rafkin, facing a career choice, took the road less traveled. She became a housecleaner. The money was better than teaching, the lifestyle intriguing for someone

Overview

"Alone in a house, I piece together strands of life stories as if I were an archaeologist, the home a midden... I don't read diaries, I read clues." After earning an M.A. in Comparative Literature, Louise Rafkin, facing a career choice, took the road less traveled. She became a housecleaner. The money was better than teaching, the lifestyle intriguing for someone with an insatiable curiosity about her fellow human beings. And while she quickly became an expert on the best vacuum cleaner in the world--and the most efficient paper towels--she also saw the unseen parts of people's lives.

In this fresh, funny, strikingly original memoir, she talks about her invisible status as a domestic worker in a world of illicit sex and secret livees, of closet alcoholics and binge eaters, unlikely spiritualists and revealing celebrities.

In Other People's Dirt, Louise Rafkin reveals something about our values, our society, and ourselves. And, from the detritus of our lives, she gives us something at once delightfully entertaining and profound.

"Rafkin is a wonderful storyteller." --The Wall Street Journal

"Rafkin delivers the dirt on cleaning with investigative zeal and remarkable depth. A!" --Entertainment Weekly

"A wonderfully odd-ball memoir...Rafkin delights in the absurdities of her profession and has a keen eye for the peculiarities of human behavior." --The San Francisco Chronicle

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Into this life a chance for liberating creativity fell, when Rafkin narrowly escaped a straight-on march into the literary world of academia and headed into the trenches of "other people's dirt." This book documents her experiences as seen from the underbelly of day-to-day life through anecdote and wry observation: dust balls and food stains, what laundry reveals and conceals, the nature of the need to clean, and the strange idiosyncrasies of those who will pay others to put order in their disorderly lives. Brief chapters cover stints in the homes of hoarders, the simply overworked, the impersonal nit-pickers, perverts, and even a suicide. In a final chapter, Rafkin travels to Japan to live with the Ittoen community, a group of homeless individuals committed to cleaning up the immediate world. Her thoughts on the need for order hint at the author's underlying belief: She would like to share the Ittoen "nonattachment to worldly goods." But her comments on Japan are banal, and her search for any philosophy in what a house cleaner knows remains lifeless as long as she poses questions such as, þIf a forest is swept and no one sees it, was it ever really swept? would I ever stop trying to achieve Home-Ec Student of the Year?" Rafkin's breezy matter-of-factness only barely obscures a lot of cynical ranting about people, places, and things. Only at the very end does she confide her personal take on what her meanderings have meant in a final homeward gaze, the long-lost San Francisco girl at last getting real: "It was time to clean house." More adventure than memoir, this book is odd and not all that entertaining. (Author tour)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780452280816
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/01/1999
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.34(w) x 8.08(h) x 0.61(d)

Meet the Author


While cleaning houses, Louise Rafkin earned her BA in English from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and her MA in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1981. Her writing has appeared in many publications, including Ladies' Home Journal, New York Times Magazine, Boston Phoenix, Out, Women's Review of Books, Whole Earth Review, and Poets & Writers. And in recent years, she has received awards and recognition for her writing: the San Francisco Cable Car Award for Best Local Writing in 1989; first place in the San Francisco Bay Guardian fiction competition in 1989; and a Lambda Literary Award in 1991. She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Zimtbaum Foundation Fine Arts Work Center, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. Rafkin recently moved from New York to Berkeley, California.

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