So (Louise) Rafkin headed for France. Short of money, she took a job housecleaning. "Cleaning villas on the French Riviera sounds glamorous," she writes. "However, to echo the sentiment of a famous expatriate: a toilet is a toilet is a toilet."
Rafkin's "Other People's Dirt: A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures" is a delight. Add it to your summer reading list and see if you don't agree. It's funny, intelligent, thoughtful. At times it's tender, as when she's writing about cleaning for people who have AIDS. And it's self-revealing. "In the midst of entropy, of the decay of life and love, there is security in a polished mirror," she writes. "I may not see myself clearly, but I won't see spattered toothpaste either."
After college, Rafkin won a writing fellowship on Cape Cod. When the fellowship ended she needed a job to support her writing habit. She became a housecleaner, officially, and, unofficially, a spy: "Alone in a house, I piece together strands of life stories as if I were an archeologist, the home a midden. . . . Armed with a battery of housekeys, I make my way through a maze of homes, identifying clues and deciphering dirt. Disguised as a pleasant, competent housecleaner, I am invisible."