There will come occasions in every happy domestic situation when the person who actually makes things habitable needs to be absent. A sister having a baby, a business conference or any number of semicredible excuses are offered as she flees the scene in order to preserve her sanity. For all of you left behind without a clue but possessing that all-purpose Y chromosome, I'm starting a series of helpful columns about how to keep those home fires burning in the right places.
We are darned fond of our spouses, and we don't want an ugly scene upon their return, nor any interruption in their transition back to full-time cooking, washing, etc. So before then, we need to clean the house—and that necessarily involves dusting. Yes, even if they've paved your road.
On the topic of dusting, many of you temporary househusbands may be confused from the get-go. First of all, the term refers to the removal of dust from the home, not the application of same. We're not putting powdered sugar on French toast, guys.
The other hurdle to overcome is the fundamental difference between the sexes in the appreciation of dust. Women find it strangely unsightly, and possibly unhygienic. Men, and especially farmers, are more ambivalent. We played in the dust when we were children, we rubbed it on our hands to improve our batting grip and we note it with favor as a sure sign the ground is dry enough to work. Dust can be good in our world.
But allowing for the concept of everything in its place, let's grant that fine particles of dirt are tolerable outside, but not within. Here is where modern science has uncovered a whopping genetic divergence between men and women: Men can't see dirt.
This is real science in a book with hard covers, I'm telling you. Part of male DNA—for which we cannot be blamed—prevents our brain from taking in as much sensory detail as our mates. Consequently, a major part of getting this job done is the realization that we won't be able to tell what we're doing or if it makes any difference.
Let's begin. Dusting is the removal of these invisible particles of dirt from horizontal surfaces. The time-honored method is wiping with a soft cloth—usually an article of clothing you had been missing for some time—and occasionally spraying citrusy aerosol mists. Note: Not all lemony sprays are dusting adjuvants, and mosquito repellents will only make the problem worse.
Men will immediately recognize the fault with this process: No power tools are involved. However—and I cannot stress this firmly enough—the use of compressed air or shop vacs must not be considered. Especially not an ingenious mash-up of both simultaneously. Don't ask me how I know this.
A second seemingly futile step used by women—removing all the stuff on a coffee table, etc., and then wiping the surface—is not to be lightly dismissed. Trying to wipe around all the pictures, knickknacks and reading material is asking for gravitational disaster.
However, this is why cell phones have built-in cameras. Take a photo of where stuff was positioned before removal. Male short-term memory for such information is about six nanoseconds. Successful dusting without altering the landscape will strike your spouse as miraculous, trust me. This technique will also prove useful in our column on vacuuming. (I heard that whimper—man up, will ya!)
Don't forget to wipe the stuff as you put it back. Above all, resist the urge to simply blow on things. The dust will simply relocate to a nearby surface, and you don't have the lung capacity for a whole house.
Bearing in mind I won't be able to tell which rooms I have done (thanks to male dirt blindness), I set my beer can down by the door of the room I am dusting and pick it up when I leave. Rooms that are finished will display a telltale ring, the removal of which can be your last dusting step.
Schedule this exercise for last, as dust is a relentless adversary and your passing through a room can negate several exhausting minutes of effort. Ideally, finish up just before your wife is due back home.
Be warned: Should you successfully pull this off, it could be unsettling to your spouse's View of the Universe. Don't be surprised if on future trips she just happens to get back earlier than originally planned in order to catch you in the act. Otherwise she will never believe it.
It's good to keep them guessing.