My apartment was a complete mess and it occurred to me that simply disposing of the trash and cleaning off the coffee table wasn't going to do anything more than make more space for me to mess up. I needed an entire overhaul of my entire organizational system. I needed professional help.
So I went to google, typed in "cleaning help" and came up with around 99,500,000 hits for everything from Stanley Steamers to semi-professional cleaning ladies. One particular site advertising "trash management consultants" caught my eye. I clicked on it and was redirected to a brightly colored, sparsely texted web page with a single telephone number and the phrase "Let us take care of your problem." It was so simple, so reassuring, so mysterious- I had to call.
A man with a relatively thick north Jersey accent answered and asked me how I came upon the site. "Uh, google?" I answered. He asked if I was aware of the services they provided. I said "No, that's why I called." He asked if I had a package that needed to be picked up. I said, "Huh?" I could tell he was trying to ask me something specific without actually asking, but I hadn't the foggiest idea what.
Finally he asked: "What is the nature of your problem?" So I told him, messy apartment, regular influx of garbage, lack of organizational skills, in need of a cleaning consultant. I must of said something that made sense because he simply made an "Uh-huh" sound and asked when I might be able to meet with one of their consultants. He gave me an appointment for the following Tuesday with someone he referred to as "Mr. S." I thought it odd to schedule a meeting for a cleaning service in Riverside Park but he simply informed me that they were "remodeling" and it was "safer" that way.
The following Tuesday I was at the park benches by the duck pond at precisely 1:30pm with a folder containing some photos of the biggest problem areas in my opinion, a list of questions I'd thought of and a pen. At precisely 1:35pm a bald man in a cheap-looking suit with curly black hair sticking out from the open collar of a bright red shirt walked by. I didn't think much of him. Two minutes later he came back and sat down in the bench next to me. He looked over and said "You looking for Mr. S?" Flustered, I responded in the affirmative. He moved over to my bench with an outstretched hand.
I gave him mine to shake. He kissed instead. Taken somewhat aback I pulled it away as gently as I could and asked him about the strange meeting place. He asked what the person on the phone had told me. I explained that I'd been informed they were remodeling the office. He said that's what it was, as if he hadn't known.
He said that he'd been expecting someone very different based on the problem described. For such a big job, the pricing would have to be negotiated before regular services could be guaranteed and a business arrangement could be entered. I told him it wasn't all that big of a deal, it was just one apartment and I brought out my list of questions. I explained the problem in detail, the annoying mail piling up, the clothes in disarray, the lack of spaces to put everything. And I showed him my pictures, explaining that I'd seen Martha Stewart do some amazing things with some plastic bins and a lable-maker and maybe something like that would be helpful, especially in the kitchen.
He listened, looked over the pictures, waited for me to finish. He looked at me for a full minute, seeming to study me. I couldn't understand what the issue was but I didn't want to seem rude so I just waited. He simply said "Good luck with your label-maker", got up and walked away. I couldn't understand what had happened. I thought I'd been very polite, very informative about the help I needed. I left the park without any real grasp as to what had gone wrong.
A few months later I saw that same bald man on the 6 o'clock news in a sea of flashing cameras getting pushed into the back of a police car with the headline "Minasola family goon captured. Prosecutors believe he may be the key to bringing down the head." I blinked at the tv and promised myself I'd go back to the yellow pages from now on.