I had dinner last night with an old friend and onetime Florence housemate, someone who inspires envy quite easily: ritzy job in Rome, gorgeous wardrobe, adoring fidanzato. Even though we lived together briefly, she’s still the kind of person I imagine sleeps on a cloud, remembers to toss lavender sachets in the laundry, and keeps her place ready for a photography troupe from Architectural Digest at all times. But when the subject of cleaning our respective rentals came up (I was in the middle of a marathon weekend session), she confessed she lives in constant fear of knocks from the neighbors or landlord. “I hear footsteps pitter-pattering in the hallway,” she said, “and my first thought is, ‘Where can I throw everything?!’”
As someone who’s ignored a few doorbell rings in her day—hiding from readers of the water meter, usually, or rerouting packages to inconvenient locations out of shame—I took comfort in this. I like to pretend I enjoy cleaning, but the truth is I enjoy having a clean house. The latter unfortunately can’t materialize without the former. Sometimes cleaning sounds fun, cathartic even. But once I start, I remember that what’s fun and cathartic is pouring a glass of wine, putting on Rumours and sort of pushing a broom around. Not gloves-on, grout-targeting labor.
Luckily, my across-the-hall neighbors, a family of three, would probably not pass judgment if they had to stop by my place spontaneously. At the very least, they’d empathize with the struggle of keeping it primed for surprise visitors. I know this because I got locked out of the apartment one day last August with a visiting friend and my dog; we were auto-banished to the condo hallway during a summer storm.
The careless choice I’d made to leave my garden-facing back door unlocked ended up saving us: we determined we wouldn’t have to call the fire department or the landlady (same thing, really) if we could just climb out of the third-floor communal window and scale the wall down into my garden. This plan got quite far along before it occurred to us that we could simply walk through the neighbors’ apartment, exit into their garden, and cross over into mine. They needed to be home, though—this was crucial.
In perfect theatrical timing, the husband walked in the front door, shaking out his rain jacket and jumping at the sight of the three stooges perched on the condo stairs. We explained politely, matter-of-factly, that we could perhaps avoid causing an international incident if he could please let us walk through his apartment and into the garden to get back inside via the back door, and he wouldn’t mind, would he, we’ve been concocting wild plans but ha ha ha, the solution is laughably simple, isn’t it?
But then I saw it on his face: the sheer panic that only an impromptu visit from a water meter reader or locked-out neighbor can inspire. The sudden appearance above his head of a real-life thought bubble, comic strip-style, with “WHERE CAN I THROW EVERYTHING?!” penciled inside of it would hardly have surprised me.
Catching on, I suggested an (ingenious) alternative. He would walk through his own apartment, his own garden, my garden, and then my door. My apartment was spotless; I had a planned visitor staying with me, so you could say I had a leg up.