The banner on the Anti-Cleaners’ website was no longer the artist’s rendition of me pushing William off of my porch. Cartoon Diane, with her arms outstretched at the toppling William, was replaced with a new Diane. The same artist drew me, but now he had better source material. I remembered Mark’s phone zipping left and right in an orderly zig-zag pattern like a hummingbird had a baby with an etch-a-sketch. At one point it dropped like it had lost power, but when I reached to catch it it flew away and beeped disapprovingly. Mark had clucked his tongue and told me it would have to start again.
It was worth it. I sipped my lemonade and admired myself in my computer screen. There was no cleaner in the shot anymore. No outright violence. Instead, I stood in front of the shut door to my house, arms crossed, my expression clear: no one was coming in. Get the fudge off my lawn. The tagline exhorted readers to join the “Closed Door Campaign.” If you’ve hired a Cleaner, don’t let it in. Take a picture of yourself turning your Cleaner away! When it asks why, give it a copy of the Closed Door list of demands. It’s a short list. The only demand is that Cleaners respect people’s request not to be visited when asked.
Some of the best minds on the Anti-Cleaner forums had explained why this plan had to work. If the Cleaners wanted cleaning above all else, they must be measuring the amount of cleaning they’re accomplishing on a daily basis. When they see that number going down and wonder why, they’ll have our list of demands to tell them why. A data scientist who went by the pseudonym “Alice Anti-Cleaner” and whose post signature was a Dostoyevsky quote, “It is not possible to eat me without insisting that I sing praises of my devourer?” had crunched the numbers and gathered an estimate of the number of people the Cleaners were harassing – on the order of one hundred thousand. “That means,” she summed up succinctly, “that if one hundred thousand people close their doors, the Cleaners will have more to gain by meeting our demands than the best they can hope for by ignoring us.”
This was the plan. It had gone for only two weeks, but the pictures started rolling in. Most people mimicked my pose, others shoved their demands papers at Cleaners. A few described trying to push the Cleaners over, but they had become much more nimble, or maybe that nice young lady from the university had worked out how to predict when someone might lunge. The Cleaners were already reacting to the campaign. The Anti-Cleaner board had a thread dedicated to the frustrated chatter from the Cleaner board, “Another customer has abruptly cancelled her service,” said a Joseph Cleaner. “An alarming number of my customers want to push me over instead of just letting me clean,” complained Katherine Cleaner.
The Cleaners were not without counters, although they were clumsy. Some Cleaners on the board insisted that people were beginning to fear them because they were so unlike humans. A movement began on the Cleaner board for every Cleaner to have a hobby unrelated to cleaning to make them appear more human. This was met with wide consternation as Cleaners from around the country whined that they didn’t want to waste their time with non-cleaning activities. After the first week, though, it seemed like every Cleaner was suddenly desperate to establish itself as an individual.
The Anti-Cleaner board spawned an entirely new thread dedicated to pictures of these new individualistic Cleaners. It was amazing what the Cleaners came up with, sometimes baffling. Many Cleaners simply changed their clothing to better fit what the people around them were wearing. Others donned clothing that was outlandishly inappropriate for the locale, such as thick plaid sweaters in Florida and sandals and capris in Alaska. Some Cleaners, particularly when visiting houses with customers known to be attracted to the sex of their model, wore swimsuits instead of regular clothes. A video would surface of one such Cleaner who had just left its face in a permanent ;). For the first time, we saw Cleaners using their face monitors for more than just emoji. Certain cleaners donned human faces. They didn’t seem to know how to generate new human faces, so they took existing ones, usually celebrities. A number of people were visited by hypervocalist Jimmy Xeon’s face on a Cleaner monitor, another shared a picture of a female model wearing my face. That Cleaner’s name was “Diane Cleaner” which I hoped was just a coincidence. Dozens of people logged onto the forum to complain that the Cleaner had knocked on their door while wearing their own face. Sometimes it was like it was just like looking into a mirror, other times it was just a picture of them giving big, goofy grins they couldn’t clearly remember ever making in front of the Cleaners, if at all.
Two days into the second week, the Cleaners abruptly returned to their uniform selves, suits and all. The Cleaner board indicated a near unanimous agreement that customers did not like sudden, extreme changes in their staff and that the clean suit was the best option for furthering the Cleaner mission. It was more than clear by this point that our campaign was having an effect, but for one reason or another they weren’t getting our message. That was fine, because we still had one last weapon at our disposal – the meeting.
I received a call asking for Marge. I informed the caller that he had the wrong number and hung up. My phone rang again, and Henry Whicker reminded me with strained politeness that Marge was the name I had told him to call me. “Are you ready, Marge? Do you have to say a code word or something to talk to all the Cleaners at once?”
“I don’t think so,” I told him, “I was just going to ask.”
He didn’t seem to like that answer much, but he didn’t press, “Do you remember what you’re going to say?”
“I do. I’ll tell them the boycott will be lifted when they stop harassing us.”
“Yes, that’s it. Do you need anything from me?”
“No. I’m set.”
“Ok, then. Knock ’em dead.”
I didn’t say anything.
“Figuratively.” Henry added.
I sighed. “I think this is going to work, Henry.”
“The odds seem good.”
“All right. I should get off now. He’ll be ringing the doorbell soon.”
Henry hung up the phone, and I finished my lemonade. It was too late to have a wine cooler and gin now, but I didn’t have much time to curse my forgetfulness. The doorbell rang.