What is this about?

The Cleaner

It was so cake. Print up a few flyers at the local library with a bogus name and number and then pick a neighborhood — preferably within walking distance of a Vons or a Ralphs — and go door to door up and down a few blocks like a salesman. Clipboard, nambadge, necktie, the whole costume. Dom hadn’t worn a tie since his eigth grade graduation. Sometimes the pressure of it around his throat freaked him, but so far he’d been able to keep things under control and ward off any more “episodes” as he called them. The police called them assaults. The namebadge he’d found laying in the street while biking Sunset from the free clinic to the missions downtow. The name engraved in it read “Valery Papelian” and Dom looked about as Armenian as a martian, but that’s what initially gave him the idea for it all.

He guessed you could call him its mastermind in part because he was the only person involved, but he tended to shy away from that word — hated it, in fact — as it was most often was used in news reports to describe someone who had been in charge of something that got royally fucked up, as in “the botched scheme’s alleged mastermind was blah blah blah.”

Dom always thought: Pffft, some mastermind.


The pain part of the plan was hauling the machine around town. Nothing fancy, just an average Rug Doctor unit anyone can rent from the supermarket. But it was heavy and with the cleaning solution — really just a gallon container filled with water — made it all the more cumbersome since he didn’t have a car.

The other pain was getting the money to rent the contraption. And of course the biggest pain was trying to make a sale. Dom’d typically would have to knock on upwards of forty to fifty doors to find one sucker.

It went a little something like this. Dom would knock on the door and put his eager salesman’s face on and then the man or woman of the house would answer and he’d go into his routine.

“Good (morning/afternoon/evening) (ma’am/sir), My name is Sam and I’m with the Rug Doctors Carpet Cleaners (offer flyer, usually through closed screen door). We’re doing a rather large job up the street and while we’re here my supervisor wanted me to come around the neighborhood to get other residents acquainted with our superior service by offering you a free cleaning of the area rug of your choice.

It was really rare he got that far. They’d either start to slam the door without a word right away or they’d say they weren’t interested in any variety of languages, and the key at that point was to get the flyer back that they’d accepted from him. Even though the contact information on it was bogus, it was important to leave nothing physical that cops canvassing a neighborhood in his wake could use. Most were happy not to have another piece of paper to throw away.

But even if it was a grind getting there, thee was always that one-out-of-too-many fool that took him at his word and let him. And that’s what made it all worthwhile. They’d point him to the dining or living room where there’d be a rug in varying degrees of cleanliness or filth. He’d move any furniture off it and politely ask to borrow their vacuum cleaner to give it an initial go over and then he’d make a great show of prepping the “patented machine” with the “proprietary cleaning flu” and really putting his back into getting the carpet good and wet, all he while casing the joint and the resident getting a good idea of the easiest way in and out, what might be available and when the pickings might be best.

“So (ma’am or sir), may I ask what you do that affords you such a fine home?” And they’d tell him they were Mr. Moms or housewives or playwrights or unemployed or retired or home from the office with a sore throat, or aerospace engineers taking a day off, or day traders or freelance graphic designers.

If they weren’t pleased with how clean their wet rug was, he’d take a good look around the room he was in to find an item hopefully worth coming back for and duly note it, pack up and think them for their time. But if he was really lucky and the person was stupidly impressed with the unremarkable results, he could whip out the clipboard afterward with its phony estimate form and get a tour of the whole house pretending to note rug and room sizes — but more importantly where the goods were: jewelry, silver, cameras, camcorders, espresso machines, laptops, bikes, furs. Rarely would he look twice at big ticket items like high-end stereos or flat-panel TVs. At least not until he scored himself a set of wheels, preferably four.

Afterwards he’d be all perplexed and tell them “Let me talk this over with my supervisor and I’ll leave the estimate in your mailbox later today.” Then he’d thank them profusely, pack up the mchine and never be heard from again.

And then it was just a matter of time until he returned and really cleaned up.