Cleaning House

SOMETIME in the early 1990s I wrote the outline for a musical. I was still entertaining the idea of being the next Cole Porter/Stephen Sondheim and made it a regular habit to fully think through the concept, major plot points and even sketch out some of the numbers for the next great American musical.  One of those ideas was about a cleaning woman in an office.  As someone who spent much of his early professional life as an Executive Secretary (we weren’t yet called Administrative Assistants), I spent a lot of time after hours with the cleaning crews that came in at the end of the day.  In New York in the late 80s early 90s most of them were from Mexico and Central and South America with the odd Eastern European here and there; many of the maintenance folks were black men…the same age and generation as my parents.  None of these people were stupid or incompetent regardless of their language skills.  They were all working hard to support families and often putting children through expensive schools.  They were understandably proud of what they did.

My idea was a story about a woman who cleaned the office of a rising junior executive.  Unbeknownst to her, it was the office of her own son.  He Americanized his name and fabricated a story about his parents being dead…so his boss and the office didn’t know about his mother…let alone that she was a cleaning woman…let alone his cleaning woman. Basically, both the mother and the son were keeping each other secret from one another.

Mayhem ensues…

I think this story is not unusual in some ways.  Many hard-working parents do things that some kids with certain kinds of aspirations might not be super proud of…although they should be.  These parents clean, they janitor, they cook, they wait tables, they work retail, they work on assembly lines.  And they do it out of love and the belief that if they provide something for their children that can give them a solid education and a belief in their own ability to achieve something, they will have more choices than their parents.  This is one telling, out of many, of the American dream.  We like this story.  Sacrifice, success, dignity, pride, paycheck to paycheck, tough choices…its all there.

It is a shame that with so many working Americans having these stories, more of them aren’t told honestly.  The halls of government are increasingly for the wealthy.  This is actually not new, but it is on a different scale.  The level and extremity of wealth is something that is remarkable[1] and should be alarming to anyone who believes that they are being represented by “regular folks” in the government. Actually being a bartender[2] or an immigrant[3]…or the child of a cleaning woman should be a perspective that is regarded as being as valuable to making public policy as any degree from a higher learning institution, real or imagined.  This is not to say that millionaires like Kevin McCarthy[4], Matt Gaetz[5] and Marjorie Taylor Greene[6] don’t understand work, but work feels different when missing rent is a recent memory, or even current situation.

The point is, Congress is getting exactly what it deserves right now.  The priority is wealth: personal wealth, fundraising wealth, protecting the wealth of the wealthy in policy.  This is not government; this is a private club.  No one should be surprised that lies (including abominable lies[7]) are the price of admission.  There are book deals and media buzz and a sweet pension on the other side of the threshold.  Constituents?  Personal narrative? Integrity? Not so much.

We need more cleaning women making public policy.  At the very least, we’d know their real names.



[1] A 501tax-exempt, charitable organization 1300 L. St NW, and Suite 200 Washington, “Majority of Lawmakers in 116th Congress Are Millionaires,” OpenSecrets News, April 23, 2020,

[2] Lisa Miller, “The Unprecedented AOC,” Intelligencer, February 11, 2022,

[3] “Ilhan Omar Is Unlike Anyone Who Has Served in Congress. This Is Her Complicated American Story.,” Washington Post, accessed January 30, 2023,

[4] Federick Brown, “Kevin McCarthy Net Worth 2023: Salary Wife Cars House Income,” January 5, 2023,

[5] “Matt Gaetz Net Worth: Lawmaker’s Parents Among America’s Ultra Rich 1%,” accessed January 30, 2023,

[6] Steve Bennett, “Marjorie Taylor Greene Net Worth 2023: Salary Assets (MTG),” December 20, 2022,

[7] “George Santos, Who Lied About Being Jewish, Gives Speech About Antisemitism on House Floor,” Jezebel, January 27, 2023,

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